Suzy Clarkson is a fitness expert who started her family later in life and has a personal understanding of the trials and tribulations of the journey for women over 35. She has written a book called Fit For Birth and Beyond – a guide for women over 35 which includes details of Suzy’s journey, an exercise regime and a lot of what to expect from pregnancy.
Our interview with Suzy is a little longer than some of our others have been but well worth the read. Make a cuppa and come find out a little more about Suzy and her journey.
How did you come to the decision to write the book?
I had my first baby at 39 as my life prior to that had been largely career dominated but also, crucially, I didn’t meet my husband until I was 37. I have always been interested and involved in the health and wellbeing industry. My experience ranges from originally qualifying as a physiotherapist to working as a personal trainer.
I felt there was no book in the market that specifically addressed the correct level and type of exercise to do both during pregnancy and also post-natally. I also recognised that being an older mum presents its own unique challenges and there were no books that spoke directly to mums of my age group. It was a gap and I decided it was best solved by writing a book that provided well researched information but also empathised with women as they traversed their individual journeys. I also thought an exercise book would be enhanced by a series of frank diary entries detailing my own trials and tribulations through the 40 weeks of gestation and beyond.
I started writing the book when I became pregnant naturally the second time at age 41 but sadly I lost that baby at 11 weeks through miscarriage. Then my world changed as I embarked on what was to be a three year tumultuous journey through multiple IVF cycles. I could not bring myself to complete the manuscript whilst undergoing treatment. The IVF journey (for those of your who haven’t had any experience of it) is one of extreme personal vulnerability and you try to do everything you can to tip the scales of success in your favour. So it wasn’t until I had my 12 week positive pregnancy check with my 2nd baby at age 45 that I could complete the book.
Can you tell us a little about your background?
After attending university I qualified as a physiotherapist and spent several years practising before taking a dramatic departure from health into the world of television broadcasting through a chance audition. I then pursued almost dual careers in both broadcast and fitness industries. In between presenting television series I produced and presented four aerobic videos, wrote a book, and trained and worked as an elite personal trainer. I also decided to compete in the New Zealand National Aerobic Championships in 1995 which resulted in me winning the pairs event and competing in the World Competition in Las Vegas.
The following 10 years were a mix of broadcasting roles and health pursuits, culminating in a post graduate in broadcast journalism from the University of Central England which then set me up for working in the news genre. I spent two years fronting Prime News First at 5.30 live every day into New Zealand but based from Sky News Australia.
I met my husband at age 37 in London. Within 2 years we were married and then had our first son the following year. We live in Auckland New Zealand and have a Border Collie dog ‘Roxy’.
As a family we get on either the scooters or our bikes most weekends and get out amongst it.
What can you tell us about the book?
I’m very proud of what is a comprehensive prescriptive book on exercising throughout pregnancy and for the important first 12 weeks postnatally. I joke that the book was my ‘third child’ as I spent a lot of time whilst on maternity leave last year revising and finalising the content.
Pregnancy is a unique journey for every woman so it’s not helpful to give a single plan to follow therefore I have endeavoured to write a safe but effective general guide that women of all stages and ages can use. It’s not about losing a lot of weight or achieving high fitness goals but instead the focus is on getting you through the 52 weeks without injury and most importantly with vitality.
Its layout is by trimester so it should be your companion as the weeks tick by. I guess in some ways I have written it to be like your personal trainer, firm but fair, practical but empathetic with a good dose of humour tossed in.
The book has two forewords written by respective experts in their fields, Dr Dereck Souter, an obstetrician, and Dr Richard Fisher who is a fertility specialist of considerable note. They have given it their stamps of approval in terms of content and relevance to women over 35.
How did you decide what needed to be included?
Once I settled on what I thought was a logical and helpful structure for the book (there are plenty of ‘how to’ photos) I then researched extensively, interviewed experts and used my own experience to compile the final draft. I also asked subject experts to review various chapters to make sure my information was extremely topical. I remain indebted to those people who provided so much input and support to me, hence my long list of acknowledgments and references.
