Pregnancy Chronicles of a Pro Cyclist Part 1
Hi friends! I’m so sorry it took me until 6 months pregnant to truly open up about what my pregnancy has been like so far! It’s been more of a roller coaster than I thought despite my having an “easy pregnancy” so far. It has been strange because for the 13 years I’ve been writing and blogging, I’ve always wanted to share the details of my life. In fact, something that many of you have said to me over the years is that you like my transparency. For some reason, it’s been really hard for me to talk about being pregnant. There’s been a lot of overthinking, over-analyzing, anxiety, depression, and feelings of being left out and isolation. But in the more recent weeks, there’s been a lot of excitement, joy, and acceptance. So let me tell you about the really hard stuff first.
Acceptance and letting go. That has been my biggest lesson so far. So far, the arch of the story has been one of a totally freaked out, pregnancy hormone-induced anxious ridden person to learning to accept and let go- and that’s led to a much easier time. One thing I’ve learned about pregnancy is that you CANNOT CONTROL much. As an athlete, you try to control your body all the time and get that extra 1% out of it. Accepting that I can’t really control what happens and to trust my body knows what to do has been hard. There’s fear of losing fitness, a big fear of no longer being perceived as “badass” or as capable as I was before, a fear of losing sponsors due to bias, and early on, a huge fear of something going wrong with my pregnancy. I’ve also had to learn what being pregnant means to me and why I have never really thought pregnancy was cool or beautiful. More on that later.
To be honest, I’m not sure where to start. These chronicles will be multi-faceted and have several parts. There’s been so much that I’m not even sure how I want to organize my thoughts.
I guess the beginning is the best place to start. Some of my reservations with sharing how it’s been is that I don’t want to seem like a drama queen and as someone who is always viewed as a positive, mentally tough person- I didn’t want to come across as mentally vulnerable or negative. The point of these chronicles is that when other people go through pregnancy, they maybe won’t feel so alone. I scoured the internet for blogs by elite pregnant athletes. There were some great posts, but I wished there was more. So I’m just going to tell the truth.
Deciding to have a kid
Until I turned 30, I was solidly in the “I’m not having kids” group. I’ve never been excited to hold someone’s baby and never considered myself to be maternal. Little kids usually cry when I interact because I’m too loud and enthusiastic. When I met my husband, Matt- things started to change. Over the years, I knew I’d never feel like there was a good time. So how did we decide we wanted to try to conceive? I reverse engineered our decision making. We both love our families and some of our happiest memories are spending time with family. If we didn’t have our own, what would that feel like in later years? We are both incredibly focused (almost detrimentally) on our careers. Having a baby would mean less time to dedicate to our careers- how would we feel about that? The amount that we have spent working mostly due to passion has gotten out of hand. From a prioritization standpoint, we need and want to spend more time on personal relationships including one with our own offspring! Working 10 hours a day, 7 days a week is not healthy and I did that for years (including training). In fact, that’s why we got a dog last year. It wasn’t a “test run” for a kid. It was to help us have more balance and it worked. If we had a kid, what is the true cost of what we would be getting and giving up? While these questions differ for everyone, we decided that we definitely wanted to have a family and had to separate it from the almost tyrannical drive of wanting to achieve in our careers. That made the decision easy. Also, as a Professional Athlete, I felt that this was a good time for me to take a short break from racing. I feel very grateful for what I’ve been able to do in my career- it’s more than I ever could have imagined or hoped for. I’ve raced in 25+ countries, I’ve won huge races on almost every continent. From a results standpoint, I feel satisfied with what I’ve achieved. I don’t want to retire but I feel like this is a good time to have a baby. I thought it’d be easier to take a break, but it’s been harder than I thought.
The Lead Up- a Story from Last Year
The rest of this post will be about my first trimester (and also about last year). It was one of the hardest times I’ve had in my life… which is actually a good thing! Before I get into it, I want to talk about last year- 2018. We actually tried to have a baby for the first time last fall. I was surprised to get pregnant right away. I knew before I missed my period because I felt awful on my bike and felt like I couldn’t breathe. 2018 was a year of extreme burnout and frequent sickness for me. Everything I was doing had come to a head. I was traveling every single week of the year. I hadn’t been sick in 4 years and was really sick every other month. I could barely ride my bike from lack of motivation and extreme fatigue, but I kept pushing. Getting pregnant was exciting, but I honestly do not think my body was in a good spot. I had many commitments that fall and the show had to go on, so I kept pushing. And then I had a miscarriage. It was really early on- maybe even at a point that some people wouldn’t even know they are pregnant. It happened during a tourism project I was working on around 6 weeks pregnant. There was a lot of worry about what was going on because I wanted to wait to go to the doctor when I got home. During the miscarriage, I also came down with a horrific sinus infection and I tried to keep pushing. It sucked. By the time I got home, I was so worked up about what having a miscarriage meant, what would happen to me, if I was going to bleed all over the airplane- I just had no idea. To top it off, we had arranged to pick up our 8-week puppy on the way home. So I had a sinus infection, miscarriage, tourism project, and new puppy in one week. I was relieved when I got home to learn it was already over- it was merely like a normal period because my pregnancy was so early on. I actually felt relieved that it happened but also disappointed at the same time. It was helpful having a new puppy because it took my mind off of things and introduced a huge amount of joy in my life. It distracted me and I probably didn’t deal with the emotions around the miscarriage. I buried it. Just when I thought I was out of the woods, I broke my foot a week later in a freak accident and had to do a photoshoot with a sponsor…and a week after that I got shingles. So in 3-4 weeks, I had a miscarriage, sinus infection, new puppy, broken foot, and shingles. This was one year ago almost to the day!
