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Cycling & Birthing – What’s the connection? (Part II)

As Laura wrote, on July 12th, she and Jay accomplished an amazing thing this summer!  Read Jay’s analysis of how cycling is like labour.  She make SUCH a good comparison!


Recently, my colleague Laura Warren and I entered in the 32nd annual STP (Seattle-to-Portland) cycling event on July 17th and 18th.  The cycling tour is a two-day ride from Seattle (beginning at the University of Washington) to Portland Oregon (ending at Holladay Park).  Each day would be 102 miles of bike riding alongside over 9500 other cyclists.  As birth doulas and childbirth educators, Laura and I could not help but compare the experience with childbirth.  Here are some of the observations we discovered during our ride.

A.  The ride was not only a physical challenge, but a mental challenge as well: Throughout the ride, Laura and I did alot of self talk to motivate us to continue and persevere through it, even when we felt we didn’t have it in us.  During labour, moms have to tap into their inner strength, just like we did, in order to motivate themselves to carry on with the job of birthing their baby.

B.  Having continuous support through Laura was really helpful to keep me focused and positive about the job we had to do.  I hope I did the same for her.  In labor, having continuous labor support from a partner, midwife, doula or family member helps to build up Mom’s own endorphins, helps her feel safe, supported and uninhibited so that her sole focus is to keep relaxed and meet the challenges that labor will demand of her.

C.  Fueling our bodies and getting adequate rest really helped not only in our training, but on the ride itself, it helped us with the challenge of riding 102 miles a day. On our first day, we were unable to eat a good breakfast and had had sub-standard sleep.  We had to sustain the first two hours of our ride on power bars and gel shots before we got to our first mini- food stop.  This resulted in mental and physical challenges for Laura, who struggled during the first half of the ride.  Eating, drinking fluids and resting throughout early labor is essential in preparing Mom’s body to meet the challenges of Active Labor.  During Active labor, it is so important that Mom eats if she feels hungry and is starting to lose her “umph”.  The energy in her food will help fuel her body and help her gain the strength that will be needed as labor becomes more challenging.

D.  The second day provided us with rolling hills along country side roads.  After each hill, we would look way ahead to see another hill waiting to challenge us.  When we got discouraged, we would tell each other to just look at the road immediately ahead of us, breathe and keep peddling.  In labour, Mom sometimes become afraid of her contractions, and fear what is ahead of her.  As a result, she may panic, become tense and find it hard to relax, making the contractions feel worse.  Mom must take each contraction one at a time.  She needs to breathe that one contraction away, relax as much as possible between contractions, then use her new energy to greet the next contraction with her breath.

E.  There were times in the ride when we got so tired, we would wonder when the first or the second day was coming to an end.  We learned that if we timed our rides just to the next mini-stops which were every two hours or so, that became our goal.  That thinking made the endurance of the ride more manageable.  Sometimes when a Mom labours, she wonders “when will this end.”  The reality is that she doesn’t know how long her labor will be.  So if Mom can set mini goals such as reaching a dilation goal, or getting through a stage of labor, or getting through 5 contractions, it can make her labour more manageable and she can focus on the small achievements.  Which would you rather hear, “you have 12 more hours to go” or “let’s just breath through 5 more contractions?”

F.  When Laura and I cycled into Portland after 204 miles, the absolute elation, wonder of what our bodies could do and the sense of accomplishment was overwhelming.  We had done it.  All the training, mental preparation, nutritional education and being each others “cycling doulas” accumulated in a powerful and empowering experience.  When Mom holds her baby, she will feel these things also.  Being in labor is a physically and mentally challenging experience, but with the right preparation, support and trust in what your body can do, the result can be an amazingly positive, rewarding and miraculous journey. 

Laura and I trusted that our bodies, if adequately prepared, would see us through our cycling experience and we relied on each others’ support to help motivate us.  In a woman’s labour, her body and support team will and can do the same.  Good luck to all those parents awaiting the arrival of their little ones!