In an ideal world, enthusiastic skiers would all get pregnant in February, have babies in November, and this would barely be a discussion. However, it seems we can control when the stork shows up with the baby about as much as we can control the snowfall, so there are decisions to be made.
Only now, several months into the current season, can I look back at last season and appreciate how truly hard it was to ski pregnant. I was five months pregnant by December 2015, and even by then everything seemed difficult. Buckling my boots, constantly looking for a place to pee, skating a measly hundred feet up to the lift--all of these things left me breathless or groaning or muttering. At the time, it seemed normal, like maybe all of the little chores that go along with skiing are the price to pay for the glorious feeling of sailing downhill on our own feet. The feeling which, despite the struggle, kept me skiing (out-of-breath and muttering) into the beginning of March. Those moments where gravity took over and I could just go, suddenly things felt easy. Despite the extra girth (probably helped with my gravity situation, actually) I felt normal, turning left and right, like myself, and a person fully capable of taking on all the impending new challenges. It was reassuring, fortifying, and totally worth all of the peevish, wheezing moments. Skiing, like the little growing bun in the oven, is a part of me, and continuing with this activity while pregnant was important to my happy, healthy pregnancy.
As with mountain biking (and exercising while pregnant in general), I had heard the full gamut of stories from pro skier friends who stopped skiing at four months just because it felt right, to the friend who was skiing at eight months pregnant and would wander around the lodge until she found a friend, acquaintance, or kind soul willing to buckle or unbuckle her boots for her. The one that takes the cake, though, in my opinion is Jodie, who at eight months pregnant went ahead and guinea-pigged (that means stepping up and going first) a pond-crossing on tele skis.
I am not saying to go out and do this; on the contrary, I'm all about choosing your own line in general, and I celebrate all decisions that come from the heart (or the ovaries-of-steel, in Jodie's case). So, when deciding to ski last winter, I had a few things on my mind. I felt good and wanted to ski, but also was concerned first and foremost with the health of the baby. Digging deep, I came to the conclusion that I had nothing to prove skiing-wise, and all decisions would be made from that place. Any skiing would be for exercise, fresh air, and happiness. I took it super easy, went slow, and had a wonderful winter followed by a baby in mid-March.
In that spirit, here are my top ten pieces of unsolicited advice for listening to your own ovaries, and making your own decisions about getting out (or not) on skis with a bun in the oven:
1. Talk to your health care professional first and foremost! Skiing pregnant is not for everyone. Listen to the professionals, explain your situation, your experience and your hopes and concerns clearly and honestly, and then listen to a combination of their professional opinion and your own gut and heart.
2. Talk to your partner and your family, and listen to them. They know your ability, and ask them to be honest. Weigh their opinions heavily!
3. Take each day, run, and turn at a time. I always tried to ski mindfully, staying open to all possibilities. I became ok with saying no, and not looking back or questioning any decision. I worked hard at being honest with myself, and admitting when my ego was trying to drive the bus.
4. Bring snacks and water! Avoid being the hangry, dehydrated person on the mountain--this can result in grumpiness and rude behavior. One morning out on the hill, we had just gotten off the lift and were about to ski down to the lodge for a break when we ran into a friend, who introduced us to her adult daughter whom she was skiing with. We chatted for a moment and the friend's daughter asked what we were going to name our baby. I said we didn't know yet, but we had a few names on the short list. "Well, what are they?" she asked. "I'm not going to tell YOU," I responded, way more forcefully and with way different syllable emphasis than I'd intended. My response shocked Jim and shocked me! In retrospect it was pretty funny because it was so uncharacteristic, and so obviously a result of being hungry and thirsty. Save your future self some future apologizing and just pack the snacks and some water, and take frequent hot chocolate breaks.
5. Keep it regular, and re-evaluate after a big break. There were days I felt tired and it would have been easy to curl up on the couch with the dog, but I ALWAYS was way happier if I made the effort to go skiing on a regular basis. That way I could constantly adjust my skiing as my center of gravity and balance changed and there was never a big surprise. The changes felt normal and gradual. I realize this isn't always possible for everyone, but try to stay committed if you can. And if you do end up missing a few weekends and all of a sudden it's been a month since you've skied, ease in verrrry slowly, and have a deep conversation with yourself beforehand about the benefits and what you are wanting to achieve.
6. Borrow some bibs, full-zips, or easy-off pants in a larger size. Frequent pee breaks are key to comfort and happiness on the mountain, and really in general for most pregnant ladies, unless you for some reason have the bladder of a thousand camels. I thankfully was given a pair of bibs in a larger size, with stretchy suspenders and a side zip that made it possible for me to pull over in the woods, hike up my jacket, unzip and pee while still clicked in to my skis, fairly discreetly and usually under thirty seconds. I cannot overstate how important this was for comfort. Having my pee system dialed was everything. And having loose, comfortable pants was the second everything, besides water and snacks. Ask around; chances are a friend has something they used just sitting around. Or give a shout, you can borrow my bibs. There are probably a bunch of snacks stashed in the pockets.
7. Ask for--and accept--help. Now is the time. Just say please a lot, and thank you. As in, "Could you please unbuckle my boots right now? My swollen feet are barking like crazy." or "I'll be there in a minute, I have to pee. Thank you for waiting." or "Could I borrow your large jacket, please? And could you please fill the pockets with snacks?"
8. Try to avoid crowds, when at all possible. I found it much easier to concentrate and enjoy skiing when there weren't a bazillion yahoos whizzing by me at all times. There are lots of ways to get around this--go to the least crowded areas on the mountain. Ski the off times, like take the afternoon shift, from 2-4pm. Or have a crew of people ski behind you on busy runs--I would notice my husband would always sort of ski protectively behind me when we entered certain areas. This normally would have driven me nuts, but I just accepted it as awesome and said thank you--see #7 above.
9. The backcountry can be your friend. Of course there are other hazards involved in backcountry skiing, but for experienced backcountry skiers, by making good decisions and staying well within limits, touring can be a really peaceful way to get some turns and exercise with a bun in the oven. As with mountain biking, I found I had about one pace I could skin up, so I plugged on, slow and steady, and had some really fun days out there with low avalanche hazard and amazing skiing.
10. Listen to yourself, honestly. Pregnancy and childbirth have been some of the best lessons in my life for learning the importance of listening to my true self, as well as the importance of patience, and kegels. More on those later. Happy winter!