Friday, August 8, 2014

How I Learned to Embrace the Pain: On Marathons and Childbirth (1/2)

Hello!  Welcome to my blog!  My name is Molly and my most recent experience includes: 6 years of teaching high school Spanish and 1 year of being a stay at home mom.  I say this to explain the purpose of my blog.  It's about my "lana y lino" ("wool and flax" in Spanish) - about my work in the world, which now is primarily serving my family, while before it was primarily serving my students. This blog is about marrying who I was as a teacher and who I am as a mom - part mom blog, part teacher blog.  Along with that premise one way I'd like to use this blog is by sharing some stories about key events in my life and how they influence my life's work - right now, mostly my parenting.  This particular story encompasses two major events ... a marathon and the birth itself!  Without further ado, enjoy another nifty title graphic made with my good friend from childhood, Microsoft Paint!


Ever since college, I’ve really respected marathon runners.  My roommate was one.  I was in awe of how she could be so disciplined.  I wrote this little piece with the intention that it sound sort of poetic, reflecting on my observations of my roommate:

She ran twenty miles yesterday as part of her training.  It took her three hours and twenty minutes, and she ran on feet already torn up with blisters and a scab that had been molded into a point on her left toe.  I have never seen her limp.  When she gets home she stretches, first wrapping her palm around the tips of her toes, bending until her weakened muscles sting with tightness.  The next day they will be strong again.

Now, I’m married to a marathon runner. He completed his 7th marathon in May - way to go sweetie!!!  I often reflect on how I came to share the hobby of running with my husband. It’s something that became so important in our relationship that we even went on a six mile run with good friends the morning of our wedding, before my hair appointment.  Yes, I showered. ;) Growing to become a runner alongside my husband has helped to form who I am today and mentally played quite a role in shaping my outlook towards pregnancy and childbirth.

How I got into running for real...  When my husband and I first met, I had been trying to get in the habit of running.  I thought I was doing pretty good jogging two laps around the stadium’s grassy parking lot across from my apartment, and that maybe I’d work up to the amount I tended to run in college – maybe two miles a couple times a week.  Then I met Ben.  Because I wanted to share in his interests, I suggested that on our third date we go for a run and celebrate the accomplishment with a Jack’s pizza (his favorite).  He eagerly accepted, and we ran his typical two mile route that if he were by himself he could finish in like three minutes.  Or two and a half.  (Hey, I'm a Spanish teacher, not a bioscience teacher!)

It started to rain.  We pushed through it, with him kindly trailing just behind me to make sure not to run too fast.  Afterwards ... he was so impressed that I ran two miles with him IN THE RAIN.  “You did so good!” he told me with a beaming smile.  “I can’t believe you did this whole run in the rain.  You could’ve given up, but you didn’t. I’m really impressed!”  And if I hadn’t already known he was the one for me that would have done it.  Here I have a marathon runner telling me that I did good – ME!  I only ran two miles.  He’s run farther than I ever would in my lifetime (or so I thought). I was glad to receive the praise.  It felt good.  Believe it or not, the run did too.

That two miles in the rain lead to another weekend where we ran five miles on Friday, then that same five mile route again on Sunday.  I was on such a high, feeling like I could do anything.  That was as far as I had ever run in my life – five miles or so in college when I left my apartment and ran for an hour one weekend on a whim.  We decided that on the next weekend, we’d break my 5 mile record.  We’d run SEVEN MILES.  We even mapped it out on Google Maps so we could be sure to run just the right amount.  We’d turn around at so-and-so street.  Well, so-and-so street came and went and we didn’t notice it.  We turned around eventually and mapped out the route we ACTUALLY took when we got home and … turns out … I had just ran NINE POINT SIX MILES!!!  I was pretty sore that day, but more proud than sore.

After we got married, we trained for a half marathon.  It was tough, but after accomplishing that, somehow all the fear of long-distance running drained out of me.  He signed us both up for the 2012 Chicago Marathon.

Me after the half marathon.  I really did not want to get out of the car.
The first lesson learned from running that I want to apply to my parenting is about the power of encouragement.  If Ben hadn't encouraged me after that silly little two mile run in the rain, and make me feel so good for each little step forward on my running journey, I never would have gotten so far.  That’s the kind of mom I want to be.  No matter how much better I am at something than my child, I want to encourage his accomplishments and share in the joy at his success, just like my humble husband did for me on that two mile run in the rain.

There was a key moment during our training for the 2012 Chicago Marathon that will stick with me.  It was the twenty-mile training run, the same one I observed my roommate recover from with awe.  I started the run feeling pretty good because we had run eighteen miles two weekends prior and I did well.  Plus, the run was in a beautiful forest preserve.  However, mile seven rolls around and I suddenly feel very tired and sore.

