I’ve been absent on here for a long time and, as you can see, there are some big life changes headed my way. I’m thrilled to be welcoming another little adventurer into this world! While I’m excited to meet baby, not all has been well. This pregnancy has been rough and it completely changed my outdoor life.
Early on in my pregnancy, I began experiencing excruciating pelvic pain – imagine your pelvis being sawed in half and you’ll get close to how it feels. It has and continues to make daily life challenging and hikes, bike rides, canoe trips, and backcountry camping are totally out of the picture. This has been challenging. The outdoors and outdoor activities have always been my way to escape stress and enjoy life.
Expectations Versus Reality
Safe to say, I imagined pregnancy a lot differently than I’m experiencing it. Going into this, I took inspiration from all the parents and pregnant people who have continued living their best outdoor lives. I remember reading Sylvia Decker’s article in Explore Magazine where she balks at the idea of giving up her outdoor lifestyle while pregnant, “if I quit exploring nature, it’d leave a gaping chasm in my life. I wouldn’t be me.” Those words rang true to me and seeing pregnant women fill the pages inside the magazine gave me confidence that I would be out hiking trails and camping through these 9 months.
While trying to get pregnant, I was training to hike the Fundy Footpath, a gruelling 41 kilometres of non-stop climbing and descending. I reasoned that, with permission from my doctor, I would be able to continue hiking and backpacking throughout my pregnancy. The training was transforming my body and I was becoming stronger everyday, so the Footpath seemed like no big deal. Besides, if I decided that it was too much, I’d be super fit to push out a baby one day.
Nowhere on my radar was the idea of chronic pain. It started around 15 weeks on a walk with my dog and partner. All of a sudden, with each step was shooting pain that reverberated throughout my body. I didn’t understand what was happening and I never considered that it would be long-lasting. At my next doctor’s appointment, I explained my symptoms and was tentatively diagnosed with pubic symphysis dysfunction.
Not only was I no longer training, but I wasn’t able to walk AT ALL without experiencing excruciating pain. My first appointment with a pelvic floor therapist ended with me desperately asking, “do you think I’ll be able to go for walks again any time soon?” I knew the answer before I asked the question – no.
Pregnancy is challenging enough with an increasingly unfamiliar body, the nausea, and fatigue. Having to give up the things that bring me joy felt, as Decker put it, like a “gaping chasm in my life.” I wanted so badly to be outdoors with my growing pregnant belly. I remember fondly the last snowshoe I did before the onset of pain. The idea of being out there with baby safely tucked away made me smile.
The images and social media accounts that once gave me confidence to become pregnant, now made me resentful. I was mad at my body, disappointed in myself, and now my favourite way to unwind from stress was ripped away from me.
Unsolicited Opinions and Finding Commonality
To make matters worse, there’s something about pregnancy that brings on unsolicited opinions from just about everyone. As I’m struggling with pain, a flood of unhelpful comments are thrown my way: “just wait until baby gets here,” “it’s only going to get worse,” and “you’ll have to give up those things anyways.”
People love to put limitations on you. Maybe it stems from their own insecurities, their own loss of identity after parenthood, or their own fear. Maybe, it’s simply misogyny and the exhausted stereotypes about mothers and motherhood.
Myself and the pregnant women whose outdoor lives continue to thrive share in common the unsolicited opinions, imposed limitations, and doubtful attitudes. Decker’s article documents how pregnant women in the outdoors were called selfish, told they were endangering their child, and asked when they planned to give up their outdoor lifestyles. All of this when they are perfectly healthy and reaping the benefits of the fresh air, exercise, and nature.
The underlying message is always the same, you do not belong here. Perhaps, this is why so many women worry about the loss of identity, hobbies, friendships, and career that can come with motherhood. We’ve seen others struggle with it, we’ve heard the comments, and we’ve personally experienced the backlash and maybe even contributed to it.
But, the idea that women should sacrifice all of themselves for their families or become a shell of their former selves is not only unhelpful, but harmful. Not just to us, but to our children who need and deserve to see their mothers thriving and living their fullest lives.
Shifting Identity and Parenthood
There is something to be said about the transformation of pregnancy and parenthood. It’s scary, daunting, beautiful and transforming – all the ingredients for the perfect adventure, wouldn’t you say?
As for the negative comments, I’ve stopped pushing back against them. I try to remember, this is my journey and it will unfold as it does. I’m reassured that most people recover well from pelvic pain sometime after delivery. Though worry occasionally sneaks in, I choose to remain optimistic.
As for being a parent? I know that outdoor adventures will look different with a kiddo. I’m sure they will require more planning, effort, and gear. There will be tears and tantrums. But, do I ever look forward to sharing my love of the outdoors with my daughter and seeing it anew through her eyes. I can’t wait to have her bouncing along in my backpack, to swim with her in waterfall pools, and camp under the starry sky.
Coping and Lessons Learned
In the meantime, while pregnancy has changed my outdoor life, it did not extinguish it. Getting outside still feels good even if it looks different. Since the weather warmed, I’ve spent a lot of time swimming at a nearby lake. The weightlessness of being in the water helps eliminate pain. It’s one of the only types of exercise that I can enjoy. Swimming with the fish, surrounded by trees, ducks, and dragonflies makes me feel more like myself again.
My fiancé has also helped me transform our very small backyard. We’ve added a garden, some trees and shrubs, and native plants to attract pollinators and birds. It has become a great little sit-spot and I’ve come to expect the mourning dove songs early in the day, the buzz of bumble bees in the wildflowers, and the sparrows picking through my strawberry patch.
And, on occasion, I’ll also visit a nearby river with my dog to play fetch. The river is a short 10 minute walk from the parking lot and, if I’m honest, even that is too much. But, sitting by the river and watching the water flow by is nice.
All this to say, nature is everywhere. It’s easy to feel separate from it, but we never are. It might be a small greenspace in your city or the lichens growing over the sidewalk. While I miss the backcountry and sprawling hikes, it’s great to appreciate nature a little closer to home.
My Hope for Other Pregnant People
I hope if you are pregnant and experiencing similar troubles, you know that you aren’t alone. If you are looking to become pregnant, I hope this doesn’t scare you. I encourage you to check out accounts of women living their best outdoor lives while pregnant or with small children. Know that everyone’s journey is unique and whatever challenges you face, you’ll overcome them.
If any of this resonates with you, I’d love to hear about your experiences in the comments section.
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Sylvia Decker. 2021. “Baby Bellies and Backpacks.” Explore Magazine.