We have to start out with the basic assumption that since we all know that accidents have happened in the past, they will probably happen again. We have all been around too many situations where ukes (even very good ones) get thrown into someone else. Also, people who are very good at aikido manage to have accidents. Certainly from a distance, you can see an accident coming/forming. When you are involved in an accident, you can't see it coming - in time to do much about it - or accidents would NEVER happen!
What is the RISK of training aikido while pregnant? Which, in this case, translates to: Is training while pregnant safe for the mother and pre-birth human - especially past the first trimester?
The classic response from an OB/GYN is that "the fetus is well padded and protected."
Any engineer must follow that up with "HOW WELL padded and protected is the fetus?" Would the force of an accident in aikido class damage the pre-birth human or would the mother be more damaged due to an accident in aikido class given her condition (loose joints due to hormons, etc.) ? No one would discount that the uterus is *some* protection. Mainly I would contest the idea that it provides such *good* protection that there is no added risk.
At this point the best case scenario would be for the person to honestly answer "I don't know" -- and then accept responsibility for misrepresenting their belief system as a medical fact. An OB/GYN actually wrote the following to me on a different forum: "There is limited data in many areas of obstetrics, often due to the ethical questions raised when designing studies focusing on pregnant women." I found that to be a fair point, so I'll even go so far as the doctor replying, "I don't/can't know but I suspect it would be okay but my mind isn't made up yet" so we can begin to explore those suspicions - would be a best case scenario.
The typical response, however seems to be a bunch of anecdotal evidence, terrible statistical comparisons, and overall junk science from the people who just really want their personal belief systems validated (and unchallenged -- or should I say unquestioned?!). They cannot offer concrete support for the fetus being WELL padded and protected -- as if it had actually been measured in some way because that evidence does not exist. It has been my experience that people generally make decisions based on emotions and then try to rationalize them with logic after the fact -- even OB/GYNs.
If you are reading this and disagree with me, please do not respond with any statistics about how many auto accidents result in problems, and how pregnant women still drive. There has to be WAY MORE pregnant people driving than pregnant people doing contact sports!!! Comparing % of accidents in driving to training contact sports without multiplying the numbers by the percentage of pregnant women _who do those activities_ is invalid and misleading. This fits the classic junk science pattern that the risk of a small amount of X (pregnant contact supports participants) is smaller than a tremendous amount of Y (pregnant drivers). This statement can be true even if X is much more dangerous than Y.
"The goal of persuasion is not always congruent with the demands of scientific accuracy." - Steven Goldberg
When pressed, these proponent's of "the fetus is well padded and protected" will typically resort to trying to personally attack the motivation of the person daring to pose the question in hopes of dismissing them as the next Rush Limbaugh or something.
I would like to state clearly for the record that:
- I intend to light a fire and raise awareness.
- I do not intend to cause hard feelings.
- My political agenda doesn't have much to do with this discussion. As a matter of fact I'm actually "pro-choice", but in the dojo you can consider me "right to train".
-I am aware that people have rights in a free country. I would like to point out that we have all kinds of rights in American society that we give up in aikido dojos for the greater good. For example, a person doesn't get to wear her gun on the mat even if she has a permit.
- My opinion on this subject is more born out of an understanding of cause and effect than any political cause. For this subject, it doesn't matter if what is growing inside a pregnant person should be considered a "baby" or not, just that things you do now will have an effect later period.
If you want to convince an engineer that the statement about the fetus being well padded and protected is true, you'll probably need to come up with the Structural Damage Capacity and the Impact Dilution rating of the fetus' padding/protection given the various stages of pregnancy, positions of a fetus, and different points of impact. There is no way that they will be able to describe the energy absorption mechanisms.
I'm okay with anyone simply responding to the question of how well padded and protected is the fetus with, "I don't really know." I say that all of the time. I'm even okay the argument that "Well you don't know that it is dangerous either." That's true -- and it's not an overstatement of fact -- so I like it MUCH better than the typical "well padded and protected based on no real evidence" opinion.
