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Childbirth is not like running a marathon

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Pardon me while I ruminate over childbirth for a hot second as I scarf down a bowl of Honey Nut Cheerios at 3:30AM and deal with insomnia. Usually, when I’m up surfing the internets at this hour, I’m Dr. Googling stuff like “19 weeks 3 days pregnant” or “extremely painful bowel movement” but today I somehow came across a site that was literally the You.P*rn of natural childbirth video sites. If you don’t know what You.P*rn is…ask your husband : D

Anywho–I basically started watching a slew of bloody, painful, screaming, pooping, natural childbirth videos, and although I’m (surprisingly) not completely traumatized by them, it has the ole gear shifts in the brain turning that the whole “do it naturally” thing will most likely end with me with a triple chin screaming “It burns!” or “Get it out!!!” while shitting myself and looking like a bloated cow. I searched the hundreds of videos for those mystical “quiet” natural childbirths where the woman does a few moans and gently pulls her baby out. I found one, but this woman also had like 3 kids running around her birthing tub, and the whole thing felt waaaaaay too weird for me to get behind.

I haven’t written much on my birth plan (which basically only exists in my head right now), but part of the reason I decided to hire a doula was in hopes that having a trained professional at the birth will help me as I attempt to go au natural. Yes, I would like to attempt birth without meds. I know it may sound corny/strange/sadistic, but feeling the raw pain of childbirth and coming through the other side has actually been something I’ve known I’ve wanted to do since I was a little girl. See– I have an odd relationship to pain (and not in a 50 Shades of Grey kind of way. Spanking/bondage/gags don’t do it for me, ladies!). My relationship to pain is that I don’t tend to fight against it, but rather, I like the challenge of the mental game it takes to get through it. From what I understand, this may help me in childbirth. Of course, who am I kidding. I have no fucking clue how much pain I’ll be in.  But I want to experience it, if that makes sense. Depending on what literature you read, there is a slew of info that also highlights the benefits of going natural by correlating it to a decreased C-Section rate, and a more calming birth experience for the baby, so I’m down with that too. But again…I just don’t know how the pain will feel, and I don’t want to beat myself up if I can’t make it through the birth without some pain intervention. That being said, I don’t want to go into this with the mindset that I will quit if the pain becomes intense because I really want to push myself to go as far as I can.

Before I got on the pregnancy/infertility crazy train, I was happily running marathons. I miss running, but mostly, I miss the rush I got after completing 26.2 miles. Like I said–I have a weird relationship to pain. Before my brain was permanently seared this morning with episiotomy images and close ups of vaginas with extremely large baby heads protruding out of them, I thought that childbirth may be like running a marathon: You pace yourself, breathe through the pain, mentally focus on the sound of your shoes and the road ahead, and then you cross the finish line with a baby in your arms, and the pain goes away.


Childbirth will not be like running a marathon. And here’s my logic behind this:

1. Marathons have mile markers. This means that there is a sign for every mile you complete, allowing your brain to mentally “check mark” how far along you are in the process. For me, Miles 18-24 were always the most difficult, as your body is screaming at you, and there is still quite a ways to go. But you push through because you have to, and also because you know the end is near. Each mile marker you see gives you more confidence to push through. There are no mile markers in childbirth. You can be in excruciating pain and still be on Mile 4 and never know it. It’s a mental mind fuck, the likes I’m not sure I will know what to do with.

2. Blisters, bloody nipples, shin splints, knee pain, and back pain all suck the big one when you’re running. I usually pop a couple of Advil during the run and keep going. But a human head splitting your vagina open *may* be more painful. Just a guess.

3. Marathons generally last anywhere from 4-6 hours, depending on how fast you run. That’s a pretty small margin of difference, and also not very long in the scheme of things. Labor can last for 10, 20, 30 hours…Yes, we’ve all heard stories of the lucky few who feel a few painful contractions and then plop a baby out, but that’s usually Baby #4. I’m not kidding myself. First time childbirth will most likely be a long process.

4. Marathons and running in general is very “inward” focused. It’s you and the open road, and what you choose to do with it. Sure, the cheering spectators add some smiles and moral support, but they are not there to tell you how to run. You decide how to push through the next mile. Unless you’re birthing in the woods and gnawing off your own umbilical cord, childbirth is both “inward” and “outward” focused. It has to be extremely difficult to get into that “inward” zone when you are being shuttled around to the hospital, filling out forms, and getting monitored every 15 minutes or so. I want to “go inward” but I feel that this will be a challenge.

5. In a marathon, you can dial back the pain. I usually do this by walking a bit, having a snack, listening to a great song on the iPod. Unless you’ve seriously injured yourself, pulling back on your pace generally lessens the pain. Not so in childbirth. In fact, your body starts to act on its own. There comes a point when there is no “walking”, you are pushing out a human watermelon from your nether regions whether you like it or not. And that shit is painful. I’ve seen the videos.

