The Pregnant Athlete

Learning To Embrace My Changing Pregnant Body While Swimming, Biking, Running & Practicing Yoga


The story of Quinn River’s birth: A natural, unmedicated second-time mother’s story.

Starting a week before I gave birth, at 38 weeks, I went to bed each night wondering if that night would be the night I would go into labor, as I had given birth to Keira eight days before her due date. Selfishly, I had hoped not because it was Thanksgiving week, and I wanted to spend time with my loved ones over amazing meals through the week before the baby arrived.

On Monday, November 28th, just after Thanksgiving weekend, I was awoken at 5:30am by slight cramping in my lower abdomen. I called Amanda, the midwife who was on call that morning, to let her know what I was experiencing—I was well aware that second births can be swift, and that, if this was the start of labor, I would need to be administered antibiotics early, since I had tested positive for Group B Strep.

As we do on any typical weekday morning, I got myself ready for work at 7:00am, Ray and I both woke Keira up at 7:15am, made her breakfast and got her ready for preschool, and, at 8:00am, Keira and I kissed and hugged Ray before starting on our 50-minute subway commute to school and work. Two overcrowded B trains passed us before we finally barely squeezed onto one. No one offered me a seat—typical. Subway commuters’ lack of regard while I was so pregnant usually irritated me, and I’d normally ask for a seat, but I was experiencing contractions every 15-20 minutes, lasting 30 seconds each—my mind and body were occupied, and I didn’t have the energy to even ask. I closed my eyes for much of the ride, and, surprisingly, Keira didn’t ask me to read to her or let her out of her stroller but rather looked at a book by herself quietly.

We arrived at school ten minutes late, and bumped into the mother of one of Keira’s classmate’s, who remarked, “You’re still here.” “Oh yes! The trains were overcrowded this morning.” “No. I mean, you’re still here.” “Ah. Yes, I am.” I shared the fact that I was experiencing contractions with her, and may not be at drop off tomorrow.

I rushed off to work at Sacred Sounds Yoga, and acted on a strong urge to “nest” at work, or to prepare the studio for my likely impending maternity leave and tie as many loose ends as possible. I replied to emails, updated our website with December and January workshops and events, texted our studio managers to let them know that they may need to cover for me starting tomorrow, and headed to the bank to take care of the studio’s monthly banking needs. The first week of the month is always the busiest week for me, and this month was especially important leading up to January, when students returned to classes following the holidays and New Year’s Resolutions. Knowing that December was only three days away, I needed to maximize my use of time in these precious few hours as best as I could! While standing in front of the bank teller, at 1:54pm, I called Amanda to give her an update—my contractions were eight to 15 minutes apart, still lasting 30 seconds each.

I was so busy working that I’d forgotten to eat lunch! I headed to byCHLOE, a vegan café that was a block and a half away from the studio and one of my go-to places for lunch, and ordered their Guac Burger and Baked Sweet Potato Fries, realizing that I needed to carbo-load with something substantial. “Your big day is almost here!” smiled a friendly face behind the counter. I visited byCHLOE so frequently that some of their employees knew my due date, and I knew that my due date was this particular employee’s birthday! “Well good luck on your birth if I don’t see you before, but I’m sure I will.” I nodded and smiled back, before rushing back to the studio to scarf down the burger, and finish more work.

