Team INFINIT Triathlete, Kayla Bowker, shares her personal experience being a pregnant athlete in today's age
The role of women in today’s society has certainly evolved over the last 100 years. There are more female CEOs than ever; more women are choosing careers in business, science and law. There has also been a notable rise in women in sports.
In 1972, Title IX was signed to provide everyone equal access to programs and activities (i.e. sports), that receives federal financial assistance. Since then there has been a 545% increase in the percentage of women playing college sports and a 990% increase in the percentage of women playing high school sports.
Being a woman, and athlete myself, it’s amazing to see the progression over time and how far we’ve come.
Then there is the topic of pregnancy.
The rise of some high profile professional female athletes, alongside the women’s empowerment movement, has given way to the conversation of how pregnant women and mothers should be viewed in society, in the workplace, and most recently in the sporting world.
Although we have come a long way in the evolution of a woman's “place” in society and through research, there is still something very glaring disparities, particularly when a woman becomes pregnant.
For some reason the second a woman becomes pregnant the ideal is that we become fragile flowers that need to be handled with kid gloves, and then the second we become mothers the only thing we are allowed to talk about is how wonderful it is raising our child.
Once you become a mother, many people start looking at you like you’re selfish for wanting it all. It’s like there’s an asterisk next to female empowerment — we SHOULD and CAN dream big and follow our passions* — except when pregnant or raising a family.
Why is it that the second we announce we’re pregnant we go from being empowered to somehow losing the physical, mental, and emotional strength we were previously thought to have?
When in fact, as I am realizing more and more every day, being pregnant makes us more tough. It makes us even more in tuned with our bodies (than we already are). It immediately makes us stronger.
"Within minutes of finding out I was pregnant, I made a choice to continue to chase my dreams no matter what. I wanted to continue to dream big, dream crazy, and let that 'crazy' guide me throughout my journey."
Who else can continue to live their lives, work, train, keep a house, maybe watch over other children, and just live life while watching their bodies change right beneath their eyes. Not to mention vomiting, nausea, extreme headaches, exhaustion, and being poked and prodded on a routine basis by doctors!
A study on the physical demands of pregnancy was recently published, and it immediately made headlines. The findings published in Science Advances, actually compared the “race” of pregnancy to the most demanding races in the world (ironmans, triathlons, ultramarathons).
The BMR (basal metabolic rate), representing how many calories one burns “at rest”, was compared between pregnant women and endurance athletes. According to the study, the most anyone can sustain is burning calories 2.5 times one’s BMR, which is about 4,000 calories a day for the average adult. Results showed that pregnant women burn 2.2 times their BMR, every day, for ~270 days (9 months). In contrast, high endurance events/races can raise your BMR higher than 2.5 times, but it can’t say that high for long before the body needs to rest.
The kicker is that, pregnant moms never get to “rest” and are constantly performing at an elevated BMR until postpartum.
Why not celebrate the strength we have as women to go through this journey? Why not celebrate the physical, emotional, and mental strength it takes to undergo the changes we experience from all angles of the journey, rather than bottle it up and ignore it?
Within minutes of finding out I was pregnant, I made a choice to continue to chase my dreams no matter what. I wanted to continue to dream big, dream crazy, and let that “crazy” guide me throughout my journey. I WAS going to have it all and there was no question about it.
This was a decision that received a lot of pause from others. Why? Truthfully, I have not figured it out yet.
There was no way I was going to let my strength, any form of it, be put in a bottle and stuck on the shelf to be ignored for the next 8-9 months. I was going to do everything I could to let it shine.
"Racing while pregnant has forced me to come back to the basics. To train for the love of the sport. To race as I used to — with grit, gumption, and a whole lot of heart."
This journey so far has been a learning experience, with the biggest lesson being a reminder to be forgiving and show myself grace.
Going from being a lean mean fighting machine ready to take on the world, to barely being able to stay awake until 8 pm, forcing food down, peeing myself while running, and my clothes barely fitting is a hard pill to swallow. Not only does the journey wreak havoc on your body but the mental struggles sometimes seem more daunting than watching your body change.
It amazes me that the second a woman becomes pregnant the only things we seem to be allowed to talk about is the magic we are feeling at creating life, the joy we have at bringing life into the world, and how it is a gift to be able to do so. And don’t get me wrong — It’s all those things! But, all women are different.
While some of us have always been totally geared towards being a mother, there are plenty of us that it is a completely foreign entity. For some of us, the journey is not one of magic, but one full of everyday mental and emotional struggles.
The only thing that has remained at a constant is that I am continuing to follow my heart and listen to my body.
Letting my heart guide me through this journey has been one thing that has kept me centered. I am so far outside of my comfort zone that I really have no clue what it is that I am doing!
As endurance athletes, it is easy to get so caught up in the journey that we forget not only why we started it, but that we are all out there for the same reason — to push ourselves outside our comfort zone in order to learn more about ourselves.
