Can you imagine being a woman who is 9 months and 4 days pregnant? Now, imagine her standing at a starting line of a half marathon. OK, now let’s combine those two elements.
It’s 27 October 2014 in Ljubljana, where about 20,000 people come from around the world to take part in the Ljubljana Marathon, the biggest event in Slovenia, running together on traffic-free streets. I was waiting for the signs -- for cramps, or my water to break, the signal that I should go. I was prepared to leave at any moment and rush to the hospital, to give birth to my third child. But it was the marathon day, and in the morning my husband, Urban, left my side, to warm up with our running friends. I decided to join them before the start, to run and exercise with them a little.
When they saw me, dressed in my running shoes, they asked me, You don't mean to, do you?
Well, actually, yes, I meant it. I did plan to run. I decided that, if the birth signals were not forthcoming, I might as well try running. Maybe just a few kilometers, maybe just one or maybe just a few meters. Why not, right?
So there I stood, with my big belly, surrounded by lean runners, at the starting line of the marathon.
I saw the EMTs looking at me from the ambulance, so I immediately explained to them that I might finish the run somewhere in the middle and leave quickly, but that they shouldn't be worried, because I was organized.
I heard the starting shot and started running. My husband Urban ran by my side, like me ready for the embrace of the most beautiful of life’s turning points. And even to him, a professional running coach, a pleasant run in pleasant company seemed the best possible way to spend the last hours before the birth of a new life.
Kilometers passed by, and we continued to run.
Do you find this scenario impossible to imagine, considering it perhaps dangerous and even irresponsible? To offer some perspective, let’s examine some of the research on pregnancy and exercise.
In a survey carried out by E. Labonte-Lemoyne and others, it was observed that the brain development of a newborn is influenced by maternal exercise during pregnancy. They compared the brain waves in newborns whose mothers ran during pregnancy, with brain waves in newborns whose mothers did not. Children of the sporting mothers had better-developed brain connections.
Vanishing one evening
without a trace.
Without forgotten clues
on the threshold of my room
and no arrow
to show me the way.
Wherever I could have gone
Would be of no relevance:
Laid at the bottom of the sea
Buried in the darkness of the woods
In China devoid of memory
Looking for a pitiful story
Or in the desert with a shroud of sand.
Everything is fine
As long as nobody ever knows.
Vanishing without a certificate of death
So that one day they will understand
What is baffling me now.
In a research experiment by I. G. Caerillo and others, young rats lived under the same conditions. They could not move properly, since there was no running wheel in the cage and were fed the same diet. A few weeks old, they were injected with cancer cells and then observed for the next 15 weeks. The study showed that among those rats whose mothers ran on an exercise wheel during their pregnancy, cancer developed in 43% of cases. But cancer developed in all the rats whose mothers during pregnancy lived in a cage without a wheel, and so could not run. Maternal exercise during pregnancy clearly helped develop a better immune system in the offspring, since it reduced the risk of mammary tumorigenesis.
But running during pregnancy also benefits the mother. In a survey carried out by K. Gjestland on pregnant women, those who have continued exercising -- even during the last trimester -- reported less back pain and pelvic girdle pain, less depression and anxiety.
During the run, I was exchanging some words with curious runners and spectators, who were standing and applauding along the route. Seeing my belly, some marveled, many congratulated, but some were very worried. But Urban and I knew that it was right that we were here. The baby in my belly was kicking me regularly and, in this way, she was confirming that she was OK. We were just running and everything was all right.
And so kilometers passed, one by one and then along came the 21st. I crossed the finish line and nothing happened. I was still pregnant. Sofija took two more days, before she finally sent the sign that she was ready to meet us.
This long run was our first strong shared experience, with which we somehow enlarged the view and went outside the boundaries that are accepted in our often-overprotective society, where we prefer to be on the safe side. And this is often right. But in pregnancy, which is not a disease, but rather a symptom of our health, we may have narrowed the boundaries too much.
A healthy pregnant woman is slower in many things she does, and rightly so, but she is nevertheless capable of doing most of the things she was able to do before she became pregnant. And if this benefits both child development and her health, then it is right that she does this responsibly. As Voltaire said, “We are responsible not only for what we do, we are responsible even for what we did not do.”
Sofija ran into our world. When she was born, she measured 54 cm and weighed almost 4 kilos. Will she be a runner in her adult life? I do not know. But she will have every chance to be one. In a survey by L. L. Moore and others, the relationship was studied between parents' and child's activity levels, including the parents serving as role models, the sharing of activities by family members, enhancement and support by active parents of their child's participation in physical activity, and genetically-transmitted factors that predispose the child to increased levels of physical activity. They found out that children of active mothers were twice as likely to be active as children of inactive parents. The relative odds ratio of being active for the children of active fathers was 3.5. When both parents were active, the children were 5.8 times as likely to be active as the children of two inactive parents.
Irrespective of these statistical chances, I hope that Sofija will dare to be curious and soberly brave, that when she believes in something that is against the generally-accepted norms, she will dare to question it. I hope she will be able to keep a strong connection with herself, and that she will then be able to choose which way is the best for her.
For me it was irresponsible not to have run during all three of my pregnancies. Pregnant women should feel as good as possible. If we can have an active role in this with running, then let’s run towards a new life, too. Let’s be proud of what our amazing bodies can do.