If you watch television or movies, you might believe that labor is something you do while lying in bed. Mom is flat on her back, the soles of her feet waving to the ceiling. This scenario has become so etched in our pop culture molded minds that most people have come to believe that's just the way childbirth is done.
If you're like me and you gravitate toward moving versus being still (and of course you do if you're reading this blog) then step with me outside the box of Hollywood's (and modern medicine's) model of childbirth. If you're an active mom, childbirth is a great workout so long as you...
Don't take labor lying down. I woke up February 11 thanks to a jolt from my uterus. It made my eyes pop open, made me say "wow," made me take stock of the rest of the week. But I went on with my day, which by the afternoon consisted of a nesting frenzy (shoulda known what was coming next). My doula suggests that women labor like pioneers, who no doubt didn't crawl into bed when labor started. There was work to be done on that farm! Children to care for, meals to make, chickens to feed! So I took my prairie woman role seriously and carried on with my modern prairie woman routine sans chickens--by cleaning out kitchen cabinets, my pantry, my laundry room. By that afternoon I thought all the contractions might be due to my activity level. Rather than lying down, though, I took off to the pool. There is something about pregnancy that makes me gravitate toward water and its weightless wonder. I figured the water would slow things down if it was meant to. When things didn't slow down I figured I had better get out and go home: I wanted a water birth, just not at my gym.
Move things along by moving along. After a proper dinner (a jalapeno cheeseburger--should have seen the look on the nurse's face when I told her what I had eaten last) we kissed our girls good bye and set out for the hospital. We arrived at about 9 p.m. and learned there was only ONE room left on the maternity floor. Despite having 6 to 7 contractions in an hour I was still in early labor. In my grand plan I didn't want to get admitted until I was further along, but I also didn't want to give up the One Room Left. So I put on my sweatpants and made the hospital my track. I walked, squatted and lunged for an hour, until my contractions were such that they made me stop, made me close my eyes, made me breathe deeply and purposefully. Most everything about labor interventions is designed to "move things along." Sometimes those interventions are necessary no matter what we do, but I'm one who wants to take the initiative and try it on my own first. In the words of my three-year-old, "I do it." It kinda reminds me of what my barbell strength instructor said about doing push ups on your feet. "Get off your knees ladies! If you don't try doing push ups on your feet, how will you know if you can do push ups on your feet?" She makes a good point, don't you think?
Go with the flow. The thing about being nine-months pregnant is that you can't move too quickly. The body is pretty cumbersome at this point. Lying down is a comfortable position until... you get a contraction. When I feel a contraction coming on, my first instinct is to lean forward, either standing against something or on my hands and knees. If I'm lying down, not only can I not flip over fast enough, it hurts worse in trying. That, above all, is why I avoid being in bed during labor. If you're uncomfortable, the contraction is going to hurt worse. If you fight the contraction, it's going to hurt worse. The body will want to take you where you need to be if you listen (and I mean to your body, not a bunch of people telling you what they think you ought to be doing). At about 11 p.m., when I got back to the One Room Left, I took the birth ball in the shower, where the warm water hit the small of my back and I bounced, bounced, bounced and leaned forward when the contractions came on. Around midnight the big bathtub was ready for me and -- heaven! -- I submerged my body in the support of the warm water. The nice thing about being in water is that you can change positions quickly. Forward and back, side to side, flip turn (just kidding) in an instant.
Remind yourself you can. I love a good challenge. Sometimes these challenges can hurt, in a good way. Most every hard race I've ever done has hurt at least a little in the end. Not enough to make me quit. Not enough to make me believe I couldn't go on. Just enough to make me appreciate how strong I am. I realize not everyone embraces such challenges or has the need or desire to experience such challenges. And as Henci Goer said to me in an interview once: "Every woman has her enough point." The thing about the "enough point" is that you have to be the one to decide that--not a nurse whose job will be made easier if you're not screaming like a baboon; not your partner or other family members, who don't want to see you in such discomfort; not even your pansy alter ego, who might be leaning over that one shoulder saying, "C'mon, c'mon everyone's doing it!" As a mother athlete you have to know what you want and go for it. But just like in a race, you can't do that at all costs. If you get to your enough point, honor it. And like that race, surround yourself with a support crew. In that room with me was my husband, a midwife, a doula, and several nurses. All were positive, encouraging, supportive, upbeat--they were in my court, cheering for me, I never had one ounce of self doubt because there was no place for it in the atmosphere.
Revel in the endorphins. Pushing was harder than I remember from my previous birth, when JC seemed to just slither out. While the water was definitely a natural analgesic and most definitely kept "damage" to a minimum, the babe was still nine pounds. Okay, Okay, technically 8 lbs. 15 oz., but I figure since we had a water birth all the birth gunk got washed away, which would have weighed at least one ounce... But what? Could I walk away at that moment? Say, this is too much, I'd like to be done now? Although I've written before that giving birth isn't like a triathlon, this time I could see an analogy. The swim is early labor, relatively easy, the warm up for what is coming. The bike is active labor, a long, steady effort. And then while you're in the transition area you realize--Crap! I'm tired! My legs ache! But I still have to run! There's no other way to get to the finish line. There are no short cuts. You must run through it. And then, at 1:47 a.m. there was a baby on my chest. During the pregnancy we opted not to find out the sex of our baby, but having three daughters already, we were prepared mentally and physically to be parents of four girls. But then a strange thing happened. I heard this: "It's a boy!"
When the workout was over that's when I took to the bed to rest. You know what? It felt good to lie down. But sleep? You ever find it hard to sleep after an especially challenging workout? I was too pumped, too energized, too consumed with the memory of what had just happened. And, also very hungry. I'm not sure how many calories I burned during my childbirth workout but I'm quite certain I earned my eggs, sausage, hash browns, fruit and muffin that morning.
Well, that's it. My last fit pregnancy post. When I'm ready, I'll start blogging about postpartum fitness. I'm not even thinking about it yet. What's been your postpartum fitness experience? After giving birth are you itching to get back to fitness or do you take your time? How did you know you were ready?