I'm no Beyonce or Amy, but...

Biking While Pregnant as a Surrogate Made Me Feel Like a Superhero

Beyonce and Amy: 2 pregnancy stories that blew us away because against all odds, the women rose up like the superheroes they are and made us laugh, cry and want to be better. What both these women share in common (so beautifully captured in Netflix's Homecoming and Growing) are humility and drive that pushed them beyond what they thought would be possible.

I would dance, and go off to the trailer and breastfeed the babies

When Beyonce was surprised with a twin pregnancy and weighed 218 lbs before having an emergency c-section, she underwent emotional and physical training to prepare for the distinction of the first African American woman to headline Coachella, "A lot of the choreography is about feeling, so it's not as technical. It's your own personality that brings it to life. And that's hard when you don't feel like yourself...I had to rebuild my body from cut muscles. It took me a while to feel confident enough to freak it and give it my own personality. In the beginning, it was so many muscle spasms. Just internally, my body was not connected. My mind was not there. My mind wanted to be with my children. What people don't see is the sacrifice. I would dance, and go off to the trailer and breastfeed the babies, and the days I could, I would bring the children."

I throw up an exorcist amount every day.

And then there’s Amy Schumer who made me laugh-cry when she talked about her hyperemesis pregnancy, "I throw up an exorcist amount every day. I feel like, you know, if you had a good pregnancy — if you're someone who enjoyed being pregnant — I just hope your car flips over. That's what I wish for you."

I’m That Bitch Who Loves Being Pregnant

Bridge of Gods, 7 months. Photo by Chris Bruntlett

Bridge of Gods, 7 months. Photo by Chris Bruntlett

Which brings to me where I crawl under the desk and raise my hand, "that would be me." Pregnancy is not for everyone. Some tolerate it, some consider it a necessary evil, some have awful health problems like Amy or worse, and then there are women like me who thrive from it. Pregnancy makes me feel the happiest and healthiest in my life and I feel like I can do anything. Most often, it is the scary and challenging stories that get shared, and while it’s good to be informed on shit-hitting-the-fan scenarios, the positive and empowering stories should get equal airtime if humans are going to continue to procreate.

Annika’s home birth, attended by midwife, Tara Kenny.

Annika’s home birth, attended by midwife, Tara Kenny.

My first pregnancy and birth of our daughter, Annika, was nothing short of spectacular. Besides some normal non-puking morning sickness and tiredness in the first 3 months (sorry, Amy), I thrived and found the experience filled with energy and clarity, almost like a cleanse. Annika’s home birth, attended by 2 rock star midwives, was my Iron Man. But the 6 months of intense colic that came next had me asking, “why do people even have babies?” That phase came and went and we found a love of traveling with our infant, toddler and now little girl. Spoiled by this easy life, we were 1 and done, but I still yearned to be pregnant again. And give that baby away.

why do people even have babies?

1 and done

1 and done

The Fertility Struggle

Sorry to the needle phobes! I had to self-administer 1-2 shots per day.

Sorry to the needle phobes! I had to self-administer 1-2 shots per day.

I am very lucky with fertility to a fault. We have to be very careful with birth control to prevent unwanted pregnancies. This is not the case with the majority of couples today. There’s a good chance that you know someone struggling with the emotional roller coaster of baby making and it seems to happen to the ones who REALLY want children. Such was the case for 3 different friends and I joked that I’d love to have a baby for them. They told me that I should look into surrogacy, a spark of an idea that would be fanned by the 2016 “idiocracy” election and ignited by a rando Craigslist ad and informational interview with Northwest Surrogacy Center in Portland. There was no question after the interview - this was my calling and I was going to be a surrogate.

Implanting an Embryo on Valentines Day

Going in for the embryo transplant!

Going in for the embryo transplant!

After a year’s worth of lifestyle, health, psychological and social work interviews, I was approved for surrogacy and matched with a French couple. In all these communications, I reiterated how important walking and biking for transportation was to me, how I didn’t want to be sealed in bubble wrap, and after full support, the contract was signed! I then underwent a traditional IVF cycle with Oregon Reproductive Medicine, and on Valentines Day, in what looked like a futuristic movie set for a hospital (best lighting in a healthcare facility ever), the embryo was transferred in a room where nobody dare breath for 1 minute.. 8 days later, we found out it was successful and I was pregnant with a baby who wasn’t genetically mine. SCIENCE!

