Battle scars

I used to be a runner. I’ve written about it here, talking about how running became hard for me physically and emotionally at the end of pregnancy. I was proud of how far along I was when I went for my last run – 31 weeks. I would go for a run (ok, ok a very slow jog), usually before work 3-5 times per week, getting my 3 miles done in 35 minutes or so.

When I was hospitalized at 34 weeks, I had to be on the monitor 23 hours a day and wasn’t supposed to leave the hospital, so I was limited in my exercise ability. I settled for a mini-bootcamp with an exercise band and medicine ball I had gotten as gifts.

After Mabel was born, I knew I needed exercise. We commonly tell patients, no real exercise until 6 weeks postpartum. I used to tell my patients that they could do some light exercise, like walking, when their bleeding stopped. I did not take my own advice. I was doing yoga at 10 days postpartum and back at bootcamp (with modifications and accompanied by my midwife) at 2.5 weeks. I will now counsel patients differently.

But even before I started back at bootcamp, I would walk. Chris and I would hit up the local “rail trail” (and old railroad track converted into a paved path frequented by walkers and cyclists). It was winter and our area had been hit by an enormous amount of snowfall, so rather than brave the sidewalk-less streets in our country-living town, we would bundle up and head to the rail trail nearby. Our town plowed a mile and a half of it in the winter, so it was a safe place to walk and get fresh air. At first the walking was slow going, but as the days progressed, I could do more faster. I was limited mostly by my pelvis. There is a bone- the symphasis pubis- in the front part of the pelvis (the pubic bone in more common terms) that has a joint in it. In pregnancy, the body makes a hormone called relaxin, which, as its name implies, relaxes the joints in the body. Its main target is the pelvis, loosening the hinges to make more room for a baby to pass through. Many pregnant women speak of loose joints that sometimes can be painful and that’s due to the relaxin, which works on all the joints- not just the pelvis.

My body made plenty of relaxin. As pregnancy progressed, I would be sore after a run. I’d feel it in my pelvis, my symphasis mostly. I remember vowing the day after the Thanksgiving turkey trot we ran that I was done running- my pelvis ached! I’d need a little assistance getting off the couch and climbing stairs would smart. I’d ice, stretch and see the chiropractor, but nothing really helped. So eventually I gave up running and moved on to bootcamp. After Mabel was born and we were walking I felt that familiar burning, lingering pain in my symphasis. I wasn’t worried; it can take time to heal. I eventually worked myself up from walking to interval jogging to my usual three-mile stint at a slow pace. Week after week I’d keep at it, slow and steady as I regained my stamina. Though I gave it time, my pelvis seemed stationary in its healing process. I continued the stretching, ice and the chiropractor but found myself running less and going to bootcamp more. I think I’ve run once in the past two months.

I finally made an appointment with physical therapy to try to get some help, but part of me realizes that my jogging days might be over. I am well past a reasonable recovery time and have come to accept that this might be one of my battle scars. I was fortunate to never get a stretchmark in pregnancy- the only few I have developed on my breasts during the rapid and impressive engorgement I experienced a few days after birth. The shape of them have changed too. Other than that, I have few physical reminders that my body once bore a baby.

Part of me hates the loss of running due to my invisible battle wound on my pelvis, but part of me thinks of it fondly. Just like the milk that came in so insistently after Mabel was born, my painful pelvis is a reminder that though there is no baby, there was a baby.

What about you- what are your battle scars? Are they public or invisible? How do you feel about them?

 

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Today is a special day, a little girl named Calla was born two years ago today. I’ve never met her.  I didn’t know her mom or her dad or her two big brothers when she was born.  I only know them now because Calla Pearl was born sleeping.  Though I wish that weren’t the case and she were a lively two year old sapping her mom’s energy, I am grateful that I have met Calla’s mom and her family.  Today I tried to picture what I think she would have looked like as a two year old.  I base my vision on the precious photo her mom showed me and how her two older brothers look.  But I know she is and ever will be the baby born too soon and too silent.  I think of Calla being a friend to Mabel, showing her how to be a baby separated from her mother, in the way Calla’s mom is helping show me how to be a mother separated from her baby.

Happy Birthday, Calla Pearl.

The Road Race

As we lined up at the starting line, we agreed to meet in front of the ice cream store after the race.  I had already told Chris and our friend that I’m slow.  Last year I had my personal best- I ran the annual five mile road race at my 5-k time.  This year, I was back to some of the goals I had set when I rant he race for the very first time.

A few years ago I took up running, out of laziness.  The extra five minute drive to the gyms sometimes killed my motivation.  Running was simpler: I could do it anytime, anyplace.  So I made a goal, I trained for an annual five-mile race in a nearby town, a distance I had never run before.  So several times a week, I went out and slowly upped my mileage.  Three months later I was ready.

I had three goals for the race: finish without stopping, finish in under an hour and beat Chris.  Chris decided to run the race too, but had only been running twice in the months beforehand.  I had been training several days a week for the past three months and I felt I deserved to be faster!  Race time came and I completed all three goals.  I ran the race a few more times in the following years.  Chris did too, but he became a lot faster.  Last year I ran my personal best- a 9:30mile.

