It’s official. Swimming has taken over. But of all the things I imagined it to be when I started on this swimming journey, birth control wasn’t one of them. Right now, feeling reflective as I near a decade of motherhood, I realise that swimming has been about more than repairing my postnatal body.
On this day in 2006 I was eleven days overdue with my first baby. Over the next fortnight my body would go through the most raw, physical experience of my life. From carrying a great weight and circulating 25% more blood, to medical procedures to induce labour, to labour itself in all its animal grit and rawness, to post-partum bleeding and repairs, to learning to breastfeed, carry and nurture my newborn son. Nothing could have prepared me for the physicality of motherhood.
That was just the beginning, though. Not just that looking after a child is an intensely physical experience until they are beyond the age of needing help eating, dressing, wiping their own bum. But also that I tripled this demand, having two more babies in 2007 and 2012.
Oddly, as I passed the two-and-a-half year mark with my youngest, I found myself drumming my fingers a bit. I no longer needed to change nappies or have someone balanced on my hip. I was sleeping an eight hour stretch most nights. The relentlessly physical demands of the last eight-and-a-half years had left my body feeling, well, like a used lump of flesh.
What should I do with it now? Childbearing was something I knew I was good at doing; I had the hips and everything. So my husband’s veto of a fourth child sent me into a bit of spin. And then to the pool.
It’s probably pure biology that drives women in particular to keep on procreating. But childrearing is tough work; demanding, relentless, ageing, expensive. The more children you have, the greater the demand on your person. It’s simple mathematics. There’s also unrivalled joy, of course. And having been consumed once or more by parenthood, the idea that you won’t get to bring another wonderful person into the world can take some getting used to.
There are hundreds of blogs, discussion forum posts on parenting forums like Mumsnet, even a Wiki-how entry (with pictures) about how to cope with not having another child. Some describe it as an itch, or a grieving process. Some yearn for the pregnancy, or the newborn, others the child themselves and the ensuing chaos they’ll bring to the family like this columnist.
It wasn’t until I started swimming that I realised that being proud of my body for something other than pushing out a ten pound baby (my third. I did that!) was just what I needed. Focussing on swimming filled a void that so easily could have been a fourth baby, had my husband been less adamant.
I could write a list of the relative pros of bring human life into the world verses those of going for a swim. But suffice to say that while I do make lovely babies, and number four could have been a Nobel prize winning game-changer, for my mental and physical health, swimming has been the better choice.
A decade on, my body’s been changed by childbirth, but swimming is helping mend it: diastasis rectus abdomonis rectified by the core conditioning part; a weakened glute and wonky pelvis from all that baby carrying strengthened by the resistance of the water; and a calm mind achieved from the quiet focus that comes from bashing out lengths. I wrote this article last year about why swimming is good for post-natal mums.
Now I feel healthy and strong, I can’t imagine again putting my body through pregnancy, labour and caring for a baby. For me, it’s been about occupying myself physically, and remodelling my body from postnatal lump of flesh to one that can nail long-distance open water endurance swims. This has been wonderful for my self esteem, and while not dissimilar to labour, it won’t tear my perineum, which is a total bonus.