TRIGGER WARNING: Some talk of blood and guts related to birth. If you don't like placentas, don't read this piece.
Upon first becoming pregnant with Rumi one year ago today (conception-aversary, people!) I knew how the pregnancy would roll: I'd continue my ultra endurance mountain movements, the zygote would transform into a fetus emerging as a healthy baby, and I had faith that everything would go well. Call it blind; I just trust myself.
Looking back on that total faith in myself and my baby, I am filled with gratitude. Though many people questioned my way of conducting pregnancy (in the mountains, alone, moving fast and far) and birth (relocating to a big city for the summer to enable a homebirth in a rented bungalow on the bedroom rug) I never doubted the way.
Early on Rumi and I developed a bond and a form of communication that I cannot explain. We knew each other before we were separate. On each run, ski, or climb I'd check in with her, asking her to give me a sign to say she was uncomfortable and that I would stop whatever I was doing. She never did and instead began forcefully kicking me at fifteen weeks and never let up - she thrashed especially hard when we flowed through deep powder together.
The personal story aside, Rumi thrived during pregnancy and now as a happy three-month-old not despite the two ultras, many backcountry ski days, and hard rock climbing I did while she was cooking but because of it. Here are a few interesting ways in which she benefitted.
Stable vitals: I labored for twenty-two hours and pushed (hard) for three and a half hours (of which Rumi was crowning for nine pushes). My midwives checked Rumi's vitals at regular intervals and each time expressed pleasure and surprise that both of us maintained regular vitals.
Development: Those first few minutes of life the midwives assessed Rumi's health and development. By being born one day before her due date she was at exactly forty weeks of development - a perfectly healthy baby scoring well in all reflex tests. Athletic activity does not correlate to early birth or an underdeveloped baby.
Large umbilical cord: When Rumi was born she was an average seven pounds but her umbilical cord was sized for an eleven pound baby. The midwives attributed her stable vitals through the pushing phase to the girth of her cord and they believe the cord developed to be so large because of my athletic activity and general health. My mountain running and much-maligned rock climbing saved us an emergency c-section during that extended bout of pushing.
More blood from the placenta: After observing the cord, I delivered the placenta. It was of normal size but when the midwives kept checking to see if the cord had stopped pulsing it had not. Fifteen, twenty, forty-five minutes went by with my placenta sitting on the bed still churning out the oxygen-rich deliciousness for Rumi's benefit. At around fifty minutes after delivering the placenta Ryan finally cut the limp cord. The midwives observed that most cords stop pulsing by twenty minutes, this they also attributed to the increased blood flow I created in our bodies during mountain running and climbing.
Strength at birth: Rumi held up her head, used her hands and eyes to grasp items nearby, and made eye contact the moment I pulled her up to my chest the first time. She sucked easily, rooting for the breast on her own using her stable neck for support. I have never during her life had to support her head using my hand or a prop - except when she's asleep.
Strength and coordination: At Rumi's two month check up with the pediatrician, a Medical Doctor, he remarked that she was hitting six month strength and coordination milestones. At our six week check in with the midwives they stated that she was the strongest six-week-old they have seen in thirty years of business. More oxygenated blood = quicker development? The research will soon validate this anecdote I'm sure and then every OB and midwife will prescribe hard athletic training to their pregnant clients.
I hope these happy anecdotes allow preggos out there to shed some fear they might have about continuing their athletic practices during pregnancy. Remember: an elevated heart rate does not endanger your fetus so keep hitting up your CrossFit studio, rock climbing gym, and favorite trails just like usual. You and your baby will be stronger for your athletic endeavors.