To try to make the case about it being dangerous, I openly admit that all I could offer would be my own anecdotal evidence and supporting logic.
1) staircase abortions and liability:
In darker times, throwing someone down a flight of stairs was generally considered a form of birth control. It is reasonable to assume that many of these pregnant people diving down staircases in the days before the pregnancy tests available today where probably past the first trimester (when the uterus is well within the bony pelvis -- and when someone might try to apply a 20% spontaneous abortion statistic). It is further reasonable to assume that these people had enough of a success rate in causing miscarriages by diving down stairs to create the basis of a "myth" to be so widely known years later. How different is that impact from someone being thrown into a pregnant person's back?
While everything that lead me to this conclusion that diving down stairs causes miscarriages _could be_ total coincidence, consider the following hypothetical situation. A patient informs her OB/GYN she is pregnant, wants to join a stunt women class to learn how to dive down stair cases, but needs a note from her doctor saying it is okay for her do this activity during her entire pregnancy - would you expect the patient to walk out of the office with that note? No way! - Because you have very good reason to suspect it is very dangerous AND because you would be taking on a tremendous liability.
In my opinion, dojos need to stay in business, and should not have to take on tremendous liability either. What does our insurance say about this?! It is quite selfish to practice while creating an incredible liability for the dojo at large. Imagine the case for negligence if someone who we all knew were pregnant had an accident, the baby died and the parents sued the dojo. Is that dojo part of group insurance? If so, please consider the greater good of all dojos using the group insurance.
Also, please note that the waiver offers very little protection to a dojo -- which is still better than nothing. It is mainly needed to get insurance. An injured person can easily make the case that the dojo was not made a safe enough environment regardless of the waiver and they can still sue and win. I really care about keeping dojos open. If the needs of one person to train while pregnant results in an injury and a law suit, it could close down that dojo and potentially many of the dojos using group insurance. One could argue that, if something happened you wouldn't sue, but can the people running the dojo take that risk? Also, the officers of non-profit dojos are personally liable for such a law suit.
2) As the pregnancy progresses, the padding stretches and must lose some dampening capacity.
Towards the end of the pregnancy the padding around the child is stretched so thin that we can see and feel the kicks from within. Exactly how different would training in that condition be from training while carrying your 3 week old baby in your dogi?
3) It's not quite the same as dealing with an injured aikidoka -- in my opinion and I suspect others:
case a) If someone comes on the mat with an injured elbow and I happen to be thrown into them (or trip, etc) resulting in making the injury worse then of course I feel terrible that the accident happened. All of the people involved suffer as a consequence of their own actions and decisions.
case b) If someone comes on the mat pregnant and I happen to be thrown into them resulting in a miscarriage or the baby being born later with a damaged spine or something then I'd feel MORE terrible because one (or I guess it could be twins, etc) of the people (eventual people) involved suffers as a consequence of other people's actions and decisions - not their own.
4) The ‘you have no specific evidence to the contrary' argument ONLY means that neither side can know, not that one side must be right and the other wrong.
Otherwise, I can offer the evidence of this nature to support the claim that one can breathe on the Moon without technological help.
- There is limited data in many areas of lunar asphyxiation, often due to the ethical questions raised when designing studies focusing on killing astronauts.
- No one knows how many "Lunar asphyxiation accident victims" there even are. Accurate statistics on the number of naked-humans-on-the-moon losses due to asphyxiation each year are not available. Most are due to their blood boiling in the zero pressure environment. The troubles you might mention, "maybe he could breathe if his body weren't instantly frozen", may for all we know be caused by that large band of radioactivity between the Earth and Moon, or chromosomal problems, or the phase of the moon. There is definitely no supporting documentation of any of that.
- Drowning accidents are the primary (90%+) cause of asphyxiation in human kind, followed by assault, particularly with pillows and plastic bags. Participation in naked-moon-walking has not been mentioned as a cause of asphyxiation in humans in any published studies, suggesting that moon-walking is not a major cause of asphyxiation to naked astronauts.
