I initially came to yoga as a way to cross-train for my running. Running has been an important part of my life for going on 10 years. I’ve always been a little shy about the word “athlete,” preferring to run for fun, not a speed or time goal, but I’ve done enough of the latter that I know what it means to train for an endurance event with a preferred outcome in mind.
I’ve also given birth to one sweet little baby.
And birth is a lot like a marathon.
In both a long race and in birth, you have some sense of what’s going to happen, but you don’t totally know how it’s going to pan out. You don’t know the terrain of the race; you may not even know the route. You certainly don’t know what the weather will be like, how your belly will feel, whether your clothes will chafe you in weird places. You don’t even know if you’ll get to finish the race on your own feet (and in one of my worst runs, I did not.) You don’t know if you’ll run it quickly or if you’ll plod along, every mile exhausting you more and more.
What you DO know is that you will cover a certain number of miles. You will do it in your own way and at your own pace, and despite the presence of other runners along the road with you, you will do it alone.
There will be moments of the race that scare you, probably. There will be moments of the race that challenge you– where you’ll wonder if you can actually finish. You’ll wonder if there is even an end or whether you’re just on an endless loop of race route, running and running forever. There will be moments where you will swear to yourself that after this, after this, after this: you will never run again. There will be unexpected hills and heat that’s too intense and breathlessness and sweat. There will be a fair amount of cursing, if you’re anything like me. And also some moments of deep meditation. And moments of bliss and ease, smoothness and calm. There will be so much presence.
It doesn’t matter what path your birth experience takes, vaginal or cesarean birth: the analogy holds. Maybe this particular marathon is one that takes place in the dead of night, and (despite asking multiple times) no one is really sure of what mile you’re on. And maybe you (accidentally) signed up for one of those obstacle races, and every few hours or so you have to wade through a stream or jump over fire or carry a hay bale for 20 yards. Or all these, one right after the other. (And then you find out you still have 10 miles to go, of course, of course.) Maybe your race is actually a triathlon, and you’re going to need to swim and bike several miles before you run.
A race, like birth, has a lot of variables. I remember training intensely for a half marathon a few years ago. I had a time goal in mind, and after a particularly hilly and grueling eight-mile run, I complained to my husband that I didn’t meet the benchmarks I’d set for my speed. Despite spending over an hour moving my body, enjoying the outdoors, and sharing the time with a running friend, I was ultimately disappointed in not doing it exactly within the parameters of the time I’d hoped for. My husband looked at me, confused, and said, “Uh, you just ran eight %$#&ing miles.” Right. Good point. I ran what I set out to run, despite the heat, the hills, and the exhaustion I felt that day. And once I took the “should have” out of the equation, I reflected on the run with a lot more joy. I mean, I. ran. eight. miles. Why attach a sense of failure to that accomplishment and pleasure, just because it didn’t go quite as speedy as I’d wanted?
No matter how the route of your birth goes, you will birth a baby. It’s your story and your marathon, and there is no one right way to get through the race. Sometimes you run strong. Sometimes you limp through it all. Sometimes you catch a ride from the medical van. Sometimes you rely on the wisdom and safety of technology and modern medicine. Regardless of how you get there, there’s a finish line at the end of your race. And you will cross it. And you are a badass for doing so.