Can you handle it? Marise describes her pregnancies while dancing in Phantom of the Opera and Cats on tour.
When I fell pregnant while in the middle of a dance contract, I immediately jumped online and spent hours trawling the web for advice on how to manage a pregnancy through an active, physical job.
I already knew that it was generally ok to continue on with exercises I had been doing prior to my pregnancy but I wanted to know all the details of what changes were taking place in my body and how they would affect my performance.
The first thing I noticed was a feeling of mild nausea and fatigue. Normally while on tour I try to get out of the hotel everyday and do a bit of sightseeing but I found I just couldn’t be bothered. I also found the smell of food, wafting in every available pocket of air, to be repulsive. It seemed I alone could smell food everywhere. My colleagues must have thought I had sensory perception disorder for all the phantom smells I ran from. I ended up buying a mini roller containing lemon essential oil and kept it glued to my nose.
Next I noticed my usually firm abdomen had taken on a lovely wide, floppy, flabby appearance. And my digestive system was just not playing ball. Despite being only 8 weeks pregnant, by bloated gut heaved itself out over my pants as if there was a 6 month old fetus living in there. And no amount of cardio or crunches made a difference.
Of course I Googled all this and more. Google became my best friend. Everything from the food I ate, to dying my hair became cause for concern. Eventually I downloaded a pregnancy app to help me keep abreast of all this information (My Pregnancy Today by Babycentre – fantastic tool!). Here is what I learnt (and experienced):
- The dredded hormone Relaxin promises to loosen your muscles, tendons and ligaments, making it more likely you could pull something during exercise.
- Said hormone also contributes to a lax digestive system making you bloated and..erm..less than regular.
- A cocktail of other hormones lead to feelings of nausea and all out head-in-toilet-time.
- The process of making a baby takes all your energy hence feelings of extreme fatigue
- Breathlessness due to an increased need for oxygen to the fetus, placenta and uterus.
- The new addition requires its own blood supply so your blood volume increases which increases your blood pressure.
- The combo of a growing uterus pushing up on the stomach and Progesterone relaxing the esophagus lead to severe heartburn.
- Boobs get really big but also tender so running down stairs is out of the question.
- The growing uterus pushes on the bladder so you need to pee a lot
- You feel all kinds of aches and pains as your belly grows and the bones and ligaments in the pelvis and back shift to realign the spine and maintain balance.
- Hyperpigmentation – I only got the line down my belly (linea nigra) which dissapeared after I gave birth but some women get darker nipples and blotches on the face (melasma).
On the work front, because I was in my first trimester (0-15 weeks) for both pregnancies, I was small enough to manage all the above changes without it affecting my performance on stage. With my first pregnancy I was doing Phantom of the Opera in Singapore and had two and a half months to get through, though the actual work was not too strenuous. With my second pregnancy I was working on Cats, and while the dancing was far more demanding, the contract was just three weeks in Macao. In both cases, I felt my years of dancing professionally were sufficient preparation for performing while pregnant. I just made sure I rested whenever I could and if I felt I wasn’t up to performing, I listened to my body and asked for time off.
On a final note I will share how the rest of my pregnancy went. I was lucky to have a pretty much complication-free pregnancy as far as doctors are concerned but on a personal level, from my second trimester I noticed a rather uncomfortable pain, deep in my pelvis. It seemed to be at its worst at night when I was lying down and got progressively worse as I got bigger. Walking, getting up off a chair, shifting my weight from one leg to another and especially turning over in bed at night left me in agony.
When I spoke to other pregnant friends about this they admitted they didn’t suffer from it. After more time on Google, I discovered I was one of the unlucky 20% of pregnant women suffering from pubic symphysis dysfunction (PSD). While this didn’t affect me during my various work contracts, it did play a huge part in how active I could be for the remainder of my pregnancy. As I write this article I am about half way through my second pregnancy and the PSD is already pretty bad. I hate to forgo exercise but I will have to considering the pain I feel and how much worse it is after I have worked out. If you would like more info on PSD you can visit this link: http://www.babycentre.co.uk/a546492/pelvic-pain-spd
When it comes to performing while pregnant, each performer will need to consider their unique circumstances and how they feel when making this kind of decision. Remember to trust your instincts and listen to your body. Here are some tips and things to think about if you find yourself pregnant and considering a performance contract:
- Discuss the contract with your doctor or midwife, their input is invaluable.
- If you have a high-risk pregnancy or have had major complications or previous miscarriages consider any guilt you may experience should you take the contract and then something goes wrong. Remember, a child is for life, a show is just a show.
- If you take the contract make sure you rest whenever you are not at work. Even if you feel fantastic.
- Keep crackers next to the bed and eat a few as soon as you feel nauseous, sometimes eating takes it away.
- Carry some lemon/ginger/peppermint oil around to diffuse bad smells.
- Drink water all the time.
- Ask for help or time off if you need it. Whether you decide to share your pregnancy with your employers is up to you but in my experience having at least one person in charge who knows about it is helpful should you need to discuss doctors appointments, time off and the like.
- Try to eat healthy, I strugled with this because I just felt like eating whatever didn’t make me feel sick but try if you can.
- Be kind to yourself and forgive yourself for not feeling motivated to be healthy, rest, drink water, be a nice person etc etc etc.
Pregnancy does strange things to your body, mind and emotions. You can’t predict how you will feel and at the end of the day, you are making another person inside yourself. If all you can do is lie in a lump on the couch and watch TV, so be it because once the little one arrives, trust me, you will wish you took time to put your feet up more often!