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


The story of Keira Sage’s birth: A natural, unmedicated, first-time mother’s story.

Disclaimer: I believe that it is every mother’s right to choose what is best for her labor and delivery.  I also realize that every individual circumstance is uniquely different. Here is my story.

I woke up last Saturday, July 19th at 3:20am from an intense stomach cramp. I had suffered from what were likely Braxton Hicks contractions all Thursday night after a 4-mile run home from work that afternoon, and assumed that this cramp was the same. I closed my eyes again, and fell back to sleep, but was awoken by another cramp ten minutes later.  Again, I shut my eyes, and awoke ten minutes later.  The pattern persisted, and, two hours later, my husband Ray, who had gotten up to go on a 5-hour long ride, remarked that I should call my doctor’s 24-hour number. One of the doctors in the practice picked up the call, responding that he believed that I was in early labor, and that I could possibly have our daughter the next day.  Little did he know that she would arrive that same day. I told Ray that he could go on his planned ride, as I assumed it would be a long labor, given it was my first, but I canceled all my plans for the day so that I could labor at home comfortably.

Leading up to this day, I had planned to approach it as I would an endurance event, except that I would not be allowed to eat once I was admitted to the hospital whereas I always fuel during my races. I knew that I should eat food that was easy to digest but high in calories, and, at 9:30am, I crawled out of bed, and walked across the street to pick up an iced coffee and toasted whole wheat bagel with walnut and raisin cream cheese. The line was long at the popular bagelry, as usual, and I had to help support my body weight during contractions by leaning against the glass counter.  I, then, visited the natural market next door to pick up cookies for the nursing staff, as I was told by my birth doula Caprice that they’d appreciate the gesture.  I had wanted to run a few more errands in the neighborhood, but the contractions already made it uncomfortable to walk a block let alone a few, and I headed home instead, where Ray greeted me, having cut his ride short.

I spent most of the earlier part of the day listening to reggae, bouncing on my birth ball,  and sending last minute emails to the staff and teachers at my yoga studio, knowing that I could possibly be unable to do so soon. The contractions were seven minutes apart by 3:30pm, and I thought it’d be relaxing to labor in water. I texted Caprice, who recommended that I get into the shower instead of the bathtub, since I had been experiencing some bleeding, and suggested that I shower before reaching 5-1-1, or when the contractions are five minutes apart and lasting one minute each for one hour, as I could risk dilating completely and not make it to the hospital.  I lit a scented candle, and reggae continued to play on my phone.  Ray hopped into the shower with me to help bathe me. The hot water massaging my skin and Ray’s help were both immensely soothing, and helped to diminish the intensity of the contractions significantly.

The contractions became more frequent–roughly five to six minutes apart–and lasted 90 seconds per contraction shortly after the shower.  Between contractions, I was comfortable side lying on the floor, resting my head on Ray’s lap, and fell asleep out of sheer exhaustion, but the contractions were so intense that they’d shake me from my slumber, and force me to freeze in pain.  I dry heaved after two of these contractions. I tried to kneel on the floor and rest my head on the couch, squat over two yoga blocks, and also get back on my birth ball, but these laboring postures were extremely uncomfortable at this point. I felt better standing and swaying with Ray while he made big circles with his palm over my lower back for a while, but I was so beat that, at 5:30pm, headed to bed to lie on my side with my body pillow.

At 6:30pm, the contractions were four minutes apart and the heavy bleeding I had when I peed compelled Ray to call Caprice and my mother so that they could make their way to our apartment to prepare to leave for the hospital.  My back pains were so severe at this point that they left me writhing in pain in bed.  Ray heated a rice bag, and applied it to my lower back. Ahhh. Sweet relief. The heat was by far the best antidote I had for the pains as of yet! Caprice arrived at 7:30pm when my contractions continued to build in intensity, and lasted 90 to 120 seconds, which meant I only had 2 to 2.5 minutes between each contraction.  Caprice sat on the bed, pressed her hot water bag against my lower back, and caressed my upper back. Her voice and mere presence were immediately soothing and comforting.  I felt less tense with her by my side.  My mother finally entered my bedroom at 8:30pm, and shouted: “Hey Steph! Look what Aunt Abby got you!”  In the middle of a contraction, I blurted out, “Mom, I’m not looking right now!”

