The Pregnant Athlete

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


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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Nostalgia: A look back at my progress as a runner.

Week 24 | +18 lbs

We, endurance athletes, rarely mull over all of our previous race times.  We also usually do not correlate races with events in our lives.  We often only remember our personal records, or PRs, for our favorite race distances, and, once we beat a PR, that last PR time is forgotten, with a new time ingrained in our minds as the one to beat. For example, I can tell you that I ran my PR marathon at the 2011 Chicago Marathon in 3:44:15. However, I could not tell you what my marathon times were for the marathons before or after that significant race. Sadly, I often forget exactly how many marathons I’ve completed so far–was it 14 or 16? And I certainly cannot tell you off the top of my head what my best times were for my shorter races.

2011 Chicago Marathon, 10/9/11

2011 Chicago Marathon, 10/9/11

As a pregnant runner, however, it is truly nostalgic to look back at my progress as a runner, perhaps since I now could not care less about my PRs or how to beat them.  I only care about how running makes me feel each day–each day is certainly a different day.  I am excited about each run I accomplish these days, and each race IS correlated with an event in my life, my pregnancy–even the number of weeks, specifically–and my growing baby.

6-mile run in Venice, Italy during which I ran over 29 bridges at 20 weeks! 3/14/14

6-mile run in Venice, Italy during which I ran over 29 bridges at 20 weeks! 3/14/14

A look back at a few significant races (and life events):*

  • 3/5/06 – First 5K – 27:02 (8:43/mi) – I had not yet met my husband, and worked at financial firm #1 post-college.
  • 5/4/08 – First marathon – 5:25:17 (12:24/mi) – My husband and my 6-month dating anniversary, and we both worked at financial firm #2.
  • 10/9/11 – PR marathon – 3:44:15 (8:33/mi) – 3 months after my husband and I got married, and less than a month before I opened my yoga studio. Also, notice that my pace per mile is faster than that for my first 5K!!
  • 11/17/12 – 50-mile ultramarathon – 10:44:14 (12:53/mi) –  5 years after my husband and I got together, and a year after I opened my yoga studio.
  • 8/18/13 – Ironman – 14:03:10, 4:31:36 marathon (10:21/mi) – My husband and I had always planned to start trying to start a family after this bucket list race.
  • 9/7/13 – Most recent marathon – 3:46:20 (8:38/mi) – I got injured during this race, and had to cancel my next two marathons in October and November. It worked out well that we got pregnant in October!

*It’s also significant to note that my husband has either volunteered or cheered me on at every one of my marathons, triathlons and ultramarathons I’ve ever completed!

On vacation in Jamaica just a month into our relationship, 12/07

On vacation in Jamaica just a month into our relationship, 12/07

I’ll be running the Delaware Marathon in 4.5 weeks at 29 weeks.  Although it may rival my first marathon as the slowest one, it will be the most special one yet. It will be my third marathon to benefit The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society’s Team In Training in memory of my late grandmother, my husband’s first marathon ever, and my first running for two.  The race will be so much more than just a family affair.

Month 6 Belly Photo, 4/9/14

Month 6 Belly Photo, 4/9/14

Week 23 (3/30-4/5) training: 38 miles 

Sunday: 10 miles
Monday: Spin
Tuesday: Yoga
Wednesday: 5 miles
Thursday: 5 miles
Friday: Rest
Saturday: 18 miles