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MumsnetGuestPosts (MNHQ) Thu 24-May-18 12:33:54

"How open water swimming helped me survive IVF" Join our webchat with author and outdoor swimmer Alexandra Heminsley, Wednesday 30 May, 9pm

In advance of her webchat with us on Wednesday 30 May at 9pm, Alexandra Heminsley describes how she found solace in swimming while undergoing IVF. She’ll be returning to this guest post for the webchat next week - do post questions in advance or join in on May 30 at 9pm.

Alexandra Heminsley

Author of Leap In

Posted on: Thu 24-May-18 12:33:53

(57 comments )

Lead photo

“As we tried failed embryo after failed embryo, suffering a brutal miscarriage along the way, I realised that learning to expect the unexpected was not just a good swimming tip, but a lesson for life.”

“What about not knowing what’s beneath you?” people ask, eyes wide, panic in blazing neon across their faces. It’s the question most put to me when I tell people that I swim outdoors, year round. People are less worried about the fitness or the cold than they are about … the unknown.

But how can you know? How can any of us? We can make educated guesses, but in truth, none of us can know what’s coming next. Because what people are really asking when they ask about what lies in the unknown depths of the ocean - is how to cope with the unexpected. But we can’t know, we can only brace ourselves and decide to enjoy life anyway. And it was truly understanding this, learning not just to cope with it, but to embrace it, that open water swimming taught me.

When I first tried to swim in the sea off my home town of Brighton, I had the shimmering confidence of a newlywed. I felt as if all sorts of possible avenues were suddenly opening up to me, I could be all sorts of versions of myself now that I had achieved this major life goal, and swimming outdoors felt like small fry in comparison.

I quickly realised that swimming amidst changing currents, swelling tides and the wash from passing bank holiday jet skis was very different from the tentative ‘holiday breast stroke’ I had got by with in pools for the first few decades of my life. While I trusted that I could gain the fitness, and learn the techniques required to do a decent front crawl, it took me significantly longer to learn to trust the unpredictability of the water around me. In fact, it took the best part of a year to learn to let go, exhale fully and enjoy the experience of swimming in the deep, face down, lungs open.

It was in the sea that I found enormous solace regarding the unknown self that I had become. You can't fret about the political implications of not being a mother when you are focused on snatching an inhale between rolling waves. And you don't have time to worry what your thighs look like when what they are doing is gifting you the warmth and buoyancy to keep swimming, to keep exceeding your own expectations of yourself, to keep feeling alive.


My timing couldn’t have been better. Because just as I had learned that trust, the unknown reared up in a way I had never expected: my husband and I were referred for IVF. As we tried failed embryo after failed embryo, suffering a brutal miscarriage along the way, I realised that learning to expect the unexpected was not just a good swimming tip but a lesson for life.

And as that summer I first called myself a ‘proper swimmer’ turned into winter - and we still weren’t successful - I found myself taking greater and greater solace in the water. I had fought – and enjoyed the fight – for a body I was proud of and now I saw a body that barely felt like mine at all. I missed the old me, I longed for the future me and I had no idea who the current me was supposed to be. Yet, against it all was the background of my swimming. An unlikely athlete anyway, I surprised myself by enjoying the cold water of the sea off Brighton as the seasons changed and the water became less hospitable. The salt and ice of the seawater began to feel like a safer, softer place to be than any other. Because it was here that I truly had to live in the moment.

It was in the sea that I found enormous solace regarding the unknown self that I had become. You can’t fret about the political implications of not being a mother when you are focused on snatching an inhale between rolling waves. You can’t dwell on whether your deadening sadness is real or merely a side effect of expensive drugs when you’re navigating a lobster pot in the dark because you’ve chosen to swim round the pier for Halloween. And you don’t have time to worry what your thighs look like when what they are doing is gifting you the warmth and buoyancy to keep swimming, to keep exceeding your own expectations of yourself, to keep feeling alive.

When, after a break of several months and a lot more swimming through the coldest months of the year, we eventually chose to return to the clinic and use that final embryo, it decided to stay. There is absolutely no connection between my swimming and my finally getting pregnant. But there is every connection between those months, when I chose again to love my body, and to use it instead of to demand things of it, and the peace I found at last – regardless of the outcome. The water returned me to myself, a united self that I could finally recognise once more. And I am forever grateful.

