My pregnancy journey
“You shouldn’t gain more than 25-30 pounds. Your exercise is obviously not burning off the calories and you need to cut way back on carbs.”
“I know more than your dietician, I’ve been doing this for over 30 years.”
“Does your doctor know you’re doing this race?”
“You absolutely scare me at the gym. I hope you’re under supervision. You are over there at the squat rack lifting more than me! Be careful.”
These are just some of the unsolicited comments that stick out most as I reflect back on the past 10 months. I am writing about my pregnancy experience, in hopes that it may help other women, and also dispel some of the myths that exist regarding nutrition and exercise during pregnancy and postpartum.
Back in March 2022, I was training for Promiseland 50K+, a 35 mile ultra trail running race north of Roanoke. I decided to hire a dietician, Lindsey Cortez with Rise Up Nutrition during my heavy training period to ensure I was eating enough calories and the right types of food to sustain the 50+ mile weeks of running. She had me track my food intake for several weeks, and do a blood work panel. She gave me a detailed summary in which she said I was too low in iron, and I needed to increase my carbs and protein, in addition to getting ~3,300 - 3,500 calories per day. The 3 month program also included 1:1 sessions with Lindsey and weekly group sessions with other ladies, where we discussed many topics, concerns, etc. around diet culture and nutrition.
Promiseland arrived and I shaved 30 minutes off my previous time, coming close to breaking 7 hours. It was the best I ever felt during an endurance event! Little did I know, I was actually 2 weeks pregnant at the time.
I found out while my husband was on a week long whitewater kayaking expedition in Canada. A friend instantly picked up on my complaints and told me to take a pregnancy test. Once I saw the results, I immediately vomited off the back porch in disbelief. My husband and I gave up having a kid 5 years ago, after trying for 4 years and seeing many doctors, even a reproductive endocrinologist. I don’t regret any of it, since through the process my brain tumor was discovered in 2018.
I told Lindsey the dietician my news and she said I was her 7th client to get pregnant! I am forever grateful I signed up with her program and the knowledge I gained continues to guide me in my decisions around food and training.
I chose an OB and started to see him every 3 weeks; however I made the decision to switch providers halfway through my pregnancy. I was at my 22 week appointment when I got the smack down from the doctor after gaining 8 lbs in 4 weeks. He said I shouldn’t gain more than 25-30 lbs my entire pregnancy and that I needed to stop eating simple carbs. I told him again about my activity level and that carbs were necessary to fuel my activities. I shared that I just returned from a week in CO with friends, where we biked and ran trails daily often above 10K feet in elevation and I even hiked Mt. Yale, a 14’r (I definitely ate carbs during that hike).
He said, “Well, you obviously aren’t burning the calories off”. Before I left the office, he gave me a Crossfit Paleo diet sheet. I drove home crying, feeling very angry and knowing this was not the way a pregnant woman should be treated. I reached out to my dietician and she validated the insanity of his comments. She reviewed my food intake over several days and shared that it was optimal for growing a healthy baby and fueling my active lifestyle.
I decided to switch providers to the Lewis Gale Midwifery after hearing positive feedback from several friends. At my first appointment, I shared my experience with the midwife and she looked at me in disbelief, and said that I was very healthy and my rapid weight gain was certainly not a concern. I asked them not to bring up weight unless there was a medical reason throughout the rest of my pregnancy. Many of my friends, who are all active ladies, gained 35 lbs+ during their pregnancies and they all had positive and healthy experiences.
I continued to maintain my exercise regime throughout pregnancy, with 5 days of activity per week, including cardio, yoga and weight training.
I rode my gravel bike and ran outside for up to 37 weeks. Biking felt so good, and was a minimal impact activity that allowed me to still get that sweet taste of sweaty exhaustion. At 7 months pregnant, I did a gravel race called Appalachian Mountaineer, and felt great! While biking up the first mountain, an elderly male rider asked me if my doctor knew I was out there doing this race. I rolled my eyes and laughed, while biking past him.
Running became harder so I switched to walking. I decided to order a trainer for my gravel bike, which allowed me to bike inside right up to 40 weeks. I also continued weight
training 2x/week at the gym, but did not escape the unsolicited comments from several men, who must have been nervous I was going to deliver a baby right there while doing squats. Like everything else, the research has changed regarding lifting weights while pregnant. The adage of “don't lift anything over your head” is old school, and new research supports being as fit as possible. I was proactive about staying on top of the latest research, reading books, listening to podcasts and talking to friends, who continued to encourage me along the way. After completing a round of thrusters one morning at the gym, I even got a fist bump from a regular. He stated, “my wife is a labor and delivery nurse and she says the fit moms tend to have a better labor and recovery.”