I am pregnant with an angel!

I am pregnant with an angel!

Biking and Walking for Transportation While Pregnant

Brompton “Bump” Lift at KEXP’s Subpop music festival at Alki Beach, Seattle.

Brompton “Bump” Lift at KEXP’s Subpop music festival at Alki Beach, Seattle.

I attributed a lot of the happiness and energy surrounding Annika’s pregnancy with active mobility so it was a no brainer that I would get around by bike or foot throughout the surrogacy. I walked briskly down and up Hood River’s hills to my community meetings, employer’s shuttle or to pick Annika up from school, biked to run errands or buy groceries and even lead electric bike tours up until 2 days before the baby was born. In combination with eating a lot of produce (when I wasn’t pukey), taking iron supplements for restless legs and Citranatal prenatal vitamins, biking made me feel energized like a pregnant superhero.

The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists notes the aerobic benefits of cycling and lauds the general benefits of exercising while pregnant including improved mood, posture, sleep and the ability to cope with labor. While bicycling has risks, many experts support experienced riders continuing bicycling as long as common sense and care are used. - People for Bikes

Granted, this transportation behavior is normal for me and picking up a biking routine during pregnancy is probably not feasible for comfort’s sake. BUT, you should definitely walk daily, do yoga or some aerobic exercise. And if your non-pregnant ass currently rides, here are 10 tips on biking while pregnant from People for Bikes.

Superhero Status

8 months, paddle boarding

8 months, paddle boarding

Spiderwoman

Beyonce worked her postpartum ass off while caring for twins to produce the visionary Coachella performance and documentary, Homecoming. Amy, though she said she was contractually obligated, pushed through insane nausea to do stand-up at 8 months. They are real life superheroes.

This idea that pregnant women are natural superheroes is not a new concept. When Marvel debuted a pregnant Spiderwoman in 2015, their content director, Sana Amanat, explained the genesis:

When it was pitched in a creative meeting, I immediately became excited. This is the kind of story that is very much in line with the Marvel mission and motherhood is probably the most important and relatable experience we can share. After all, aren’t mothers the real super heroes?

5 Superhero Moments on the Bike

Besides the general high from connecting to community by walking and biking, there were 5 moments in my pregnancy when I surprised myself.

Leading my Airbnb experience, Tasting the Gorge by Ebike. Click photo for tour details.

Leading my Airbnb experience, Tasting the Gorge by Ebike. Click photo for tour details.

  1. Biking a senior woman while leading a bike tour (7 months)

    Biking this 70 year old woman in my electric bakfiets so she could ride alongside their family on my tour was a moment of bike and pregnancy joy. She didn’t feel comfortable riding and it was a no brainer that I offer her the ride so she could spend time with her daughter and granddaughter. What other tour operator would offer this service?

Leading the Kids’ Bike Parade for Hood River’s first open streets event, Streets Alive.

Leading the Kids’ Bike Parade for Hood River’s first open streets event, Streets Alive.

2. Organizing Streets Alive, Hood River’s first open streets event (8 months)

I spent 15-40 hours a week planning and meeting to host my community’s first open streets event and give our neighborhood, The Heights, back to the people for a day of play and fun. It truly was a labor of love and I got tremendous joy when about 1500 people came out with smiles and I got to lead the kids’ bike parade down a pop-up protected bike lane in the normally car-centric business district on streets owned by our state highway department, ODOT. This event sparked grassroots support for better biking and walking, ODOT drafting a process and guideline document for demonstration projects and a future pilot of an 11 month bikeway and neighborway. There’s no way I would have had the energy and drive to pull this off without pregnancy superhormones.

Feeling like a superwoman during an 8.5 months babymoon camping trip on Mount Hood.

Feeling like a superwoman during an 8.5 months babymoon camping trip on Mount Hood.

3. Babymoon Camping and Biking Weekend (8.5 months)

Full disclosure: an ebike, air mattress and our 4 runner were involved. 2 weeks before baby’s due date, I craved fresh air and one more longish distance bike ride so we went up to Mount Hood and the Sherar’s Falls Scenic Bikeway for a gorgeous Indian summer weekend, where I surprised myself at how comfortable I was pulling Annika 25 miles.

