Maybe your newborn sleeps. Maybe your newborn doesn’t sleep. Maybe you’re struggling playing the formula game and trying to find one that your little one’s tummy can handle. Maybe you feel as though you have become a dairy cow and your baby is nursing constantly.
Perhaps you’re currently running on three hours of sleep. You might be the woman standing in front of the mirror, holding back tears, wondering if you’ll ever get back into shape (even though you know deep down inside it’s only been about two weeks since you housed a human).
Regardless of where you’re at, know this: It’s just an uphill stretch.
Most of you have asked me how running has impacted me after I had my son. It’s obvious what running has done for me during my pregnancy (I mean, I posted about it often enough, so I won’t focus on that in this post).
I’ll tell you this: I didn’t just “bounce back” four days later and show up with a six pack or something. I’ve never been the type of just bounce back into shape immediately regardless of what I do during my pregnancies. I stay active and run for my health, and while there are clearly physical benefits (I do bounce back quicker than I would if I didn’t run during pregnancy), the biggest benefits are mental and emotional.
Quick trip down memory lane to when Gracie was born: I was kind of emotionless, and that was followed with horrible, painful postpartum depression. My doctor formally diagnosed me at six weeks. By that time, I had already pulled large chunks of hair out of my head, kicked bathroom cupboards in, screamed in my baby’s face, threatened to divorce my husband, and suffered from deranged memory loss. It was the worst time in my life, and revisiting it is almost like taking the “funeral outfit” from your closet rack: It’s dark; it’s morbid; it has a deep and painful meaning that won’t ever fully go away.
I didn’t cry when she was born. I had a c-section, and when I heard her cry and realized they took her out, I felt like I was acting. I wasn’t emotional whatsoever. I felt immediately alone. And once you start feeling something other than what you think you should feel as a new mother, you feel guilt and sadness at levels that are unexplainable.
I won’t get off track, but I want to quickly interject that those feelings and behavior are not normal. Not at all. Having bad days is normal. Having days where you feel like you weren’t that great of a mom or normal. Breaking down every once in a while and moving past it? Normal. Postpartum depression isn’t a sporadic bad day. It’s loathing yourself, your child, and your life. You need help if you’re in a constant state of rage or sadness like I was.
I had nothing to fall back on. At that point, I still touted that I almost failed gym class like some kind of honor badge. Running? HA! If someone was chasing me, I would have said “just kill me.” I was not a runner and never, ever saw running in my future.
So when I was up for long long hours or struggling with my newborn, I had nothing to help me cope as far as personal experiences. I wasn’t familiar with pushing and stretching myself to great lengths. All I had to fall back on was graduate school, and I’ll humble brag here: Academics come easy to me. Graduate school was a fun challenge. I didn’t exert myself; I knew my shit.
I crumbled and crumbled and crumbled very quickly with my newborn daughter. After her, I swore I’d get back into shape. Enter running, which changed my life. I fell in love with it.
When I received the shocking news that I was having another child, I panicked because I was certain I’d go through this horrible depression again. But when I saw what I was capable of – running forty weeks into my pregnancy (last mile was less than 48 hours before my c-section), things changed for me. I knew I could do the hard things.
When Michael was born, he was screaming before they even got him out the whole way. I heard his cry and started sobbing right along with him. They lifted the drape so I could see him, and I gasped, “oh my god” and cried tears and tears of joy. I was the happiest I’ve ever been in my entire life. I wasn’t afraid to love him the way I was afraid to love Gracie. I knew I could love him hard. I knew I was the most capable woman to be his mother.
I would not have had this confidence, nor would I continue to have it, if I didn’t prove myself to ME through all of those pregnancy miles.
The truth is that the newborn days are hard. I have a great baby. He eats and sleeps like a champ, and he’s usually very happy. I’m not going to act like it’s easy, though. You do a lot of work. Showers may or may not happen. Exhaustion takes over sometimes.
But when I start to tear up and feel like I can’t stay away for one more second, I just remind myself that this is just an uphill stretch. This is just a tough part of the course. The moment when you give yourself two choices: Let the hill own you, or own that damn hill. In every moment, I choose to own it.
My memory takes me back to the Rock N Roll DC Half Marathon. There was a hill from absolute hell. It was lined with photos of fallen soldiers who died young. The military stood on the grassy knoll and essentially boot-camped us all the way up the hill. It was one of the steepest hills I’ve ever run, but you better believe I ran the whole thing. No walking and no giving up. I owned that uphill stretch.
So when you’re in the trenches and you feel like you can’t take it, remember that it’s just an uphill stretch and that you’ll be downhill again soon.
When the baby is screaming uncontrollably and you’re panic-crying because you can’t figure out why, it’s just an uphill stretch.
When you haven’t showered for three days and feel like you’re going to lose your mind and crawl out of your own skin, it’s just an uphill stretch.
When you snap out on your spouse and secretly cry in the bathroom because you feel bad for being a jerk, it’s just an uphill stretch.
When you get the baby to sleep just in time for your toddler to wake up an hour later, it’s just an uphill stretch.
When your arm is numb from holding the baby all day and your brain is numb from having completely pointless conversations with your four year old all day, it’s just an uphill stretch.
When you’re headed out the door and your baby pees on both you and himself, remember – it’s just an uphill stretch.
Running has done a lot for me and has helped me grow in so many ways, but handling my newborn with such grace is the ultimate gift running has given to me. I’m not a perfect mother; not every day is a PR. I’m ok with that. I know I can handle whatever happens. It’s just an uphill stretch, and before I know it, I’ll be leveling out again and cruising.