I can go on, but the point is I can make silly arguments based on lack of evidence all day, but it PROVES nothing.
Regardless of my viewpoint, I will perfectly accept that "neither side absolutely knows". To me, from that standpoint you are dealing with the risk management of an unknown risk (a potential risk). This is where I would say that the reasonable thing to do is to err on the side of caution. So, I would say that if you intend to train while pregnant, the rules should be:
-Get your doctors approval.
-Get you sensei's approval.
-Let your training partners know your limitations, and pre-select training partners who agree to support and protect those limitations.
-Make sure you train in a quieter part of the mat. Training in the quieter part of the mat while pregnant is not an "option" unless you happen to have gotten un-coerced consent from 100% of the other people training around you on a class by class basis.
-Make sure that _everyone_ knows where the quieter part of the mat is and that it is 100% respected.
-Make sure that these people you are asking to support and protect those limitations are actually capable of doing this (maybe get a second opinion from your teachers/sempai).
-Make sure that these people you are asking to support and protect those limitations are really getting a choice. They should honestly get to decline with thanks and no hard feelings each class without any pressure for an explanation.
If there is no additional insurance risk AND a pregnant person fails to follow these rules (well), it is up to the teacher to help this student understand what should be done to preserve the peace and respect everyone on the mat - as always.
Aikido is a partner practice. We all accept that there is some danger in general -- or we wouldn't have to sign insurance waivers. In aikido class, protecting each other is a SHARED responsibility. The classic: "My choice, my responsibility" is just not appropriate given this context of aikido class. When you bow in to the mat you are making a tacit agreement to preserve the peace (the wa). This is being at peace with yourself, interpersonal peace, and the overall peace of the room. It is simply unfair (and disrespectful) to put the safety of someone's pre-birth human onto other people who have not agreed to take on this responsibility.
It is a teacher's responsibility to step in and make things as safe and fair for everyone on the mat as possible. In my opinion, this includes the safety of the pre-birth human AND the rights of the people who would otherwise be socially coerced by means of "silence means acceptance" in an environment where members are not really supposed to speak up.
I understand that in the context of political correctness, teachers typically won't speak up on this issue because they have the faulty idea that they are empowering women. You may not do this at the expense of the dojo. The failing of a teacher to speak up and enforce rules like I mentioned above creates the situation where the pregnant member is requiring each member to totally respect her (her body AND the pre-birth human baby's body she is carrying) and she is doing it in a way that is completely disrespecting some of her training partners (co-opting choice is disrespectful and generally VERY resented.) It is the teacher's job to protect the pregnant person from making this mistake in dojo etiquette.
I am responsible for four dojos filled with compassionate, caring, and thoughtful people. One of my main responsibilities is setting proper rules of behavior to keep the compassionate, caring, and thoughtful students safe from the students who were not. Setting and enforcing rules for the greater good of the dojo is not something you do when you want to be popular with everyone; but the only way to lead is by conviction, not consensus. I simply do not allow people to train who are contagious or dangerous to themselves or others. Also, I do not allow people to participate if I do not feel qualified to teach them.
Here are a few articles I found regarding this topic:
On a personal level, the reason I am concerned about this is that my wife had a little fender bender (someone cut her off in traffic) while she was 7.5 months pregnant. She wasn't driving fast and taking chances. She was carefully driving in town, nice and easy, and two cars that were in a hurry coming from the other direction both decided to take left hand turns into a gas station one after another infont of on-coming traffic. Sunny was in the wrong place at the wrong time. At this point in the pregnancy, my son's (my eventual son's, if that matters to you) head was engaged in her pelvis. Immediately after the minor impact, Sunny went into labor. They gave her drugs and she went on bed rest until the baby was born a couple months later - with an injured jaw.
I don't care if my son was not considered an official "baby" prior to being born or not. All that matters is that "whatever he was" got injured prior to birth, and when he was born (and everyone could now agree on what to call him) he had a injury from that impact prior to birth. It snowballed because when he was born he couldn't latch to nurse since his chin couldn't move forward enough. We ended up having to take him to a baby chiropractor to get him straightened out after months of suffering.
