Bicycle Network: Women's Cycling
Life after birth
Laura Williamson discovers that when it comes to mountain biking, there is no such thing as the baby blues
My pregnant friend eyed me warily over the cuppa perched on her sizeable belly. I’d been mountain biking, and it looked like it would be a while before her next ride.
“How long before you got your body back?” she asked.
Adapting to a new body
At first, I thought she was asking at what point my body seemed mine; pregnancy can make you feel like nothing below the neck belongs to you anymore. But that wasn’t it. What she really meant was, how long until she got to be fit again?
I knew how she felt. One of my biggest worries during pregnancy was that my cycling life was over. Part of this fear revolved around body image (“I’ll be too huge to pedal uphill! I’ll have to pump up my suspension to take the weight!”) but also that there would be no more time for bikes, or that I’d be too tired to ride.
Difficult early days
Parenthood did take its toll at first. I didn’t lose many kilos for a while after the birth (upping my intake of chocolate and wine was a vital part of my survival early on), and even if I had, certain burdens are unavoidable. To see what I mean, ride up a steep hill with a one-litre bottle of milk tucked away in each bra cup. And I was tired. But here’s the thing: bosoms and sleep deprivation notwithstanding, soon I found that being a mother was making me a better rider. So what gives?
Being a mum is good for your riding!
To begin, there may be a scientific explanation. Studies show that female athletes perform better after childbirth. The speculation is that pregnancy increases heart and blood volume, boosting aerobic activity – but the theory is controversial, and probably not the only reason for my improvement.
The main thing I noticed was that my post-birth self was braver. Once I’d been through a two-day labour, the steep tricky exit to one track that had flummoxed me for years looked pitiable. In fact, I’ve conquered all sorts of things since having my son: gap jumps, wooden structures, horribly steep uphills that once made me whimper. Now I take them on with ease, chanting my new mantra all the while: “I gave birth to a nine-pound baby! Bring it on!”
Motherhood has also made me appreciate my bike time. I was never enthusiastic about training. I used to lie on the couch, novel in hand, cataloguing excuses for not going out (it’s raining, it looks like it’s going to rain, it rained the other day and might again). Now, any ride represents a few precious moments to myself, and I can’t wait to hop into my baggies and hit the trails.
Finally – something I didn’t anticipate – my son inspires me. Watching him wobbling across the lawn on his two-wheeler, falling over and getting up again, and again, and again, wanting nothing more than to pedal in a straight line like the big boys up the road, I think, heck, if he can do it, so can I. I want to ride like the big boys. And now I do.
This article first appeared in Ride On magazine, February–March 2009