My mother picked up both Keira and me at Keira’s school by car during pick up, as we agreed that it would be best for me not to bring Keira back to our home in Brooklyn when the Birth Center at Lower Manhattan-Presbyterian Hospital, where I had planned to give birth, was near my parents’ home. I was also afraid that the contractions would be too strong for me to handle another subway commute. Boy were we both right! By the time we arrived at my parents’, I was in active labor! At 3:46pm, I let Amanda know that my contractions were five to seven minutes apart, lasting 60 seconds each, and she told me that she would meet me at the hospital. I called Ray, who was already driving into Manhattan with my birth doula Caprice, and told them to meet me at the hospital. However, merely attempting to carry my hospital bag brought on a contraction each time I tried, and I asked them to drive me too. The contractions were much harder to manage now—they stopped me dead in my tracks each time at this point, and made my fingers and toes curl. I headed to a bedroom to lie down, despite Keira’s protests. “Mommy, come lie down on the couch!” she said while patting the spot next to her. My mother then tried to start a conversation about Christmas gifts. “Oh. You’re in pain right now.” “Yes. Not right now,” I muttered, as I walked toward the bedroom again. My sister Samantha spotted me in the foyer just before I entered the bedroom, and noted, “It looks like they’re really painful!” I finally shut the door behind me. Laboring at my parents’ crowded home was certainly a very different experience from laboring with Ray in the comforts of our own home two years ago.

Ray and Caprice finally picked me up, and we headed to the hospital at 4:45pm. Ray parked the car, and Caprice escorted me arm-in-arm into the hospital. “We’re going to Labor and Delivery,” I mentioned to the security guard on our way in. “Are you getting induced?” he asked. “No, she’s in active labor,” Caprice replied as we passed him. What a strange question to ask.

At the nurses’ desk in Labor and Delivery, a nurse insisted that I fill out a lengthy form completely. Because of the intensity of the contractions, Caprice attempted to fill it out to the best of her ability. After the form was nearly completed, the nurse finally asked,” Are you pre-registered?” “Yes,” I replied, and asked Caprice to retrieve the form from my hospital bag!

Amanda checked me once we arrived in triage. She noted that I was already four to five centimeters dilated, 90% effaced, at 0 station, had bloody show and a bulging bag of waters, and that I could be admitted as soon as I received my first of two doses of antibiotics for Group B Strep intravenously! She hoped that I’d be able to wait another four hours for my second dose before I gave birth—if not, our son would be required to stay in the hospital for an additional 24 hours for monitoring. My contractions felt as if they were occurring one on top of the other by then. I was comforted by both Ray’s and Caprice’s presence, as they took turns allowing me to squeeze their hand through each long contraction. I inhaled and exhaled deeply with each contraction, and counted slowly in my head, both techniques that I had practiced and knew worked well for me during mock contractions in Prenatal Yoga classes.

A nurse asked me to sign a lengthy document in five places, and, after two signatures, another contraction had started. Caprice noted during my postpartum visit that she truly believed that my marathon training had served me well in being able to cope with active labor—as if I was mustering every last ounce of effort I had left in me, I popped up from the bed at the peak of the contraction, and signed in two more places, before I plopped back down! I felt the strong urge to vomit, Caprice asked for a container for me, and I vomited directly into the container. Why did I want an unmedicated birth again? I had forgotten how hard childbirth was!

Once I finally received the antibiotics, another nurse named Gemma asked me to sit in a wheelchair so that I could be wheeled into the Birth Center. Just the idea of sitting made me writhe in pain, but I complied. I closed my eyes, and was able to breathe deeply and ignore any physical discomfort. I learned that I could focus on my breath to numb physical pain during marathons. This particular birth experience reminded me especially of my last marathon, the 2016 New York City Marathon, which I had completed three weeks prior at 36 weeks pregnant. Due to less training than usual over the course of the year and, I assumed, pregnancy hormones, my last marathon was especially uncomfortable during the second half, and downright painful during parts of the last 10K. Still, I able to manage the pain during that race, and do the same during childbirth.

I stood up as soon as I was wheeled into my room at the Birth Center with a strong urge to push. “Why don’t you sit down,” Gemma asked, pointing at one of the chairs in the room. “I don’t want to sit down!” I exclaimed. I was befuddled by her suggestion. Who on Earth wants to sit down when they’re about to give birth?! I took a step toward the bed, pushed with a contraction, and my water gushed beneath me! “Oh no! What if the baby falls on the floor?! No one will be here to catch him!” I was truly fearful that my son would arrive then and there! “I’m here!” Amanda exclaimed, running into the room. “I need you to wait. Can you wait until the nurse gets here? Can you get on the bed?” she asked me. I didn’t think I could do it, but, somehow, I was able to pull myself up onto the bed on my own.

