See Mom Run

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Image courtesy of Jonas Birmé.

Warning: I’m taking a break today to talk about postpartum issues.  If you have trouble with body talk, please don’t read this post!

Postpartum has been a real “thing”.  I have struggled with PPD.  I’ve been haunted by my ability to get back to “normal”.  I found that the things I needed to hear about a lack of “progress” which I should have expected I didn’t hear until 6 weeks out.  I wasn’t cleared to do anything exercise-wise until 8 weeks.  My doctor was so confused as to why I expected after a heinous pregnancy that my exercise abilities would just return, I would feel great, and I’d have all this energy.  She was also really upset that people had told me that my stomach would bounce back.  And, you know what, most of my friends say their tummies were forever changed and that’s okay.  I grew a human.  I worked really hard to do it.  I destroyed what was “normal” in the process.  There was no “bouncing back”.  “Mom bod” should be a thing if “Dad bod” is but it’s not.

So, thanks to societal expectations and a history of disordered eating in college, I was really, really struggling.  Add to this a stupid thing at work which is encouraging a biggest loser style competition that has public weigh ins and people asking me why I wasn’t joining and I was reeling.  Suddenly, people were comparing notes on how to starve themselves, drink only vinegar for 5 days to “win” a week, etc.  And they were actively pressuring me to do the same – all despite the fact that I had lost a ton of weight when pregnant with my daughter.  I finally started telling people, “Hey, you guys should lay off this weight talk and stop assuming that is my goal”.

I was not cleared to run until 12 weeks postpartum and 3 days after I was cleared, I ran.  I started Couch to 5k (C25K) at the recommendation of my OB.  Having been an ardent running and an endurance athlete, I was like, “This is too freaking easy and won’t do it for me” but I really didn’t have a choice if I didn’t want to harm my health, according to her.  I cut myself a break.  And, with the encouragement of my brother-in-law who runs Ultramarathons, I made plans to run a 5k in May.  It was totally doable.  And while I thought running would come really easily back, the first 2 weeks were brutal.  Once I got over that point, I notice that my stride was coming back, I was physically capable of so much more, and my runner’s high returned.

I would prefer to be on my bike (as usual) but running is what I am capable of doing quickly (you just can’t do a short ride where we live without putting your bike in the car and driving off and my daughter is far too young to be in a kid seat).  I will get back to that next year.  I plan to buy her a bike seat for Christmas.  But, until then, I run.

I’m now hedging on Week 7 of C25k.  And while one person has made me feel crappy and believes my OB is “placating” my “laziness” I’m mostly ignoring it.  My brother in law says she’s a nutjob and other runners have been encouraging.  I feel like I’m doing it well and doing it for the right reasons.

Moreover, I feel like I’m mentally more capable than ever before.  I’m more present and I’m less daunted by a challenge.  I used to abhor hills.  However, it’s not no big deal to climb them.  I work on my form and chug along hills because I live in a place where there are hills everywhere.  My route is almost always a climb or descent.  One hill, in particular, goes on for half a mile.  I just dig in.  My body and mind were tested mightily in my pregnancy.  I have sheer determination and can blow through the block most runners get half way or 2/3’s of the way through a challenging run.  I used to routinely fall in the trap of “I cannot do this” and would spend weeks to climb over that wall.  I have hit the wall and I have refused to back down.

In May, I’m running two 5k’s.  First, the HER 5k I will run for HG.  I’m completing it here remotely since I can’t get to Chicago yet,  I’m shooting to finish on Mother’s Day.  My time won’t matter to me.  Then, I will do the Zoo Run which I will run “with” my brother- and sister-in-law.  I will not keep up with their pace but my goal is to run a sub-35 time if I can.

I have more goals, though.  I bought a jogging stroller so my first goal is to run with my daughter regularly to build up my core.  My second goal is to run a 10k in July.  I plan to use my daughter as my resistance training on my short runs and then do my long training runs on the weekend.  I have run a 10k before and trained basically all the way up to a half.  My running partner bowed out and I didn’t want to have the expense, so I didn’t run it.  However, I think I may be able to do it again.  I don’t see myself ever running a marathon but I do see myself continuing on a healthy path and maybe doing a half.

The real goal that I have is to run the 5k in my husband’s hometown (complete with hellacious hills) while pushing my then 9th month old in her stroller.  Last year, I couldn’t even walk during that 5k.  I cheered on my BiL who won the whole thing while standing next to my husband and hurting.  I took pictures of finishers but god I was beat by the end.  This year, I will come back strong as ever.  I will run fearlessly.  I will do this thing.  I will do it in under 35 minutes, damn it.  I will finish strong.  Next year, maybe I will run a half marathon in Indy or Bloomington.  I’ve always wanted to do either.  And my absolute “must do” will be that 5k in Chicago where I can meet women in person who battled (and survived) HG.  I will do it for myself and my daughter.

If you are interested in finding more info on the HER 5k, you can find it here.  The race will be run in Diversey Harbor on May 20th in Chicago.  The 5k starts at 9 AM and there is a family friendly option fun run that starts at 10 AM.  There are some fun events planned on race weekend, too, and some hotel rooms still available for cheap (especially by Chicago standards) but book soon!  The HER foundation supports research and education for women and families coping with hyperemesis gravidarum, something that plagued me my entire pregnancy.  The disease is fairly common but there are a lack of good providers out there with knowledge.  Women are often misunderstood by doctors and family members, so education and advocacy are key parts to making life with HG easier.  You can read more about my battle on the blog.  In the meantime, help HER by running either in Chicago or virtually with me and make a donation to a great cause in the process!

