Taking The Plunge

A prenatal exercise class helped this hydrophobe overcome her fear.


It's a wonder I've ever taken a bath.

My fear of water—of drowning, actually—began when I learned about undercurrents firsthand as waves in the Pacific Ocean tried to swallow my 5-year-old self. Dad, who stood nearby, rescued me.

After that, I avoided most bodies of water—until I was 18 and sought refuge from the heat in a river. A water snake slithered toward my face. I screamed as I ducked under the surface and came up choking.

A few years later, a friend begged me to go on a rafting trip. The raft overturned in white-water rapids. I hit my head on a rock—luckily, not hard. It was another sign.

On a trip to Hawaii, I became hypnotized by the clear ocean water and, donning snorkel gear, followed the fishes. As a school of them receded, a wave tossed me into a coral bank. I came away with a souvenir: a red scar resembling a clamshell.

When I got pregnant, my doctor recommended prenatal fitness classes. I sought out a cardio workout that wouldn't overextend my changing body: First up in my Google search was Prenatal Water Fitness, at a nearby location, two nights a week, and relatively inexpensive; coming up second was a prenatal yoga class in which participants "visualize contractions." I shuddered. No, thanks.

As a bonus, the water-fitness class required only month-to-month registration. I envisioned myself exiting the pool to go pee and never returning. Still, it would be progress. Before I could reflect on my history with water, I registered online.

Class day arrived. I found my one-piece swimsuit buried in a drawer and slipped it on, noting how its elasticity hugged my changing shape. I bundled on layers and drove to the pool.

Stowing my clothes and apprehension in a locker, I followed the tile pattern and the wafts of chlorine to the pool. Outside the windows, trees swayed in a darkening storm. Inside, the pool's calm illumination welcomed me, as did the instructor. I took the precursory poolside fake shower, then stepped into the water, quick. Two other pregnant women waddled in behind me.

Lisa, the instructor, began playing "What a Feelin'" on a boombox, her own voice booming and her body in motion at the pool's edge. As we "aqua jogged," our feet generated an ebb and flow in the luminous side-lit pool glow, our legs more like sleek propellers than the swollen stumps of pregnancy.

In just one hour, I learned new moves: "aquajacks" to replace jumping jacks, "cross country" strides to propel across the pool as if skiing, the "frog" to loosen up tight hips. Ah.

As we "punched" outward, water displaced from our enlarged chests mimicked ocean caps. One woman said she'd never had so much to shake. We all laughed, relating, and I forgot the danger of the water. Next we grabbed Styrofoam barbell weights and curled vigorously. Class ended with stretches and deep breaths. I realized: I'm having fun ... in the water.

My baby—in cahoots with all the other babies in utero—must enjoy the same sense of weightlessness, living in the comfort of a fluid-filled haven.

In the past, water tried to steal my breath. Now, thanks to my prenatal fitness class, water and I have made a truce. Water works with me: in the fluidity of my joints—and the nurturing, protective amniotic fluid I'm harboring within.