I insisted that we start making our way to my parents’ car downstairs for the dreaded half hour-long ride to the hospital. Caprice allowed me to drape my weight over her, wrapping my arms around her shoulders, and pressing my forehead against hers, as she walked backwards to lead me out of the apartment.  My mother and Ray continued to gather my hospital bag, electric candles, snacks, and anything else I had requested for the hospital.  I felt as if my contractions were on top of one  another. I had one as we exited our apartment, and another followed in the elevator on our way downstairs.  I scooted into the back of the car with Caprice, as Ray drove the car safely, and my mother sat next him.  The fierce contractions combined with the rough ride and the back labor pains were agonizing. I asked for a plastic bag, and then immediately vomited any fluids or foods I had had that day into the bag, in my hair and onto Caprice’s lap. My mother noted, “I remember when I was in labor. I wanted to cut off the lower half of my body from the upper half.”  I asserted, “Mom, please don’t speak right now!”

I got out of the car, had another contraction in front of the hospital, and then Ray and I were escorted into triage. A young resident entered to check how far along I was, and broke my waters accidentally in the process. She then turned to a nurse, and told her that I was 3 to 4 centimeters dilated. “3 to 4 centimeters only?! I’m still in early labor?!!”  I started to cry hysterically, and thought that I’d have to get an epidural to manage the pain, as I could not imagine enduring much more.  A doctor entered with the resident, checked me again, and stated frankly, “Uh. She’s eight centimeters.”  They let us know that they were in the process of preparing a delivery room for me.  The contractions were excruciating–they were the worst pains I’d ever felt in my entire life.  “Honeyyy!!!!” I screamed multiple times.  “I don’t know if I can do this! I think I’m going to die!”  I later found out we were in triage for a full hour and a half before they finally moved me into a delivery room a few doors down.

The nurse in the delivery room told me that I had to have an external fetal monitor and IV, and asked if I wanted an epidural.  Ray was well aware of my birth preferences, and replied, “I thought you had wireless fetal monitoring. She doesn’t want an IV. No epidural.”  The nurse put a hep lock into my hand instead of an IV.  The tape was flimsy, and the hep lock fell out of my hand three times before she finally gave up. My doctor and Caprice arrived shortly after we did, and Ray stepped out of the room. My doctor checked my cervix, and exclaimed, “She’s 10 centimeters dilated with an anterior lip. Almost.”  I asked if I could labor standing, but my doctor immediately said, “No. You’re ready to deliver. Where’s her husband? Can you call him?” Caprice rang him, and he rushed in with a mouth full of pizza.

My doctor had me wrap my arms around my thighs, and I propped my feet up on a squatting bar that was attached to my bed, while Ray and Caprice helped me hold up my legs and supported me on either side. “Take a deep breath in, hold your breath, and push for 10 seconds. Direct your pushes where my fingers are,” she guided, as she gave me a perineal massage to help minimize tearing.  I pushed three times consecutively with each contraction, screaming each time. After 12 minutes of pushing, Ray exclaimed, “Do you want to know a surprise?” “No! What’s the surprise?!” I cried.  “Do you remember when you said you wanted a baby with no hair like in your family, and I said I wanted one with hair like in my family? She has hair!” “What?!!” I exclaimed.  My doctor asked me if I wanted to feel her head, and I reached down to feel the top of my daughter’s head while she was still inside me!

Realizing just how close I was to finally meeting her, I made sure to push extra hard. After two more rounds of pushes with the next two contractions, my doctor lifted her out of me, pausing momentarily to check that her umbilical cord wasn’t wrapped around her neck, and rotating her to relieve her shoulders on her way out. I had pushed for 15 minutes total.  Though she was my first, this was certainly a PR that would be hard to break.

Ray and Caprice later told me that she looked like she was surfing a wave of amniotic fluid as she entered the world.

My doctor immediately placed her on my belly, as her umbilical cord was too short for her to reach my chest. I was in complete shock. She came from inside of me?! Ray cut her cord, and I was grateful to have skin-to-skin contact with her for two full hours.  I learned in the film “Breastmilk” that, during the Breast Crawl, every newborn, when placed on their mother’s abdomen soon after birth, has the ability to find their mother’s breast on their own to breastfeed.  I allowed her do just this, and she latched on when she reached my right breast.

“Did you end up running that marathon during your pregnancy,” my doctor asked shortly after birth. “Yes I did. At 29 weeks,” I replied. “So which was harder: the marathon or giving birth? ” she asked. I laughed aloud, and responded, “Giving birth was harder than my 50-mile ultra and the Ironman combined! It’s probably harder than a 100-miler and the Ironman combined.”