Birth is not a contest I need to “win”

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Image courtesy of DAVID Swift of Flickr.com.

For as long as I can basically remember, I’ve had a health problem that caused stress or pain.  As a child, I was in and out of doctor’s offices and hospitals due to life-threatening asthma.  And by the time I hit puberty around age 10, I was dealing with the very real and clear pain of endometriosis.  I’ve had pain akin to early labor for days each menstrual cycle of my life, basically.  I got a kidney stone from a treatment that saved my life from complex migraines (the type that make it seem like you’re having a stroke).  I rode probably 100 miles on my roadbike in a week’s time before the stone was detected in my ureter.  My mom, in contrast, had one still in her kidney and it was so painful she is not sure how I was walking let alone riding and working.  I once broke and severely dislocated a finger and went around for 2 days before I was persuaded to see a doctor.

So, when it comes to labor, I’m pretty sure I can take the pain.  I know it will suck but I also know it will end.  The thing is, if I don’t have to have pain, I don’t need it.  I know labor pain is thoroughly unique but a this point, I’m fairly sure my body is equipped for it. I worry more about coming out the other side so tired, hungry, and dehydrated I have to recover over weeks not days from it.  So I will be opting for pain management.  I know I can “trust birth” because I am damned determined to get this thing out alive so I can hold it over my head and sing songs from the Lion King but trusting that my body can handle and suffering unnecessarily (to me) are two different things.

I know plenty of moms who see me as a failure.  A good friend yesterday said, “Of course you’re doing natural birth, right?” as if that was a thing you just opted into.  She had a unicorn pregnancy – no morning sickness or reflux, no pain – and a unicorn birth – totally unmedicated, no tearing, and it was over in less than 12 hours from the start of early labor to finish.  Another friend who is pregnant reminded her “I plan to try but my baby may have other ideas.  We are playing it by ear.”  I flat out responded with, “I intend to take the drugs.  It’s a marathon not a sprint and I want to be as comfortable as possible.”  The question-asker looked completely perturbed.

It the got worse. She rattled on about how she would give me a sits bath because she was SURE I was going to tear horribly as that’s what everyone with an epidural experiences.  I know “natural” birth is what everyone wants these days and what everyone my mom’s age probably got unless they were high risk.  I think it’s great if a woman wants to experience the hell of childbirth in full, high-def color because it’s her choice. However, that’s not how I see it.

I experienced vomiting 3-5 times a day in full surround sound with smell-o-vision for the first 4+ months of this pregnancy.  It’s still going on.  Today I puked in an IHOP because my husband ordered a dish that smelled of rotting flesh to my pregnant nose.  My body has ran a marathon daily for weeks.  When this started, I was an endurance athlete.  Now, I’m a soft, weak, shell who is down 20 lbs and hasn’t gotten on her bike in months.  I was never a waif, so it’s not as though I am skin and bones but I still don’t have a noticeable bump and am nearing 20 weeks.  My friend who is 6 weeks ahead began to show much earlier.  I used to love eating out and cooking but I’m now not myself.  Even before this, I suffered a gruesome miscarriage and still have a stain on my bedroom carpet as a reminder of waking up bleeding out.  Motherhood, so far, has been hard, awful and thankless.  Which is what motherhood is for a lot of women.

To top it all off, I did all this while working full time, finishing a dissertation, and dealing with the drama inherent to building a blended family.  Hell, I got a promotion in the middle of this.  I have been kicking ass DESPITE hypermesis.

What I so badly wanted to say yesterday was, “Lady, if it was a competition, natural birth or no, I’ve already done three Ironmans and won.”  But I didn’t because it’s not a competition.  Each of us have different births and different bodies and different pregnancies.  One of the things I’ve LOVED about reading birth stories has been that no matter what, most of the time, it ends up okay and mom and baby come out fine.  Moms do what they need to to survive.  Babies come out somehow.  No matter what your playlist is or your aromatherapy choices were, you will get through it.

The competition thing, yeah, I refuse to play into it.   Some say God only gives you what you can handle.  Others say you are stronger than you ever imagine once you become a mother.  I believe both are probably true.  But I’m sure given the cards I’ve been dealt would all suffer through it.  Maybe birth is the hardest part of many pregnancies and that’s okay!  But maybe it’s not.

But devolving into “well you think that’s bad?  I can do you one better!” rhetoric just divides us.

I do think we should be careful talking about birth, though.  I have met amazing moms who did everything they could to avoid the thing they so dreaded – a c section – but ended up needing one because their baby was in deep distress.  They don’t actually feel bad about their birth because they brought their baby into the world one way or another but I’ve seen others chide them for not trying castor oil or hypnobirth or whatever snake oil supposedly worked for someone else.

Perhaps rather than being presumptive and saying something like:

“So you’re having a natural birth, right?” or

“You’re gonna ask for the drugs, right?”

We could instead say something like,

“So I know you’ve probably thought about what your birth would ideally look like but if you want some feedback about something I did, x worked for me…”

Because a woman isn’t an idiot and I don’t know one pregnant lady who hasn’t read a ton of birth stories by month 4 and isn’t sure what she wants, she will already have some really solid ideas of what will be her ideal birth.

Opening dialogue doesn’t have to be rife with judgement.

It’s a marathon not a sprint and we all have different pre-race strategies. One is not better than the other.  Many will need to change mid-race because we need to be flexible and adaptive as mothers.  As people experience the wonders of school-age kids (whichh really is the best, I think) or the stress of parenting kids in puberty, or toddlers who refuse to wear shoes, these skills will build.