Riding the Sherar’s Falls Scenic Bikeway at 8.5 months with my co-pilot.

Riding the Sherar’s Falls Scenic Bikeway at 8.5 months with my co-pilot.

Riding the Historic Columbia River Highway Trail with soon-to-be baby Penelope’s parents.

Riding the Historic Columbia River Highway Trail with soon-to-be baby Penelope’s parents.

4. Taking Baby on one more Spin with the Intended Parents (9 months)

2 days post due date, I took baby’s intended parents, Nathalie and Eric, on a 20 mile bike ride to kickstart labor. Besides the need to be upright on the bike as much as possible, we had a great time and this was the bonding experience we needed before the big day!

My doula, Sarah, of Hearth and Home Midwifery, providing me with emotional support as I walked through active labor to the hospital.

My doula, Sarah, of Hearth and Home Midwifery, providing me with emotional support as I walked through active labor to the hospital.

5. Walking and Biking to the Hospital for Birth

Accompanied by my amazing doula, Sarah, I walked through active labor for a 1/2 mile to the hospital and I’m pretty sure people thought I was having a series of nervous breakdowns in the middle of street, with all the groans and swaying. When it became too much, I hit the easy button and jumped in the bakfiets, piloted by Kyle, and Annika and Sarah trotted behind us. The craziest moment about all of this was riding through one of the worst intersections in all of Hood River, ironically abutting the hospital. “You have to get through this fast so I don’t have a contraction in the middle of the intersection!”

Normal stuff, too

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I’m not invincible and need my down time, too. Especially towards the end of summer, I would draw the shades and work by laying on the couch with my laptop.

The Birth, a Surrogate’s walk to the hospital

My husband giving me me a lift and my daughter providing moral support through active labor to the hospital.

My husband giving me me a lift and my daughter providing moral support through active labor to the hospital.

You have to get through this fast so I don’t have a contraction in the middle of the intersection!

All of this biking and walking was training for the birth. New Zealand’s Prime Minister made the New York Times when she biked to the hospital and thus, it became my challenge to walk the mile to the hospital with cargo bike escort. Here is my birth story as told on Instagram:

PART I

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A surrogacy birth 🤰story, PART 1 of 3, of walking 🚶‍♀️with a cargo bike 🚲 escort (through contractions) to the hospital: 2 days later...I'm not sure how I can possibly convey this story as the emotions and high are almost too much. November 6th, aka election day, was the culmination of 9 months of pregnancy, but the surrogacy interviewing process that would matchmake me with Nathalie and Eric of France, began 2 years ago with an impossibly depressing election. I wanted to help people like my friends who wanted a child so badly, but had conception roadblocks. Given the chance, that child would be surrounded with love their entire life, and idealistically, make the world and their community a better place. Plus, I wanted to experience pregnancy and childbirth again, as it was the happiest and healthiest I've ever felt in my life (yes, I know I'm not the norm). It was my version of training and a marathon. Now that pregnancy was almost done, it was time for the marathon... Baby was 4 days late, and I had a few signs, but no steady contractions yet, so on a gorgeous fall day in Oregon, it was time to get serious. Enter the concept of a virgin, spicy 🌶 Bloody Mary walkabout of hilly Hood River's restaurant patios. We only made it 2 stops: @3riversgrill and @kickstandcoffeekitchen - standing up fireside, I felt the "socks getting wet" gush 💦 and knew it was the real deal. We walked the mile home and contractions started. Kyle called my doctor, the parents and my doula, Sarah - IT WAS HAPPENING! Sarah came to the house to coach me through contractions and said, "it was time to go to the hospital". Kyle had the @urbanarrow packed with my hospital bag, ready as a "bike escort" and along with our daughter, we started the 1/2 mile walk to @providencehospital. At the beginning of the walk, I had second thoughts on this part of the birth plan: what was I thinking and how was I supposed to have such personal displays of anguish in public. I got over it quickly with the guidance and shelter from Sarah and people must have thought that I was having a series of emotional breakdowns in the street...(continued). 📷 album by @squirrgle