Giving birth to my daughter naturally was, indeed, the most painful, formidable experience ever, but it was also, by far, the most amazing experience of my life. My eyes still well up with tears when I think about the moment I laid my eyes on her, full of life, covered in amniotic fluid on my belly just after birth.  I’m still in awe that Ray and I created her, our perfect being.  I’m astounded that she came from my womb, and I birthed her.

Keira Sage was born on Saturday, July 19, 2014 at 11:43pm at 38 weeks 6 days pregnant, weighing 7  pounds 4 ounces and measuring 20.5 inches long.

My sincerest gratitude to (Sage) Caprice for being there before and during the pregnancy as my doula, prenatal yoga teacher and friend, my mom Julie for driving our car to my apartment so that we had a proper ride to the hospital, my amazing doctors who were patient and attentive with me at each doctor’s visit, and provided the very best experience in the delivery room, and, last but not least, my husband Ray for always being so supportive of me as my partner and best friend.  I have so much love for you.

Keira Sage, 7/19/14

Keira Sage, 7/19/14

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Comparing the first and second trimesters.

Week 17  | +10 lbs

It’s amazing that what people often say about the second trimester rings true–your energy level does return! As I detailed in my entry at Week 13, I found the fatigue I struggled with during the first few months of the pregnancy to be crippling.  The fog finally dissipated last week, and it has made a whirlwind of a difference in my abilities to handle work, training and even hanging out with friends.

Court Side Seats & All-You-Can-Eat at the Brooklyn Nets Game at the Barclays Center, 2/19/14

Court Side Seats & All-You-Can-Eat at the Brooklyn Nets Game at the Barclays Center, 2/19/14

To celebrate the changes in my body that have come with the fourth month of my pregnancy, I have compared the differences in my training during my first trimester and the present one below:

  • Biking. Although I stopped biking outside as soon as I found out I was pregnant, I continued to spin weekly with my favorite spin instructor, Holly Rilinger, at Flywheel Sports.   Just before getting pregnant, the Total Power, or measure of my speed and resistance, during my spin classes averaged 310, placing me near the top percentile for the region. During the first trimester, the reading dropped down to 260, but has since bounced back to 300.   I am still listening to my body–I simply have more energy to expend. I was especially excited this past Monday as I convinced my mom to come to class after her doctor suggested that she start participating in cardiovascular activity! It was her first spin class, and, in fact, the first class she’d taken where she “actually sweat,” as she informed me afterward.  She enjoyed it so much that she plans to join me every week, and I was excited by the notion that we had three generations of women in my family in class that day: Grandma, baby and me!
  • Running. I’ve be able to stick to my training schedule for the Delaware Marathon on May 11th. However, up until a week ago, I suffered from debilitating migraines after my weekend long runs.  I had never had migraines prior to becoming pregnant, and needed to nap for at least two hours after each long run, which helped a bit, but never made the headaches go away.  Though I did monitor my fluid and fuel intake a bit better, drinking water every 20 minutes and eating every 50 minutes, I didn’t get a migraine after this Sunday’s 14 mile run, a first in months! I can only chalk it up to the hormonal changes my body underwent during the first trimester, but the true test will be whether or not the migraines return this weekend.
  • Swimming.  Swimming was always my least favorite of the triathlon disciplines only because I dislike indoor swimming, and despise the smell of chlorine.  Considering the freezing temperatures we’ve been dealing with in New York City, the last I wanted to do was to go swimming and freeze afterward.  I’ll likely pick up swimming again when the weather warms, and my husband have ability to swim in the open water somewhere again.
  • Yoga. I was able to continue to take regular yoga classes during my first trimester and modify certain poses for myself, although I likely often confused other students when they noticed I was twisting in the opposite direction than they were or taking bridge pose instead of following the core sequence our teacher was teaching us. Since Week 14, I’ve transitioned from regular classes to prenatal yoga entirely. I love that I am able to learn techniques from my teacher Caprice Abowitt that I’ll be able to apply during child birth, connect with other moms-to-be and practice yoga in a safe and nurturing environment suited to our baby and me.
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Spin Class with Mom & Instructor Holly Rilinger at Flywheel Sports, 2/17/14

Week 16 (2/9-15) training: 15 miles

Sunday: Rest
Monday: Spin
Tuesday: Yoga
Wednesday: Rest
Thursday: 5 miles
Friday: 5 miles
Saturday: 5 miles