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If Childbirth Is A Marathon, What Happens If I'm Not an Athlete?

marathon runnerPeople like to use sports analogies to describe birth. Athletics are probably a lot of people’s first experience with extremes of physical effort. So I guess the idea is to give people both a sense of scope, and some inspiration. Sports are hard work, but they’re also fun! And even when they’re not, everyone cheers you on as you go on your merry miserable way.

These analogies might be effective motivators for some people. Tying the work of labor to the work of training can give a familiar context to something scarily unknown. But they can also fall totally flat if you don’t have a personal connection with sports. And for the serious non-athlete, sports terminology can actually be intimidating. Say, for example, the idea of running a marathon sends you reeling back to the time you joined the track team in eleventh grade because someone you had a crush on said you had runner’s legs, only to spend the entire time cramped and retching on the sidelines. (The entire time being the two days of practice you were able to bear before taking this as confirmation that you simply suck at sports, and giving up like the quitter you are.) If that were your experience, hearing that childbirth is like a marathon might not bolster your confidence. It might make you feel like you are doomed to failure.

If you can relate, you might enjoy reading the most recent installment of New Mom Confessions on Salon.com. Wilson Diehl says she’s bad at sports, and the idea of Birth-As-Marathon made her even more nervous. And if you are one of the many who relate to the marathon model, you’ll probably find Diehl’s story pretty amusing. Take this quote:

“…the prospect of checking into a hospital and shooting an 8-pound being out my vagina was daunting enough without every book likening the experience to running a marathon…

…the endurance required, the agony involved, the importance of staying hydrated, the possibility of pooping somewhere you’d rather not. If childbirth was like running a marathon, I was going to have a C-section.

… I do not and never have gone to the gym, worked out or owned any shorts made out of lycra, jackets made out of Gortex, or socks made out of anything that wicks. I hate sneakers that look like insects.

When it comes to anything other than typing or turning the pages of a book, my hand-eye coordination leaves something to be desired. And if someone is watching me or telling me exactly how I’m supposed to move my body, I seize up with a sensation that’s a cross between performance anxiety and that feeling you get in dreams where someone is chasing you and no matter how hard you try to run, your legs will not cooperate. Panic, I think it’s called. Run, run you tell your legs, but they do not run. Left alone, I can throw a dart pretty well, but start coaching me on how to do it better and suddenly I’m hitting the bartender in the eye and at least two people in the bar are crying.

Read the whole story here.

Dietz’s story is not only hilarious, it actually touches on some very important worries women experience as they anticipate giving birth. Especially women who aren’t at total ease with their bodies, for one reason or another.

As you may have guessed from the level of detail,  that teenage track failure was me. For most of my life I’ve felt klutzy and physically awkward, lacking in endurance and kinesthetic awareness. I found my own way to conquer my body anxieties in the months leading up to my son’s birth. Come to think of it, it was actually a process that had been set into motion years earlier, involving a true genius of a Pilates trainer, who taught me how to trust my own understanding of my body more than I ever could have hoped. Then I found an incredibly supportive, inspirational prenatal yoga class, taught by a woman who was part guru, part childbirth ed, and a huge part of my feeling physically competent enough to endure more hours of labor than I feel comfortable telling you about.

Body confidence is a hugely personal thing. Athletics are probably the most common way we measure physical achievement in our culture. But that feeling can come from somewhere else entirely. And even if you don’t get there before the moment your baby’s born, chances are you’ll get there: just try to see a beautiful new life emerge from inside you without a swell of confidence in what your body can do! It turns out you don’t have to be an athlete to give birth to a baby. You just have to be a woman.

photo: informatique/flickr

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