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PART II

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A surrogacy birth 🤰story, PART 2 of 3, of walking 🚶‍♀️with a cargo bike 🚲 escort (through contractions) to the hospital: I made it by foot halfway en route with intense contractions before jumping in the bike and taxi-ing to the ER. They quickly got me up to the birth center. The next 2 hours was a flurry of crazy, vocal contractions with Sarah ever present, Kyle frantically documenting the experience, my family doctor's hand on my shoulder, my fierce 9 year old daughter's quiet observance, and finally, Nathalie's (mom) arrival, in which I got to squeeze her hand so hard that I thought I would hurt her. Kyle recounting, "2 things about today's birth experience: 1. Watching my wife go through this, especially HEARING her moan and bellow her way through contractions and pushing, was terrifying. It stops you in your tracks. It stopped people out in the hallway outside our birthing room. The physical exertion she went through was so obviously enormous. It made me want to do anything, to anyone, to stop it. But.... 2. She's not just anyone, she's Megan. She asked for this. She planned for it. She treated it with the awe and respect it deserves from before the inception. At no point was my faith shaken. She quietly and methodically chewed this up and spat it out, tackling it bit by bit, trusting her midwife and her own body, getting the work done. And in the end, she got what she most wanted from all of this hard work: To hand a perfect little baby girl to two loving parents who needed her so, so badly. I cried at least 15 times today. Make that 16. My wife's pretty damned incredible." After what felt like 6 visceral (feeling baby move through the birth canal) pushes in a reverse squatting position on the bed, in Annika's words, "I saw her head, then her shoulder and then her hand come out", and she gracefully landed on the bed below me. After a rodeo of untangling the cord through my legs and turning me around to sit, the nurses handed me 9 lbs of Penelope and <crying now> I got to take in the most beautiful moment of my life: handing her over to a bawling, new mama. It was all for this and words can't express how it felt....(continued) 📷 album by @squirrgle

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PART III

Getting the honor of catching Penelope and giving her to her new mother.

Getting the honor of catching Penelope and giving her to her new mother.

Getting home from the hosptal by ecargo bike piloted by my husband, Kyle.

Getting home from the hosptal by ecargo bike piloted by my husband, Kyle.

This was an experience of a lifetime. I know how lucky I am to have 2 healthy and easy pregnancies and I don’t take this for granted. It was a very conscious effort to have a physically active pregnancy for an easier childbirth, quicker postpartum recovery and general mental health. If my total hospital bill for the birth of less than $3,000 doesn’t convince you, a study by the University of Madrid should. Researchers connected exercising during pregnancy to less time spent on labor:

“A supervised physical exercise programme throughout pregnancy decreased the duration of the first phase of labour as well as total time of the first two phases together, leading to a decrease in total labour time,” they wrote.

The women in the exercise group were also less likely to use an epidural during childbirth. - Independent.co.uk

And there is no easier way to get exercise than to incorporate it into transportation. Instead of driving 1 mile to the grocery store, why not walk or bike there.

Do you want a relationship with the child after birth?

Birth certificate showing my name as Penelope’s middle name.

Birth certificate showing my name as Penelope’s middle name.

This was a question I probably received 10 times over a year in psychological and social work interviews. My response was always something like this: it’s up to the parents and how our relationship develops, but yeah, I’d like to see picture updates, in the least.

even if I couldn’t be with her physically, I would be there every time she filled out some random application or paperwork, and that’s unbelievable. 

Penelope birth story-letter.jpg

In our Skype interview, Nathalie and Eric told me they saw us as family and wanted us to visit them in France, which was a great surprise. Then, when they visited in August, they said I was considered the “second mom”, another huge honor. Baby Penelope taking my name is something I wasn’t prepared for. This little thing who gave me superpregnancy hormones and rewarded me with soooo much kicking and a constant reminder, “I’m in here!”...even if I couldn’t be with her physically, I would be there every time she filled out some random application or paperwork, and that’s unbelievable. 

I ain’t no Beyonce or Amy, but Penelope made me into a biking Superwoman and I am grateful for the adventure of a lifetime. I am a different person today than I was and our family tree now has a graft that we can’t wait to watch grow.

Happy belated Mother’s Day, Nathalie, and we love you, Penelope and Eric!

Penelope 4 months.jpg