The Running Analogy

This will apply if you love to run or if you haven't run since that torturous junior high gym class. 🙂 But this is geared towards moms hoping for a medication free birth/natural labor/whatever you want to call it when she's hoping to go without the epidural. If that is not in your plans and not something you want to consider then feel free to skip this post. For those of you interested in a natural birth (but you may perhaps be feeling doubt about your ability to handle it) then read on!

In many ways labor is like running. (Don't let that make you lose hope if you hate running! Keep reading...) I've just begun to run again postpartum - we won't discuss the fact that my baby is a year old and I'm still considering myself to be "postpartum." 🙂 I have tried off and on to run over the years but have given up too early because I felt overwhelmed, tired, unsure, and because it's hard. For years I said I would not run unless I was being chased. It seemed weird and unnatural and pointless and why would I want to subject my body to something that torturous, right? But I kept talking with close friends who had gotten into running and loved it! Sane, rational, normal women whom I admire and love but for some reason they were getting hooked on running. How odd! 🙂

So I wondered what this was about and I knew I needed to exercise and I gave it a try. I was right - it felt like torture at first. But there were always moments when I was running when I found a groove, my breathing was in rhythm, I could look around and see the beautiful sky, and I felt AMAZING. Those moments of feeling my body work perfectly the way it was meant to work burrowed deep into my mind and that's what kept bringing me back, however sporadic my efforts. I still dreamt about running, feeling my feet hitting the ground and my arms moving and my lungs filling and the strength that seems to flow when your body is strong and working hard.

But I kept giving up! This time around I'm running with my sister, and when I'm feeling sluggish I'm got someone gently prodding me out the door. When I'm struggling to find a rhythm she (with her cross country running experience) is giving me tips. When I cannot catch my breathe she's talking me through it, when I'm ready to give up she's reminding me, "You can do this, just keep going, it's like birth, you know you can do this!" (She's my running doula and she rocks!)

Imagine though, if you've decided you want to run in a race. You've got your partner with you, but you don't know anyone else in the race. You start running and as happens, you hit a moment of doubt. You don't know if you can keep going! But instead of cheering you on and reminding you that you really did want to do this and you can do this and your body is designed to do this, what if your partner said, "It's okay honey, I think you should quit!" What if your partner hated seeing you struggle (which is understandable!) but because he didn't know how to help you along he just encouraged you to quit? In the moment that may be what you wanted but in hindsight, are you going to be sad you quit? Will you feel let down by your partner? Will they wonder if they did the right thing by talking you out of running? Are you always going to wonder what it would have been like to finish the race on your own two feet?

What if it's not just your partner, what if there are random people riding next to you on a little scooter shouting at you, "What are you, CRAZY?? Why are you doing this?? Just quit, this is ridiculous, hop on this scooter and we'll just drive you to the finish line. Because that's all that matters, getting to the finish line, it doesn't matter if you run there or if you hitch a ride. Come on, we'll save you! There are better ways to do this!"

When you are exhausted and your body is working so hard and you're feeling self doubt, that scooter ride can be tempting! (Oh, believe me - I know!) But sometimes those scooter ride people can make you and your partner feel doubt about your abilities, and sometimes they shout WAY LOUDER than your partner. So even if your partner is whispering encouragement in your ear, you may both be faltering because of that insistence by the scooter people that you cannot possibly finish this run without their help.

But what if instead of the scooter what if you had your partner, and a whole team of people surrounding you, cheering you on? (See, insert running doula from above!) What if they told you no matter how long this race takes or how hard it is or what hurdles you need to leap, we are going to keep running right next to you? And when you're thirsty we've got water and when you're hot we've got fans and when you're crying with exhaustion we're going to wipe your tears and whisper in your ear that you are STRONG and you are amazing and YOU CAN DO THIS! Not just your partner, as he tells you that you're beautiful and he loves you and this is incredible and he's in awe... but your birth running team, surrounding you with cheers and love and laughter. Can you feel the difference that can make to a woman as she runs the race/works towards birthing her baby?

Sometimes things don't go as planned and you NEED that scooter ride and then your birth team's job is to lift you up and get you that help and cheer as you cross the finish line. Sometimes things go rather off kilter (and I know that firsthand!) and you truly need to stop running and just get across that finish line as fast as humanly possible.

But for a woman who wants to run the race, she needs the cheering team of support. For a partner who wants to support the laboring mom, the focus needs to be on reminding her of her strength - not of expressing doubt about her ability to cope. She needs to be told she can do this, to just keep running, to keep putting one foot in front of the other even as she feels beyond exhausted. Because the moment she crosses that finish line she will feel an emotion that cannot ever, ever be compared. She will cross that finish line and she may collapse into a heap, but despite that exhaustion she will feel like she can fly.

There is nothing that compares to seeing your body work in ways you did not thing were possible, to push yourself past the point you can humanely endure, to see the admiration in your partner's eyes as they recognize the effort you are exerting and express their love for your sacrifice.

It's not always possible to finish the run on your own, sometimes you need to change plans dramatically and quickly and that's okay! That's important, to have a care team that recognizes when things are changing course and to help you adapt quickly. And in those situations you truly have given your all and your birth team is there to smile and wipe your tears and remind you that you did everything you could and you rock. No matter what it takes to get to that finish line, a birth team's job is to cheer hard!

But if it's something you are interested in, isn't it worth at least trying to run this race? Because there is nothing else like it, and for the rest of your life you will look at yourself differently. Truly, your perception of yourself will change when you push yourself past the point you thought you could handle - when you give it a try. Maybe the idea of running a race/natural birth holds no appeal for you, maybe there are circumstances that make it impossible for you to try, and that's okay! Everyone needs to birth in the way they feel is best. But I've heard lately a few expectant moms expressing concerns that despite their hope to give birth without medication, they are scared they cannot handle it.

YOU CAN HANDLE IT. Barring those rare unforeseen circumstances when the scooter needs to be brought in, you can do this on your own two feet! 🙂 But you need to carefully select the running team that is going to surround you. It's inevitable in the world today that you'll have people on the sidelines screaming, "TAKE THE SCOOTER!" and the cheers of your partner and care provider and doula - your running team - are going to be what drowns out the noise and helps you keep going.

So for those of you who want to run, who are nervous and uncertain but want to run, or for those of you just genuinely curious about how far you can run even though you for sure want that scooter on standby - you can handle it. Pick your care team carefully, do your training (reading, researching, childbirth prep class!) and just see how far you can go. I bet you'll surprise yourself!

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