Being the mother of a newborn baby can be tough, especially when you’re over 40.
Writing a book about keeping fit during pregnancy and getting back in shape afterwards is also a pretty big challenge – so when Suzy Clarkson found herself doing both at the same time last year, she wondered what on earth she had let herself in for.
“I did think, ‘Oh, crikey’,” laughs Suzy (46). “I’ve got a three-month-old and a book to finish. What have I done?
“When babies are so small you spend all your time just looking after them – it’s a huge achievement to get anything other than the basics done.
“But I’d started the book and I really, really wanted to finish it. So it was just a matter of getting on with it.”
The publication of Suzy’s book, Fit for Birth and Beyond: The guide for women over 35, coincides with Toby’s first birthday and Suzy says the past year with her adorable son has been wonderful.
“It most definitely hasn’t been all smooth sailing, but we have this wonderful little boy – our wee miracle – and I feel very blessed,” says Suzy, tenderly smoothing her second son’s blonde hair.
Toby is a happy little boy who has a gorgeous, beaming smile.
“He’s such a great little kid,” smiles Suzy. “He’s so cheerful and he laughs a lot. It has been a really precious year, getting to spend so much time with him. I’ve really loved it.”
While she now has plenty of energy, she admits that it was hard going at first.
“Your age does make a difference and although I was fit before I got pregnant I have noticed that this time around it has been harder. I was really tired in those first six months and had to take a lot of naps. Your skin is not as elastic and I don’t have a flat stomach like I did when I was 35.
“I can’t change the fact that I started out later in life when it came to having children and while it can be harder on you physically, there are so many benefits to being an older mother, like being more emotionally and financially stable, and just being more mature and confident.”
Fitness enthusiast Suzy first began thinking about writing the book five years ago, around the same time she and husband Tim decided to have a sibling for their son Ben, who is now six.
She’d had no problems conceiving Ben when she was 39 and Suzy assumed things would be straightforward with baby number two. Although she became pregnant quickly, she suffered a devastating miscarriage at 11 weeks. She was determined to try again, but when she hadn’t fallen pregnant after six months she and Tim consulted a fertility specialist. And so began the emotional roller coaster ride of IVF treatments.
“While all of that was going on I put the book aside. I had written quite a bit but I couldn’t even think about working on
it while so much else was happening. And I didn’t want
to jinx the IVF journey I was on.”
Three cycles of IVF were unsuccessful but the fourth worked, to the couple’s great delight. Sadly this pregnancy also ended in miscarriage and a distraught Suzy contemplated giving up. However, she had five frozen embryos left, so she decided to try again. Two were transferred to her womb, but did not progress. Then the final three were placed. Suzy knew this was her very last chance of having a sibling for Ben – she couldn’t go through all the trauma of IVF again. To her astonishment, one implanted and she was filled with joy, hope and fear.
Suzy was anxious throughout the pregnancy because of the earlier miscarriages, but she did start to think about the book again and got her photographer friend Michele Robinson to take some photographs of her doing suitable pregnancy exercises, in case she did get around to finishing it.
“Once Toby arrived I couldn’t even think about it for the first 12 weeks but then I rang the publishers who were really keen.
“There are books out there on exercise in pregnancy and after birth but nothing like this one, which is specifically aimed at women over 35.
“As there are a lot of older women becoming mums these days, they thought it was a great idea. So then I had to do it!”
Suzy admits that writing and researching the book while looking after Toby – who was not always the easiest of babies, due to mild colic and being very “spirited” – did feel a little daunting. However, she was so passionate about the project that she made the time to do it, mostly working in the evenings once Toby had gone to sleep.
“I felt it would be an enormous waste of all the effort I had already put into writing it if I didn’t keep going,” explains Suzy.
“And what was good was that I was going through everything I was writing about and following my own advice. I really wanted to be able to help other women because exercise is so important to strengthen your body during and after going through the stress of childbirth.”
Suzy has drawn on her medical training and background in the fitness industry for the book. She was a physiotherapist before embarking on a broadcasting career, and also qualified as a personal trainer.
She became the face of aerobics in New Zealand in the 1990s, producing four aerobics videos. She also wrote a book on general health and wellbeing, titled Healthy Body Healthy Mind.
That background, along with her personal experiences, made Suzy the ideal person to write a book on all aspects of fitness during pregnancy and in the first few months after birth. She carried out extensive research and had top medical experts review the information.
Suzy has also included excerpts from a diary she kept while she was pregnant with Toby and in the first couple of months after he was born.
There is a section in which Suzy details the years of heartbreak she experienced during the IVF treatments when they either didn’t work or ended in tragic loss. She also details the incredible joy of finally sustaining a pregnancy and ending up with Toby.
Suzy was delighted to be able to take 12 months maternity leave from her job as a corporate affairs manager – when she had Ben she was back at work reading the news when he was 12 weeks old.
The Weekly spoke to Suzy just before she was due to go back to work at the end of her leave and she says although she will miss her boys, she is looking forward to returning to the corporate world and using her professional skills.
“My company paid for me to go on a transitional back-to-work programme and it was fantastic. It makes you so much more prepared for work and able to hit the ground running.”
Suzy has arranged to have a nanny four days a week and work from home on Fridays, and although she’s super-organised and determined to fit as much in her day as possible, she does recognise that there will have to be some compromises. Ironically, one of the things she will have less time for when she returns to work is exercise.
“There might be times when all I can do is something like going for a walk at lunchtime, but that will still be good for me,” she says.
After Toby was born Suzy gave herself three months to get back to her pre-pregnancy fitness levels. “It’s important not to rush it, especially when you are older,” she explains.
The first exercises she did after having Toby were those for the pelvic floor and also the transverse abdominal muscles, which become stretched during pregnancy and need to be activated and engaged to work properly again.
She also began doing fairly gentle walks and general strengthening exercises, gradually building up to returning to gym classes. She now aims to get to the gym four times a week – Toby loves the crèche there – and also exercises at home.
“Exercise will always be a priority for me and I hope I can help to inspire other women, because it really does make a big difference when you’ve got a strong, fit body.”