Mini-post: Parenting as Endurance Sport

Before I had a baby, I would wake up every morning at 6:00 and run 4 miles. Sunshine, rain, snow, below freezing… I was laced up and ready to go.

Now I wake up at 6:00 and get an infant ready for day care. 

Running 4 miles in 14 degree weather was easier. Waaaay easier.

Advertisements

Audacity

A few weeks ago, Mr. O and I watched Wild. (A big Saturday night for us now includes a movie that we may or may not watch all the way through. So far I’ve seen How to Train Your Dragon 2, Unbroken and now Wild, all in 20 minute increments. There is a lot of pausing when you’re also wrangling a 5 month old.)

For those of you who aren’t familiar with the general plot, Wild is about a woman (Cheryl) who hikes the Pacific Coast Trail after her life hits the skids. By “hits the skids” I mean her mom dies, she becomes a heroin addict, and engages in otherwise destructive behaviors. The movie is really well done. Mad props to Reese Witherspoon. She did a beautiful job.

While Cheryl is hiking the trail, the movie flashes back to her past, to what brought her to the point where she is willing to hike 1,100 miles. A lot of it focuses on her relationship with her mom, which helps explain why her death was such an inflection point. Cheryl loses herself. Hiking the trail is what brings her back.

I had to find my own way out of the woods. It took me four years, seven months, and three days to do it. I didn’t know where I was going until I got there.

As corny as it sounds, I get this movie. I GET IT. These past few years have been just plain shitty for me, what with infertility, my mom dying and the resulting fallout from that. In the process, I’ve changed a lot. Not for the better, mind you. When I look back on who I was before, I really was fearless. Falling down didn’t scare me because I had so much faith in my ability to pick myself back up and move forward. I now know I can fall down — and just lay there devastated.

I liken what’s happened to repetitive stress injury, like my IT band strain from a few years ago. This is a really common running injury, so much so that it is often referred to as “Runner’s Knee.” On a day to day basis, I was fine. But over time, tiny stressors on my body resulted in a full-on strain that made it painful for me to walk. I remember vividly when I knew there was a problem. I went out for a 5 mile run, and 2 miles in I was crying on some stranger’s stoop because I quite literally couldn’t move. Months of PT later, I was okay. But even to this day, my IT band will give me drama if I’m pushing myself too hard, too soon.

That experience taught me the difference between “Ouch” and “Holy shit.” Emotionally, I’ve hit “Holy shit.”

I’ve changed. In real, tangible, not-great ways. I’m not trying to fix myself, to “go back” to who I was before. But I would like to find ways to live my life with less fear. Of not being afraid to fail.

I kept telling myself what I need is a BHAG. In office speak, that stands for Big Hairy Audacious Goal. Like hiking the Pacific Coast Trail. Only not that because I’m not insane. I need to fix a target and aim for it. It doesn’t even matter to me if I make it. I just want to TRY. I want to want to try.

I’ve spent the past few weeks thinking about what this BHAG would be. Learning to bake bread? That seems too tiny. Running a marathon? Honestly, I don’t have the time for that right now. Every single idea I have seems too small or leaves me bored.

Moving to the other side of the country?

Now that feels about right…

When I was writing my mom’s obituary, I started off with the usual “Mom was born in Point A, died in Point Z.” This is how all obituaries start. I remember thinking my mom would never have guessed that she would end up where she did. Not that I thought she’d be disappointed. Just that when she was a kid in her small town, I don’t think she fathomed every where her life would go. You see, even if an obit tries to summarize a life by Point A and Point Z, I knew about all the points in between. Her life was full, even at times adventurous.

I need more points in between.

That feels big and audacious.

Make Way for Baby

This weekend, I begrudgingly took a prenatal yoga class.

Since I’ve had to quit pilates and running, I knew I would have to pick up something else or I would lose my shit. I need to move, but I also have come to terms with the reality that I need to slow down. That is, I think, what my abdominal muscles tearing apart was trying to tell me.

I have resisted yoga my entire adult life. It just seemed so fruity to me. I need exercise where there is yelling, grunting, and the occasional need for obscenities. The idea of being trapped in a room smelling like patchouli sounded like torture.