“We still have thirteen more miles to go,” I whined to my husband. “I don’t think I can do this.”

He tells me that I can.  “We’ll stop if you need to, but I don’t think you need to yet.  Just keep going.  One step at a time.”  I didn't believe it, but I obeyed, because I trusted him.  He'd been through this before.  One step at a time.

Another mile passed.  “I really hate this,” I told Ben.  “This is awful.”  I started seeing shadows in the trees and they seemed ominous, like robbers waiting in ambush.  When I realized I was practically hallucinating in my fatigue, I started run-walking.  I’d briskly walk for a minute, then run the next.  In my fatigue I soon shortened the running intervals to about ten seconds.  All I could think about was how much I hated running, how much I hated that beautiful forest preserve, how much I hated being outside.  I just wanted to be on my couch, watching TV, petting my cat and eating potato chips.  “I hate everything!” I hissed at the pavement.

I think Ben was a little flabbergasted.  I don’t remember what he said, but it must have been something encouraging.  I know that at a certain point it occurred to me that my negative attitude probably wasn’t helping.  I really did feel like I hated everything, but I decided to take Phillipians 4:8 to heart and reflect on lovely things, even if I didn’t feel particularly able to love or enjoy anything at that moment.  “I love you,” I told my husband.  From there it got a little silly.  “I love my kitty,” I said.  “And I love trees.  And that dog that just passed by.  And I love my grandma.  I love fresh air.” I did, theoretically, love that fresh air.  Maybe if I reminded myself of it, I’d start to feel that I loved it again. 

David loves our kitty too.  And his yellow ball.
As I repeated all of the things that I loved to myself both out loud and in my head, Ben just listened quietly and let me work out the pain.  The walks got shorter and the runs got longer.  We were timing our miles, and Ben pointed out that I had run mile 13 faster than I ran mile 12.  That made me feel better.  Suddenly keeping up the pace didn't feel so difficult.  After awhile I didn’t need to repeat my mantras out loud because my thought process had changed.  At mile 19, I kicked up the pace from about 11 minute miles to a solid 9 minute mile.  And as soon as I could see the finish point, I sprinted in.  Then, as I hobbled around the parking lot drinking my Gatorade, I looked back at the park map that served as our finish line and thought … wow.

I can’t believe I did that!!

For quite a few of the miles on that run, I had thought finishing was impossible.  Every *step* had seemed impossible, let alone *finishing* the run!  Yet despite that, my foot kept managing to appear on the pavement in front of my body.  I had never been in such doubt of my ability to finish a task before, and then ... complete it.  At mile 7, I was sure I wouldn’t finish.  At mile 10, I hated the world and didn’t see how running even another mile would be possible. And yet, I did it.  “I did it,” I told Ben in a half-whisper, half-shout.  “I can’t believe I did it.” 

“You did it!” he beamed.

Pregnancy walks

We’ll never forget that run.  It was actually quite a bit harder than the marathon itself was.  I learned deep in my heart that not only do my words to others have power to build them up, but my words to myself have power to make me successful.  When we became pregnant with our son, I knew that the marathon and training experience and what I learned about speaking encouraging words to myself would be so valuable as we looked forward to childbirth and delivery.

We practiced our positive words as we walked up and down the hills in our neighborhood during my third trimester.  I’d huff and puff, hardly believing that a year before I had ran 26.2 miles.  “You’re doing good,” my husband would tell me as we’re walking up the hill.  “I believe in you.  Keep it up.  I’m proud of you.”  It felt good to hear him say those things, even though I had asked him to.  Those hills are some steep hills.  We were practicing for the contractions.  I had planned to have a natural childbirth, and I knew I’d need all the support I could get.

It’s all about attitude ...

... is the second lesson that I learned from running that I want to apply to my parenting.  A positive attitude is incredibly powerful.  When I was a little girl, I told everyone that I never wanted to have kids.  I was too afraid of the pain.  Still to this day I’ll look at my husband in wonder and say, “I can’t believe that during that pregnancy, I didn’t fear the pain of childbirth.”  I think back to that twenty mile run, to the fact that despite how impossible it seemed at mile 7, I felt so empowered at the finish.

When I was in the throes of labor I didn’t see that light of empowerment at the end of the tunnel, but I believed in it.  I felt prepared for childbirth.  I had read all the books, and I had built a wonderful birth team consisting of a midwife group, my doula and my husband.  I trusted my body.  It was made for this, I told myself.  I knew it wouldn’t be easy, but I also knew that I would have time to ease into the worst of the pain.

End of Part One ... To continue reading, go to Part Two!  Thanks!