Kimi Werner isn’t afraid of sharks or a 30 meter free dive, but Motherhood is a brand new adventure
Professional freediver, champion spearfisherwoman, a trained chef, sustainability expert, artist, and surfer, Kimi Werner has adventured all over the world to dive, fish, and promote sustainability causes. She can dive to over 100 feet on a single breath and hold her breath for almost 5 minutes. She dives under ice in the Arctic and swims toward great white sharks rather than away. And now she embarks on an adventure so terrifying that for the first time in Kimi’s life, she feels her confidence shaken: motherhood.
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Thank @cinematowski for insisting on watching Buddy today so that I could be the one to get us groceries 😊. The countless ways you support me can feel down right humbling. ❤️ And thanks @wilder_wood for volunteering to jump in and be my safety. I am one lucky mama. . Dinner never tasted so good. Photo by @casey_goepel
New Kimi Werner Short Film
On Mother’s day, May 10 2020, Werner’s new short film, Lessons from Jeju: Freediving and Motherhood with Kimi Werner, is being released. This female-directed film follows Kimi as she learns to quiet her fears around freediving through pregnancy by diving with a group of South Korean Women known as the Haenyeo. This interview took place just a few months after the birth of Kimi’s son and a few days before her film premiere which you can catch here. Werner and director Nicole Gormley will be holding a live Instagram Q&A on Monday, May 11 at 5pm PST, which can be found here.
It never seemed like [having a child] would fit in unless I gave all of that up. But I started getting to a point where I felt pretty satiated.
The Kimi Werner Interview
Knowing Kimi had only pressure minutes between baby feedings, I began firing questions at her as she prepared dinner for herself and her husband.
Still Stoked: So Kimi, you are quoted as saying you have never had a five-year plan and that you’ve never even had one year plan. So how do you make a decision to have a child after living your whole life following instincts and going with the flow?
Kimi: “I knew I wanted to be a mom one day but it never seemed like it was the right time. I was always living a life of travel, spontaneity, and adventure. It never seemed like it would fit in unless I gave all of that up. But I started getting to a point where I felt pretty satiated (you are never really satiated), but I felt that I didn’t need to keep going and chasing this quest for exploration and adventure. I felt a lot more of a pull to grow some roots and stay put a little more. That’s when I told my boyfriend I was feeling the pull toward having a child.”
“I was a little freaked out about how hard it might be to get pregnant. I was 39 already. It’s not always an easy thing. I was afraid to try too hard so we just stopped trying to prevent it. I didn’t really focus on it too much. It wasn’t a firm decision, it was just choosing not to be against it.”
Not long later Kimi received a comment on her Instagram from a stranger saying “I’m calling it right now, whether you know it or not, you are pregnant.” Obviously Kimi was offended. “Is this person calling me fat? How rude!” But some deeper voice told her to take a pregnancy test. It was positive. Like any first-time mom a rush of fear and ecstasy came over her.
When a big shark is coming at you, the natural reaction is to get away. But that doesn’t actually work. Our true response does not have to be fight or flight. We can let things happen, assess the situation as it is happening, and respond accordingly. The best way is to flow.
On-Going with the Flow
Still Stoked: So it sounds like you just decided to stop fighting nature and go with the natural flow of life. Sounds pretty similar to how you have to behave underwater?
Kimi: “There are a lot of big things underwater that can rock us, sharks, or currents or whatever. When a big shark is coming at you, the natural reaction is to get away. But that doesn’t actually work. Our true response does not have to be fight or flight. We can let things happen, assess the situation as it is happening, and respond accordingly. The best way is to flow with the situation. Let the shark know that you are not prey, you are not scared. And the shark feels that energy.”
(And Kimi Werner is no stranger to sharks. Check out this video of her riding a Great White.)
Kimi says, “I still don’t have a one year plan but I’m assessing the situation as I go. In my new role as a mom, just like underwater, I’m always just trying to feel things out, let things happen naturally and respond to it in a way that feels most right to me.
