“Like a marathon runner, a woman’s task in birth is not so much to avoid the pain—which usually makes it worse—but to realize that birth is a peak bodily performance, for which our bodies are superbly designed.” -Sarah Buckley, Gentle Birth, Gentle Mothering
About two weeks ago, I ran the Run Elevated half marathon in Little Cottonwood Canyon. Near the end of my training, I came across this quote from Sarah Buckley, and it got me thinking: what lessons can be learned from comparing labor and long-distance running?
One at a time
Mentally, I didn’t run 13.1 miles. I ran one mile, 13 times. As I would pass each mile marker, I would think ahead to the next mile, and not focus too much on those beyond. Similarly, in labor, it’s a good practice to focus on one contraction at a time. A helpful affirmation can be, “I can do anything for 60 seconds.” Thinking of all of the contractions that have already happened and the unknown number still coming can be daunting. Focusing on one at a time feels much more manageable.
Preparation Makes all the Difference
I couldn’t have run the half marathon without the significant training I put in. The (increasingly-long) three-four short runs and one long run I put in each week made it possible for me to run the 13 miles on race day. My body was prepared through incrementally-more-difficult runs each week. Similarly, you don’t grow a baby in a day. The body stretches and prepares over nine months. The uterus has practice Braxton-Hicks contractions in later pregnancy. Early labor often lasts for quite a while. All of this is your body preparing to birth your baby.
Preparing yourself mentally with quality birth education and fining the right support system also makes a huge difference. I personally noticed a huge difference between my two birth experiences, and much preferred the one I had better prepared for!
The Body is Amazing!
It was so exhilarating to realize that my body is capable of running 13.1 miles! This was my second half marathon, and I even shaved off a couple of minutes from my last time (which was eight years ago, before two pregnancies, three babies, and with chronice venous insufficiency to deal with)! The human body is amazing. More amazing that that, though, is the woman’s ability to grow and support and birth a baby. Labor is awe-inspiring.
Chiropractors Help with Back Pain!
Seriously people. I mean, maybe this is obvious, but chiropractic care was so helpful in nearly eliminating lower back pain in both late pregnancy and at the end of my training. I prefer a chiropractor who incorporates deep tissue massage as well. I feel like some sort of magic has been worked when I get up from the table and can walk freely without pain!
You Can Have Pain without Suffering
During my training runs, I passed another runner wearing a shirt that said “Pain You Enjoy” from a previous race shed run. Immediately, I thought, “can’t that apply to labor, too?” While many women may say that the word enjoy is a stretch, I do think it’s important to differentiate between pain and suffering. (Rebecca Dekker does that beautifully in this podcast, which, coincidentally, I listened to on one of my training runs!) A few women experience painless births, but for most women, childbirth is some of the most intense pain they’ll ever experience. Rather than try run away from it (which tends to just make it worse, as Sarah Buckley points out in the opening quote), laboring women are most successful when they learn to work with their pain. They realize that the pain has a purpose and is an indication that the body is doing what it needs to be doing. Labor is a “peak bodily performance”!
It’s Worth It
Crossing the finish line was so fulfilling, and being able to say “I did it!” was so empowering. This is true one million-fold in pregnancy and birth. The nine months of pregnancy and hours of labor and birth bear a priceless fruit: a new baby, complete with snuggles and perfect baby smell and a beautiful cocktail of hormones that help you fall in love with each other.
Take Time for Recovery
For two or three days after my race, I was super sore. Going down stairs was especially difficult, since the majority of my half marathon was downhill and my quads burned! My awesome husband was understanding about doing a little more of the up-and-down childcare and housework while I mended. After giving birth, recovery time is critical for the new mother. It takes six to eight weeks for the uterus to return to its pre-pregnancy size, and the perineum takes time to mend. Baby’s frequent need for feeding during the early weeks encourages mom to be sitting or lying down much of the time, a welcome position for a body that has just grown, carried, and birthed another human being!
Happy Labor Day, everyone!