Would you rather: Be pregnant right now or lose a limb?

This January, a group of girlfriends and I went to Baja, Mexico to surf, laugh, and enjoy each others company in the evenings that became dark by 4:30pm. Our four bed house, with only two real bedrooms, was cozy for sleep quarters, however, had the perfect kitchen and living room combo that allowed for easy flowing of wine and hot cider once we put a movie on to absorb and critique.

Surf documentaries were our genre of choice, specifically the ones that focused on famous surfers’ full life and development. After being shocked at the narcissism of Garret Macnamara, which turned into questioning whether we should have compassion for his antics because of his insane upbringing, essentially in a cult, we moved on to Andy Irons. Andy’s was tragic and ended with his overdose while his wife was pregnant which made all of us tear up and remain unsure of what movie would respectfully follow.

We decided Bethany Hamilton, Unstoppable, was up next, we had enjoyed the clips of the women big wave surfers who snuck into these documentaries focused on the famous men. Bethany had also overcome so much after losing her arm to a shark attack and then continuing with a successful surfing career. We were sure this would be an inspirational pick.

And it was. Bethany charged hard after losing her arm. Her friends had no idea she would be not only back to surfing, but back to kicking their asses in competitions. She recovered, she focused, she trained. Bethany was the breadwinner for herself and her boyfriend through her surfing career, a career which she brought back from seemingly impossible circumstances. What she wasn’t ready for, per the documentary, was her pregnancy that came soon after she started winning again.

It was clear she was not prepared for the pregnancy and quickly realized the damage it would do to her career she had just revamped. The documentary reflected on the turn she was taking. Knowingly pregnant, she surfed Teahupoo’o and pipeline, some of the world’s heaviest waves. After that, the movie follows her post-pregnancy, in which we are welcomed into the real world of what pregnancy does to a woman’s body.

While watching the montage of Bethany’s pregnancy insecurities and then her recovery struggles my friend started to giggle,

“There is way more fear and intense training with her pregnancy than after her shark attack.”

The film time dedicated to what it took for her to train while pregnant and recover post-pregnancy has to be 5:1 ratio when compared to what was shown about her training and recovering post-shark attack. Not only that, which could be explained by the availability of film clips from the attack recovery, but Bethany’s fear of pregnancy’s impact on her career outweighed the almost nonexistent fear she shows after she loses her arm to a shark.

Bethany was more intimidated by pregnancy than by losing a limb.

This is someone with a good support system and a loving partner, who is thinking hard about how having this child will reduce her income and cause months of recovery work ahead. She is considering how she is going to continue forward in her career after this, knowing how far having a child will cause her to fall behind. She churns through physical and mental considerations, both while pregnant and after the birth. On top of that, she worries about how she will do the basics of caring for a child as a person with only one arm.

This year, someone on my campus put up a poster that said, “the future is abortion-free,” meaning that there will be zero abortions available or happening in the future. I couldn’t help but think that, realistically, the future is abortion-full. How would there be less abortions as housing prices rise, wages stagnant, and women are increasingly necessary breadwinners, either as single ladies or in a partnership that requires 50/50 contribution of rent and expenses to stay afloat?

Bethany went through with the pregnancy and got back on her feet, surfing after relearning her balance, body changes, and breastfeeding her child in between heats of a competition. Her partner does not work and took on full time child care duties so she could recover and continue to make money for the family. Her focus could be on herself for an extended period, given the support and care she had available.

Bethany has a strong Christian faith, so I’m sure abortion was barely on the table for her. Moreover, she was in the middle being filmed for her documentary, which probably added pressure on her decision. Sure, there may be an inherent selfishness that would come from choosing surf competitions over going through with pregnancy, but to put it in the non-pro athlete world of women, surfing and endorsements were her monthly paychecks about to be potentially lost for a year or longer, if fully recovered at all. Moreover, with a child, finances and time available to dedicate to work only get tighter.

This article definitely not to say or suggest an abortion for anyone, that is an entirely individual choice for every woman. It’s a topic that’s been on my mind since seeing the poster that didn’t seem to understand how to influence the future to be abortion-free. That ideal future would not appear by abortion restrictions, but by a better understanding and support related to what it takes for a woman to have a child a continue on with a necessary career, along with other cultural changes.

This article is a display of how intense, fear-inducing, and debilitating pregnancy can be for women, so much so that this pro athlete took longer to accept her status with child than she did with her status of no longer functioning with two arms.



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Caroline Walsh

Caroline Walsh

Former CIA Analyst and Coastie. PhD Student. Author of Fairly Smooth Operator: My life occasionally at the tip of the spear, available now!