Monday, August 25, 2014

How my marathon experience is helping me prepare for birth

Call me crazy, but in a lot of ways, I think running a marathon is similar to giving birth.  Athletes train for many months, they mentally prepare themselves by visualizing success, and the race itself is hours of hard work.  Similarly, in a pregnancy, the woman’s body is “training” for 40 weeks, growing the baby, and getting the body ready to bring him or her into the world.  The actual delivery can be hard work, and you have to be mentally prepared to experience intense physical and emotional changes.

Of course, there are many differences between having a baby and running a marathon – obviously, one being the end reward – in one case you get a baby, and in the other case you get a medal and t-shirt.  Nonetheless, I still think my experience with running a marathon has enlightened me about this whole labor and delivery journey.

Looking back on my marathon, I would not describe it as “painful”.  I would tell you that it was one of the hardest things I ever did, but I wouldn’t tell you it was excruciatingly painful – because it wasn’t.  I look back on it with joy and a sense of accomplishment.  Yeah, it was really extremely difficult, but I’d do it again someday.

I’m approaching having a baby with the same attitude I had going into my marathon.  I decided to do a marathon and I committed myself to whatever it took to get it done.  Similarly, I am determined to bring this baby into a peaceful, calm, loving environment.  I know it’s not going to be a walk in the park, but it also doesn’t have to be a traumatizing experience.  It will still be hard work, but if I prepare myself adequately, it doesn’t have to be painful.  The main point being – I don’t have to be afraid.  Women have been giving birth since the beginning of time…only recently did women start running marathons.

The reason I was successful in completing my marathon had to do with three important factors.  First, I trained for several months.  My body was in condition to run really long distances.  Second, I had incredible support from my husband.  During training, he encouraged me when I was down, he helped me get up for my early morning runs, and he taught me tricks and tips from his own experience (he also ran a marathon).  Then, during the race, he took care of the logistics, he was there cheering me on, and he even ran a total of about 6 miles next to me throughout the whole thing.  He believed in me.  He knew I could do it.  And that is powerful stuff.

That brings up the last factor, mentally preparedness.  I knew the race itself was going to be more mentally challenging than physically challenging.  I knew that toward the end of the race, I would have to fight the demons in my head trying to convince me it was better to stop.  Yet, because I knew this was going to happen, I mentally prepare to keep going even when my will-power was growing weak.  By the time race-day came, I was determined to finish.  Nothing or no one could have stopped me from completing my goal.  I was so focused that toward the end, around mile 24, I tuned out all of my surroundings and concentrated on looking straight forward, putting one foot in front of the other.  You could say I entered a sort of “self-hypnosis”.

I am approaching the arrival of our son or daughter with all three of those factors in mind, especially considering the mental preparation.  Because of my experience with depression and anxiety, I am keenly aware of the body/mind connection.  If your mind’s not onboard, then your body will reflect how you feel.  You have to lead with your mind and the body will follow.  You can accomplish amazing feats when, in your head, you believe you can.

The same is true for birthing.  If you are afraid, you will be tense and not be able to let your body do what it is made to do.  If you don’t believe you can do it, then you won’t.  But, if you are aware of the power of your body, then you can.

In order to prepare for labor, I’ve been practicing these relaxation methods to maintain an overall state of calm.  Lots of hardcore runners will tell you, in order to stay relaxed and not waste extra energy, you must keep your facial muscles loose and relaxed.  I practiced this every run.  A mind that is stressed and afraid will reflect in a body that is tense and rigid.  To be able to finish a long distance race, you have to stay calm and relaxed – and it begins with the muscles in the face.  I think the same is true for birthing.

In the past, I’ve utilized meditation tracks to help me overcome my anxiety.  Slow breathing, eyes closed, peacefully music… Essentially, I’m doing the same thing now, only with more of a centralized focus on the task at hand – labor and delivery.  I’m working on achieving a state of calm no matter what’s going on around me.  I cannot believe how much it has changed my attitude – I’m not afraid or dreading the experience anymore – I am actually excited about this labor of love and can’t wait to bring our child into this world.

Practicing these relaxation techniques are going to help me with more than just having a baby.  I know that these skills will help me with future stressful situations.  Hopefully, I will be able to continue to reduce my anxiety so that the baby will have a loving, peaceful mom and a happy, positive environment throughout the duration of his or her life.

 

Books I’ve recently read that have helped me form these thoughts:

Saturday, August 16, 2014

This too shall pass…

For as good as I was feeling in the last post, this one is equally opposite...

I’ve now reached that wonderful pregnancy stage where my thighs rub together when I walk.  It irritates the skin and makes it uncomfortable, to say the least.  I know it’s nothing major, but this experience is challenging my ability to keep my hormonal emotions under control.  In short, I can’t stand it.  When I take walks, it makes me so mad that I want to break things, throw things as hard as I can, or smash something into the wall.  It even makes want to hurt myself.  I get so irritated that I could rip off my skin.

Eventually the irrational anger turns into sadness.  My anger makes me so sad that I could just cry and cry.  In fact, if I am alone, I do cry a lot.  It’s a constant reminder to me that my body is growing and it’s not going to stop anytime soon; I’m only going to get bigger and my clothes smaller.

I want to walk to get exercise.  Part of me feels like I have to walk because I can’t do any other form of exercise right now.  And, I feel like I have to exercise.  What would happen if I didn’t exercise?  I am too afraid to find out.

