I never learnt to swim properly as a child. Don’t get me wrong, I did learn how not to drown (important life skill): I mastered both frantic doggy-paddle and old lady head-three-foot out-of-the-water style! But I never learnt how to swim properly. So in 2016 after qualifying as a vet, I decided to have adult swimming lessons, with the goal of completing my first sprint triathlon at the end of the summer. As children we are constantly learning and trying new things; but at some point on the journey to adulthood we develop a fear of failure, particularly in trying sports and exercise, and particularly women. Swimming my 400m (in breast stroke, in my cossie – no fancy tri-suit here!) and completing that triathlon is still one of my proudest active achievements, because I set out to do something I could never have done previously.
After that first triathlon I went on to do a second, (with each outward length in front crawl this time) and swimming became a regular part of my routine. Until I had my miscarriage. I had to have surgery to remove the baby, and was advised that I would not be able to swim for several weeks afterwards. Somehow that was nine months ago now, and for no other reason than that break in my routine, I never went back.
But recently I’ve been quietly inspired by fellow blogger Teacups and Trainers, and after reading the lovely book The Lido, to get back into the water again. I had a few barriers, namely that I’d lost my nose clip (I cannot bear water up my nose), and days where I thought about it, but I’d already washed and dried my hair. This morning I finished my seventh and final night shift, returning home groggy and tired. It’s been a hectic week, and I’ve found myself feeling very anxious and a little low. I wanted to clear my head but running felt too tiring and energetic. So today was the day I headed back to the pool.
I was nervous sliding back into the water, particularly straight into a lane with other swimmers. I was worried I wouldn’t remember what to do. I pushed off, let the water glide over my head, and my muscle memory kicked in and suddenly I was doing it again. I’d love to say it was like I’d never stopped, and I moved seamlessly through the water like a graceful fish! This wasn’t exactly the case.
I found the experience of water rushing all around me quite overwhelming. You often hear of swimming as being a peaceful, quiet activity, but it can be quite a sensory overload – particularly when the noises come and go as your head goes in and out of the pool and water rushes into your ears. That first lap water my goggles were quickly waterlogged, and I sputtered my way to the end of the lane, getting gradually blinder, feeling like I might drown if the side didn’t appear soon! I found it a little frightening not being able to breathe freely and struggled to stay calm and find a rhythm.
I made it to the end of the lane, took a few deep breaths, readjusted my goggles, and tried again.
It took a few lengths to get going. My body remembered the technique much better than I’d thought. It was the sensations it took longer to get comfortable with: the noise, the water all around, not being able to breathe through my nose. Gradually I began to trust that my body knew what it was doing, and as I relaxed my breathing settled into a rhythm. I allowed myself to glide under water a little longer with each stroke, enjoying the peace of the blue water and the silence. I began to hear the voice of my old instructor and started to focus on my technique: keeping my hips straight, elbows high, allowing my arms to reach the full breadth of their length before pushing the water back again. My brain was both focused and completely empty.
There’s nothing quite like the silent blue peace at the bottom of the pool.
I hadn’t realised the miscarriage was the reason I stopped swimming until today. Recovery is a long process, and sometimes it isn’t until you find yourself doing something again that you realise you’ve just taken another step. Whether this is realising you don’t feel sad around other people’s babies anymore, waking up feeling calm for the first time in ages, or going for your first swim. It takes time to gather all your pieces again, and to remember that you’re missing some. Life changes you, the miscarriage has changed me more than I could have imagined. Change isn’t always bad, it’s just different. But I’ve gained so many new pieces in the last nine months that I know I’ll be even stronger than before.
So here’s to rediscovering an old passion, and working hard to make it a normal part of my routine again.