Learn From Elite Athletes: 10 Tips for Pregnancy and Motherhood

Sasha Brown-Worsham
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There are few people who rely on their bodies more than elite athletes and pregnant women.

The two have a lot in common. Both are engaged in incredibly taxing physical endeavors. Most are spending their time huffing and puffing and training for one big event.

For women who are elite athletes, there is a double problem because just as we hit our peak physically, we also hit peak fertility. The New York Times has been running a four-part series about these issues with these women: tennis star Gigi Fernandez; marathoner Blake Russell; golfer Cristie Kerr; and basketball player Taj McWilliams-Franklin.

A woman’s athletic prime and her peak child-bearing years overlap like a total eclipse of the moon. A woman’s fertility peaks in her mid-20s and declines sharply after the age of 35, a real conundrum for golfers, whose games, like the courses they play, take years to mature.

The series was enlightening and offered some ideas on motherhood from conception through adolescence.

10 Tips From Elite Athletes:

Think about babies in your 20s: Much as you may want to do all the things you want to do, if you're in a stable relationship and you want to have kids, all socioeconomic issues aside, it's smarter to just do it. The fact is, fertility declines after 35 and for every success story, there is one who had a lot of trouble conceiving or who couldn't at all.

“You discover you’re gifted in the marathon,” [Kara] Goucher said in a telephone interview, “and the problem is you’re in your late 20s and you’re like, I want to have children. What do I do?”

Don't give up: Gigi Fernandez started trying after 40, struggled quite a bit, and finally was able to conceive using donated eggs and sperm in 2008. If you want to be a mom, you will find a way.

Consider your options: There is not only one way to have a baby.

Conversations on motherhood among golfers now often include surrogacy, adoption, freezing eggs, assisted reproduction techniques, and the side effects of hormone injections.

Remember you're worth more than your ovaries: Despite all that she had accomplished in tennis, Fernandez said, “There’s this implication that women are here to bear children, and if you can’t bear children, you’re useless.” It's not true.

Maintain strong friendships: Fernandez had a friend donate eggs, but also remember that friends are the ones who will offer advice when you need it, offer a shoulder to cry on, and make you laugh when you need that, too.

Listen to your body: Even elite athletes slow down a little in pregnancy.

Russell ran 45 minutes to an hour every other day, at a 10- to 11-minute-a-mile pace, during the first six or seven months of her pregnancy, until sinus problems made it difficult for her to breathe and she had to slow to a walk.

Start back slowly after birth: Every woman will be different, depending on age and fitness. Soon after birth, test the waters of working out and then see how far you can go.

Don't expect to feel normal immediately: Returning to old routines takes time. Don't rush into it.

Russell said she didn’t start to feel like her old running self until after she stopped nursing.

Expect a new "normal": Having a baby changes everything. Don't expect to get back to your old self ever. Find a new self that blends with the old.

More often than not, [Russell] has to stretch in the shower. Many days, her last image before taking her first strides is of Quin being pried from her arms by her mother, who moved to the Monterey Bay from Benicia, Calif., to help with child care.

Find good childcare: The key to resuming work and some semblance of the old life is finding childcare you trust.

The ideal arrangement if you have to leave your young child is to leave it with a relative, said Susan Newman, a social psychologist. Because you know they have that child’s best interests at heart possibly more than anyone else.

You may not be an elite athlete, but these decisions are applicable to anyone who is a parent or who hopes to be one in the future.

Did you find the series helpful?


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