Open water swimming and infertility

So the title of this post suggests there may be some proven link between open water swimming and (in) fertility. As far as I know, ‘officially’, there isn’t one. But I have been connecting the two things in my mind for a little while now and, if you would oblige me, I wanted to muse on that a little bit.

The photo above is of my sister and myself just after finishing the Haver Castle 5km swim last weekend. The water was really cold for us (as fair weather swimmers!) which may have contributed something to my sister whipping round her first 5km in around 1 he 45 mins, and a PB for me at 1 hour 51. Numb toes are a good motivator for a quick finish. The setting at Haver Castle is rather beautiful to look at from out of the water, but it’s not the nicest place to actually swim. It turns out that the lake at Haver Castle is pretty shallow and there is a very thick layer of squidgy mud covering the bottom of the lake. If 50 of people are swimming in front of you (I like to take a slow position at the back, doing breast stroke so I can appreciate the view) they churn the water up so it’s a dirty swim. It’s difficult to get a firm footing on the floor of the lake to adjust goggles, (or cough up some of that dirty water) and too shallow to tread water. I’m glad we did this one but probably won’t rush back to do it again.

While I was swimming (after my lungs got used to the cold and agreed to work again) I was thinking a bit about the changing relationship I have with my body. I think when I was younger I may have been a bit more interested in what it looked like. Now I’m more interested in what I can (and can’t) get it to do. So I can get it to swim me around a chilly muddy lake a couple of times. But so far I’ve not coaxed it (either with or without medical intervention) into making a baby.

When you are having treatment for something like infertility a strange thing happens in that you become more aware of what is (or isn’t) happening in your body, while at the same time feeling less control over that situation. This week I’ve been learning more about the link between exercise and better health for women with Polycystic Ovary Syndrome, and how regular exercise and good diet can help settle some of those wayward hormones. I’ve been trying more consciously to do the things I know that would support my body through some of the treatments I’ve been having. Its true that I feel better when I’m doing some training for something than when I skip out on exercise. Maybe the link between swimming and fertility isnt just in my mind, but a reality in my body too.

I also make art. You can things with my designs on at my shop here. Could even treat yourself if you wanted to. Just saying.

Reasons to be grateful #6 – swimming with my sister

SWIA0424-20x30There hasn’t been a huge amount of activity on this blog for a week or more as I’m a bit exhausted and taking a bit of down time. However, Laurie from the lovely blog Meditations in Motion posted this post a few days ago which included a very kind write up of me and the magpie blog. It reminded me of the picture above which I had wanted to post for a while, mostly with her in mind. She writes very well about her experiences of running distance races. I’m not a distance runner, but I am a distance swimmer.

I started swimming longer distances last year, at a similar time as I began looking having tests and treatment for infertility. It was also about the time that my sister and I started swimming regularly together. The photo above is from the Great East Swim at Alton Water which happend back in June – it’s of me and my sister, finishing a 2 mile swim together (I’m the bigger, more sausage shaped one!). My sister is faster than me, but I have the edge when it comes to stamina. In that swim in particular she flew off at the start but I caught up at around the 1.5 mile mark and we swam the final half mile next to each other. In these group swims everyone wears the same coloured hat, and it can be difficult to find another person if you dont start together, so we got really lucky. At the end we got out of the water together, and finished just one second apart. We had a great swim that day, mostly becaue we got to finish together.

My sister and I swam a lot as kids, but during our early adulthood we lived in different places and I certainly took big breaks from swimming at times. My sister lived abroad for 4 years, and moved back to London two years ago. Soon after that we began swimming together regulalry when we could. Its been really great as we never really spent that kind of regular time together as adults before. She was one of the first people I spoke to about my infertility, which was kind of suprising because I’m not really a talker when it comes to difficult things. I am greatful that we had swimming to come back to together. It made me think about how it is worth spending the time establishing yourself in a physical hobby or sport when things are going well. Having something physically challenging (that you enjoy moderate progress in) to indulge in when things feel a bit dark is a very helpful thing indeed. I have just signed myself up for a 9 km swim next year in the Big Welsh Swim. This will be the longest distance I have to date. I am looking forward to traing with her for that.

I am also greatful to Laurie for prompting me to write this post and for her supportive messages over the last few months.

I also make art. You can things with my designs on at my shop here. Could even treat yourself if you wanted to. Just saying.

Great North Swim – success!

I spent about six months trading for t, and this weekend it was finally time for the Great North Swim. My sister, myself and our partners took a trip up to the lake District this weekend to swim in lake Windermere. Again I am reminded of just how beautiful parts of the UK are, often just a train ride away from the city (if the trains run, which is another story). The event lasts all weekend but we got our swims done on Friday so have just been wandering around and relaxing since then.

The event itself felt really relaxed, there were lots of people hanging about with picnic blankets supporting friends and family, and some nice little stalls to get snacks from. I swam in the 5k event and my sister swam 2miles. The water was lovely and clear and a really nice template. The last lap was pretty hard going – I got hit quite hard by the wake of one of the ferry boats on the lake and spent a few minutes swimming but not moving. But all the training paid off and I made it in the end. My sister thinks this is my game face.

I’d not done that distance before so was pretty chuffed to squeeze all 5 Kms into just less than 2 hours. I think I can improve on that over time, and maybe have a crack at the 10k with enough training. So all in all a successful swim. And while here we’ve been treated to some wonderful views.

