Redefining Mental Toughness
|October 18, 2013||Posted by Lauren under Pregnancy|
Last night while trying to stay awake for the Red Sox/Dodgers game (I love playoff baseball but it’s on far too late for me!), I kept finding myself nodding off on the couch. Suddenly, something exciting happened that caused me to jolt awake and quickly stretch out my legs in the process. What resulted was by far the worst cramp I’ve ever experienced in my life. My left calf seized completely up and I was convinced the muscle had torn in half or somehow shrunk to a fraction of its normal size.
In reality — it was just a really bad calf cramp. A completely normal part of pregnancy that apparently happens to many women, especially when they’re sleeping. A cramp made worse by my natural reaction to seize up the second I felt it. But at that moment, it felt like so much more. It was my entire body falling apart. A reminder that after almost 31 weeks of pregnancy, everything is becoming increasingly uncomfortable. I have aches and pains, simple tasks are harder, my range of motion is smaller, and my large swollen body is becoming more of a pain to move around. Oh and the best part of all – I still have 9 more weeks to look forward to!
From last weekend’s race. Funny that you can’t really see the belly in this photo. Only true indication that I’m pregnant is the completely altered running stride (notice how tightly I hold myself?)
I feel guilty complaining about any of this. Like I should be grateful for every moment of this pregnancy. But while there are so many really amazing parts of pregnancy (getting to hear the baby’s heartbeat, feeling her move, knowing that my body is sustaining a life that Evan and I created), there are also some really, truly hard moments. And for me, the hardest part of it all has been the mental aspect.
This is something I never would have expected. Before becoming pregnant, you hear all about the physical changes, the limitations, the adjustments to an ever-changing body. But the mental side of pregnancy is a whole different matter. I’m not necessarily talking about depression (though I know that’s a very real thing that many pregnant women struggle with), but the hormonal roller coaster of emotions…the mental struggle that comes with all the physical changes and the sheer exhaustion from carrying a baby for almost an entire year.
I used to consider myself a person who had a lot of mental strength. After all, you need to be tough in order to be a long distance runner. People think that runners put themselves through intense training and push to the limits during long races simply because it’s their idea of fun. But we know that’s not the case. Sure, there’s some fun in training, and the feeling you get after running an awesome workout/race is unlike anything else in this world. But it’s not always FUN. Running a marathon isn’t my definition of a party. But knowing I gutted it out to achieve something incredible is. So after all those years of running and training, I thought I had the mental toughness part in the bag.
Pregnancy has made me question all that. I don’t always feel mentally tough. In fact, sometimes I wonder how I ever pushed through the pain of a marathon — how I’ll get through the pain of labor. When a calf cramp causes me to break down and tell Evan how much I’m failing at being pregnant, I don’t exactly feel confident in my ability to handle the pain and exhaustion that comes from delivering a baby (not to mention the exhaustion that goes along with having a newborn).
Meanwhile, it seems like the mainstream notion of pregnancy is a serene time — one where women truly slow down, appreciate and love their bodies, and love the experience of being pregnant. There are far less images of the less glamorous side — women waddling around because of sciatic pain, swollen ankles, and tight ligaments. Or how not loving every moment can make you feel inadequate or just plain guilty. Last night, in the midst of my hormone-driven outburst I asked Evan “why does it seem like every woman LOVES being pregnant except for me??”
His simple response was all I needed to hear, “Women are full of crap.”
I get that some women truly love pregnancy. I may not understand this, but I know these people exist. But what about those of us who are happy to be pregnant, but still have a hard time with it? Does it make me less “worthy” to be carrying this child? Does it make me sound ungrateful? I certainly hope not. Honestly, for the most part, pregnancy has been a life-changing, awesome experience. Different than I expected, and way harder than I imagined, but so completely and totally worth it.
For better or for worse, I can tell you that mentally (and physically to some extent) this is one of the toughest things I’ve ever done. I’m not sure if other women feel this way (if you do, you’re not alone!!), but it’s something that took me by surprise. How after all those years of building up my mental strength, I really had no idea what being mentally tough was all about. And I know this is only the beginning. I know going through labor and raising a child (/children) is going to require mental strength that I can’t even completely comprehend at this point. I can tell you one thing though — it gives me a deeper admiration for every single mother out there.
There’s a lot of anecdotal evidence about how women runners come back faster after having children. I’m sure the physical demands of carrying around all that extra weight have a lot to do with it. Your body goes through some incredible physiological changes to grow a baby…changes that can make you a more efficient runner. But I also now see how the emotional and mental side of it all must be the real key. Kind of like running that first marathon — despite all the training and preparation, the hardest part of that very first marathon is getting your brain to push your legs forward when you feel like you have nothing left. Once you accomplish that, however, you feel like you can do anything! And that next marathon isn’t quite so overwhelming. You suddenly realize you can run one faster…you can give more than you ever thought possible. I’m imagining that pregnancy (and later labor/delivery) must be like that as well. And I know that despite feeling weak sometimes, I really am building up mental strength through all this. Strength that will not only make me a better runner, but a better mother (and a better person!) as well.