Alexandra Heminsley joins us here on the bottom of this guest post for a webchat on Wednesday 30 May at 9pm. Post your questions here in advance if you can’t make it on the day.

By Alexandra Heminsley

Twitter: @Hemmo ‏

EmpressOfSpartacus Thu 24-May-18 21:38:25

Hello Alexandra

This is off-topic but I wanted to tell you that the first time I read Running Like A Girl, it helped inspire me to do a 10k. Recently I picked it up again & found myself signing up for a half-marathon. So thank you... I think!
My sister's almost finished C25K and I've bought her a copy too.

BarbaraWarpecker Thu 24-May-18 22:18:31

I enjoyed this book immensely- one: because I'm a swimmer (pool mainly, but occasionally 'wild'), and two: because I read it as a book about grit and grief. My life is full of grief (not from the same source as yours) and I'm always in need of grit to keep on keeping on.
There was a line about your grief being "unmeasurable and unwitnessed by cheering crowds.... There was no medal. There never would be". It really chimed with me.

Ddttc Thu 24-May-18 23:17:17

Great😊barbara

Archduke Fri 25-May-18 12:05:47

Alexandra, I loved Running Like A Girl, I listened to your Audiobook whilst I did a C25K and then kept going until I ran a half marathon last year. It felt like you became a friend and a voice of determination and encouragement during the long (and short) runs. Thank you.

I have also been through IVF and although like you have had a happy outcome I can still feel the pain and sorrow of those years. I love your writing so will download this one too although I am scared of open water (maybe I'll learn not to be).

andygee Fri 25-May-18 13:12:42

..

BitOfFun Fri 25-May-18 22:59:08

This is really beautifully written- thank you!

SporkInTheToaster Sat 26-May-18 09:23:10

Hi Alexandra,

I don’t really have a question. I just wanted to say that I’ve read your books and really enjoyed them, as well as finding them helpful for various personal reasons. You helped to open up the idea of physical activity as a mindful, therapeutic activity for the average woman. A self care activity, rather than another ‘physical perfection’ stick to beat ourselves with and I thank you for that.

I also follow your Instagram account and love how honest and supportive you are there (plus little Linus is a delight). I know you’ve had a difficult year this year, I hope you’ve found the community as supportive in return.

MarshaBradyo Sat 26-May-18 21:50:39

I just wanted to say I really enjoyed reading that

Loopytiles Tue 29-May-18 07:07:06

Thank you very much for this interesting and absorbing blog. Also really like the approach to exercise that sporkinthetoaster describes from your book.

I too found solace from fertility problems in exercise, including adult swimming lessons, which were great.

For beginners to open water swimming, who perhaps are leisure rather than strong swimmers, what kind of places might be a good place to start?

timshortfforthalia Tue 29-May-18 15:09:33

Hi,

I finished reading Leap In just now. I really enjoyed it. I've been running a couple of years, and am currently in the process of trying to teach myself front crawl. It's been three weeks, lots of you tube videos, and i can now survive a 25m lap. Your chapter about front crawl techniques was really interesting, I'm going to take kids to pool this afternoon to have a play with your explanations in mind.

My question is: How has swimming changed your relationship to running?

Suzannetakesyoudown Tue 29-May-18 17:04:18

Hi, I really enjoyed Leap In and it has certainly made me want to dip my toe into open water swimming. I'm not a great swimmer and love the idea of learning to do it properly but it's just finding the time for the swimming classes along with kids' activities at the moment for me. My question is what next? You've conquered swimming and running (also loved Running Like a Girl) do you have any other challenges that you would like to master? Can I also ask - what is your preference - swimming or running? Or do you do a bit of both?

BadPoet Tue 29-May-18 20:37:52

I have just ordered your book and look forward to it enormously. I always swam in the sea as a child and in recent years have been sea swimming again, but only very (very) occasionally, and only in the summer. I want to do so more regularly and my teenage daughter wants to join me. I think my question might be answered by your book but any specific advice for that situation? She's pretty hardy (the cold never bothered her anyway) - me less so!

