Pol(e)ing Through Pregnancy and Beyond
Written by: Erin O’Brien
IMPORTANT NOTE: It is a very personal decision whether or not to keep pole dancing throughout pregnancy – a decision which is also based on medical advice – and I am in no way advocating that it is the best thing for everyone. This is MY experience and I made sure that I was careful every step of the way. Speaking to your doctor is definitely something I recommend, especially since most studios would require a medical note in order for you to continue in classes. I made sure that my doctor was aware of the different training that I would be doing and he then gave me the medical clearance that I needed. It is also essential to be in tune with your own body and not to push yourself too hard – the general rule is that the level of training you were doing before you fell pregnant is an okay level to carry on with but not to push beyond that. Obviously, as the months go by there are certain things that become physically impossible while many things remain in the relm of possibility as long as you make sure that you and baby are safe and you do not take any risks.)
At the end of 2014 I was on top of the world: I had just won the advanced section of Pole Princess Ireland and I was feeling stronger and more motivated than ever. I had my eyes set on the next competition as well as training to teach pole dancing/fitness; in fact, my application had already been sent in, my theme decided on, and my song chosen.
There was just one thing niggling me – I was not getting any younger and I had always planned on having two children – my first child had just turned three years old and asked regularly when we were going to make her a little sister (a little brother was apparently not an option).
I had a big decision to make and I knew that no matter what I did there would be repercussions in my future; just which kind was now up to me.
After talking it through with my husband and going over it in my head a million times, we agreed that for us it was now or never to have another baby.
I will admit that I agonised over the fact that pregnancy would put on hold so many of the goals I had set for myself in pole, but I also made a promise to myself that it would not completely set me back – I WOULD keep up my strength as much I could and I WOULD make sure that I continued to be surrounded by everything pole so that I did not end up feeling distanced or fall too far behind in new tricks and techniques (even if I would not be able to do all of them!).
At first, strength was not the biggest challenge – morning sickness was.
I had never felt that sick in my entire life; my first pregnancy had definitely left me unprepared for the onslaught of nausea that punctuated my every waking moment in those first 3 months. I ended up missing classes because I quite simply could not move from the bathroom floor.
Not long after I found out I was pregnant, I also found out that my grandmother had fallen ill. It was not clear whether or not she would be able to pull through and since my husband was flying out to France to work for 6 weeks, I packed our bags and my daughter and I hopped on a plane (or three!) to South Africa to be with my family.
Luckily, through a friend, I had made contact with a pole studio in my home town and had already made arrangements to attend classes there. I was, of course, honest about my stage of pregnancy and had only to bring medical clearance in order to start – there was no way I was willing to go 6 weeks without pole!
Now, as I pointed out in the note at the beginning of my blog, it is very much an individual decision to keep going to pole classes during pregnancy, or to stop until after the birth. Talking to your doctor is extremely important as well as knowing and listening to your own body. Another essential element in helping and supporting you through your ‘pregnant poler’ journey is having a great instructor: someone who is able to encourage and guide you while also being aware of extra precautions that you and they will have to take.
Thankfully, during my stay in South Africa, the dreaded morning sickness began to ebb and I could enjoy my pole sessions even though I was already feeling a difference in my ability on the pole. I still don’t really know if it was physical or mental in those early days. The first few months are vital in the formation of a baby and although this was my second pregnancy, I once again found myself a little nervous and extremely over-protective of the life growing inside me. That is why I think there were certain tricks that I was hesitant to attempt and others that I attempted very gingerly and could not therefore adequately pull off – I tend to go with my gut feelings and something I once heard has stuck with me to this day: “when in doubt, go without”. Listening to your body is always the smart choice.
This being said, there were still loads of tricks and spins I could do, and felt comfortable doing. One move that I had done over and over (both because I loved it and because it had been in two of my routines and therefore needed to be drilled continuously) was cup grip handspring and cup grip iron x – this move became something I was able to do until I was 36 weeks pregnant even though shoulder mount was lost to me quite early on! (Shoulder mount was also a favourite of mine but it soon gave me difficulty, in part due to the extra weight I was carrying and also due to the weakening and stretching of my abdominal muscles. Shoulder mount is certainly not easy and requires good abdominal strength and control; I soon discovered that shoulder mount and I would be saying a sad farewell for the next few months).
Getting back to Ireland and my home studio was beyond amazing – I had missed everyone so much and was itching to get back to classes; I have to be honest though, I was immediately struck by how far the girls in my class had progressed while I felt as if I was stagnating. I spent many a night worrying about how far behind I was falling and how much catching up I was going to have to do. Of course, in those moments I would also put a hand on my growing belly and remember the amazing little creature I was doing this for – I knew my baby was worth every bit of sacrifice but this knowledge did not make it any less difficult and my fluctuating hormones were NOT helping me either!
I started making adjustments to my training with the guidance of my instructor, and there were often times when everyone around me would be working on a new and sparkly trick that I was dying to try while I worked on climbs, over and over and over; yes, I often felt jealous and yes, I often lamented on my lack of progress – BUT I knew that I was making sure I didn’t lose the fundamentals, and I was holding on to my strength because believe me, lifting 30 + pounds up a pole ain’t easy!
I was incredibly lucky that my instructor went above and beyond to give me variations in both the warmup and class schedule so that I still felt included while not over doing it and keeping me and the baby dancer safe. My little princess (yup, my oldest daughter’s wish had come true, we were expecting another little diva) spent a lot of her time in my womb upside down, I will be very surprised if she doesn’t take up pole one day.
Another part of my training that was going through adjustment was my flexibility training – I no longer felt comfortable doing any back stretching but continued to work on my leg flexibility and have seen a marked improvement even after the birth of my second daughter. I feel I should point out that there are many people who believe it is unsafe to do any flexibility training during pregnancy and while I certainly do not believe that it is a good idea to do anything you are uncomfortable with, I do believe that stretching safely is fine; once again, always listen to your body, listen to your instructor, and make smart choices.
My last invert was at 36 weeks pregnant and my last day in class was at 40 weeks pregnant. 6 days later my beautiful little girl was born and the journey back to my body began.
It has been tough, there have been good and bad days, I have felt both frustrated and elated – but most of all I am incredibly thankful for the love and support that I get from my second home, my pole studio.
My first class back (I started again 2 months post birth. When you decide to return to pole is also going to be different for everyone, I waited until I felt completely ready to return) I felt very weak and a little wobbly, but I also felt over the moon happy just to be able to swing around a pole without the little voice in the back of my head reminding me to be extra careful – I could actually put my stomach against the pole again, it was an amazingly beautiful feeling!
My baby is now 4 and a half months old and I can honestly say that I am only now starting to feel my strength coming back – inverting is a lot easier, my shoulder mounts are thankfully done with straight legs again (on my better side only though!), and my skin is slowly getting used to the burn that it had forgotten.
There were countless nights I had spent awake and anxiously wondering if I would ever be able to get back to the point that I was at before, and now I know that I will. I am definitely not there yet but I am not a million miles away either. I have set my sights on a competition this year and look forward to the challenge!
Balancing children and my passion for pole can be tricky at the best of times, but I love both so much that it is always worth it.
About Erin: Originally from South Africa, lives in Ireland with her husband and two daughters. She is a fitness instructor who teaches spinning part time while using all available other time to immerse herself in her one true passion: everything pole.