Did you feel your pregnancy was like a trek to the South Pole? Maria Leijerstam, 37, an adventurer, lives in Wales with her fiancé Wayne and their daughter Klara, 12 months.
In 2013, I became the first person to cycle to the South Pole, braving -40°C temperatures for 10 days.
I’ve always loved seeing how far I can push my body.
Over the years I’ve competed in many extreme endurance races, even running six marathons in seven days in the Saharan heat. With the right techniques you believe that anything is possible.
I’d not long completed one of my adventure races when my boyfriend Wayne proposed. We were in Venice, and were over the moon – so much so that we ended up conceiving while on holiday!
Finding out I was pregnant a few weeks later was the best news in the world. Yes, I’d pushed my body and mind to the limits, but for a woman nothing is as natural as giving birth.
There are parallels between my birth preparation and my training for world-record attempts.
There are parallels between my birth preparation and my training for world-record attempts
Every night I’d run a bath and immerse myself in the water. I’d close my eyes and focus on my breathing, taking long in-breaths, counting down, and making sure my out-breaths were for the same count.
It’s a powerful tool for keeping composure, and one I’d used successfully when training for my South Pole cycle.
Other times, visualising the colour yellow wrapped around me and my baby helped me feel warm and secure. Wayne bought me a beautiful scarf in yellow, one of the colours of the Swedish flag – I’m half-Swedish. I’d hold it in front of my eyes during my meditation sessions to help bring the visualisation to life.
I kept my fitness up too, hiking 10km every day around Cardiff Bay to move things along.
I kept my fitness up too, hiking 10km every day around Cardiff Bay to move things along
By the time I was four days overdue I felt prepared for the birth, but a bit impatient.
That night at 11pm I turned over in bed and felt a gush of fluid as my waters broke. Just 15 minutes later I had my first contraction, which felt like a mild stomach ache.
That night I managed to sleep for 15 minutes here and there. Whenever the sensations in my bump grew, I breathed slowly in and out, imagining yellow light bathing me and my baby.
At 9.15am we set off for hospital. The midwife-led unit was empty, and had a calm, restful atmosphere.
A lovely midwife examined me and said I was 4cm dilated, and was able to stay. I was so excited and asked to get straight in the pool. Once I got in, I entered a trance-like state, and was not even particularly aware of my environment.
The next couple of hours are a blur, but at no point can I remember feeling frightened or overwhelmed. All my preparation was clearly paying off, because I never doubted my ability to have a straightforward birth.
Then at 12.15pm the contractions changed and I felt a sudden, low-down pressure. ‘I’ve got to push,’ I said, and Wayne rushed to fetch the midwife. My body had taken over – I had no choice but to start bearing down.
It felt natural to get out of the pool for this stage of labour. Whenever I needed to push I leant over the bed and breathed deeply, imagining my ‘yellow cloak’ enveloping me. Wayne had packed my scarf, and every so often he gently held it up before my eyes.
The next two hours of pushing were painful, but I never thought I couldn’t do it. This was another endurance challenge, and I felt convinced I would succeed.
This was another endurance challenge, and I felt convinced I would succeed
Just before 2.15pm, as I felt the baby’s head starting to crown, I needed to sit on the bed. With one enormous push I felt an incredible pressure and the head came out. ‘One more push,’ the midwife said, and I breathed deeply, allowing my body to do all the work.
The baby’s body slid out into the midwife’s hands. ‘It’s a girl!’ Wayne said. Klara was lifted up and placed on my chest. ‘I’m your mummy,’ I whispered, tears streaming down my face. I was overwhelmed with pride.
I remember the elation I felt on reaching the South Pole and breaking the world record, but it didn’t come close to my emotions when I became a mother
Giving birth is the most amazing feeling in the world, and the best thing I’ve ever done. I remember the elation I felt on reaching the South Pole and breaking the world record, but it didn’t come close to my emotions when I became a mother. Being able to put everything I’d learnt about mental strength into creating a new life was truly wonderful.
A year on, I’m training to race to the North Pole, and Klara regularly comes out with me in the pram while I run, or in the sling while I hike. And that yellow scarf now hangs next to Klara’s cot as a reminder that I can do anything if I remove fear from my life.