The moral of the story is that some things that happen to the pre-birth human (fetus) will affect the post-birth human's (baby's) quality of life and health.
When I last explained this, someone put forward the idea that "such injuries are rare." There can be a lot of reasons for such injuries to be rare without meaning it is safe. The number of car accidents varies greatly depending on your location. Also, I have no idea how many of the in utero accident victims have troubles that go untreated -- like ‘oh my baby just cries a lot…' To me, rare does not have much to do with safe. For instance, the number of incidents of people dying from wrestling a bear is probably rare, and that would certainly not be considered safe!
(1) The assertion that the uterus protects the baby from general harm is understood and appreciated, but this general protection does not protect from all "accidents". (See above regarding my wife/son.)
(2) Any activity for which accident/injury insurance is available, practically by definition, carries with it the risk of accident/injury. It can hardly be argued that Aikido is a non-risk, non-injury pursuit, nor can it be argued that even very good aikidoka sometimes make a mistake in practice (else why would we practice). Though it is my hope that all dojo's train with safety as a primary consideration, my own dojo has seen occasional accident/injury as either uke OR nage have the briefest pause in mental focus at the most inopportune time during practice.
(3) The reasoning that the likelihood of an accident taking place in some activity is mathematically rare does not really equate to the absoluteness of that activity being safe. There are numerous extreme sports which are inherently unsafe although injury/accident rate is low. (Use of this argument against my next point should bear in mind that such extreme sports generally involve only one person.)
(4) Aikido is by necessity a partner-practice martial art, and risk to self and/or child [to be] cannot be assumed alone. Neither can one person's opinion on right of life/choice/training displace their partner's opinions on same. To the extent two people are training under a third person (sensei, sempai, etc.), then three people. The responsibility of any accident/injury to a person's general being is shared with the partner and the trainer, even if the person believes they alone accept primary responsibility for their actions.
(5) To the extent that a person's doctor, spouse/partner (not really mentioned so far), martial art trainer, and all training partners *ALL* agree someone may train safely in their condition, then all is well, as everyone is making a conscious and fully informed decision to accept mutually shared risk of accident. (One of those risks being that the dojo can be sued and closed down, and all of the other dojos on that group insurance negatively impacted…)
(6) For what it is worth, I have asked people in my dojo to suspend training owing to a physical injury, if for no other reason than my being uncomfortable risking additional injury/aggravation. (That's not to say people are unwelcome in the dojo itself; a great many of us receive a lot of social interaction by way of training, so I don't want people to argue down some misguided path against me purely on this point alone.)
(7) Perhaps this might all boil down to what a person believes the philosophical underpinnings of aikido are. Personally, I feel it is an artform that, in a risk situation (e.g. on the street with no path of flight available) strives to allow a person to protect themself (chiefly) and all attackers from harm. (I.e., the Golden Rule applied to a martial situation.) I think if we seek to mitigate unreasonable harm in our techniques while we practice, we must seek to mitigate unreasonable risk while we do so. For my own level of comfort as trainer of and/or partner with someone who is pregnant, I choose not to assume risk of injury, as there is FAR more at stake than a sprain/dislocation when an accident happens; there will be plenty of time to train later, but no chance to undo damage that might happen (and can happen) to a fetus/child in utero.
In closing I offer two last thoughts:
"The only ethical principle which has made science possible is that the truth shall be told all the time. If we do not penalize false statements made in error, we open up the way, don't you see, for false statements by intention. And of course a false statement of fact made deliberately, is the most serious crime a scientist can commit." (Snow, 1959)
To my point of view, "I take responsibility for my baby's safety" is delusional thinking if one chooses to train aikido outside the boundaries of the rules I suggested. In fact, at best these people are gambling their baby's safety and then claiming they will be accountable for whatever outcome. That is an insult to people who do take responsibility.