But my body and my baby are trying to tell me something. This shit is not about me any more. Aaaand as luck would have it, there is a yoga studio right down the street from my place that offers prenatal yoga on Sunday afternoons. I was running out of excuses.

As I prepared for class, I realized exactly zero of my workout clothes fit me any more. None. All the spandex I own has been stretched to their last stitches. The sports bra that had fit just two days prior practically screamed for mercy. I cried on the couch for about 5 minutes because I couldn’t back out– I had already pre-paid for the class.

Decked in Mr. O’s sweatpants and a ratty old t-shirt, off to prenatal yoga I went.

I was the first one there and filled with a lot of anxious energy. “I’m going to hate this. Someone is going to read my chakra or something ridiculous and I’ll just have to leave.” And in walks the instructor, Randi, who is the picture of calm, graceful, voluptuous, earth mother. I told her about my injury, and she said she’d suggest certain modifications, but the class should be just what I was looking for.

It turns out I am a yoga natural. Yes, it did take me some time to slooooooow doooooown. There were a few times when Randi had to remind me to “make room for the belly” and this helped me sink into positions and fully experience my body as it is now. As the class went on, I fought it less and something clicked inside me. Specifically, someone kicked inside me.

This body, the one I have today, is something I have never known before. Up until this point in my pregnancy, Chick and I were living like roommates to a certain degree. I wasn’t bothering Chick and, with the exception of some seriously unpleasant constipation early on, Chick wasn’t really bothering me. Then around week 24, Chick literally busted through my abs. No longer roommates, someone is taking over all the communal living spaces. (Hint: it isn’t me.)

At the end of the class, we had a moment of meditation where Randi encouraged us to put our hands on our bellies. Yoga had woken Chick up and sparked a dance party in my uterus. For a little while at least, I started to feel a connection to my child. Me and Chick, we’re in this together.

The Non-Scare

Oh, what a weekend I’ve had… Lest you worry, Chick and I are fine. Okay, CHICK is fine. I am fairly convinced my insides are going to fall out any minute.

Thursday evening was my 24 week check-up. As I drove to my appointment, I felt this strange burning pain right at my breast bone. Nothing incapacitating, but also very odd. Good thing I was going to my check-up, eh?

As I lay down on the table, I explained to the midwife what was happening. The usual “Does it hurt when I do this? What about this? Or how about this?” ensued. To which I responded, Yes, no, and no. Acute pain, but mostly localized to a 1 inch square. The midwife seemed worried.

“You see, that’s where your uterus is…”

“What? How did it get all the way up there?”

Concerned looks, either because I have no concept of pregnancy anatomy or because something terribly wrong is going on with my insides.

After conferring with a few others on staff, the midwife sent me home with instructions to rest and call immediately if things get worse. This is not something one wants to hear from a medical professional, though admittedly it could be worse.

At this point, the pain was really really real. I hobbled back to my car and went home for some rest. Though the pain didn’t get worse, it didn’t really go away either. Additionally, it traveled down slowly over the course of the evening until it landed right around my belly button.

Meanwhile, Chick was moving like a prize fighter. Had this not been the case, I wouldn’t have slept through the night. Ironic, isn’t it? My baby punching my insides made it easier for me to sleep.

Come morning the pain had not gone away. Midwife wanted me to come in for an ultrasound to make sure Chick was alright, and the soonest I could get in was 1:30.

Again, not something one wants to hear from a medical professional.

Holy balls– do you have ANY idea how long the wait from 8:00 to 1:30 was for me? As fortune would have it, I had a therapy appointment with Dr. Macaw that morning, and spent my entire 55 minutes crying. Though I rationally knew this would probably be fine, irrationally I could not handle one more fucking thing in my life breaking down.

Ladies and gentlemen, I have reached my limit for very bad things. No more. Not open for business. I wish I could say I’m some strong, courageous bad ass who can handle any and every speed bump with a smile. But let’s be real. This camel is one straw away from losing her shit.