I positioned myself on hands and knees, Ray set up a birth ball in front of me while Caprice pressed firmly against my hips and lower back during contractions. The pressure helped to alleviate some of the lower back pain that I felt. Ray then swapped the birth ball for a wedge for more stability, while I was still on hands and knees. I pushed five times, and the top of my son’s head was visible! However, my thighs were sore, and I didn’t feel as if I was getting enough traction in this position. Amanda suggested that I try side lying. I shifted onto my left side, while Gemma pushed against the sole of my right foot. I pushed three more times, the last time digging deep, as I could feel him crowning and his shoulders coming through the birth canal! After 15 minutes of pushing total, I could feel him release from me, and hear his cries!

Amanda hollered. It was the most amniotic fluid that had splattered on her ever, and the closest that amniotic fluid has ever made it her mouth. Caprice later called it a “fountain of fluid”!

Ray helped Amanda catch our son, while Amanda somersaulted his body to unwrap his umbilical cord from his neck, and Amanda proceeded to place him on my chest. Welcome to the world! It’s so nice to finally meet you! I’ll never forget that moment, the moment he finally entered the world, the rush of endorphins, and the moment I lay my eyes on the human being that had been growing and moving in my belly for nearly 10 months. After all the worries over the course of many months, he had arrived. And he was perfect.

Ray cut his umbilical cord, and noted that the pair of scissors he used this time were much sharper and easier to cut with than those he used for Keira’s cord. I allowed our son to do the Breast Crawl to find his own way to my breast—he did just this, and latched firmly onto my right breast.

“You know she ran a marathon at 36 weeks pregnant?” Caprice mentioned to Amanda as Amanda delivered my placenta. “I think I remember hearing about that,” Amanda replied. As much as I believed that training for and running a marathon while nine months pregnant and practicing yoga throughout my pregnancy helped me in my positive birth experience, giving birth naturally was still the hardest thing I had ever done (albeit twice!) in my life. But I wouldn’t have wanted to change a thing.

Quinn River was born on Monday, November 28, 2016 at 6:43pm at 39 weeks pregnant, weighing 7 pounds 1 ounce and measuring 20 inches long.

Total Labor: 11 hours 13 minutes
Active Labor: 2 hours 57 minutes
Pushing: 15 minutes

Thank you, Caprice, for your knowledge and support during my pregnancy, birth and postpartum, my parents, Julie and Francis, for taking care of Keira while we were at the hospital, Amanda and the LoMa Midwives for such a positive experience during my pregnancy and birth, and Ray for your infinite love and support!

Quinn River, 11/28/16

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First moments: A snapshot of Keira’s life.

Keira is 15 days old today. It still amazes me that I was running with her in my womb just over two weeks ago. Her arrival has completely changed Ray and my lives in the most wonderful way. I’m am grateful that she is healthy and strong, first and foremost. I’m also grateful that she has been been a really “easy” baby, as of now at least–she sleeps most of the time, complains only when she’s hungry or needs her diaper changed, and is a joy to talk to and play with for those few hours when she is awake.

With the amount of time and energy I dedicated to reading about labor and delivery to attain my ideal birth experience (and you can read my birth story here), it’s comical that I never considered doing research on how to actually take care of a newborn baby!  And I know I’m not the only mother who’s overlooked this important aspect of having a baby either. I’ve captured a few of Keira’s first moments since she arrived below as well as a few links to topics Ray and I have already Googled to make sure that some of these moments were nothing to be alarmed about!

Day 3. Keira finally arrived home with us! She also lifted her head off Ray’s chest while they were making skin-to-skin contact.