4 days past my due date, I finally went into labor. I solely believe it was due to walking the stairs at Lane Stadium, which kept me from being induced. I dealt with the contractions at home for 4 hours before heading to the hospital. I couldn’t walk through the contractions, but finally made it up to my room, where the midwife measured my cervix – already 7 centimeters! Over the next several hours, I worked through the contractions - Fentanyl was my best friend, along with the whirlpool bathtub, which I labored in for an hour doing lunges and laying on a yoga ball. The chief midwife, Kris said it was impossible to get funding for the tubs because it wasn’t a standard practice, but she fought to get them. All labor rooms should have them; it was amazing how much it helped with the contractions.
Jeremy was beside me every step of the way, pushing on my lower back to help ease the pain with each contraction. Time was not a concern, and the hours came and went. After I got out of the tub, they measured again and my cervix was 8 centimeters. My back pain intensified, and they confirmed that Hayes’s head was cockeyed in the birth canal. They had me do several rounds of contractions in the “side-lying” position, which helped to straighten out his head. Kris measured again and I was 10 centimeters. Kris, nurse Stacey, Jeremy and me pow-wowed about the plan moving forward. Kris would break my water and then it was game-on. Sadly, no more Fentanyl would be allowed during the final stage.
In the first round of pushing, Hayes advanced 1" down the canal! What seemed like the entire hospital staff quickly filed into my room, and Kris suited up. Tarps were placed everywhere, and reminded me of a scene from Dexter. My mind entered into another vortex and I could faintly hear their voices counting to 10, but I couldn’t bear the pain past the count of 4. Hayes’s head would appear, then retreat back with each round of pushing. Finally after 30 minutes, his head finally came out and the biggest wave of relief washed over me as the rest of his body followed. Hayes was placed on my chest, but quickly whisked away once they realized he wasn’t breathing. A quick round of oxygen was given to him, and he was placed back with us.
I was incredibly fortunate to have a positive birth experience. I was able to make the decision not to get an epidural because I wanted the ability to move about freely; I also had read that epidurals *can* prolong the labor process. Your veins and arteries relax when you get an epidural, and you have no motor control since you’re bed bound. You also can’t feel how to coordinate your pushing with contractions for the most effective results, sort of like having explosive diarrhea but not being able to feel it. Epidurals may add time to the pushing, and it’s honestly the hardest most women will ever work in their entire lives.
Several of my friends who had positive birth experiences were also able to deliver without an epidural and I was intrigued by their stories. With everything else throughout my pregnancy, I trusted my body and was able to bring Hayes into this world, using my intuition and the guidance of my caregivers and Jeremy. Delivering Hayes was by far the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life – way more painful than brain surgery or running for 25+ hours to complete the Foothills trail. However, there are some commonalities, and the ability to endure hours of mental and physical pain and exhaustion is a factor in all these experiences. I now have so much respect for all women who bring babies into this world.
As expected, the postpartum recovery process must be respected. I was extremely sore for about a week, similar to the feeling of recovering after running an ultra. My abs, lower back and pelvis were the sorest. I started to go for short walks after 3 days, and signed up with a pelvic floor PT 2 weeks postpartum. There is a general recommendation of waiting 6 weeks to do PT, which seemed like a long time to me. I started to meet virtually once a week with Jessica Gingrich (with Onward PT out of Greenville, SC). She asked me tons of questions about my delivery experience and postpartum symptoms, then prescribed certain exercises to help with healing and building my strength. Based on her assessment, I started to incorporate yoga, crunches, deadlifts, squats, etc. with light weights into my recovery process. As I write this, I am 4 weeks postpartum and doing these exercises 4 days a week, along with walking and yoga. I feel great and anticipate being able to ride my bike soon! Running is still a ways off, but my body will tell me when it’s time.
Below are some of the takeaways I learned from my experience:
Trust the experts (aka dieticians, PTs, etc.) when working on something specific like nutrition and returning to exercise.
Choose providers who listen and understand your goals. Be proactive in seeking out the right support team.
Always be prepared for unsolicited advice and ignore it. Have plenty of comeback responses ready!
Stay active and get as strong as possible. Delivering a baby was the hardest, most demanding physical and mental endeavor of my life. You know your body and what you're capable of. As RBG said, "not fragile like a flower, fragile like a bomb."