Strangely, it felt really good to admit this to another person. Outloud. In earnest. Through lots of snot and tears. Between my mom’s death, my dad’s slow climb toward normalcy, my siblings and their own stuff, the completely unnecessary drama from Mr. O’s dad, and upheaval at work, I need this pregnancy to be okay. Perhaps the Universe would listen to me this time when I’ve said I have had enough.

Perhaps.

The next several hours at work were totally surreal. I had an “important meeting” that I couldn’t get to because it was smack in the middle of my ultrasound. Had a moment when I thought about conference-calling in, then realized that was completely stupid. I made my excuses and arrived back at my doctor’s office for the second time in 24 hours.

The ultrasound tech was the most beautiful, decent human. She was chipper and reassuring. With every snapshot she took of Chick, she’d say something like “Now we’re looking at the kidneys, which look totally normal…. This is the heart, which looks absolutely healthy…” And so on and so forth until we established that Chick is still fine. (And still very shy about their face. Someone is not ready for their close-up, Mr. DeMille.)

At this point, it was time to meet with another midwife (my dr/midwife duo weren’t available at this time, which was fine with me.) After looking at the results and examining me, I have been diagnosed with…. Diastasis Recti, or separated abdominal muscles. (Do not google this. It is gross. Or at least it is gross when you realize it is happening to you.)

Truth be told, I sort of forgot what the midwife was saying after she confirmed Chick was okay. I heard “Baby is okay! Mumble, mumble, Diastasis Recti, mumble, mumble, one finger apart, mumble, can get up to three, mumble, mumble…:”

Deep breaths. No one is dying. I’m just experiencing pain like a burning zipper up and down my abdomen. No big deal.

I spent the rest of the weekend wincing around my apartment, and having to ask Mr. O anytime something had to be lifted up or put down. It was tedious, and led me to one or two bouts of feeling sorry for myself.

My abs, once my pride and joy, have separated about one finger width apart. This is not uncommon in pregnancy– approximately two thirds of pregnant women experience this to some degree. It is, however, uncommon so early in a pregnancy or women carrying my size baby. If this were my third trimester or if I was carrying Gigantor, it would make more sense.

No one can quite figure out why this has happened when it did. As my loyal readers will know, this annoys me to no end. I want “Why?”, but it seems my body only responds “Why not?!” One speculation is that my muscles were so tight to begin with, there was little stretch in them. (I had similar lower abdominal pain weeks ago, which one nurse thought might also have been intensified because those muscles were well-developed. This is what 8 years of running does to you.)

I hope this doesn’t sound like a humble brag. Because I am sooooo not into this. Had I know that being in excellent shape with well-defined abdominals prior to pregnancy would lead to tearing? BLECH. I would have cooled my training and eaten more ice cream.

In the meantime, I have no idea what I can/can’t do anymore. From my midwife, I can keep running until my body says no. (But this isn’t no? What the hell does this mean? Talk about completely unhelpful advice…) She also suggested I ditch the pilates and take up yoga, but I’m still convinced this will just make matters worse. Maybe I should just become a bedridden shut in… In my most paranoid moments, I don’t want to breathe too deeply deeply because I’m pretty sure my organs will fall out. Which is shear nuttery but that’s where I live these days.

Just when I am on the brink of crying because I feel tender and sad, Chick tickles me from the inside out.

It is hysterical and glorious.

It is the yin to this weekend’s yang.

Running for Two

Throughout my pregnancy, I have maintained my practice of running. After I was given the all-clear post-IVF, I put my running shoes on and started out again. Slowly. Very Carefully. With just a hint of trepidation.

At first, I had to stop and walk a lot. I was tired and out of practice for the first time in 7 years. This annoyed me to no end. I am a seasoned runner, damn it! Walking is for sissies! Rationally, I got why I was slowing down. But as any runner will tell you, it is a mental game more than anything, and mentally I felt like I should be pushing myself harder.

I had to change my expectations. Instead of running with my gadgets that calculate distance, time, and pace, I just run for time now. I set the clock for 35 minutes, then run/walk until I’m done. This sounds so simple, but it is huge shift for me.