I guess my whole point in writing this is not to discourage anyone from trying a natural childbirth–God knows, I’m still going to attempt it. Just trying to process how I’m going to get through it, is all. I had gone into this with a somewhat cocky attitude that being a marathon runner somehow made me mentally more able to endure a natural birth. I’m rethinking that a bit after watching all of these videos!

How about you gals? Anyone else planning on attempting a med free birth? Anyone think I’m absolutely insane for wanting it this way? Any moms out there rolling their eyes yet, and saying, “Oh, you’re so cute with your little marathon analogies…you’ll get the meds.”

About Sunny

I'm a happily married, 31 year old gal who is just starting her journey to conceive. I also have ovaries that may need a jump start. This blog is an attempt to channel my obsessive research on my Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome into something a pregnancy test. That would be awesome. I also hope that other women with this condition will find support in this blog. There are a lot of us out here! Happy reading, whatever your journey may be.

26 responses »

  1. Shit. I was going to use the marathon analogy to get me through childbirth, but now you’ve kind of talked me out of that. 😉

    If med-free is how you want to do it, then go for it. A lot of women are able to get through it just fine. I talked about it with a coworker of mine, telling her that I was pretty sure I was too much of a wimp to go med-free. She told me that both of her births were natural; she didn’t plan it that way, but she said it just didn’t feel necessary because the pain wasn’t as bad as she expected. So, you never know how it’s going to go. You might be one of the lucky ones.

  2. I laughed out loud like six times reading this post. At 23.5 weeks pregnant and a marathon runner myself, I agree completely with your un-analogy!

  3. You will do great! It is so much about the attitude you have going in. When you expect pain, you get pain. But if you get good quality childbirth education (not a hospital class!), you will learn what to do, and it will be awesome. If you have access to a tub, it helps tremendously. Your care provider and support team also make a big difference. Your body is built for this after all. This from someone who has given birth without meds twice. Let me know if I can help with anything.

  4. Surprisingly (as a NOT marathon runner, but a natural birther) birth was very inward focused for me– the folks at the hospital where I birthed respected our wishes to keep the room dark and quiet and only came in to monitor every 30 minutes or so. Also, my doula did a great job helping me know the ‘mileposts’ because she had seen a lot of births and so was able to say– this is transition, I know that it’s hard, but this is the part right before you meet your daughter. In terms of the time frame, my first was only about 6 hours from water breaking to baby in arms, and my second was similar.

    Here’s where you might think I’m hopping on the crazy train. I used Hypnobabies (dumbest name EVER) and it really did work. For my first, we went to the in person classes (as well as the hospital childbirth classes which were all about medicated birth and being ready for a c-section). I slept better than friends who were pregnant at the same time and had a quicker and more satisfying birth experience as well. I was COMPLETELY skeptical of hypnosis, and felt that I was a weenie about pain, but really did find Hypnobabies a good way to sort of ‘reclaim’ my broken body. As the OB who was supposed to deliver my baby said (I went so fast a midwife in the practice did it instead, which was awesome). “Well, your body isn’t so good at getting pregnant, but you sure know how to birth babies!” Somehow having a ‘natural’ birth was some sort of twisted redemption of the science it took to get those babies in there, if that makes any sense at all.

  5. I highly doubt I’ll have a natural birth because if there is pain relief made available, I will take it. I am not one to suffer through a headache “just because”, so I kind of have the same attitude about birth. However — I think it’s totally doable if you have the right mindset, and I actually do think marathon experience might come in handy! Plus, there are markers of how far you are in the “race”, so to speak — ie. how much your cervix is dilated, how close your contractions are, etc.; and the “pushing” phase is like those last two miles. The whole pooping thing grosses me out, too, though… especially if you were in a birthing tub and it started floating around… EWW!

  6. Natural has always been my plan. I want a home birth if I can possibly swing it and I plan on using hypno-birthing too.

  7. I’m so glad there are so many moms chiming in with their not-awful stories about natural childbirth. As a long-term IF girl and now a first timer, I love the reply about (I’m paraphrasing here, but) how her natural childbirth fixed her broken body. I know that our bodies aren’t really broken, but going through IVF makes you feel, well, broken! And I’d LOVE to do natural childbirth, but I feel like my years of IF and treatments conditioned me to feel like I can’t do it. In my mind: I’ve never been able to do anything else “normal” women can do (like get pregnant) without surgery and treatments and intervention, so why should childbirth be any different? I’m still struggling with overcoming this.

    It seems like you are not afflicted by that mentality which is Wonderful! You CAN do this! I think natural is a great way to go if it’s your style. I wonder if you considered at-home birth and ruled it out and why? I would love to but that same “I’m broken” fear is getting in my way. Since you are so tough and someone who seems free of the fear (woohoo!) I wonder why you decided against home birth with a midwife? (NOT judging! Just curious about why people pick different options as I try to make up my own mind!)