All these people on Instagram would comment that I was doing a bad thing, that I was depriving the fetus of oxygen. For the first time I felt my confidence in myself shake. I just had to tap in deeper to trusting my body and my baby to tell me if something wasn’t right.
Tuning Her Intuition
Part of what makes Kimi a world champion huntress is due to the fact that she is an expert at becoming part of the ocean around her. She is visible to the fish she is hunting but she is so at peace that they feel no threat from her. Even sharks know when to back off. It seems like Kimi Werner is able to speak a non-verbal, oceanic language. I wondered if she felt the same kind of nonverbal communication happening with her child.
Kimi: “I think I do (communicate with him non-verbally). One thing that is humbling about pregnancy is that to be a mother is to worry. My whole life I’ve done what feels right to me without caring a lot about what other people told me. I kept diving throughout my pregnancy because it felt right to me. I did feel like I was having this internal conversation with this being in my body. I felt what I was doing was therefore good and healthy for this being. I felt that denying my body, stopping cold turkey from doing the thing I spend most of my time doing, would not be a good decision for my body. I could feel all that, but being a mom is a vulnerable thing.”
“All these people on Instagram would comment that I was doing a bad thing, that I was depriving the fetus of oxygen. For the first time, I felt my confidence in myself shake. In the past, other people’s opinions never made me second guess myself. Then all the sudden I’m pregnant and I’m listening to my body, I’m listening to my intuition, I’m listening to my baby more than ever. But then it just takes a few people to say I’m making the wrong choices and all a sudden I’m questioning myself and I’m worried. It was a lot easier for me to feel like ‘I’ve got this’ when it was just me. And it sucks in a way, to second guess myself like that. And that is scarier than the currents and the Great Whites for sure. I just had to tap in deeper to trusting my body and my baby to tell me if something wasn’t right.”
Kimi pointed out that she isn’t saying that diving is fine when pregnant. She simply knew that for her specific body, she feels most at peace and healthiest when she is underwater.
Diving During Pregnancy
So Kimi searched for answers from the scientific community. She asked doctors and did her research. Some doctors said it was fine, others said absolutely not. But unless there has been a double-blind scientific study on something proving it is safe during pregnancy, doctors pretty much say to avoid it. But very, very few people worldwide dive like Kimi does, especially not pregnant women. Everywhere she went, Kimi Werner ran into self-proclaimed experts telling her she should not be diving. But there just wasn’t any real evidence to go on.
That is when Kimi’s interest in the Haenyeo, a group of South Korean diving women subsisting off their captures, piqued. She found articles on these working moms, telling how they dove throughout their whole pregnancies, some of them even giving birth on boats. She took clipping of these articles and saved them to her phone’s screen saver, to remind herself that her intuition could be trusted. The Haenyo became “guiding fairy godmothers” for Kimi Werner. When she faced criticism that would cause her to doubt her own intuition, she would pull up photos and clipping of these women. “It felt like angels patting me on the back, saying ‘it’s okay’”. They were always her heroes, but suddenly she felt like she was leaning on them.
That is when Patagonia reached out to her asking her if there were any stories she wanted to tell during her pregnancy. (Patagonia also made sure to tell her that if she just wanted to stay home that was fine with them too.) Kimi had just turned down several offers to travel and to promote sustainability causes. She just didn’t have the desire to do so while pregnant. But there was one place she did want to go, Jeju, South Korea. So within days, seven-month pregnant Kimi and her friend, Director Nicole Gormley, were boarding a plane bound for South Korea.
If I really think about something that is good for me I feel an expansive physical feeling in my body. But when I listen to what I think I’m supposed to do, I feel like a second rate version of my true self, an empty shell.
Kimi Werner and Her Controversial Intuition are Right Again
Diving while pregnant was not the first time in Kimi’s impressive career that she was criticized for a major decision she made. In 2008, after winning the national spearfishing title she quit competing altogether. Her critics called her a waste of talent. But killing more than she needed to eat, just for sport and recognition, didn’t feel right. So Kimi quit. Again in 2012, a chance encounter with a Great White shark brought a surreal moment where Kimi was able to hitch a ride on its dorsal fin, their energies harmonized in perfect peace. The moment was caught on film. When major energy drink companies offered large sums of money for the footage Kimi turned them down. She knew that moment went deeper than the fizz of sugar and caffeine. Many people could not understand this choice. And during pregnancy Kimi’s inner voice once again led the way.
