pregnancy

'I'm a fitness instructor, yet I've barely exercised during my pregnancy.'

I want to lay all my cards on the table: I’m a fitness instructor and owner of a successful outdoor group fitness business, and have barely exercised over the past seven months.

I’m 30 weeks pregnant and negotiate whether I really need to walk up a flight of stairs to grab something I’ve left in my bedroom. I often abandon it for the couch.

It’s the most surreal experience going from an incredibly active, high energy, multitasking mum and small business owner, to someone who wants to grab a power nap after school drop-off at 8:30am. I can cite a laundry list of all the beneficial reasons why you should be active throughout your pregnancy: it improves muscle tone, strength and endurance, can lower your risk of gestational diabetes, prepares you for active labour and can help you rebound faster after your delivery.

But I can count on two hands how many times I have ‘properly trained’ this year.

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My energy levels have been at an all-time low. Then adding Saigon’s searing heat and humidity, while racing after two active toddlers (Tomas, three, and Ella, two) to the mix, I’m shattered by mid-morning most days. But if I’m really honest with you, the above excuses aren’t the reason I’ve been inactive. It runs much deeper than that.

No amount of knowledge, training and experience I have in fitness or pre- and post-natal training will convince me to exercise consistently throughout my pregnancy because emotionally, I’m just not equipped.

Last year at 19 weeks and five days into my first pregnancy, I gave birth to our beautiful baby boy Harrison. I had a complication-free pregnancy, Harry was a healthy growing bub with a strong heartbeat until I went into labour and devastatingly delivered him in the early hours on April Fools Day. He hadn’t reached the 24-week ‘viable life’ milestone and my heart is still healing from this experience.

Our family is knitted together through the miracle of adoption. My husband Tim and I have two precious children born of Ethiopian heritage, who we adore more than anything in this world. I never mourned not carrying our babies for nine months as I firmly believe they are our children, with every fibre of my being.

We chose to adopt to create our family. We never pursued IVF when conceiving naturally wasn’t happening for us. In my Year 12 Year Book I recall writing, “10 years from now I would have adopted three children”. Tim and I feel we won life’s lotto, being the parents to Mr T and our Warrior Princess, Ella.

"I never mourned not carrying our babies for nine months as I firmly believe they are our children, with every fibre of my being." (Image: Supplied)
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So to fall pregnant last year was beyond surprising and equally exciting. I was busier than ever at the time but you keep telling yourself to push through. I was running a successful company with my business partner, juggling playdates, family life and social commitments - every day was fast paced and I didn’t have an off button.

I recall not feeling 100% one morning but still continued to exercise, avoiding plyometric movements and runs during the bootcamp session then went straight to see my ob/gyn, still sweaty and stinking to high heaven. Harry was waving at me during the ultrasound and while my ob/gyn reassured me all was fine, he insisted I rest. The next day I went into labour.

While there is no medical reason as to why we lost our boy, as a mother you can’t help but blame yourself for not being able to protect your child, in utero or life. It’s a trauma that’s soul shattering and I can appreciate why women (and couples) chose not to talk about it publicly. It’s an excruciating loss and no words can ever bring them back, or the hope of the life you had envisioned together as a family.

"I’m beyond grateful for this pregnancy but there is certainly an undercurrent of fear." (Image: Supplied)

This experience has made me feel like a human incubator throughout my second (surprise) pregnancy. I am so connected to my son growing inside of me, who is just as active as his siblings, but I equally feel so disconnected from my body in many ways; I’m stiff; mechanical, dormant. Its a strange duality, especially for someone in my profession.

I’m beyond grateful for this pregnancy but there is certainly an undercurrent of fear, and I can only breathe and will myself to be in the moment. And in this moment, I’m doing well. I’m practising love and gratitude daily, and it’s helping to keep my lips above water.

A few weeks ago, I came across an Instagram account and it transformed my approach to fitness. It’s called @2minutemoves. The whole philosophy is to enjoy movement even for just two minutes a day. It's not a revolutionary concept, but for someone like myself who subscribes to the 'Go Hard Or Go Home' approach to exercise, which has kept me sidelined with this pregnancy, it’s helped shift something inside of me for the better.

This season in life isn't about lifting heavy weights in the gym, competing in Spartan Races or climbing mountains. It's about getting back to basics and finding freedom in movement - even if it's just for two minutes a day. Even pumping ‘I’m Still Standing’ by Elton John at high volume and dancing like a mad woman qualifies, and my happiness levels are improving because of it.

Movement is medicine and I’ve never fully appreciated this hallmark phrase until now. It’s healing for your spirit, as much as it is for your mind and body.

For those who have endured grief, loss, trauma or injury, there are countless studies on how movement can improve your psychological, cardiovascular and spiritual health along with treating a wide range of common medical conditions including diabetes, depression, asthma, arthritis, heart disease, osteoporosis and cancer.

If you want more info on how, I encourage you to read this, this or this article.

Listen: Monique Bowley and Bec Judd talk pelvic floor exercises on the Hello Bump podcast. (Post continues after audio...)

Two minutes of movement is achievable no matter who you are or how jammed your day is, or even how fearful you are of this movement - it’s good for the soul. It could be performing calf raises as you peel potatoes, chalking out sit-ups during a commercial break, or performing 40 squats before you hop into the shower at the end of the day.

These small moves can break down the mental and physical barrier you’ve put up towards ‘exercise’ and get you moving, for the sheer and utter enjoyment of movement itself. It’s a gift, if we look at it through this prism. Trust your gut and intuition and know your body is your best guide. Listen to it and pay attention to how you’re feeling. Remove any sense of competition or expectation of yourself on how you should be at this stage in your life and just get back to basics.

The basics can be moving for two minutes a day, and that’s bloody fantastic in my books.

Ness Birch is an Aussie who relocated with her husband to Singapore in 2012, and launched Momentum Bootcamps Pte Ltd in 2014. Now living in Saigon with her growing family, she’s enjoying a slower pace in life - overindulging in chicken pho, afternoon swims and nanna naps.

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