The courageous story of Jennifer Swain (England), 5th degree, 32 years old, SEN teacher and Taekwon-Do student, assistant instructor, competitor and coach:
"I first started Taekwon-Do when I was 7 years old, and have loved it and never looked back. But that’s not to say it’s always been easy. When I was 14 I got introduced to competition and have competed at World and European Championships since 2006-2019; moving up categories in age, grade and weight class. Like most people I’ve had trials and tribulations, the most recent and ongoing struggle is that of trying to conceive. My husband and Ihave decided to try IVF, this has meant that I have opted out of certain championships, seminars and more recently decided to stop training at the highest intensities that I was used to. There is not very much research out there on training methods while trying to conceive naturally or through IVF, which makes any decision making incredibly challenging.
I often become frustrated as I watch others continue to compete and contemplate whether my energy and time trying to start a family is being wasted as I watch my competition career pass by. If a man wanted to start a family and compete then he can, and this is the hardship put on women, that at times like these can prevent us from doing what we love.
I am lucky enough that I train with my husband and he knows where I’m at with the treatment and the life goals I have outside of Taekwon-Do and supports me with all of this. I’m lucky enough that I have him and my instructor who I have good relationships with allowing me to talk to them openly and honestly. Unfortunately, I have come across a lot of male instructors and coaches who I haven’t felt comfortable talking through this subject with (It’s hard!). These feelings have been exacerbated when instructors or coaches have asked me to hold a pad for others, and after politely saying “no” I was persistently asked until I was given one and told to do it anyway. Similarly, I have not wished to spar, just incase I may be pregnant, and again have felt like I’m opting out. Maybe this is not what others think and this is the pressure I put on myself and although I try not to care what others think, it’s easier said than done. The longer that time passes as I try to conceive, the harder it becomes as I worry what others think about my training efforts. I find it hard to see others get pregnant seemingly so quickly and see the impact of not being able to train fully for 9 months, whilst I have been trying for years with nothing to show for it.
I’m hoping from this article to encourage instructors and coaches to accept that “no” means “no” in any context. And to think about women who could be possibly trying to conceive, but who may not yet be ready to share this information with others. (I have not shared my information with many and have recently thought, with a friend’s wise words to “own it!”, so this is what I’m doing!). Getting instructors and coaches to think about what and how they teach women who may be trying to conceive. For some people, they can be very lucky to conceive quickly, some may have to try for years, or even over a decade. Contact work is a big part of Taekwon-Do and I don’t want to give it up, but I am at a time in my life where I am choosing to continue Taekwon-Do in my own way, until I can get back to contact work again when I feel safe to do so. For me, this is better than no Taekwon-Do."
"A little information about IVF, the hormones effect how you perform. Whilst I was taking injections, I found that my knee stability suffered in ways in which it had not before. There is research out there to support training no more than 80% of your maximum heart rate whilst pregnant, which has led me to train in this way, just in case I do fall pregnant. I have also had swelling to my abdomen due to the treatment and a condition called ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome, which causes pain and discomfort, at these times I have used a waist support to enable me to access training, albeit at a gentler pace until I’ve felt better. I have also had to work out when to go ahead with treatment and when to prioritise other life events. Planning anything is really difficult when you don’t know when you will start your next months’ worth of treatment and your availability to do other things when you’ve got multiple appointments, scans, phone calls and admin all to do with IVF. All of this makes it difficult to train at my full capacity and make big improvements. Can I commit to going to that seminar, course, camp, competition or will I have an appointment at the last minute which takes priority? For now, my focus is on maintaining my skills and fitness, rather than improving them.
As well as trying to provide my story to benefit how instructors and coaches support women, their health and well-being, I am also hoping to reach some Taekwon-Do students out there who may be struggling with becoming pregnant or staying pregnant, to those other IVF warriors who may be thinking of giving up on Taekwon-Do to focus on their fertility journeys -you can do both with the right support. I believe that together, we can help to break the stigma attached with infertility and gain strength from each other. With the right support, you can still do what you love and also have family goals. For now, I’m focusing on coaching students and training to my personal limits and continuing on my IVF treatment.
Finally, I will mention the everyday struggles that are not often talked about. The “when are you starting a family?” “You should be focusing on having a family now”. I’m not sure if this is something that happens in all cultures, but in England I am regularly asked questions or told things around this topic. Frustratingly my husband is rarely, if ever, asked these questions! Although this is considered normal behaviour, I would like people to consider those who are trying and struggling and how hurtful these well-meaning comments and questions are. Some women may not want to have children and this is fine too. What are socially accepted norms, can be changed.We can always learn and teach others, and become better people.
So, if you want to ask me “why aren’t you competing?” or if you are thinking of asking another the same question, maybe change it to “are you okay?” or “how are you?”.
I don’t know what life will throw at me, I would love to get back to competition, but for now I’m trying to live in the present."
Best wishes to you all
Mrs Jenny Swain V
Picture 1: a side effect, a swollen abdomen, after one round of treatment, after 4 weeks: OHSS or Ovarian hyper simulation syndrome. This can be perceived as being pregnant, which is not the case.