AndyJune Tue 29-May-18 21:12:12

I received your newsletter throughout the dark marathon training days of this endless winter - still remember your special Brighton/London editions and very grateful for your good luck tweet prior to my own race... My question is, as a parent and a swimmer, do you have any suggestions for encouraging a child who is naturally distrustful of water to relax, and not to fear it? (I know your little one is still very young, but my own DS has been unsure and anxious in the pool since he was 10 months old, and at 6 he can technically swim but gets very anxious about being out of his depth or unsupported...)

1Potato2 Tue 29-May-18 22:14:00

Hi. I have literally just stumbled upon this thread. I haven't read Leap In but I most certainly will now.

I've read Running like a Girl and loved it so much. I ran my first marathon in April!

Unfortunately I have had a reoccurring injury since February and I have been cross training - swimming! I have rediscovered my love of it and it has helped me immensely through the despair I have felt since my injury first arose.

Any tips for wild swimming? Do you worry about what you can't see under the water? Do you still run? Thank you!

Shannonreneawatson Tue 29-May-18 23:20:49

Message deleted by MNHQ as it is not realted to the webchat.

PottyMouther Wed 30-May-18 20:11:14

Hi Alexandra,
Oh wow, am beyond delighted to have come across this thread. Sorry but there is no way I can write this without sounding like a gushing moron.
I read Running Like A Girl last year and loved every damn minute and it got me through my first ever London marathon. I then listened to Leap In and am considering doing the River Dart swim later this year. Well done for not giving up, your strength is pure inspiration.

I'd love to ask if a certain sportswear shop ever apologised to you for their shocking customer service? grin
I'd also love to know what are you writing next? smile
Thanks again for showing that things like running and swimming can be therapeutic and are attainable! You rock and I thank you! flowers biscuit

AlexandraHeminsley Wed 30-May-18 20:55:21

Hello! It's Hemmo here, I'm ready to chat! I'll start with the questions already up! Ask me - literally - anything! xxx

EmpressOfSpartacus Wed 30-May-18 20:58:10

Hi Hemmo! My question's already up there but I wanted to say welcome to MN!

Heather2gether Wed 30-May-18 20:58:14

Another huge fan of your Leap In - and am also considering learning 'proper swimming'. The bi-lateral breathing sounded SO difficult though - do you think it's achievable to anyone with the willing to learn? Since having your son (congratulations) I wondered whether you've been able to keep up the swimming and training. It's such a shame that exercise is such a great way to relieve stress when you are a new parent and yet it's a time when you barely have the time to do it! Congratulations again on a beautifully written and hugely inspiring book.

AlexandraHeminsley Wed 30-May-18 20:58:37

Thank you! xx

RachelMumsnet (MNHQ) Wed 30-May-18 21:00:56

Good evening Alexandra Heminsley. It's great that you've agreed to join us for another webchat. Last time was at MNHQ circa 2014 - and were wearing the coolest brightest pair of trainers (you'd just written Running Like a Girl). Welcome once again to Mumsnet and over to you...

AlexandraHeminsley Wed 30-May-18 21:01:03

Thank you so much @empressofspartacus!

Well done for getting going and I can't tell you how much it means to me to hear from people who have got out there... plus it gives me a rock solid NO EXCUSE on the days when I don't really feel like it ! xx

EmpressOfSpartacus

Hello Alexandra

This is off-topic but I wanted to tell you that the first time I read Running Like A Girl, it helped inspire me to do a 10k. Recently I picked it up again & found myself signing up for a half-marathon. So thank you... I think!
My sister's almost finished C25K and I've bought her a copy too.

AlexandraHeminsley Wed 30-May-18 21:01:47

RachelMumsnet

Good evening Alexandra Heminsley. It's great that you've agreed to join us for another webchat. Last time was at MNHQ circa 2014 - and were wearing the coolest brightest pair of trainers (you'd just written Running Like a Girl). Welcome once again to Mumsnet and over to you...

Haha yes! I think I have a pic of me wearing them in your office! And thank you for having me back... x

AlexandraHeminsley Wed 30-May-18 21:02:39

EmpressOfSpartacus

Hello Alexandra

This is off-topic but I wanted to tell you that the first time I read Running Like A Girl, it helped inspire me to do a 10k. Recently I picked it up again & found myself signing up for a half-marathon. So thank you... I think!
My sister's almost finished C25K and I've bought her a copy too.

Ooops I have answered you below - I was all over the shop trying to work out where to answer when I logged in, good job I did it early! x

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