Just before she tried for a third gold medal, Olympic athlete Kerri Walsh Jennings tried for a third child. She got both.
On Monday's Today Show, the volleyball champion revealed she was five weeks pregnant during her record-breaking win at London's Olympics.
"When I was throwing my body around fearlessly, and going for gold for our country, I was pregnant, and today I'm 11 weeks pregnant," Walsh Jennings told Matt Lauer. The 34-year-old athlete already has two sons--Sunshine, 2, and Joey, 3--with her husband Casey, also a volleyball player.
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A month before the games, while on a romantic trip in Gstaad they decided not to put off their plans for a third child any longer.
"I just felt like it would take me a while this time to get pregnant for some reason," says Walsh Jennings.
It didn't. Five weeks later in London, she had all the familiar signs. "I'm a pretty happy girl and I was unreasonably moody," she says. She was also four days late for her period.
Her teammate, Misty May-Treanor, immediately picked up on it. "You're probably pregnant," she told Walsh Jennings. As Kerri's other long-term partner, she should know. Together, Misty and Kerri, have won three gold medals together. The first was in Athens in 2004, then again in Beijing four years later. In July, they became the first team ever to win three consecutive medals in the sport. To say they're in tune with each other would be an understatement.
Walsh Jennings, now 11 weeks pregnant, wasn't the only mom-to-be breaking records in July. Malaysian-born shooter Nur Suryani Mohammed Taibi was almost eight months pregnant when she competed at this year's games. Her participation was not without criticism.
"Most people said I was crazy and selfish because they think I am jeopardizing my baby's health," Suryani told critics. "I am the mother. I know what I can do."
In fact, Suryani and Walsh Jennings are proof that pregnant women can accomplish extraordinary feats. But what about the risks?
According Dr. Nancy Synderman, NBC's chief medical editor, Walsh Jennings didn't increase her risk of a miscarriage by competing.
"The risk that she put to herself and fetus was zero to none," Synderman told Today.com. "The embryo is microscopic...It would take an act of God to dislodge it, not a bump on the tummy, not a dive." Early in pregnancy, the fetus is protected by the uterine wall, as well as the abdomen muscles--which Walsh Jennings has in abundance.
But some doctors discourage physically demanding exercise early in pregnancy. The Mayo Clinic suggests women steer clear of sports with a high-risk of falling during their first trimester. Contact sports, including volleyball, are also discouraged by multiple health professionals. One study found that women who did regular vigorous, high-impact workouts in their first trimester were almost four times more likely to have a miscarriage compared with similar women who didn't exercise. At the same time, extensive research touts the benefits of fitness on pregnancy outcomes. Exercise builds stamina, decreases the risk of gestational diabetes and prepares the body for the demands of labor .
Walsh Jennings, due in April, is ready for anything. Her best years spiking have long intersected with motherhood. She found out she was pregnant with her first child shortly after her 2004 Olympic win. With each gold medal she's won, she's gotten an even bigger prize as a parent. "I wanted to earn that third," she says.