Strength of a Woman
As an athlete, I've always had one fear: that someday, my body may not be capable of doing things it can do right now. I've never been scared of old age - only of my body's inability to be physically able and agile like I have always been used to. Whether it manifested itself in the form of jumping high, sprinting fast, squatting deep or even simple actions like walking, sitting cross-legged on the floor, or lifting and carrying things, I have always aspired to be fit and healthy. The thought of anything less makes me shudder.
15 odd years in the field of sport have shaped my lifestyle in its entirety. As a young child, my day included going to school, going to practice, rinse, repeat. The same continued throughout college - attending classes and shooting hoops afterwards. Even when I went abroad to pursue my Master's degree, I continued taking part in recreational sports. But it didn't end there - when I returned to Pakistan and got a job, I made it clear to my employers that while I would be fully committed to the timely delivery of my tasks, my evenings would not be spent procrastinating at the workplace (as is often the norm). I'd instead be at my practice sessions. And so the routine continued - work from nine to five, giving my limbs a good stretch after.
Marriage - A Bond of Balance
No matter what path life took, I was committed to keeping myself physically active. And then came the time for me to be married. I was told I should forget about my love for sport and focus only on my domestic life if I was to maintain a healthy marriage. While I agree that marriage is indeed a significant change in one's life, it should not be synonymous with an end to a previous life well-enjoyed.
Someone wise once told me that marriage is two people who live on different islands, mutually deciding to move to a third island; each takes what they feel is necessary to cultivate the new island and leaves behind what they feel may hinder their new life. I brought along my love for sport and was pleasantly surprised when my husband and his family embraced it with all their heart. I occasionally got to hear the cliché joke, "don't kick your husband when he misbehaves, just kick a football...," but also got love and care during times of injury and recovery. Or even a shoulder to cry on when I lost an important game. I was fortunate to have the support to balance my new life without giving up on my goal from day one: to remain fit.
Expanding the Family - An Athlete's Decision
Last year, my husband and I decided we were ready to take the next step in our relationship and bring another member into our humble family of two. Naturally, there were important things to consider and tough decisions to make. Are we financially stable? Are we ready for parenthood? Can I forego my athletic activities to embark on this journey of motherhood? The list went on.
Fast forward to today, I sit writing this piece in my 32nd week of pregnancy, grateful to God for the decisions he helped my partner and I make. I couldn’t be happier about how the last year has treated me.
I set out on this challenge (I guess everything is a "challenge" for an athlete), without knowing what to expect. In my mind, I had stereotypical images of pregnant women being confined to their beds without the energy or keenness to do much. I thought my body would become useless. I was also thrown off by doctors who, because they were used to the average Pakistani woman being physically inactive, would only recommend mild activity and short walks. I started dreading my one true fear might come true - I might become physically incompetent.
Keeping Active as a Pregnant Woman
I decided to take matters into my own hands and research pre-natal exercises. I discovered a world of physically active expectant mothers who were lifting weights, swimming, doing yoga, and even jogging during their pregnancy. These were not extraordinary athletes, but rather regular women who had decided to stay fit throughout their nine months. I realised it was completely possible and prepared a weekly schedule that incorporated strengthening exercises with light weights and resistance bands, an online pre-natal yoga class with a certified instructor, some helpful breathing and relaxing exercises from YouTube, regular walks, and occasional hikes.
Throughout, my one golden rule was some timeless advice given to me early on by my mother-in-law. "Slow down when you feel tired and don't exert yourself." Now that is what I call great advice. Instead of telling someone to pause life entirely, what we need to be saying is this: "listen to your body."
Everybody is different, as is their threshold for physical exertion. As athletes, we are trained to listen to our bodies to boost performance and avoid injury. We know when to rest and how to recuperate the body, knowledge that has greatly helped me during this time. We are also used to eating a well-balanced diet, a habit I carried into my pregnancy. I don't need to be reminded to drink milk, eat fruits or ensure the necessary daily intake of water - I'm used to providing the best nutrition to my body (except the occasional junk food binge).
Pregnancy and Resilience
In keeping my body moving throughout these seven or so months, I have discovered an immense strength in pregnancy. It has taught me how resilient a woman's body is and why it deserves to be celebrated. I am experiencing the miracle of growing a living being inside my body and these are "gains" you can't achieve in a gym - they come as a result of taking a plunge into motherhood.
While I may have taken a momentary break from intense physical exercise and sports training, I have learnt that it doesn't mean my body is incapable. I no longer feel like just an athlete - I feel like a superhero, one whose body can be stretched (literally!) to unthought-of limits. My fears no longer envelope me because I have witnessed the power and capability of a woman's body. Of my body.
A close friend once said to me, "these babies... at first they take over your body from the inside. Then they take over your body from the outside. And eventually, they take over your heart." I am already helpless. I started out overly-conscious of the physical ability of my body, but my unborn child has already taken over my soul.
And I wouldn't have it any other way.