When it comes to pregnancy, fertility, and life in general, there are lots of surprises. Some of us our surprised by how difficult it is to get or stay pregnant, others come up against the opposite. Sarah Brown, an elite runner in the midst of training for the Rio Olympics, found out she was expecting unexpectedly. She and her coach-husband, Darren Brown had been trying to prevent pregnancy with an IUD, hoping to plan starting a family around a more convenient time in the Olympic training cycles.
What are the odds? Around 1% of women with an IUD will get pregnant. For this reason, Brown assumed it was unlikely that she was pregnant. A home pregnancy test was negative. But when she was feeling exhausted for weeks on end, a doctor confirmed that was false negative, she was indeed pregnant.
Brown ran through her pregnancy and competed in the Olympic Trials just 4 months after after giving birth in 2016. When she came up short of making the Olympic team, she posted on Instagram, “Today wasn’t the fairytale ending you dream about. But then again, this journey never really was about an ending, it’s a beginning. A new chapter as a family of three. Thanks for all the support ❤️ & you can bet you will continue to see this mama run”
For another runner, Tina Muir, the journey to that new chapter as a family of three had to start with a very tough decision. For nine years, Tina had suffered from amenorrhea, the lack of a menstrual cycle. In an essay for Runner’s World in April 2017, she says speaks to how this was possible:
It’s possible because my body perceived it was in too much of a threat to allow for a pregnancy to happen.
So it shut my reproductive system down, for nine years.
It’s a strange evolutionary defense, but it makes sense. My body does not have the resources and energy to look after a baby, it is far too busy repairing the damage from training as a professional runner.
Doctors explained that my body is living in fear, thinking I am being chased by an animal so scary, that I had to run almost 100 miles to stay alive.
For Muir, unlike Brown, infertility was an occupational hazard of being a professional runner. Doctors told her to quit running and her period would return. But quitting running wasn’t that simple. “I’m a runner representing Great Britain, sponsored by Saucony. How am I supposed to just give up running cold turkey?”
I’ve written before about my own experiences leaving competitive running at a Division I college. It wasn’t a decision I made lightly. One of my all time favorite books, What Made Maddy Run describes in detail the agony that can accompany a decision like this. Author Kate Fagan writes, “I was terrified of the word “quit”….What was the difference between quitting and stopping, or quitting and retiring, or quitting and making the conscious decision that continuing was something that was genuinely unhealthy?”
Muir decided that at this point in her life, with motherhood as goal, running was indeed genuinely unhealthy for her. She refers to amenorrhea as a thorn in the side and tells Women’s Running Magazine, “When my niece was born, that made me aware that there are more things in life than running.”
Within just months of stopping, she was able to conceive and gave birth to a beautiful baby boy this January. She’s back to running, and here’s wishing both Muir and Brown and the beginning of many great fairy tales.
As for me, I’m more of a jogger these days and am continuing to run, with my doctor’s blessing and the motivation of post race barbecues, while trying to conceive. My doctor’s advice? “Listen to your body, you know it the best.” Muir and Brown’s stories truly exemplify just how unique each of our bodies are.