Sunday, April 27, 2008

Enduring a mile (or a centimeter)

My husband ran the Boston Marathon last Monday, and I was so inspired by it that I decided I want to run it as well. So, yesterday, my husband and I decided to see how fast I could run a mile. We ran a warm-up mile at a medium-effort pace, and then I threw myself like crazy into the 2nd mile. It was misery. It was horrid. It was an intense mental tug-of-war between "I can do this! Keep going!" and "What was I thinking?! I have to stop!" But somehow I kept going.

This really does have something to do with birth, I promise... just hang with me. After finishing my run yesterday, I thought a lot about the experience. I speculated that it was probably like a mini-marathon--a condensed version of the marathon experience. And I also recognized that the same things that helped me to navigate the journey of childbirth also helped me to get through that mile (and would probably help me get through a marathon as well). Here's a play-by-play:

1) In the beginning, chatting works wonders. The first part of that mile, I kept telling my husband to "Talk to me!" When he was talking to me, running felt easier. The conversation was a welcome distraction--especially when it was about topics completely unrelated to what we were doing. The same was true in childbirth. Talking was extremely helpful through the early intense contractions (around 4 centimeters).

2) Eventually, chatting is not possible. Somewhere in the middle of my mile, a switch flipped. Suddenly I reached a point where I didn't want/need dialogue. I didn't want to talk. I couldn't formulate sentences or contemplate options. All I could think about was my own body and enduring to the end. Distraction was no longer helpful. Instead all words had to be pure fuel--encouragement, positive energy. I pulled into myself, but I could hear my husband's occasional words of encouragement: "You're doing awesome! You can do it!" Those simple statements carried me on. This was eerily similar to the way I felt as I navigated "transition" (7 to 10 centimeters dilation) giving birth to my daughters. The same things that helped me get through transition were the things that pulled me through that mile--minimal distractions and LOTS of quiet, gentle encouragement.

3) What you say to yourself matters most of all. In the midst of my misery, when I felt like I couldn't possibly push myself any harder or faster, I found my mantra: "The faster I run, the sooner I'm done." As soon as I spoke it out loud, I felt an instant surge of energy and was able to leap ahead, lengthening my stride and picking up speed for several yards. Whoah. So cool. The words you speak to yourself have so much power--for good or bad. Make those words only positive and you will find power within yourself to do anything--be it finish a mile or reach 10 centimeters in labor.

4) There's nothing more motivating than the finish. When my husband said, "I can see the finish!" I felt instantly encouraged, "You can?!" Thank the heavens!! Once the finish was in sight, I knew I could make it the rest of the way even though my strength was spent. This is much the way I felt when I had reached full dilation in labor and was ready to push--pushing was like seeing the finish line. Somehow the pain seemed less intense because I knew I was so close to the end.

Maybe all of this is self-evident, but I had fun drawing parallels between the experiences. It was fascinating to me, and helpful to recognize that I have done hard things in the past and found the strength to endure. I have given birth twice without pain relief. If I can do that, I can run a marathon. And, if you've ever done something difficult and intense like running a marathon (or even a mile), you can definitely get through childbirth. And, I guess, the ultimate point is... if you can find enough strength within yourself, you can do anything. Anything.


Fig said...

That's a really cool analogy! And an inspiring message. So . . . how fast was your mile? :-)

Lani said...

8 minutes flat :-)

April said...

So, I just delivered my second child a month ago (1st without the epidural) and this rings so true about the various stages. However, before I got checked at 9 1/2 cm, I didn't realize that the finish line was right around the corner and so had I been running, instead of laboring, I probably would have given up and stopped. (can't really do that with giving birth though, can you).
Also, the mantra about "the faster you run, the sooner you're done" was exactly what I was thinking when I was pushing, even though it didn't really hurt that much at that point, I still just wanted to be done because I was exhausted. I think I was scared because my first delivery, I pushed for over two hours. This time I asked the midwife point blank, "how much longer" she said less than an hour, but that wasn't good enough for me and so I pushed as hard as I could and my son was born less than 10 minutes later.
By the way, I love your blog. :)

Lani said...

Thanks so much for commenting and sharing your experience, April! Congrats on your new baby! When I talked to my husband about all of this, I kept mentioning the same thing... that running a race you always have the option of quitting, but you can't exactly quit birth! ;-) But I decided that the closest thing would be getting an epidural, maybe? I dunno.

How did this second birth compare to your first? Was it a better experience for you overall?

April said...

Overall, the second birth was a way better experience than the first, for a combination of reasons. I am glad I didn't get the epidural this time even though it was painful, and most likely, I won't get one next time either.
I wont go into to many details, (I could go on for hours about birth) but I did ask for epidural an hour after I got to the hospital (5cm when I got there). Well, the midwife checked me and I was 9 1/2, so it was too late. At that point I really was ready to give up, and was kind-of scared because for some reason I still felt like I had a long way to go (I really only had three more contractions to go before it was time to push), and was trying to find any way out of it that I could. Next labor I wont be so scared, and I think that will make it a lot easier.