The most difficult run of my life was the very first run I took as a mother and without a father.
My first son, Avie, arrived four weeks early, at 36 weeks rather than the typical 40, on June 28, 2013.
He was born naturally, in our home, with the assistance of two midwives and was a teeny, tiny five pounds, 12 ounces.
Ten days after giving birth, I became restless.
I needed to sweat, move, get outside.
At first, the freedom from the hunched-over breastfeeding posture and 24/7 holding and cradling felt invigorating.
Rapidly, though, things began to fall apart.
My hips were wonky, thighs weak, glutes blah, knees unstable, calves burning and feet aching with a sharp sensation shooting up one heel.
There was zero rhythm, zero flow.
Joints felt nearly disconnected and wobbly, like a marionette puppet.
A heaviness tugged my legs downward.
Too much effort was required to put one foot in front of the other. Something that once felt weightless, easy, mindless, became absolutely arduous.
What was happening?
I had only gained 22 pounds in pregnancy, and that weight was nearly shed.
Soon, I learned, it wasn’t so much about weight. It was the fact that the human body changes after pregnancy and childbirth for every woman in innumerable subtle and not-so-subtle ways.
To compound the situation, my mental state during those 2.7 miles was worse than my physical state.
My heart ached in a powerfully charged, unfamiliar way capable of making me sick to my stomach.
This run was the very first time I spent any amount of time away from my new son. He slept with me, I held him while I used the bathroom, I cooked and cleaned the house with him wrapped in a carrier on my chest, and he lay on a baby pillow at the top of my yoga mat while I practiced each morning.
I yearned in ways I never longed for anything or anyone before. An incredible urgency to return as quickly as possible propelled me forward, but I couldn’t move fast enough.
Worries mounted, some based on substantial fact: he was a preemie, after all, and I his only source of food.
Some worries were kind of rooted in fact, but a bit unrealistic, riddling me with anxiety nonetheless: he needed my warmth, my heartbeat against his, to keep him strong, alive even!
Though his father was with him, no doubt holding him the entire time, this thought plagued me.
Some worries were completely unreasonable based on nothing concrete:
- What if something dreadful happens while I’m gone
- What if I never see him again, and here I am a million miles away, or just a couple miles, what’s the difference?!
- What if he were kidnapped?
- What if he starves to death because I didn’t pump breastmilk for him, because that’s just something I chose not to do?
- What if he cries for me?
- What was I doing out here?
Then the Grief
Not only was this my first run as a mother.
It was also my first run without a father.
He had died on June 1, four weeks prior to Avie’s birth. He fell sick two weeks before I became pregnant, and I watched him suffer in the hospital for most of my pregnancy, and then die, while I was 32 weeks pregnant.
He was 61 years old. I was 30.
Between the worries that rolled in with new motherhood during this run came the despairing thoughts that came with his death.
My dad was my biggest running fan. In what I would describe as a once tumultuous but repaired relationship, running brought us together, and now, that connection was lost, gone forever. Or so I thought.
I increased my pace to drown out the brokenhearted ruminations that came flooding in like a tsunami, but it only magnified the physical suffering.
It felt like forever, being away from Avie, and scary, being alone with bottomless grief.
A Tipping Point
What I sought when I stepped out the door that day was the blissful runner’s high.
Running is what I was relying upon to relieve stress, anxiety and all things postpartum.
Instead, what I got was a hard run mixed with pain, bewilderment, confusion and emotions erupting from every direction.
Running was having an unanticipated effect upon every aspect of my being.
From that day forward, running changed for me, forever.
In a way, that run partially set the tone for the next eight years of running. Instead of constantly worrying, though, I ran to process the worries, let go of the nonsense ones, and to alleviate the real ones. I ran to cope with grief.
Running allowed emotions to erupt. Then, one by one, running placated all those emotions.