Asthma in Pregnancy - When a runner is slowed to a crawl

A little known fact about me, the runner, athlete and personal trainer, is that I have asthma. I've had it my whole life but discovered the problem when I was competing at a high international level in my teens and going forward. That's when they introduced me to my first abuterol inhaler and ever since I picked up long distance running again in the past few years, my asthma has returned and I am currently on both, an oral medication and the inhaler for workouts. 

Asthma as a condition was always a stigma. It seemed like my otherwise so capable body tricked me and betrayed me in an area where I needed it most and felt so passionate about. I felt like a lesser athlete with my 'TUE' and regular check ups but mostly because in every other area of my life, whenever I set my mind to overcoming a problem, I would. 

I looked into why I had it and stumbled across a lot of scholarly articles that examined the correlation between being a preemie (32 weeks) and underdeveloped lung function. I didn't want to believe it because it seemed so final. But unfortunately it was true. Now that I'm pregnant I faced a different question from my doctor which was "do you want to wean yourself off the medication and see how pregnancy affects your lungs, or not". 

I chose not to. 

As it happened, I came to the end of my prescription some time at the beginning of my second trimester and had about a week without it. I don't know if I imagined it or it was true, but my running became more strained. I wheezed going up stairs and there are many stairs in NYC's subway. 

 

So when I saw my OB/Gyn next, I talked to her about it and we decided that since the medication is considered safe and hasn't shown any adverse effects on the baby, that I would continue. From the beginning, my doctor had warned me that in some cases pregnancy with its added weight gain, the pressing of the uterus up and into the lungs, the increased blood volume that has to be pumped by the same heart and ultimately the baby's weight, could drastically affect my asthma for the worse. She said in few cases, asthma was improved during pregnancy but nobody knows what to attribute it to. 

So here I am now, in the same conflict about taking a medication for my hobby that I probably wouldn't need in just regular every day life. Having mixed feelings about it. 

But then I remember how happy running makes me. How it is my "off switch", my happy place, my quality time with my fur baby Zola, how it's my community at races and how every time I get back home, whether it's 3 miles or 8, I'm happy! It improved my digestion in pregnancy, my mood, my cravings, it's healthy, it's social when a lot of other options for being social fall away and I think endorphins make my baby dance in my womb.

So as long as I can, I will continue to run and take baby along on the ride. Whether it's at 9 min pace or 13 min pace. Whether I have to resort to treadmill running come winter or will have to add in walk breaks. My asthma is part of me and defines me in a way. But I have already found a way to overcome it, which is by living with it and doing so to my highest potential. 

Happy running, friends. 

 

12 is the loneliest number - my first trimester

It’s true. I’m pregnant. Some women guessed, some women knew. Some people detected changes in my body and I told them. I’m looking at you, boob inspector :) 

Most of the interactions have been very positive with a few falling under the ‘lecture’ category. Given that a first trimester is ripe with anxiety in this day and age of online fora, early detection pregnancy tests and iPhone apps that claim to be able to detect a heartbeat as early as 8 weeks, I pushed back on the lectures and lapped up all the positive support I could get.

One thing that struck me as I was counting down the weeks was how long 3 months can be when counted in days. How long that week was until my period was due… (yes, I found out that early). How un-enjoyable the good days are when one is void of pregnancy symptoms and doubting that there is anything going on. Just to rejoice in dry heaving and extreme dizziness, midnight pee breaks and fatigue worse than in the height of marathon training.

I am generally an ‘early to bed – early to rise’ kind of person and as such, could get away with a quick disco nap when the physical demands of my job became overwhelming. I was utterly unprepared for the drooling mess I would become, waking from a 90 minute ‘nap’ and unable to function properly for at least one hour, wishing 9pm to come around so I could go back to bed.

I had stated to Chris beforehand that the worst that could happen to me would be nausea. Not quite vomiting but just ongoing, day-long, nausea. That’s exactly what happened. Didn’t eat quickly enough: nausea, ate too much: nausea, ate too greasy: nausea. My second favourite symptom: crippling dizziness. I am generally prone to low blood pressure, which was always celebrated as a great problem to have. But the doctor’s office commented on my blood pressure with “oh, oh, give me your other arm”. Not very calming and it did result in quite the spike in the following reading.

Within these three months, the 7 weeks and 2 days mark couldn’t come fast enough to confirm the pregnancy with an ultrasound. Seeing the blueberry’s heartbeat and hearing it, along with the OB’s words “everything looks perfect” elicited sobs, sweaty palms, joy, more sobs, telling the doctor that my due date is within a month of my father’s 20th death anniversary and the ensuing long hug from the doctor “he’s sending you your biggest gift”. I’m tearing up writing this.

Since then I have had two more appointments which still brought on some sweaty palms and relief when everything turned out to be great and we are on our way to the size of an avocado, i.e. the second trimester is underway. 

From a fitness perspective, coming back from my Spring injury and then trying to get fit pregnant wasn’t going to work. Initially it was a hard pill to swallow but conceiving quickly was a huge blessing so I ran some races in which I felt awful and fought hard to keep my ego in check until I got to a level where I run for as long and as fast/ slow as I feel and am ok with it. My OB told me that pregnancy can exacerbate existing asthma and it has already so my body has been putting the brakes on any of my attempts to be a hero. I will write a separate blog post on how I'm dealing with asthma before and during pregnancy.

I’ve started swimming again and worked my way up to a good 2500 yards, really enjoying being in an outdoor pool. I have emphasized cross training until my leg was healed and added in strength to make sure I have the best possible foundation for the next months. And, yes I’m doing 9+1 this year to receive guaranteed entry into NYC Marathon 2017 because a girl needs goals.

For those who have criticized my running, I have said it in person and will repeat it on here. My fitness level is high compared to the average person and as such I have no reason or recommendations from my doctor to not exercise or dramatically cut it back. I am highly in tune with my body and exercise as I see fit, when I feel up for it. It seems ridiculous to me that I’ve had to defend myself to women nonetheless, for doing something I’ve been doing since the age of 5 and that I love. If anything it is my calm time and helped ease some anxiety during the first weeks. I won’t even go into the benefits of prenatal fitness for both mother and child. It also happens to be my job…

So this brings me back full circle: 

I have never understood how a couple is supposed to keep things mum for 12 weeks and not burst. How women are supposed to keep their mouths shut during a time when they need so many answers. Why the fear of a miscarriage means celebrating and potentially mourning in isolation. I know that the people who knew would have uplifted me in any given scenario and am incredibly grateful to the many times when they talked me off a ledge or out of the spiraling thoughts. Sometimes firmly, sometimes pointing out that locking my bike helmet to a pole but not my bike was the best indicator that my pregnancy was going well.

Less than 25 weeks to go and I’m happy to share my experiences with everyone. More importantly I want to learn from all of you. How was your first trimester? Leave me a note in the comments.