Tuesday, October 25, 2005

running:birth

I began running when I was in eight grade. Not speedy, I defaulted to the distance events in track, the mile and the two-mile races. Not a racer, I switched to cross country in high school. In cross country only the top five finishers count toward the team's point total. I never earned a point for the team but ran nonetheless, making new personal bests from time to time.

The longest break I have taken from running since eighth grade was two years, during college and again during law school. In between breaks I ran several 5Ks and a 7.5 mile race. I was training for a marathon (longest run ever: 13 miles) when I fell in love and got married instead.

So though I've never been particularly good at it, "runner" is part of my identity. When I was so sick with hyperemesis that I couldn't stand, I raced effortlessly, joyfully, in my dreams.

I never guessed the degree to which running would prepare me for birth. Not physically -- I did not run while pregnant (though mostly because I got out of shape during the nauseous first semester, not from any fear of harming the baby) -- but mentally.

Our cross country coach kept current on athletic training techniques. It was from him that I learned the power of visualization. He would have us lay on mats in the wrestling area behind the bleachers, close our eyes and relax. He would talk us through the race from start to finish, telling us to picture ourselves running strong, staying mentally alert, having the power to surge past an opponent.

More than twenty years later I found myself laying on our futon, relaxed, as my spouse talked me through a labor visualization. I stayed calm, breathed through contractions, listened to my body.

Both racing and birthing followed my mental rehearsals closely. I had power to surge past opponents; I breathed through contractions and listened to my body.

During pushing with my first child, I distinctly remember thinking, "This is like the sprint: Give it all you've got." My body had experienced physical exhaustion before. I was not afraid to make it hurt.

As I've left my childbearing years and returned to running, I find the circle completing: birth is now informing my running.

Without intending to, my mind invariably turns to my sons' births during the times I am running. I am filled with a sense of power, a recollection of the focus and intensity of my efforts then. Those memories alone buoy me. I find new energy as I think I'm tiring; I have certainty approaching hills that might otherwise escape me.

And from watching other women birth, I keep several mantras in mind:

"I can do this."

"This will end when it ends and not before."

Last Friday I was at my parents' home in Milan, where I grew up. I went for a run around the country block they live on. This is a block we ran during cross country training runs. It covers roads I ran during the 7.5 mile race. It goes down my favorite stretch of pavement around the town (which I later took a photo of below...imagine it with golden corn stalks rising on both sides to make a cavern of the road). I was overwhelmed with a sense of place and purpose. I am from here. I return to here with my children. Through it all I run. And through all that I am is birth.

4 Comments:

Blogger I am a Milliner's Dream, a woman of many "hats"... said...

Powerful post, doulicia. And an excellent analogy. I often tell my classes that childbirth is like a marathon and preparation and pacing makes a huge difference.

Hh

5:32 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This was a very lovely entry, and very illuminating. -Melissa (linkology.diaryland.com)

9:17 PM  
Blogger Julie said...

What a beautiful little essay, doule. And lovely photo, too.

6:06 AM  
Blogger T$ said...

Such a great analogy. I love when clients are runners, they seem to "get" labor. They have tested their bodies to the limits and understand how they can push on and keep going. I have been instructed not to say "you are almost there!". I guess runners, especially marathon runners, hate that.

12:39 PM  

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