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:

No comments:

Post a Comment