Some of the themes running throughout the book are to dispel any myths about pregnancy and exercise and to reinforce what is an absolute must and what is optional.
There are some exercises involving the pelvic floor muscles and the transverse abominus that are critically important to preventing injury and which fundamentally assist a woman to return to her pre pregnancy body shape.
Dr Dereck Souter has been quoted as saying Fit for Birth and Beyond is ‘likely to become the defining book of exercise in pregnancy’, but the book is about so much more than just exercise. What do you think is the books most important feature?
That’s a hard question because being healthy and active during pregnancy is not down to one exercise it’s a holistic approach incorporating the right exercise at the right intensity, the right amount of rest and correct nutrition. Each trimester also has its idiosyncrasies and adaptations required. So the books most important feature is perhaps an understanding yet motivating tone which stems from a deep understanding of physiological principles and practical common sense.
Was it a difficult decision to include your personal diary entries?
No, not at all. I’m very open and honest about the ups and downs of being pregnant and being a parent at the same time whilst negotiating a full time job. So if anything it was a relief to have a reason to download what I was experiencing (the good and the bad) as I traveled from conception to delivery. I hope my diary entries provide some light relief. I am a blend of optimist and realist and I think this comes through.
How much time did you spend researching the book?
A lot – about 3 months full time plus additional revisions right until the final print version was agreed.
I am pregnant with my 3rd child and in the over 35 age bracket, how important is it that I do the complete workouts? And how much exercise do you recommend?
I am always hesitant to give advice to someone I haven’t met as there are many factors that go into what is ‘right’ for each individual however there are some common truths:
- Doing something is better than doing nothing and during pregnancy moderate is a good word to apply.
- Exercise is now viewed by the medical fraternity as far more than just something to consider but instead it’s an important part of a healthy pregnancy for both mother and baby.
- Always discuss any exercise programme you do with your lead maternity carer.
- I have a section at the back of the book which is called the “Bare Essentials” this is a short series of appropriate exercise designed for when you are feeling tired and unable to face more vigorous exercise. It will give you a valuable sense of achievement in being able to complete ‘something’ manageable.
- The general recommendation is to do 30 minutes of exercise a day most days a week but in the book you will see how I further tailor that to what’s important during the three trimesters.
- Many common pregnancy ‘niggles’ are alleviated by regular moderate exercise
What advice would you give women approaching 40 and beginning IVF treatment?
My advice is that whilst science seems advanced and may offer you many options, at the end of the day my experience is that it’s very much down to biology. So if your eggs are 40 year old eggs you need to be honest about your actual chances of conceiving, even with the best techniques money can buy. I remember my specialist saying I had a 5-10% chance of falling pregnant at 41, and bizarrely I actually interpreted that as good because it’s more than 0%. What I didn’t ‘hear’ was that I had a 90-95% chance of failing.
I think it’s well worth having a good counsellor to talk to as you contemplate the various options and whether to continue or not. I found it an emotional rollercoaster fluctuating between hope and despair. My husband and I know we were extremely lucky to get a positive outcome, others aren’t so fortunate and my heart goes out to them.
What does being a women mean to you?
- Balancing career with family and accepting that this is often a difficult juggle.
- Staying fit and healthy so I can enjoy life and can set an example for my kids.
- Looking at the brighter, lighter side of life as much as possible.
- Contributing to society. It’s not just about taking, it’s about giving back too.
- Not being afraid to put up your hand for opportunity and advancement – girls can have anything.
- Understanding that there are always compromises to be made and not being too tough on yourself.
- Accepting that life isn’t designed to be ‘fair’ and that sometimes crap things happen, but ultimately your attitude to that determines your altitude.
Thanks so much for your time Suzy, and thank you for writing such a comprehensive and candid guide to help others on their journey.
Fit for Birth and Beyond is available from www.exislepublishing.com.au.
eBook also available.