Full Stop. Full Brakes. The universe pulled the ebrake on me. I got the message.
I pulled way back with work. I hadn’t planned any travel because I knew we were getting our pup Baxter. I focused on riding the KICKR trainer (I couldn’t walk, but riding didn’t bother me which is kind of weird). Riding kept me sane. It gave me back control. Instead of trying to get pregnant again, I knew I needed to get myself right first. It would be no guarantee that I wouldn’t have another miscarriage, but I knew something had to change.
For the early part of 2019, I focused on being an athlete first. I am proud of how prolific my business and projects are and I do a lot of different things, but I needed simplicity so I focused on the bike. I hired a part-time assistant to help me in my business- it helped a lot!
I decided that I needed to stop rushing success. I decided to do less in a day, but that didn’t mean that I wasn’t productive. I had unrealistic expectations of what I could do from an energy perspective and the goals of my business. It took time, but I learned to rest guilt-free. I also compartmentalized my identities so that I could be intentionally imbalanced. For a 6 week period, I’d have my primary focus be training. For a 2 week period, I’d intensively record podcasts. For 2 weeks, my main focus would be building a library of sponsor content. And if my to-do list didn’t get done, I tried not to beat myself up.
This got me to a much better emotional and physical state of well-being. I started enjoying my work again, I was seeing gains as an athlete again and enjoying my training. I wanted to get myself into a state where I felt like I was thriving before I wanted to try to get pregnant again.
I was in a good place.
Getting Pregnant- First Trimester
When did we want to start trying again? I wanted to feel like I had a full race season before we did. I raced 6 months out of the year and then we tried again. I was again surprised that I got pregnant right away. Once again, I knew immediately because of how terrible I felt on my bike. I drastically reduced my travel and the number of hours per day I was working to make sure I didn’t run myself ragged.
There was an underlying issue brewing this whole time. Fear. Anxiety. What if I had another miscarriage? Could I cause it? What would it mean if I had 2 miscarriages? I was 35- did that mean anything? Why did I feel so bad on my bike and should I keep riding when I felt so bad? I obsessively googled statistics about miscarriages. I hated that I had no control. Not processing the emotions of the miscarriage I had the year before were manifesting as anxiety, fear, and depression. Also, there isn’t a lot of information out there on pregnancy and being an elite endurance athlete. What was too much? I was reading what other people had done, but anecdotal evidence still made me nervous.
The first trimester is a bit of a blur. I kept a brief journal during this time to help me talk about it when the time came. Basically, I was consumed by the anxiety of having a miscarriage and the anxiety of losing all of my sponsors. Feeling so terrible and being so slow on my bike also shook my confidence.
Here’s a journal entry on my 36th bday- Aug 22 – 12 weeks pregnant
My bday! I wish I felt better today, but I feel grumpy, depressed, and tired. I feel apathetic and unmotivated and I’m sick of it. I also am anxious about getting my genetic screening test done.
I’ve been reading articles about runners losing their sponsorships sand am really stressed about mine. It’s stressful in general, but my emotions are out of whack and I’m having trouble dealing.
I wish I felt more excited.
It was hard to feel so down. We told family at some point (I can’t remember) and everyone kept asking me if I was excited. I wasn’t. I was full of dread. I was grateful I could get pregnant, but I felt angry and depressed that my body had been hijacked. I was so lucky that I had very minimal nausea, but I experienced EXTREME fatigue. As a high energy person, this depressed me even more. I also arbitrarily made up that I should still be riding 12 hours a week. The riding was torture. I would be breathing super hard at 125 heart rate. I couldn’t even really get my heart rate up. I was (am) SO slow and weak. I didn’t know how much I should ride and I had anxiety about letting go and riding less. In hindsight, I think it’s crazy that I pushed myself to do so much while I was feeling so bad. The intensity wasn’t high, but just showing up was hard. And how bad I felt made me feel even more depressed, but if I didn’t ride I felt depressed as well. I would have to lay in bed during the day. I felt hopeless and like I had nothing to look forward to. It was the first time I truly understood that you can’t positive self-talk your way out of depression. I had never felt that way before. I knew it was because of my hormones and that it wouldn’t be permanent, but it was still hard. I felt alone and like no one could possibly understand how I was feeling. I didn’t want to work, to do any of my projects and I had to force myself through everything. I was counting down the days to the end of my first trimester because it meant miscarriage risk would be lessened, but it didn’t really help. And then early in September (around 13 weeks pregnant), I had a couple spots of blood. I freaked. And the later you get in pregnancy, the worse the miscarriage will be. I was thankful I had a midwife because I could call her on a holiday and talked to her. I had to wait a couple days for an ultrasound and tell myself everything was fine. And thankfully it was.
Here’s another journal entry:
Sept 3 – 13 weeks
I feel really angry and helpless. I’m sick of feeling awful on my bike. The only thing keeping me riding is knowing it’s healthy and knowing it’ll help my comeback. I hate the unknown. I feel so much stress and anxiety about what will happen with sponsors too. I need to learn to let go. It’ll be so much easier if I can just do that, but it ’s hard. How can I let go? This has been a whirlwind of mostly uncomfortable emotions so far. I’ve identified a lot of thoughts and behaviors. First, I think I’ve had some depressive episodes. I don’t want to call it depression, but I had a realization at one point that what I was feeling might be depression. I want to withdraw and hide most of the time. I feel ashamed of being pregnant for some reason.
Matt at one point said to me, “You can’t hide in your house forever.” I was glad he said that because I truly was hiding and it made it seem more real.
I really didn’t want to share on social media about my pregnancy. I waited until 18 weeks pregnant and it was terrifying to hit “post”. More on that in Part 2. Stay tuned!