Since the miserable slog of my first trimester ended, I have been swimming laps regularly, perhaps with a little extra gusto lately thanks to Michael Phelps’s glorious example. It feels sublime to be weightless in the water right now; the contrast is so much more extreme than I’m used to. Normally, being carried and floated around in the air is a big part of my day. I didn’t realize how good I had it!
The mutability of my body has been fascinating. Things shift and realign multiple times a day. I just finished Maggie Nelson's excellent book The Argonauts, in which she questions: "[i]s there something inherently queer about pregnancy itself, insofar as it profoundly alters one's "normal" state, and occasions a radical intimacy with--and alienation from--one's body?" It's true, I feel as connected to my body as I've ever been, yet also like I'm in uncharted waters.
During my eighth month I was getting increasingly winded as the baby grew and pressed up on my diaphragm and kicked at my rib cage. My cardio abilities seemed to disappear overnight, and I was humbled in the pool where I felt as if I couldn’t take a decent breath anymore. I had to slow down my pace and cut down on my laps. Then the baby dropped and engaged into my pelvis (a process that is called lightening, although it mostly feels heavier down lower!). Although my lower back became sorer, suddenly I could inhale easily again and I am back to my usual workout routine. It is so odd to think of my stamina as being dictated by the position of my internal organs.
I have been doing a modified ballet barre in the pool too, and it has been so amusing to watch my legs get lower and lower as my belly has gotten bigger and bigger. I cannot développé front anymore because there is a beach ball in the way. And arabesque feels the most bizarre. I feel no limitations in a muscular sense—in fact I feel quite loose everywhere in that respect. But my extension to the back feels hampered by the tautening of the skin of my stomach. It is truly strange. I can still get my leg up fairly well to the side, but the widening of my pelvis has definitely taken it down a notch!
I winced as I watched the Olympic diving competitions this time around, because for the first time in my life I’ve not been able to jump into a body of water. I now use the stairs or ladder to get in and out of the pool. I was so surprised, some months ago, when I could no longer hoist myself up out of the water from the deep end.
Although I feel far removed from my normal balletic state, I have to say that thanks to ballet I feel very well prepared to give birth. My partner and I just finished up all our labor and childbirth classes, and most of the positions and techniques we were taught were variations on dance poses. Much of it felt like very remedial ballet training--turned in grand pliés, etc. Even the work on the birthing ball was not too different from what I practice with the physical therapists for alignment and strengthening purposes, on the very same ball. Former NYCB dancer Dena Abergel once told me that childbirth felt like dancing every ballet in the rep in one night. Hopefully my years of training will carry me through my own upcoming Olympic feat: labor and delivery!