Until I was 30 years old, my body had never failed me in any significant way. I never had any major illnesses or injuries. I never had to battle my weight. I had never broken a bone. I was one of the lucky few that could call themselves healthy without even trying. It wasn’t until I was 32 weeks pregnant with my first child, lying in a hospital bed in pre-term labor that I knew what it felt like to be helpless and completely out of control.
Pregnancy was a beautiful time in my life. I had never felt better- no morning sickness, minimal aches and pains, and an overall sense of peace and fulfillment. I passed every prenatal test with flying colors- no abnormalities, no high blood pressure, no gestational diabetes, nothing at all to indicate that I was at risk for preterm labor. I had every reason to believe that I would have the birth that I so strongly desired: from the moment I found out that I was pregnant I began researching and planning and decided that I wanted a completely natural birth. I saw a midwife rather than a doctor, hired a doula, sought out a hospital that had a birthing tub and took natural birthing classes. Although I had all of the normal apprehensions about labor, I looked at it as a challenge to myself to fully experience everything my body was capable of.
All of my plans went out the window, as they so often do, when I awoke one morning, having contractions much too early. I labored naturally for quite some time, but I was not ready and really scared- and eventually succumbed to interventions. My baby was born healthy, and for that I am obviously grateful- but I still mourned the loss of the experience that I felt I missed out on.
Two years later, pregnant again with my second child- I felt I had another chance to give birth the way I so desperately wanted. Again my body failed me. I was diagnosed with placenta previa halfway into my pregnancy and in the end had the extreme opposite of everything I had hoped for, a C-Section. My baby was perfect in every way, but I was left with an emptiness knowing that I would never have another chance to “get it right”. Intellectually I understood that all that mattered was a healthy child, but the experience of a natural birth was something I had so wanted so badly that when it didn’t happen, twice, I felt like a complete failure.
The extreme disappointment I felt after those two experiences left me wanting to regain control of my body. I had stood on the sidelines at many of my husband’s races, and always thought how great it would feel if I participate, but for some reason never thought I could. Those feelings started to change when, by default, I started to run. I joined a new gym when we moved to California, and the class offerings were very limited- as a result of that, I started running on the treadmill. (I’d run a little off and on in prior years, but never much more than 3 miles at a time) Each week, seeing my mileage go up and my pace go down, I started to realize that I was capable of doing much more than I had ever thought possible. My focus started to switch from the failures my body had endured, to the successes it was having and what else it could accomplish.
I decided to run my first half marathon last January. In the months leading up to the race, I had a ton of self- doubt. I was about to do something that I never in my wildest dreams thought that I would do- no matter how you slice it, running is hard. It takes dedication, motivation, and pushes you to the limit both physically and mentally. I wasn’t even convinced that I could finish a 13.1 mile run, much less do it even remotely fast.
I finished that race it 2 hours and 10 minutes- not super fast, but not too bad for a mother of two small children that had only been running for a year. I never told them, but when I saw my family at the finish line I wanted to cry- not in pain, but because I was so proud of what I had done. Whether they knew it or not, I felt like I had done it for them too- I proved to myself and to my family that I was able to finish something that I had been determined to do. The satisfaction I felt that day helped to fill some of the hole that was still there from missing out on the births I had wanted. I’ve often heard people compare giving birth to running a marathon, and though I haven’t run a full one yet, I feel like I have at least gotten a taste of what I missed out on. I have pushed myself to the limit and been given the ultimate reward of regaining confidence in myself. I know now that my body is not weak, and I am not a failure- I am powerful in a way that I never knew I was.