Before I got pregnant, I believed that being in shape made for an easier pregnancy and delivery. All the fit women I knew went into labor before their due dates and had labors that were 24hrs or less. In an effort to take control of an unpredictable situation, I exercised nearly every day of my pregnancy. By the end I was mostly walking at a slow pace, but still doing it.
I was induced on Sunday October 26. My daughter was born at 9:19 on October 29th after 3 hours of pushing. During most of the induction I alternated between early labor and no labor. Sometimes I had back labor. We walked 10,000 steps around the unit. I bounced on a stability ball. I side lied with a peanut. I did cat-cows to adjust her position. I did squats and lunges. I took a few naps and got some sleep here or there. Early Wednesday I opted for an epidural. I was exhausted and frustrated and something had to give. Additionally, I was in a lot of pain from two days in a hospital bed. All of my joints ached and nothing helped.
After that they broke my water and I dilated up to 10cm within 12 hours. Once it was time to push I was pleased I could feel what I was doing, but I didn’t have the ab strength to push. My Pitocin was wearing out because I had been on it too long. So by the end, the midwife had me playing tug of war with a nurse and I was pushing beyond the contractions to get the baby out.
I know that there are women who do not exercise who have easy labors and fast deliveries. And plenty of athletes have difficult labors. For me, it was much more of a mental game. It was miles 18-26.2 of a marathon and I spent it thinking about all of the things I had accomplished so far and all of the things I knew I could do. So mentally, when it was time to push, I knew I could do this. I went nearly catatonic while I was waiting to push to store up my energy. After I delivered and held the baby, my adrenaline crashed and I pretty much immediately fell asleep.
The biggest thing I think exercise helped with was preparing the baby for labor. Exercise stresses the baby and studies have shown that babies exposed to that stress in utero are better equipped to handle birth. The baby’s hear rate spiked once in the three days we were in labor. The rest of the time she looked great. And as long as she looked good, they let me labor for as long as I wanted, however I wanted. So I think that was the big area where exercising really helped with my outcome. It also let me control my gestational diabetes so I did not have to be on insulin during my pregnancy or delivery. I also had an 8lb baby, not a 10lb baby my doctor was worried about.
There is a lot about childbirth we can’t control. Sometimes, it’s all about the illusion of control, which is what exercise gave me. I’m not sure whether my labor proves or disproves my theory, but I feel like I gave myself my best chance at the birth that I wanted. The birth that I got looked very very different, but three and a half weeks later I’m sitting here, mostly recovered, typing this while the baby sleeps on my chest. Sometimes, no matter how well you train, race day doesn’t go quite how you expect, but you can still have a good race.