Skin-to-skin contact, 7/21/2014

Skin-to-skin contact, 7/21/14

Day 4. First visit to the pediatrician, and first walk outside, 0.6 miles roundtrip. Keira weighed 6 lbs. 14.5 oz., having lost 4.5 oz. since birth, and had developed a bit of jaundice, which develops in 60% of newborns 2-3 days after birth, and is especially common for Asian babies. Keira’s doctor informed me that more frequent breastfeeding, specifically feeding Keira at least every two hours, as well as daily phototherapy would treat the jaundice.  Random fun fact: We were the only non-Hasidic Jewish family at the pediatrician.  Apparently, the pediatrician rarely has non-Jewish families at her practice, and seemed bewildered at how we found her!

Day 5. First bath, a sponge bath! She didn’t cry or get startled, and seemed to enjoy the bath!

Keira's first bath, 7/23/2014

Keira’s first bath, 7/23/14

Day 6. Follow up visit to the pediatrician.  Keira surpassed her birth weight already, weighing in at 7 lbs. 4.5 oz, though newborns are expected to reach their birth weight 10 to 14 days after birth.  Her jaundice also diminished! Keira’s doctor told us we were doing a great job, and that I should continue to do whatever I was doing with respect to the feedings. Her remark was exactly what caused my confusion and exhaustion, unfortunately, as I took it literally–I continued to set my alarm every two hours to nurse Keira, as I had been doing since her birth.

Content after breastfeeding and above her birth weight, 7/24/14

Content after breastfeeding and above her birth weight, 7/24/14

Day 7. Ray and I panicked for a moment when Keira’s umbilical cord fell off, as we didn’t expect it to so soon. After some Googling, we realized it was perfectly okay, as long as there weren’t any signs of infection.

Day 10. First tummy time! Keira has strong neck and back muscles, and was able to start moving around on her tummy quickly and without cries.

Day 11.  First smiles! Granted, these are reflex smiles, I read, but it was exciting to witness them, nonetheless.

Day 12. First feedings based on hunger, not on my alarm! I received a phone call from a lactation consultant at the hospital where I had delivered Keira who informed me that, since Keira had reached her birth weight and was moving her bowels regularly, I should be feeding her based on demand, not on a schedule! She noted that the rule of thumb for newborns is that they nurse at least eight to 12 times per day.  I was confused, as this information was completely different from what Keira’s pediatrician had shared with me.  Thankfully, I found KellyMom, which offers evidence-based breastfeeding and parenting insight, and an amazing La Leche League Facebook group, both of which confirmed the lactation consultant’s advice.

Day 13. First visit with her only cousin on my side of the family, Sophia, who drove up to New York City from Northern Virginia with my sister Catherine and her husband Mark.

Keira and cousin Sophia, 2014-08-01

Keira and cousin Sophia, 8/1/14

Day 14. First day outside, aside from our short walks! We visited Brooklyn Bridge Park and Jane’s Carousel, and dined at Olea with my parents, sisters, brother-in-law, cousins, and niece. Aside from waking once to nurse and have her diaper changed, Keira slept the entire time.

Keira's first day out, 8/2/14

Keira’s first day out, 8/2/14

In addition to sharing a few first moments, I also wanted to provide links to insight online resources for moms that have helped me so far:

  • KellyMom. Truly offers everything you’ll need to know regarding breastfeeding, and plenty of other non-breastfeeding related information too!
  • La Leche League. Look up your local LLL for meetings with other moms that are breastfeeding or check Facebook for their online groups, if you don’t feel comfortable bring your newborn to meetings, and I don’t yet.
  • The Alpha Parent.  Look up the insightful timelines this blog provides to get a better sense of what to expect from your baby during different stages of life.
  • What to Expect the First Year.  Not an online resource, but I’d recommend buying this book for all their “how tos”–from changing diapers to bathing to feedings!