Labor as Marathon

Katherine, nailing it.

Katherine, nailing it.

Sometimes when I have clients who are athletes, or who have been athletes, or who enjoy working out in general, I share a passage from Penny Simkin’s The Birth Partner:

Childbirth has many similarities to a marathon, or other physical endurance event. Both include pain and psychological demands for the participant. Both require stamina and patience. Both become more manageable when the participant is well prepared and flexible and has the following:

·        Knowledge of what to expect

·        Prior planning with a knowledgeable guide

·        Physical health and fitness

·        Encouragement and support before and throughout the event

·        Confidence that muscle pain and fatigue are normal side effects of such effort

·        Fluids and adequate nourishment

·        The ability to pace herself

So many good things to talk about here!  But did you catch that 4th point?  Encouragement and support! So vitally important to both athletes and laboring mamas!

One of my high school friends, Katherine, is a runner. She’s crazy fast. I remember last Spring she broke some records and set herself a new PR after running a mile in 5 minutes and 2 seconds. A couple of days after she ran that race, I saw her and she was just beaming! Still!  Even after a few days! And being around her in that state instantly brought me back to the feelings I had after I had my firstborn. So as she was telling me about the race and just radiating pure bliss, I couldn’t help but tell her, “Katherine, that is how I felt after I had Lucy! You can have the same adrenaline rush after you have a baby!”

And just last week my family and I went to see Katherine and her brother run in a cross country meet at our favorite place, Afton. These high school students were amazing to watch!  And I couldn’t help but compare the physical challenge we were witnessing as they ran through the grass to what I see each and every time I help a mom in labor.

Katherine, of course, was leading the pack and nailing it, and yet as we cheered her on, she didn’t have the capacity to smile or wave or engage with us – she was so focused on disciplining her mind and her body to push through to the end. You could see pain on the faces of other girls, or hear them vocalizing with their breathing to cope with the strenuousness of the run. And in the end, they all conquered, aided by the cheers and encouragement of family and friends who came to watch. They all achieved what they set out to do. And my guess is that most of them felt amazing.

So let’s take Penny Simkin's wisdom to heart. Let's encourage women to embrace the physical challenge of labor as they prepare to give birth to their babies, as we would encourage a high school student as she trains and prepares for a race. Let’s not tell women scary stories that giving birth is horrible and traumatic, as we wouldn’t tell an aspiring runner how much we hated running in high school and how much it hurt. Let’s be kind to our fellow women and soon-to-be mothers, as we are kind and encouraging to our students and children as they work toward accomplishing something amazing.

Yes, giving birth is hard. It's crazy hard. But as Penny points out, it's a LOT more manageable (and sometimes even fun!) with proper planning, coaching, training, encouragement, support, and confidence in our bodies. Let's change the culture of fear into one of joyful confidence as we talk about birth with younger women!