“I think I really do feel it in my body.” Kimi said, referring to her inner voice of intuition. “If I really think about something that is good for me I feel an expansive physical feeling in my body. But when I listen to what I think I’m supposed to do I feel like a second rate version of my true self, an empty shell. I know that sounds dramatic but I have felt that way in my life for long periods of time. I lived part of my life going through the motions. I felt like I became an empty shell of myself. It doesn’t serve me and therefore it doesn’t serve this world. It takes a lot of freaking courage to listen to that part of me that is afraid to try something.”
The more you make courageous decisions about what is important to you, whether you succeed or fail by society’s standards, as long as you start tapping into courage, your compass becomes more sensitive.
Before Kimi’s career as a water woman took off, she felt the pull to do art. “Art didn’t get me that far on paper, but in my heart it was everything. It was the first thing I had the courage to try. No one takes you seriously when you are an artist. People told me not to do it and that I would never make it. Then I started painting fish on hats. I started selling them online. Before I knew it I was paying my bills and when the weather was nice I could go diving. I realized, I am really making it. I am taking care of myself, taking care of my dog, I live in Hawaii, and that shit is hard!”
She knew from there on out that no matter what, as long as she followed her true self, she would always land on her feet. That made the leap into her new career as a spearfisher woman, and eventually to motherhood, much easier. “I got braver and braver in my choices. The more you make courageous decisions about what is important to you, whether you succeed or fail by society’s standards, as long as you start tapping into courage, your compass becomes more sensitive. As more and more life came to me, I could recognize the feeling that never led me astray and the feelings that I needed to question.
When Kimi and the team arrived in Jeju, the Haenyeo welcomed her with open arms. They invited her on two full days of diving, something she wasn’t expecting. A boat dropped them off and left. There she was in deep open ocean water, seven months pregnant, with nothing but a mask, fins, diving tools, and a company of these badass women whose language she did not speak. But the Haenyeo women didn’t flinch and neither did Kimi. Although she was treated with a great deal of tenderness, for the first time, no one even insinuated Kimi should not be diving. They even told her the only problem with diving while pregnant was how to reach down and get your fins on over your big belly! “Just to be around these women who spoke the same language of the heart was so refreshing.” That is when she knew, once again, her intuition could be trusted.
When it comes to the products you use and the foods that you eat, if you could just spend a little more time examining the effects that they have on the earth, tracing the source of the products or food, and try to understand the footprint we have, it will make a difference.
Kimi Werner doesn’t spearfish for the sake of bringing home a trophy. Nearly 80% of what her family consumes is hunted, grown, or traded for. For Kimi, sustainability is a lot more personal than just refusing plastic straws and attending beach cleanups.
Still Stoked: I’m not much of a spearfisher myself, what can the average person to so live a more sustainable lifestyle?
Kimi: “The average person can take a little more time to examine their decisions. Not in a way that overwhelms you. But when it comes to the products you use and the foods that you eat, if you could just spend a little more time examining the effects that they have on the earth, tracing the source of the products or food, and try to understand the footprint we have, it will make a difference. No matter what we are going to have a footprint on this earth. The idea is to try to cause the least amount of unnecessary harm as you can. We are all going to find different ways to help. Perfection gets in the way of doing good. Don’t make perfection the goal but activate your mind to see where you can do better. Live with more awareness of your decisions. Know which ones feel right and honest to you. We each need to tune our own compasses. It starts by turning the compass on. When we live blindly that is when we do the most damage.”
Still Stoked: What does it take to be a good mom?