It has also helped me reconnect with this sport I love so much. I run now for the grace of it. For the joy of being outside. For the clarity I get on each run. It also reminds me that even as my body changes, I’m still incredibly strong. Sure, my glutes and quads are not what they used to be (let alone my abs. HA!) But I’m out there and this requires a particular kind of courage: To do my best that day, no matter what that day brings me.

Exercising while pregnant is weird because it follows the opposite path of what you’re used to. Instead of improving over time, I have been slowing down or having to modify workouts. Instead of getting stronger each week, I’ve had to figure out what I can’t do anymore. It’s a downer if I think about it too much. I’m used to literally feeling the progress that comes with exercise. Again, it’s about changing my expectations. So now it is less about performance and more about simple movement.

I realize at some point running while pregnant will not be a good idea. As my doctor put it, my body will tell me when it is ready to stop and I just have to listen. I’ve also started adding pregnancy pilates to my work out. Truth be told, I find it exceedingly tedious, but it is good for me. It keeps my legs and core strong, and it keeps me moving. At the moment, I’m running 2-3 times a week, and doing pilates 2-3 times a week.

On this morning’s run, I was feeling electric. The weather was perfect– 50 degrees and sunny. Chick was cooperating by keeping movement to a minimum. I felt strong and empowered, even as other runners breezed by me like gazelles. “Yeah, but are you running and carrying a baby? I AM A WARRIOR!”  As I stopped mid-run to stretch, I took a photo of the view from where I stood: My running shoes peeking out from my baby belly. Feeling good about where I was at that moment, I posted it to Instagram and finished my run.

Which is when I realized that I kinda, sorta forgot about my and Mr. O’s “No Social Media Pregnancy Announcements.” I also forgot that there are some people following me who don’t know about Chick. So I got a flood of “likes” and “OMG” style comments. In my exuberance, I inadvertently outed myself as pregnant. Oops.

It isn’t that I want to avoid social media altogether. It’s just that I remember being ambushed by the announcements of friends. I hate the idea that someone saw my picture and had a similar reaction. I also want to be so mindful of Chick’s own privacy– Chick may not want a kabillion pictures all over the interwebs before they can even get born.

Thankfully, Mr. O didn’t seem to mind my slip, and was one of the first to “like” my photo. Along with 23 other people… and counting.

This is what winning looks like

Years ago, I ran my first half marathon. I trained like a mad woman, followed strict schedules, nutritional guidelines… I did it all “right.” And though I finished, my performance stunk. This was mostly to environmental factors, but it still stung a little at the end. My best efforts did not yield my best results.

Over the past few years, I’ve trained for several half marathons, but didn’t actually complete them. Once I got sick the weekend of. Another time, I injured myself the week before. So I learned to love the process of training, if not the race itself.

With the promise of ARTs looming, I decided to try for a half one more time. But I was so disorganized about it. I staggered my long runs, didn’t do a ton of strength training. I also trained with Mr. O– which I didn’t love (but didn’t really hate either.) When you race, you’re out there alone. So training with another person, I wasn’t sure if I was also building my mental endurance too.

The night before I was nervous– and I have NEVER been nervous for a race. Ever. Other things continued to go wrong, like my phone battery couldn’t hold a charge. This meant that I couldn’t use my running app to gauge my pace and was without Spotify for music. So I loaded up an old iPod with the most random 3 hours of music I own. I had run out of my mid-race fuel of choice, and had to scramble for a back-up. Mr. O announced that he was thinking of taking the morning to run errands, rather than wait the two hours it would take me to finish. (Insert sad face here.)

Things were not looking good.

As I lined up, I honestly didn’t believe that I was about to start. There must be something out there that would smote me. The gun went off, and I started to run. I could hardly believe it. I was finally here. I was doing this thing I’d wanted to do for years. I almost cried.

I held it together, because mile 1 is not a time to lose your shit. I had 12.1 more miles ahead of me, and I was still vaguely convinced that something was going to happen that would prevent me from finishing.