Things to do when you are busy not having a baby

One of the things that my partner and I discussed early on in the process of having fertility treatment was how not to let the ‘trying to have a baby’ stuff consume all the energy we may have to do the ‘make life fun’ stuff. This sounds great in principle but isn’t  particularly easy in practice. A lot of the advice early on is to carry on ‘life as usual’. It is also to lose weight, do moderate exercise, but not too much, eat more of fruit and vegetables, less cake, and restrict your alcohol intake. And dont forget to ‘just relax’. So if your ‘usual’ doesn’t involve many of these things, ‘carry on as usual’ could translate to ‘undergo a radical lifestyle change’, which isn’t a very relaxing thing to think about.

While my partner and I did pretty well on the exercise and veggies, the beginnings of our relationship did involve the ‘British method’ of dating. For the uninitiated, I’m afraid to say that this involves some (by which I mean lots) public drunkenness, and other socialising involving at least a drink or two. So there was lifestyle change of a sort needed, which has been more successful at some times than others. Not drinking has been one of the things I have been doing while busy not quite having a baby, which really means less socialising too. In the UK there is an absurd cultural pressure to drink when socialising, and it’s kind of wierd to have to explain to people that you’re not drinking because you aren’t pregnant. It’s not like not drinking because you got knocked up (hurrah! Hopefully). It tends to prompt conversations about how you should have a drink and ‘just relax’, as if you just aren’t quite doing sex right. Which isn’t relaxing at all.

So not socialising becomes one of the things you do when you are busy not having a baby. Personally I feel better for not spending as much time socialising. I want to spend my spare time swimming and doing arty things. I think my introverted parts have become more dominant as I’ve got older and I don’t have the energy for it any more. But I can see how this in itself could be very isolating for someone more extroverted. I have noticed may self that my social circle has narrowed somewhat, and now includes several ladies who are also busy avoiding conversations that unintentionally suggest that they don’t quite know how sex works. While it’s kind of nice to hang out in that boat with them, all extraordinary individuals, the conversations can be sad. For several of us, things are not working. Counterintuitively, my social circle has expanded to include several friends who have just had babies (I can hang out with babies and not really get too sad – I think I am lucky here), so they can’t drink much, and don’t want to talk much about how sex works just right now, thanks. They also had some success at actually getting pregnant, and who knows, that magic could be catching.

So far it feels like what one does when busy trying to have a baby is actively try not to do things. Which is kind of hard on the mental health, and opens the door to an unhealthy level of guilt about ‘not doing things right’. Am I drinking too much coffee? Am I breathing too much polluted London air? One of my lovely, clever friends, Julia, who has had two gorgeous babies now, gave me some kind advice recently. She said that if I just make it as inconvenient as possible to have a baby right now, it will happen. Book that expensive wine tour in central France. Plan to train for a marathon. Go for that tricky promotion. So next weekend I’ll be swimming a 5K race in the lake district, and today will be spent working on my film and checking out an open air swimming pool I’ve not been to before. Go after the juicy difficult rewarding other things in life, she said. And I shall.

Like what you see? I also make art. You can things with my designs on at my shop here. Could even treat yourself if you wanted to. Just saying.

Swimming the distance: mental health as a endurance pursuit

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If you’ve been following this blog for a while, you may (or may not!) know that I’m currently training for a long distance swim in June. I’ll be swimming 5K, which is just over 3 miles (not an insubstantial distance for a swimmer), in lake Windermere during the Great North swim in June. At the moment I’m a bit concerned that I’ll be pulled out of the water half way through as I’m a little slow, but I have a bit more time to train and have been putting the effort in. Last year I swam a 2 mile event in about 1 hour and 20 minutes so if I can up my pace a bit and keep it going I should be ok, but I have the nerves all the same. I am already fitter than I was for last years event, but the distance is longer so on balance I am probably not as far ahead of myself as I would like to be.

Over the last few weeks I’ve been putting in a session in the gym one evening a week after work, as well as the swims. It’s a bit awkward to swim before or after work as the timings of the appropriate swim sessions don’t quite fit with my commute, and I don’t have enough discipline to quite force them to work! I’m trying to build up my stamina in just being able to do the same uncomfortable thing, mostly on the elliptical machine, for extended periods of time. I am concentrating on building up endurance and stamina, not so much speed. That is a gradual game. Little by little I get a bit stronger. Little by little each time I go a bit further. While at the gym a few weeks ago I was thinking about how the same principle applies to many of the other things I’ve been doing. I’ve been making the same film for at least 4 years now, and slowly I accumulate new bits and pieces for that until suddenly it starts to look like something that makes sense as a whole.

I think that working on my own mental health has been a similar process. I have a stressful day job. In the past few years I had some considerable anxiety about a range of things, and a bit of depression tagged along with that. Living like that is really tiring. Getting physically fitter now is probably really helping with that, but that has come as part of a general effort towards a healthier way of living at home. We now eat predominantly (but not exclusively) healthy plant based food, and have been doing so for over a year, but it took some time to work out how to make that work for us. I started working part time last year, dropping one day to enable me to swim and make things, which was quite a big little step in the right direction.

I wouldn’t say that I now spend all my time walking around in a state of ecstatic energetic creative contentment. But little by little, I think my ability to endure for the less enjoyable stuff of life, and look past it to the next fun thing is growing. Mental health isn’t a sprint to the finish line, it’s a long distance game.