The power of the pregnant body

(Flickr / Wendkuni)

(Flickr / Wendkuni)

This morning I walked to the grocery store — a two-mile round trip, pushing Seamus in the stroller and moving at a good clip. On the way home we were weighed down by a gallon of milk and other groceries. It was a lovely fall day, and he slept the whole way, his hand stuck in a cup of cheerios. In the afternoon, I transplanted hostas, pruned bushes and got the yard ready for the winter while Seamus and his dad and big sister visited the grandparents and watched baseball. At the end of the day, I felt a little tired, but like a lot had been accomplished.

As my belly grows bigger, my pride at being able to be physically active grows too. So imagine how delighted and inspired I was when a friend reposted an article about Rebekkah Brunson — a WNBA power forward for the Minnesota Lynx, who dominated the court in a recent game while eight months pregnant. As I read beyond the first few paragraphs, the story got stranger and stranger, with timeouts for hot dogs, lactation emergencies and crying jags. Finally, I checked the source of the article: The Onion. It was pure fiction. What a bummer! But it got me thinking about pregnant women continuing to be active and physical and strong even as they are putting so much energy into growing and nourishing new life.

Examples are everywhere I look. A friend from high school ran a marathon while she was visibly pregnant. My sister-in-law, Molly, did a major relay race at four months pregnant. (I loved running with her when she was seven and eight months along because I could kinda, sorta keep up with our fleetest family member.) Amber Millar and her husband ran (and walked) the Chicago marathon in 2011 and then headed to the hospital; she gave birth seven hours later. She told the Chicago Sun Times that “the race was definitely easier than the labor.”

Nur Suryani Mohd Taibi competed in the Olympics eight months pregnant. But she wasn’t going “coast to coast” on the court, pulling a triple lux on the ice, or sprinting to the finish on the track. She was a sharpshooter for Malaysia. She didn’t advance beyond the first round, but she was the most pregnant Olympian ever. She told her unborn daughter not to kick too much while she was competing: “I told her, ‘OK, don’t move so much, behave yourself, Mommy’s ready to shoot, help Mommy to shoot.’”

Athletes, politicians, performers, normal Janes: Women get pregnant. Model Alessandra Ambroisio hid her pregnancy so she could walk the catwalk for Victoria Secret in 2011. She looked great (in a Victoria’s Secret sort of way, but she was only two months pregnant and hit the gym hard for the few weeks beforehand).

Raquel Batista isn’t hiding. The lawyer and community organizer from the Bronx is running for New York City Council and gave birth to a baby girl in August. Sally Kohn of The Daily Beast asked if there is a “broken-water” ceiling where women are penalized by voters for being pregnant. She wrote that throughout her campaign, “Batista’s pregnancy was never seen as a positive — a sign that if she would fight this hard to get into office while pregnant, imagine how hard she would fight for her constituents while in office.” It was always a problem: Who is going to look after the kid? Can she keep up? Isn’t she uncomfortable? Election Day is just a few weeks away, and I hope voters will make their decisions based on Batista’s record and platform and her gumption for throwing her burp-cloth gauntlet into the political ring.

Amy Poehler did not try to hide her pregnancy either. In October 2008, overdue to deliver her first baby, the comedian rocked a rap as then vice presidential candidate and Alaskan governor Sarah Palin was sitting right there. The rap, with lines like “all the mavericks in the house put your hands up, all the plumbers in the house pull your pants up,” was incredible, as was Poehler’s energy. She recalled later that making fun of Sarah Palin in front of Sarah Palin was no biggie: “I was so pregnant that I was just trying to not give birth — that was my goal. So whoever was seated next to me, I wasn’t really paying attention to that at the time.”

And then there is Sri Lankan performer MIA, strutting and dancing in a tiny polka dotted “dress” on her due date at the 2009 Grammys. She performed her song “Swagga Like Us” alongside Jay-Z, Kanye, Lil Wayne and T.I. — and she nailed it, not to mention that she looked as though she was having the time of her life. She gave birth to her son Ikhyd days later.

The strangest thing about being pregnant is how conspicuous you are — how often strangers talk to you and ask you questions. It is like wearing a big sign all the time, in a good way. My experience is that pregnant women make people happy. We are visible, so we might as well make the most of these nine months. The fact that pregnant women are running, rapping, dancing, giving speeches, and wielding paint brushes on top of step ladders helps to put to rest the enduring sexist notion that pregnancy is a malady, weakness, or condition. We resist — with our brawn and bulk, our hormones and our harried-ness — patriarchy’s compulsion to shut us away to worry over the nursery and do kegels. We are here and we are growing the next generation — get used to it and get to work making the world worthy of our children.

They call Rebekkah Brunson “the machine.” Her hard work, consistency and skills just helped land Minnesota the WNBA championship. But, no, she is not eight months pregnant. I am no power forward. Heck, I don’t even know a dunk from a duck, but halfway through pregnancy number two, I do feel powerful. I’m less fearful, less tentative, and less rule-bound this time around, but no less stunned by the strength of the pregnant body. All the preggies put your hands up, now let’s do some push-ups!

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