Racing while pregnant has forced me to come back to the basics. To train for the love of the sport. To race as I used to — with grit, gumption, and a whole lot of heart.
There is no manual for racing and training while pregnant. Honestly, I am totally winging it. In fact, I expect that there is really no manual at all for being a mother. I am guessing that this feeling of doubt won’t really change when my husband and I officially become parents.
Each day will bring us something new, and with each day a learning experience that we probably could never anticipate.
This roller coaster of highs and lows throughout a journey is one of the reasons I fell in love with the sport of triathlon, and I can only anticipate that the ones that will occur being a parent will be just as fulfilling (even when they are equally frustrating).
"The only thing that has remained at a constant is that I am continuing to follow my heart and listen to my body."
I know it will be challenging to try and find balance as an athlete and mother. But I also know that as long as I strive to always be grounded and at peace with the choices and actions that I am making, I will be able to provide a life full of love, laughter, and adventure for my family.
Maybe my child will question their mom’s love of triathlon, maybe my child will find passion and meaning in a sport of their own, and maybe just maybe my child will love themselves to the fullest and spend their lives chasing their dreams and passions just as mom and dad have done.
We really do not know, and we cannot predict what our actions will carry in the future, we just have to believe that we are doing the best that we know how in that moment.
As I prepare to bring my child into the world, I feel so much support from everyone in this evolving time. My family is very supportive, and I know that my child, boy or girl will be given all the best. I feel at peace with how far today’s society has come in the role of supporting strong women and I know that as a world we will continue to grow.
Update: 2 Years Later
Imagining being a mom was never something I could do – in fact three to five years ago I would have told you, “sure I want to have kids but honestly, I don’t ‘need’ to have children.” I could have easily not had children and been perfectly happy.
Fast forward to November 2019 when my first son was born (my second is currently on the way and due in July) and that statement was forever changed in every single perfect way.
Being mom is challenging. It is exhausting; and not just because my child still at 18 months doesn’t sleep through the night but because it requires you to give every ounce of yourself to everything in your life, but it is without a doubt the absolute best thing that could have ever happened to me, in every possible way.
To believe in love is one thing but to believe in the love you have for a child is a completely different thing, it is all encompassing and the power and strength it provides you takes you to completely new levels and it is that love that has forever changed me in what I believe has been for the better.
Being mom changed me and changed me in ways I didn’t believe were possible. I smile more. I laugh more. And I believe more.
The one thing that it did not change was my passion, drive, and determination to chase my dreams simultaneously to being mom.
To be an elite triathlete, to train and race at the highest level, to run my own business coaching others in triathlon and mental performance, to be a wife, a daughter, and a mom to (soon to be) two amazing little boys...
I stand corrected, something did change — My drive for these aspects of my life became even stronger, and more importantly doing it became more fun, more powerful, and even more fulfilling. Because at the end of a session, end of the day, end of a race I am not just doing it for me, I am doing it for a little boy who looks at me and says “momma” and makes everything else in the world disappear.
As we look forward to the second half of this year when we will be adding a second little boy to our family it seems easy to say that maybe that means I should just put off some of these goals, let one or two of them slide and give myself a break. But for me, that would be “the easy way out,” and in doing so, I would be losing a part of myself.
So, I will not be setting one of these boxes up on the shelf for a while in fact the goal is to tackle them head on as soon as possible with races on the schedule for the later part of the year.
Before having my first son I looked at this journey with a little bit of uncertainty; now I look towards it with excitement, energy, and strength.
I know that I can do it, while I don’t know what it will look like, I know that at the end of the day I can do it because I have already done it. On top of that, I know that I now get to do it with the love and joy of my two little boys. Two little boys who I am honored to be able to show you can do anything you want if you are willing to be dedicated and disciplined towards that goal.
It is this thought that propels me forward with joy and excitement.
Kayla's Custom Blends
My RUN Blend is my go-to-blend for all my run training and racing, as well as shorter bike rides (around 90 minutes) or long swims.
This formula has 41 grams of easy to digest carbohydrates, just shy of 500 mg sodium plus other cramp fighting electrolytes potassium, calcium, and magnesium, as well as caffeine to keep you alert and focused. You'll notice that there is no protein in this blend in order to minimize the risk of any GI issues during running. You'll notice that there is no protein in this blend in order to minimize the risk of any GI issues during running. It has a lower flavor profile so that you can either concentrate it into a smaller handheld bottle or make sure that you don't get an overwhelming sense of flavor.
I built this formula to pair with my Road To Kona BIKE Blend that is used during my long bike rides. It has a similar flavor and electrolytes profile just don't include the protein so that I wouldn't risk any GI issues with the breakdown of protein during running. As a fairly heavy sweater I needed something that had a fairly high electrolyte profile but that I could use over a longer period of time. A fairly concentrated bottle of this blend takes me for around 80-90 minutes of running.
This blend can be used for any training and racing from Olympic distance all the way to a full Ironman marathon.