I already don’t exercise as much as I want to.  I miss running – the repetitive, rhythmic workout, turning-over until I’m exhausted.  It is as much of a stress reliever as anything.

Having my thighs rub together is just one thing that can make me irrationally upset.  These days, it seems as if the littlest things shake my peace and calm.

Part of the emotion is from pregnancy hormones.  But, I know part of the problem is lingering eating disorder thoughts.  I am having a difficult time with my changing body.  I am having a difficult time giving up controlling what I look like.

Having a baby requires you to give up control of a lot things.  The way I look, a clean house, alone time, uninterrupted sleep are just a few examples.

Sometimes, I feel really guilty because I don’t want to be pregnant anymore.  I question myself and wonder why I wished for this and prayed so hard to be able to have a baby.

I feel like there’s no way I can handle raising a child.  I have a hard enough time trying to take care of myself as it is.  I feel extremely inadequate and undeserving.

The only thing I can do to get through these tough feelings is to tell myself that “It will pass”.  These miserable feelings will go away and be replaced with better, happier ones in the future.  Though, I only half-believe it.  I say “it will pass” in hopes that it will pass.

But will it?  Will it go away?  I don’t really know for sure.  I feel like I have no control over these feelings.

However, reminding myself that I will feel better soon helps me living in the moment, one day at a time.  Just do what I can do today and think about tomorrow when tomorrow gets here.  Just because I feel crappy today doesn’t mean I’ll feel the same tomorrow.

Something else that I find helpful is remembering this article I read a while back.  My friend introduced me to this blog and I really get a lot out of everything I read from it – I highly recommend it.  This one post in particular has stuck with me.  It’s called “Rethinking the Physical Pain of Parenting”.

Even though I’m not in the troughs of parenting, the message is still very relevant to anyone who is trying to live a life of mortification (not in the sense of embarrassment, but in the sense of dying to oneself so that Christ can live).

This emotional suffering that I am experiencing right now is part of the sacrifices of being a mom.  This is certainly not the last time I am going to suffer, and not the last time I don’t feel up for the task.  Right now, my imperfect body shape, my limited ability to exercise, and my inability to sleep comfortably are all sacrifices that I’m making for this child inside of me.  I can either learn to embrace this suffering as a beautiful way to live out my vocation, or I can be miserable because I’ll never get my way again.

In these times of trial, I need to remember that I can also offer it up.  I often think of offering things up when I am in physical pain, like when I have a headache or whatever.  But I forget that I can also offer up difficult emotions, like when I am down about how I look, or when I am irritated with everything around me.

God is allowing me to go through this emotional turmoil because it is helping my sanctification.  Remembering that this type of suffering also has a purpose can help me cope with it and not fall into despair.

Friday, August 8, 2014

Exactly what I need to hear today!

I love it when I find writings from other people who share the same thoughts as me.  In a certain sense, I guess I feel validated.  I think to myself, “Yes! I’m not the only one who thinks this way!  Phew! I'm not crazy.”  It can be very comforting to know you’re not alone.

I found a great passage this morning in the Magnificat.  It was one of those exactly-what-I-needed-to-read types of moments.  Titled She Pondered These Things in Her Heart, Christa R. Klein writes:
 
“Fear not,” spoke Gabriel.  Fearful by nature, I ponder those two words frequently.  To their dying days, my own parents would ask, “Is everything okay?” in tones of suspicion that it was not.  Still, motherhood, not parental conditioning, surfaced my deepest anxieties.

Even before our first child’s conception, my prayers grew anxious.  Then, during pregnancy, I committed myself to the more rigid prescriptions of the 1970s about natural childbirth, nursing, and avoiding commercially made baby food.  Although none of this was unique for a new mother, the unending deluge of information and advice on raising healthy children stoked the false belief that, as parents, my husband and I had boundless control.  In time, our children, and especially our third child with her progressive genetic disease, taught us otherwise.  And we are still learning that each day is a gift to be lived, not a list of fears to be assuaged.
 
Now, with our children grown and their own children growing fast, I dare not allow anxiety to squander my credibility or time with them.  Oh God, I beg to trust you more fully so that I can know and love them more than fear allows.  I want to understand more keenly the challenges and temptations they face.  Draw my husband and me in to a deeper life of prayer.  Let us reflect more naturally and easily your Goodness, Truth, and Beauty.  Make us joyous, courageous, and persevering, so that they can hear us but want you.

I thought this was such a beautiful reflection.  I can totally relate – I feel like my own anxiety is growing just as fast as the baby is growing.  It is a good reminder to keep that useless anxiety in check.

The author of this short article is older than me.  Yet, she was faced with the same fears I am now going through.  I want to be able to take her advice and to learn from her life-experiences; “each day is a gift to be lived, not a list of fears to be assuaged”.

I don’t want to live my life in constant fear of bad things happening.  And God doesn't want us to live that way either.

Things are so clearly put into perspective in the prayer at the end of the meditation.  The primary goal of parenting is to help your children get to Heaven.  God calls all mothers and fathers to see to the needs of their children’s souls first and foremost.  For all other needs, He asks us to put our trust in Him.  Oh, how the devil wants us to be distracted by our primary goal, and, instead, get caught up in other worries that take up most of our time and effort!
 
Lord, help me to see through the eyes of Love, not through the eyes of perfectionism and control.