    • No judgment perceived! In theory, I would love a home birth, but I think that mentally, I’m just not ready to let it all go and embrace being a sneeze away from real medical help if there is a serious emergency. I know the chances are extremely slim, but I do have a close friend who had one of those slim chances happen to her during her home birth, and her baby spent over 2 months in the NICU where she could have avoided it had she been within an emergency C section’s reach. Where some people would feel more relaxed at home, I kept picturing myself being on edge, and that’s not the way I want to feel giving birth. We’re doing a hybrid approach. My doula will attempt to have us labor at home until I’m about 6-7cm, and then we’ll head to the hospital which is about 15 mins away. My goal is to have as little time pushing there as possible!

  8. Your post was hilarious and a good reminder to stop googling stuff because the results out there could be crazy. 😉

  9. I think labor WAS like a marathon (even though I’ve never run a marathon =). It was very inward focused (that’s why the doula will be helpful for you, keep the Dr.s away while you focus on yourself) and you had to focus on one contraction at a time, much like I’m assuming you run a marathon one mile at a time.

    Good luck, you can totally do it au naturale!

  10. If you have been able to run a marathon you will do great. Childbirth does not have to be as difficult as what you see on google. Take it from me. I’ve only ever done 1/2 marathons and I had a natural childbirth with my first and only. While every birth experience is different, I felt like distance running prepared me well. I did not listen to hynobsbies, I did take a hospital birthing class, did not have a doula, and was not totally against pain meds should the situation warrent them. The hospital I went to is very forward thinking and my L&D nurse was amazing at offering suggestions of how to manage the pain without meds. Just saying don’t let the videos scare you off. The pain is short lived and when you are done you have a beautiful baby.

  11. Before I had my first baby my mom told me, “You’ve run a marathon, this won’t be hard!” Afterwards I asked her why she told me that since having had six natural childbirths she should know it was harder to give birth. She smiled sheepishly and said, “I hoped it would make you feel more confident.” I’ve had three natural births and they were painful at times but I got through them. Perpare as much as you can but be willing to let yourself go to the process. It is a hard thing to predict what it might feel like to you but no matter what, in a few short months that baby will make its way into the world!

  12. Birthcenter for me! Of the friends I know that have given birth, of which are many, the ones that went in determined to have a natural birth had a natural birth. Those that were a bit iffy, or had a give-it-a-try attitude didn’t.

  13. I had 3 natural childbirths, but I am way too lazy and wimpy to run marathons lol! I think a lot of it is luck. My babies all had good presentations and small heads. Not all babies are so cooperative. You know your body best; trust your instincts, and the professionals you’ve chosen to get you through safely and sanely!

  14. Have you watched “The Business of being Born” yet? After watching that, I definitely wanted a natural childbirth.

    However, once I had my fibroid/endo surgery, I am unable to have a vaginal birth and I’m left with a C-section. While I am bummed, at this point I just want to get pregnant and have a kid- no matter which why they come into this world!

    • Yes, I watched it a few years ago, and it’s totally what got me thinking about natural birth very seriously. Scary stuff!! The fact that you need a C for med reasons is one thing, but to hear about how C Section rates skyrocket right around dinner time or shift changing time is terrifying.

  15. I’m not a marathon runner, but I am very inward-focused with pain and I kinda got “in the zone” when dealing with my contractions. I poo-pooed hypnosis stuff but looking back at how I dealt with childbirth I think I probably would’ve benefited from the guidance of something like hypnobabies. The room was kept dim, the air conditioning was up full blast, and I demanded complete silence during contractions. Like you, I didn’t commit myself to going drug free but I’m happy I was able to. I have never liked the feeling of being drugged and I was glad me and baby were completely lucid following his birth. I did take meds for post-partum pain but just ibuprofen. And I let them numb me for the stitches for my 2nd degree tear because I’m not a masochist.

    • The dim room and total silence are GREAT suggestions. We had been thinking about the dim lights, but I think I would really love things to be quiet, too. Awesome comment!

  16. This is by far my very favorite post of all time!!!! I totally get what you’re saying (even though I’m only training for my first marathon) because I also like the challenge of beating the pain and expect to go the natural route one day. Holy shit girl you are hilarious and I will try to keep this post in mind when I need something to lighten the mood on race day. 😉 love you!

    • Girlfriend!!! Don’t think even for a MINUTE that I would not be training right alongside you if I could. We WILL run one together one day 🙂 If you need any race tips, give a shout out. BTW–your lemon/mint/cucumber water looks delicious! Must get that recipe.

  17. You are SO right on with this post! I’ve run 5 marathons …& then I had twins! Not naturally, by the way, but I would rather run 50 marathons in 2 weeks then go through that shit again!!!! And that amazing feeling you have after crossing the finish line is replaced with two screaming newborns who literally are sucking the life out of you!! At least you have your head straight about how it’s NOT like a marathon (I didn’t!!) so I’m sure you’re plan will be played out with perfection!! Good luck!!!!

  18. Planned? No. Happened? Yes. The human body is capable of amazing things. I’ll pray you an epidural. I’ve experienced it both ways. But, much like running, you’ll eventually forget the pain. 🙂


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