Kimi: “Well I’m still trying to figure that one out! When I was pregnant a simple question became my compass, ‘Is this good for my child or not?’ And I reaped the benefits because my child was my body. But it gets a little more complex when your human has its own little body outside you. Now I have to make decisions based on a lot of self-sacrifice. Sometimes I would love to go diving but I also know it would be good to get my son down to the water to play in a tide pool. I’m doing a lot of things for him now and I have dedicated myself to a lot of selflessnesses. But it feels really good because I’ve never had something fill my cup so much. It is teaching me so much more about the simple pleasures of life. But I also understand that I need to make sure I’m teaching my son how important it is to fill our own cups. So I want to be mindful of that aspect too.”
Kimi Werner shared a funny story of being too big to get on a surfboard while pregnant. So she waited on the beach while her boyfriend surfed. She hated every moment. She swore she would never be the person who just sits on the beach. Now, after the birth of her son, she is quarantined due to the Coronavirus, and all she wants to do is sit on the beach with her baby. “All of a sudden I have this baby and watching him watch the sunset is the most amazing thing ever.”
Using Breath for Labor and Delivery
Because I am about two months away from giving birth to my first child, I had one last selfish question for Kimi. I wanted to know if she used freediving breathing techniques to help her through labor and delivery. The story that followed blew my mind.
Kimi Werner’s Birth Story
Kimi was planning a completely natural home birth. Until she woke up one morning late in the third trimester, knowing something was off. She went to the doctor to have her blood pressure checked. The doctors said something was indeed wrong. Suspecting a rare and life-threatening condition called preeclampsia, Kimi was admitted to the hospital. She begged the doctors and staff to let her use her breath to lower her blood pressure. But when she couldn’t, the doctors confirmed that preeclampsia was indeed the case. This meant that Kimi was at extremely high risk for having a stroke, which could kill both her and the baby. Labor would have to be induced. Gone was Kimi’s perfect birth plan. But even labor induction was not going well. As hard as Kimi and the doctors worked, the baby was not ready to come out.
(At this point in the story Kimi stops and apologizes to me for telling me all this while I am pregnant. “Spoiler alert,” she says, “I had a healthy baby!”).
The baby’s heart rate dropped off the radar for almost four minutes during one contraction. Doctors began putting on surgical clothing.
“What just happened?” Kimi asked.
“Your baby just took a four-minute freedive.” The doctor told her.
The doctors urged her toward an emergency c-section.
That is when Kimi knew, once again, it was time to flow, to assess the situation, let go of plans, and respond rationally. “I realized that I had to stop fighting it. Up until that point I had been in the hospital for a couple of days. The decision didn’t come easily. They had to take the fetal heart rate monitor off of him for the procedure so I had no idea how he was doing. So I just talked to him. I told him it would be just like when mommy would take those deep dives. I told him he could slow his heart rate if that would help him through it, but that we had to stay calm together.”
Then Kimi started to do her breath-up exercises that she would do before a dive. She could not see anything due to the privacy sheet covering her lower half. She could not feel anything because of the anesthesia. But her remaining senses were on high alert, using her breath to stay calm.
“I listened to every single tone of voice. After a while, I heard a collective breath happen in the room. It was like a chorus of breaths. I knew my baby was here. Then I heard the most beautiful sound in the world, he started to cry.”
Did a mother’s intuition save the life of her child?
I was too choked up to ask any more intelligent questions at that point (estrogen!). But I couldn’t help but wonder, had all those free dives been the key to Kimi’s son’s survival? After all, her baby was already well trained in staying calm even with a very low heart rate. Had Kimi’s instincts to dive during her pregnancy actually saved her child’s life? No one will ever know. Except that Kimi knows in her heart she did the right thing. I know, I for one will be listening a lot closer to my inner compass, following Kimi’s example, and bravely stepping out to do what is right for me.
Follow Kimi Werner on Instagram @Kimi_Swimmy. Be sure to watch her new movie, Lessons from Jeju. She also has a brand new youtube channel focusing on sustainable cooking. If learning more about the fierce female divers of Jeju Island and the dramatic history that shaped their lives interests you then we would highly recommend reading the book The Island of Sea Women– By List See which is a novel all about these amazing ladies.
Cover Photo: Perrin James from BBC Outlook.