And here is where my luck seemed to turn. It was a beautiful day for a run. A perfect 60 degree day, sunlight bouncing off the fall leaves. I still had no idea how I was pacing– I just ball parked it off the time at each mile marker. And I was making pretty good time, based of my math.

During my training, I had only gotten to 10 miles on my long runs. This is doable, but not ideal. Prevailing thought is that you’ll be able to finish it, but you usually want more from your training. So when I reached mile 10, I went a little bit quiet. At this point, I had to trust my body– not my training.

As I closed in on the last 800 meters, I was on auto pilot. My legs knew what they were here to do. I had closed out the rest of the world. Which is why I hardly noticed Mr. O cheering me on from the sidelines. I was over the moon when I saw him, and those last few strides felt like flying.

As I hobbled over to Mr. O at the finisher’s tent, he delivered the great news. I hadn’t just beat my previous record, I had CRUSHED IT. I literally shaved an entire minute off my pace time, finishing well ahead of my previous time. I screamed. I jumped up and down. Then I ate a hamburger. And a protein shake. And a banana.

Running has taught me so much about patience, endurance, and mental toughness. I am so profoundly grateful that I found this sport 7 years ago.

There is a part of me that feels like this is my swan song. If all goes well, I will be pregnant soon. Running will become harder and harder- let alone running 13.1 miles. This half marathon couldn’t have happened at any other time. Or at a better time.

Even though thousands of other people finished before me that day, it still feels like winning.

The Unknowns

“As we know, there are known knowns; there are things that we know that we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns, the ones we don’t know we don’t know.” -Donald Rumsfeld*

My first consultation with a “real” RE is just a week away. I’m not exactly sure what I should expect. When I got my period last time, it was on a Sunday morning. I crawled back into bed and cried a little bit. Mr. Ostrich dutifully spooned me, and tried to comfort me.

ME: I’m just scared. This advance reproductive bullshit terrifies me.

MR. O: Are you sure you still want to do this?

ME: Yeah, but I’m still scared.

I’ve thought about this since it flew out of my mouth. I’m not one who gets scared that often. Typically, I research the crap out of something until I understand it. (Knowing is half the battle.) But all the “understanding” in the world isn’t making this any less intimidating. There is a lot I don’t know. So there is a lot I can obsessively worry about.

This is a brief summary.

1) I’m almost convinced that after reviewing all my tests, my RE will discover something so obvious like I don’t have a uterus. That’s been the problem all along!

2) I’m worried she’ll order a whole bunch more tests. Some of them are a year old at this point, but I still don’t want to have to do them again. Let’s get this show on the road, damnit.

3) What if I have to stop running? Being able to be outside alone, following the rhythm of my feet, feeling my heart get stronger with every stride… this shit has sustained me through the absolute worst year of my life (thus far.) If I can’t do that because of any treatments, I will lose my frickin’ mind.

4) I have to keep track of things. There are the injections, the sticks to pee on, the showing up for doctor’s appointments on time. You ladies make this look so easy. “I took .75 ml of Magical Baby Powder, and now my KLM levels are at 45.” I have no idea what this shit really means. This seems to require a level of organization that I do not have the skills for.

5) Actual pain. Let’s be real. None of this sounds like a massage for your lady parts.

6) The money. My insurance covers some of it, but there is a lifetime max. I have to get this done before the money runs out.

7) The disappointment. Sure, I’ve dealt with the monthly disappointment, but I worry that I’ll have a higher level of emotional investment in the ARTs. What if the sadness I experience at the end of each cycle now is worse?

8) What if, at the end of all this, it doesn’t work? I’ve got a few more stops along the TTC train, but the end is in sight. All this time, I held out ARTs as the backup plan. But my backup plan has no backup plan.

Yes, I am worrying about this prematurely. I haven’t even had the damn appointment yet. One of the hardest things I’ve had to confront during this past year is that I have no idea how anything in this life will pan out. I have to honor my crazy-lady anxiety, but then learn to let it go.

Nothing is guaranteed, the good or the bad.

 

*Yes, I just made a vague comparison between infertility and terrorism. And yes, this is the first and last time I will ever quote Donald Rumsfeld. I promise.