My cycling journey through pregnancy, and the bike that gave me my identity back

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The light turns red, and I slowly ease to a stop, placing one foot on the ground to steady myself. As I patiently wait for the light to change—hands resting on my handlebars, belly nearly grazing my steerer tube—I notice that a few women out for their morning walk shoot me sideways glances.

If they’re trying to make me uncomfortable, they might as well give up. I’m 33-weeks pregnant; I’ve been uncomfortable since January.

These sideways glances and comments aren’t only directed at me. My husband, Mike, has found himself in the crosshairs of the same judgmental ire.

“You let her do that?!,” one of his friends asked when Mike explained that I was out for a bike ride. Mike just gave a knowing laugh (we have been married for over six years after all) and said, “I don’t LET her do anything.”

Pregnancy Is Not One-Size-Fits-All

My view is changing
My view is changing

When I first found out I was pregnant, I felt more panic than joy. To me, that was the only logical reaction to have. I’ve been an active person my whole life – playing soccer in high school and in to my adult years. After moving to New York City post college life, I started running, which morphed into triathlon and finally into bike racing – the last of which completely consumed my life and ultimately led me to my current career as a product manager at Specialized.

My athletic ability, and love of riding and racing was a huge part of my personal (and professional) identity, and I saw it – due to morning sickness and fatigue – slowly slipping away from me.

No, I wasn’t all that excited about the idea of going through pregnancy. No, I wasn’t excited at the prospect of losing my independence and physical ability. No, I wasn’t excited for the inevitability of how society would look at me, and how “mom” or “waddling pregnant lady” would become my outward identity.

Even as I went through the motions—taking pre-natal vitamins, avoiding my favorite foods, dealing with morning sickness—a part of me (the stubborn part, my husband, Mike, would likely tell you) stayed in denial. I was determined to retain as normal an athletic existence and life as I could.

And for a while I did.

I continued to ride, bike commute and hike.  I kept my pregnancy a relative secret—until I couldn’t.

Eventually, my fatigue grew along with my belly, and my speed and endurance took a hit. Suddenly I was getting dropped from the same competitive lunch rides I used to win — including one particularly brutal day when Megan Guarnier came for a visit and showed us what a WorldTour rider could do. And people were noticing.

Acceptance and a determination to keep riding

A painfully slow ride 5,300 feet up Mt. Hamilton when I was 20 weeks pregnant.

At 16 weeks, I began telling friends and colleagues, but it didn’t make things easier. My emotions were still raw and created awkward exchanges when I didn’t—couldn’t—give people the ‘stock’ happy-pregnant-lady answers they were expecting.

“Oh my gosh, congratulations! How excited are you?!” they’d ask, but I hadn’t made it to the ‘excitement’ stage yet. I didn’t even know how to answer that question.

The more they asked, the more I doubled down on staying “me.” As my waist line expanded I adjusted my road bike fit. I installed a 70mm/+17 degree stem on my road bike, which bought me a few more weeks of riding, including a painfully slow ride 5,300 feet up Mt. Hamilton with a patient and understanding colleague when I was 20 weeks pregnant.

Thanks to my employment at Specialized, I had a slew of new bikes to choose from, so when my race bike became too uncomfortable, my first purchase was a carbon Vita—a flat-bar fitness bike. The more upright position allowed me to continue riding at lunch, commuting to work, and hitting up the farmer’s market.

Even still, I missed training, I missed riding with the ‘fast’ group, and I missed riding with my friends. Sure, they’d join me from time to time on slow jaunts, but it wasn’t the same. My bikes began collecting dust, and so did that side of my life. I kept as active as I could – heading out on hikes, running (which turned to speed walking and then to walking), backpacking, camping and weight training. However, a part of me was missing, and I found myself jealously stalking my friends on Strava.

The bike that gave me my life back

Me and my Turbo
Me and my Turbo

My work necessitates a lot of travel, and in May I headed out to the Midwest to attend a retailer camp and do some research on the area. Not wanting to be left out from the daily early morning fast rides, a co-worker suggested I try and take out a Specialized Turbo e-bike.

I’ll be honest, I was rather skeptical of e-bikes up to this point. I appreciated them, but thought that they weren’t for me. Even though I knew that they don’t do ALL the work for you, it just felt like ‘cheating.’ In my mind they were for older people or for the inherently lazy, but I decided to give it a shot.

I know it seems a bit dramatic, but to say that the Turbo gave me my ‘life’ back would be an understatement.

I couldn’t have been more wrong about e-bikes. I went out with the fastest group and kept up—flying at speeds that seemed a distant memory. I sped up the climbs, getting just enough help from the Turbo to hit that sweet spot of enjoyable exertion. I couldn’t help but smile. For the first time in six months I felt like myself again. It completely changef my perspective on what I was capable of doing, and who I was capable of doing it with.

When I got back to the hotel, I immediately called my husband. I could barely contain myself. We both agreed that I needed to buy one. After the baby came, Mike said, he could use it to keep up with me.

The e-bike renewed my energy and my exciting for riding. I was ready to squeeze my growing belly back into my lycra and hit the road. Weekend long rides, lunch rides and commuting crept back into my routine.

Looking forward

Excited to meet my daughter when she graces us with her presence.
Excited to meet my daughter when she graces us with her presence.

Thirty-three weeks down and 7 more to go, I’m still getting out there with the wind in my hair, commuting to work and hitting up an occasional weekly lunch ride.

I don’t expect those judgmental glances from strangers to subside, and luckily I am surrounded by friends, co-workers and a husband that wholeheartedly support me. I’m also not naive to think that there isn’t some risk inherent in me continuing to ride my bike. But so is driving a car, walking down the street and eating food at restaurants. I think the happiness and physical and mental health that I’m in will have a positive impact on the little thing squirming around inside of me.

Now, every time I look down and see my belly stretching towards my handlebars, I’m reminded that facing and embracing challenges that scare you doesn’t require you to change, just adapt. A lesson I’m now excited to teach my daughter when she graces us with her presence.

An avid lover of bikes of all kinds, Stephanie Gottlieb Kaplan lives in Morgan Hill, California and is the Women’s Road Line Product Manager at Specialized Bicycles. Kaplan and her husband are expecting their first child, and she’ll continue to ride her bike throughout her pregnancy as long as it brings her joy.

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