Back in April I wrote about how I was craving a challenge and was ready to face the unknown in a natural unmedicated birth. The work is done, I did it and baby Joanie is here! Not to say it was easy- I definitely underestimated what this would be like. I don’t want to scare first time pregnant ladies but labor was incomparable in terms of dealing with discomfort and toughness than that of any one time running or race experience. But trust me, if you’re a runner you can handle it and rely on your experiences competing and training to get through it!
The entire process took 16 hours. This would be more than an Iron Man. If a baby was at the finish line, I’d rather do an Iron Man even though I’d likely drown in the swim. Despite what I learned in my Hypnobirthing Class, in which they say you can “breathe your baby down” and painlessly labor, I doubted that optimism and of course knew it would be uncomfortable. I imagined things would slowly progress and the pain would gradually increase as labor went on. WRONG! It was intense from the start!
My midwife Janna had told me about a woman who recently gave birth and during labor she went out for a walk up this big hill to the shopping center. I thought “big deal”. I imagined I’d be able to go out walking and possibly make it down to the park near our house while this was happening. In reality I came no where close. I made it outside the building two occasions; clinging onto a car bracing myself during each contraction and ending up back inside after 5-10 minutes. Dang. Now I have sympathy watching women on TV screaming they can’t do it and need the epidural.
For me the strong, real contractions started and continued for 14 hours which reminded me of running 60-90 second intervals at a hard effort (maybe mile-5K race pace?) with 3-5 minute recovery. The final 90 minutes of pushing was to be the biggest challenge. I was unprepared for knowing what it would take to finish the job after endless hours of what I thought was the toughest part. By then I was completely exhausted from continuous effort, no sleep, limited food and throwing up. I absolutely hate puking but for some reason it felt like a relief to experience a different sort of pain! But trust me; I was ready to bring it. I couldn’t wait to see who this little person was!
The last 30 minutes got so tough since the previous 45 minutes I had not made much progress. At first I heard “you’re doing so great” to a drastic change of tone in “Julia- You need to do this NOW!”. As a last resort I was given a shot of 5 Hour Energy with Lincoln Park blaring in the background. Alan and the team of midwives were literally yelling at me to step it up because if I didn’t push her out things would not be safe for baby. It felt like it would never end but somehow just after we were starting to go into semi-panic mode Joanie was finally here! The first time we saw her was a moment we’d never forget.
The key to making during the contractions was finding sanity, humor and positivity during those crucial recovery minutes. So that meant laughing, singing along to my iPod list, staying active and just enjoying the time I had with my husband. Trust me, it was a big luxury to have Alan there. I could not have predicted the timing and had mentally prepared to do this without him. There were numerous occasions the past month when I thought it was going to happen when he was off at a race.
The night before I went to labor Alan had just finished racing the 5000 at the Olympic trials. Before the race he was dealing with yet another injury of his achilles and calf, but we still had hope he could make it to the finals to be in the top group. Things did not go well and his Olympic dreams were crushed. The only positive for me was relief knowing he would be here for this once in a lifetime moment- one that he definitely did not want to miss either.
Post race I was up until 2 AM re-booking Alan’s flight for the next morning out of Portland as he drove with his friend Jon from Eugene. Hours later he was on a plane making his way back to Virginia. By 5 PM he arrived at the airport in Charlottesville. My sleep deprived friend Kelsey had also arrived that same morning after taking a series of red-eyes to be there for me. We had planned this months ago thinking Alan was going to be gone for the remainder of the week racing the 1500. I also had my mom take a last minute flight earlier that week and somehow all four of us were here at the same time to meet our little girl.
About an hour after Alan’s arrival things had started to progress. Before the staff at the Birth Center left for home we went in for a quick check. At five days past due Janna said it was likely I’d be back sometime early the next morning. She was right. 11pm just after we went to sleep my world changed. I was unable to even lay down for more than the first hour. I had experienced a lot of Braxton Hicks “warm up” contractions for months and these were nothing like the real thing.
The next four hours I labored by myself in the dark which was probably one of the toughest things knowing that I couldn’t have the support of my friend or my husband. They were both running on less than three hours of sleep from the night before. As much as I know I needed help dealing with the pain, I also knew that having them rested would be a big help for what was coming.
You might be reading this and think “big deal- women have babies every day”. If you are not a parent you have no idea what its really like. This was by far the most memorable day of our lives. The anticipation of waiting to meet this tiny person and to finally see her can’t be described in words. It is amazing to think about how she went from a blob of cells to a 7 lb life form in just a matter of 9 months.
Could i do it again? Labor drug free? Yes!!! Even knowing exactly what it was like and how unpleasant it can get I definitely wouldn’t take the epidural even if it was an option for the future. I love looking back knowing what exactly it took and know it will give me confidence to get through anything mentally or physically challenging in life!
Going through that type of labor also seems to make the little day to day demands easier and I get more enjoyment from them. The job never ends with constant feeding, no set sleep schedule, doing 3 tasks at once with a baby in my arms and finding a way to get out of the house without expecting her to cry. Yet despite how dependent Joanie is, my biggest challenge is the long process of recovery. I’m still waiting for my body to give me the green light to start training again.
If I had the patience and endurance during labor, I can do this now. I always have heard that moms can do some amazing things after childbirth in running – so I’m hoping I can test that theory out soon. I know I’m going to start slow and enjoy each little baby step back on my way to getting in shape. Eventually it would be great to achieve some sort of personal best but even injury-free, consistent running would be a big reward. For now my “workout” and world is this cute little girl Joanie. Even if I never get back into racing the way I imagine, I still get to keep her!