Four years ago, when I found out I was pregnant with my first child, I was over-the-moon with excitement! I jumped right into all of the wonder that is maternity: researched baby products, bought and read all the books, registered for everything totally necessary and completely unnecessary all the same, and signed up for all the childbirth classes that the hospital offered.
It’s a lot. It’s overwhelming. It’s easy to get uber carried away and significantly terrified. And of it all, what I found most daunting was one question: How on earth at the end of this 9-month term is my body going to physically deliver a baby?!?! (And, I think it goes without saying to all the moms reading this, but watching the dreaded birthing video only instilled utter fear rather than helping matters any.)
However there came a moment during my pregnancy, which I remember vividly, when I realized it was all going to be OK…in fact, I realized it was going to be stellar! That moment came during one of the birthing classes at the close of the aforementioned scary movie. The instructor was a lovely woman, roughly 65 years old, who had 7 children of her own and had a handful of grandchildren. As she pressed stop on the DVD–all the soon-to-be moms and dads sitting there with jaws dropped and in utter disbelief–she began reiterating maternity. She described the gestational buildup, all of the discomfort, the trimesters, the sleepless nights, and then the actual delivery. And as my head was spinning and tears were welling up in my eyes, she said the one thing that cut through the panic like a knife and completely crushed my anxiety and fear…
“Treat it like an athletic event.”
And suddenly, all in the world was right!
You see, I’m what I like to call a “self-made athlete.” What that means to me is that while I was not wholly dedicated to a team sport in high school and while no full-ride scholarships were sent my way, I was however always someone who enjoyed physical activity and was actually pretty coordinated and strong. So over the years, I tried different activities, fell in love with exercise, and found specific workouts that I loved and got really good at…running being one of them. I did it on my own with the help of good friends’ encouragement and self-discipline, hence my term “self-made athlete.”
So while sitting in this classroom, in the very hospital in which I would soon bring a child into the world, everything finally clicked, and I was able to breathe a sigh of relief. I would treat this pregnancy like an athletic event. I had been unsure if I could handle delivery, but I was completely sure I could handle an athletic event: I knew how to train, I understood how to stay focused, and I was great at sacrificing for the good of the goal.
I found myself equating it to my first half marathon. My cousin had suggested I run it with her, to which my initial reaction was: “No freakin’ way. I could NEVER run 13.1 miles!”
But, she somehow duped me into thinking I was capable, and so I registered. It was 30 days before the race, and up until that point, I was only able to run 2-3 miles without stopping. I didn’t have stamina, and I certainly didn’t think I had it in me to run for 13+ miles. But there is this huge part of me that is competitive and loves a challenge, so I eventually said, “What the heck?” I figured worst-case scenario, I’d spend a month working out more than I ever had in my entire life and at the end of it all would be able to say, “I did a half marathon!” (Keep in mind, I was totally unconcerned with whether I did it by running, walking, or crawling.)
So I Googled training tips. From what I read, I gathered that I should try to do three runs a week (a short, a medium, and a long), and every week I would add a little distance to each leg. On my first week, I ran 3 miles, 6 miles, and 2.5 miles. The next week, I ran 3.5 miles, 7 miles, and 3 miles…and so on, and so on. I would throw my earbuds in, turn my playlist up real loud, and just kept at it.
There were times I had to walk, and there were points I just had to completely stop and catch my breath. Some days I felt accomplished, while others I felt totally defeated. But, again, I just kept at it. The endorphin-high was so new to me; I wasn’t entirely sure if I was miserable during that month or elated. Regardless, I was addicted.
At the end of the 30 days, I was a different person. I could hardly believe that I had dedicated myself so much to something. I felt proud, even during the times when I had to stop. I felt strong, even in the moments when my legs wanted to give out. I felt happy, even when I was cursing the GPS that told me there was still another 4 miles to go.
On the day of the race, I remember bouncing out of bed like a kid on Christmas morning. I was terrified but was pot-committed. There was no turning back. It was like strapping yourself into a rollercoaster and then wanting to get off as the cart slowly climbed up that really steep track. My rollercoaster was about to speed down the huge drop, whether I liked it or not. I had done all that I could to prep physically and mentally, and now we were going to see what I was made of. In a couple hours, I would be able to join the elite group of people who could say, “I did a half marathon.”
I remember the excitement I felt packing in up to the starting line, body-to-body next to all the runners. I remember my adrenaline firing when the starter went off. I remember pacing myself through the first three miles. I remember hitting my stride at mile 6. I remember passing the mile-10 marker and thinking, “Ten miles is the furthest I’ve ever gone…This is happening.” And I remember coming up to the finish line and starting to cry, when I suddenly realized I ran the entire course.
I had accepted a challenge, set a goal, did some homework, trained, pushed myself, made progress, pushed harder, kept at it, allowed myself to feel proud, and embraced the impending rollercoaster drop, instead of trying to undo my safety belt and bail.
I RAN a half marathon! And I did it in just under 2 hours, which turned out to be a pretty solid time.
So when my birthing-class teacher said to treat the delivery like an athletic event, it resonated so well with me. I could do this, and I could do it with flying colors.
Challenge accepted: Bring a baby into the world. Goal set: deliver said baby. Did the homework: the books, the child-proofing, decorating the nursery. Trained: kept exercising, eating healthy, and resting whenever I could. Pushed myself: read more, relaxed more, and channeled more patience. And on the big day, I stuck to the plan, paced myself, cranked my playlist up super loud (seriously…Nicki Minaj in the delivery room), and just kept at it. And as I got to the finish line, I started to again cry as I held my baby girl in my arms for the first time and smiled at what I had just done.
It was one simple sentence that changed the way I look at pretty much everything in life: “Treat it like an athletic event.”
Never since have I let self-doubt or anxiety deter me from trying something new, whether it be in personal or professional life. When I break complicated situations down into an activity with clear training paths and end goals, they just seem so much more doable, and the impossibility of it all fades away. It doesn’t make the struggle any easier, but it definitely opens up an endless list of possibilities of things I never thought I would or could do.
Find the thing that speaks to you—like directly to your core—and translate that into other areas of your life. (Mine is keeping fit and staying active.) Channel that into motivation, and watch what you start crushing in life…things you never thought were possible. Use it to bypass hesitation and overcome disbelief, but just make sure to step back and pat yourself on the back along the way. Celebrating YOU is a must, and I find that allowing yourself a moment to relish in the limelight begets more motivation and a deeper desire to push harder and go further.
My life is an athletic event. And while it certainly isn’t easy, I just keep going: I keep training, staying focused on the goal, turning the music up really loud, allowing myself to acknowledge my hard work and efforts, and smiling as I blow past each goal…and set the next.