my faithful 'dogla' in the early stages of labor

Given the sacred indelibility and deeply personal nature of Rumi's birth, I've decided not to share our birth story in its entirety here. Instead, what you'll find are select pieces of the experience relevant to the expecting endurance athlete who might worry what her own experience will be like or how her templates for enduring productive pain will stand up to the rigors of labor.


Home birth: Grounded in an evidence base that affirms the superior safety of home birth and my long career in women's health on a global scale, we relocated for the summer months to a city that would accomodate a home birth. Leaving behind our newly-finished, hand-built home was a difficult decision and now one we look back on with certainty that it was right for our family. 

Support team: Heather, Traci, Marge, and Farrah at Seattle Home Maternity Service supported our family from eight weeks pregnant until next week at our six week postpartum check. Their care is draws upon cutting-edge science pertinent to a pregnant woman and her gestating child. This focus on scientifically-accurate care permitted my crack team of midwives to not only allow but heartily encourage my ultra running, alpine climbing, backcountry skiing pregnancy - and after the birth they swear it imbued both me and Rumi with benefits not seen in less-active clients.

Onset of labor: Early on the morning of 23 May I could tell I'd go into labor that day. Ryan and I were climbing at Vertical World when I went into labor. I was halfway up a moderately difficult pitch at the end of a productive session (which was accomplished between intensifying contractions) and a whopper hit me. I had him dirt me, quickly pulled my harness off, and announced that I needed to go home. Once we got there, Ryan filled the tub, laid out birthing supplies, and whipped up a mean venison burger - Superman!

Length: Twenty-two hours of active labor, three and a half pushing. Given my many thirty-six hour alpine days and twenty-five mountain ultras this event was one for which I felt well-prepared. 

Strategies: Framing was a hugely important skill for me to employ during labor. Instead of interpreting the splitting feeling in my hips as splitting, my midwives helped me reframe the sensation as 'opening'. Additionally, the ability any solo endurance athlete cultivates to question the oft-convincing voice of the ego is essential for a fear-free birth. My ego chattered and buzzed and I squarely confronted it with my wiser spirit voice.

The soundtrack: During early labor I used my Brainwaves app to soothe me into the work. Once I got into the tub and during pushing I didn't want to listen to anything - not even the playlist I'd crafted for myself. I now use the same app to soothe Rumi when she struggles to fall asleep.

Doudla: Ryan, my partner, served as my doula. This experience contributed something the structure of a granite slab to the bedrock of our relationship. He was the perfect support to me - a person who rarely needs support from others - and witnessing the birth of our child together was truly magickal. The day of the birth is the best day we've ever spent together.

Surprises: Frankly the thing that shocked me about labor was vomiting. I hurled on ten or more occasions three to five times per episode. By relying on the human body's innate ability to keep trucking with little more than swished sugar water, I made it through the birth without eating - which I would not suggest to anyone who is less nauseous than me.

Pushing: As an athlete, I like having a job. Even a painful job suits me better than the doldrums of early labor's hours and hours of not much activity. My midwives and I expected I'd be a good pusher and we were wrong. When it came time to push I not only had no urge to do so I didn't know how. With careful instruction I learned the necessary skill and released her without consequence after three and a half hours' work. Rumi crowned for nine pushes over thirty minutes. I did not interpret this period of labor as pain.

The equivalent: During pregnancy I tried to mentally determine an equivalent for the experience of birth versus other ultra endurance activities I'd already completed. I anticipated that birth would feel like a run between twenty and fifty miles. After my brief recovery process after the event, I understand my birth to be the metabolic equivalent of a forty mile mountain run.

Stay tuned for more on the immediate postpartum experience including how I felt, recovery, and how Rumi fared. Interesting stuff here!