This year, I haven’t been running so much.  I ran regularly while pregnant up to 25 weeks and then became quite uncomfortable.  I ran once more at 28 weeks and again at 31 weeks, but couldn’t do it anymore, partly for physical reasons and partly for emotional reasons.  I resumed “running” at 4 weeks postpartum- intervals of jogging and walking, eventually working myself up to my normal three-mile route.  But I was slow.  Some days I was as slow as I was at 31 weeks pregnant.  I’ve been doing more bootcamp than running, which plays a big role.  And my pelvis still isn’t the same.  It still hurts when I run.

So I ran the race at much slower pace than last year.  And even as I huffed and puffed, surrounded by good people-watching, bands playing on the sidelines and pretty scenery, I could not escape my daily obsession: my baby is dead.  Every step of the way, I was reminded that I was slow because I had been pregnant… but I have no baby.  I tried to push those thoughts aside and focus on running, but I was either constantly passing or being passed by women and men pushing strollers.  I should have been pushing a stroller during this race…. but my baby died.  I thought back to the last race I ran- a turkey trot on Thanksgiving.  I was pregnant then… what do I have to show for it now?  As I took each step I tried to remember what it felt like to run while pregnant.  And then I remembered- a burning pain in my symphasis and an uncomfortable pressure on my tailbone remind me.  Though not as strong as in pregnancy, I still had the similar pelvic pain brought on by running.  My body won’t forget the baby it grew, held and pushed out.  My mind and my body just won’t let go of the memory of Mabel, even for a minute.  I became frustrated at myself – can’t I get through just one thing, without being reminded of what I have lost?

After the race, Chris and I found a tall shady tree to lie under, staring up at the leaves.  I asked Chris what he was thinking about.  “Trees are weird.  They grow green leaves, they fall off and grow back again.”  And then he asked me what I was thinking about “pregnancy,” I responded.  “I asked you because I forget what normal people think about.”

I forget what normal people think about.

To run or not to run?

I went running today.  Yup- 31 weeks and 1 day.  Ok, so maybe most people wouldn’t call it “running.”  But I think it can be classified as a slow jog, especially if I moved my arms back and forth fast enough.  I had been running (I’ll use that term loosely now) since the beginning of pregnancy.  I was never fast.  I took up running a few years ago out of a sort of laziness- it felt like too much work to go to the gym and running I could do anywhere.  I both loved it and hated it.  I hated how hard it was.  I loved how much of a workout it was, how it made me feel physically and how it helped with my anxiety.  I ran in the light and the dark (with lights); the cold and the heat.  Before our wedding last year my husband and I ran a 20k.  To give you an idea of how “fast” I am, nonpregnant I run about a 10 minute mile, 9:30 on a good short race day. Since being pregnant I’ve seen that number creep up to a 12-minute mile.  I’m no superstar.

 

Side note: I want those who haven’t met me to know- I’m not a crazy exercise buff.  I’ve never had a six-pack.  I’m not that lady who plans to run a marathon at 37 weeks, nor publish photos of myself weight lifting huge amounts.  In fact I started this pregnancy a smidgen overweight.  This post is about being active, no matter your size or condition.  It’s a mindset, not a look. Staying active also gives me a huge mental health benefit.  I have had diagnosed anxiety for years- controlled mostly with a great therapist, some low dose meds and exercise.  Plus if I exercise more, I feel less guilty about how much ice cream I eat (a lot).

 

I had signed up with Chris and two friends to do a triathalon in September.  It would have been my first (Chris’s second).  We trained- swam, biked, ran.  When I found out I was pregnant I continued training.  Race was set for when I’d be 13 weeks.  I joked I’d be the fastest pregnant woman there.  I was nervous- mostly for the swim because though I’m a decent swimmer, I don’t like swimming in the ocean and with so many people around.  But I had paid my money and announced I was doing it, which made me motivated enough.  We ended up having our CVS the day before, which then restricted me from exercise that whole weekend.  I was secretly a little relieved, especially because it turned out to be 40 degrees the morning of the race.  I was also sad, because I still have yet to run one.  My sister also did a triathalon recently while newly pregnant and she did an Olympic (read: double the distance of the one I signed up for. Read: kind of awesome).  I was jealous.

 

Once I was off exercise restrictions (one whole weekend), I resumed my running routine- about 3 miles, usually before work 3-5 times per week.  There was a study recently publicized about how exercise in pregnancy can help boost brain development in later life for the child.  Heck yeah, I was going to do anything I could to help my baby’s brain development.  I started taking a choline supplement too (reported to help with neuro development in a mouse model study of mice pregnant with down syndrome-equivalent mice babies).  The benefits to my baby helped motivate me.

 

As I got more pregnant, it became a little more uncomfortable, mostly after I ran.  I saw a chiropractor to help with the tailbone and pubic bone pain the running seemed to exacerbate.

 

At 25 weeks, I ran a turkey trot 5k. I had my pregnancy-best time! (10min 15sec mile).  I was so sore and tired after, I vowed that was my last run.  I would switch to the elliptical and training bike.   I have had it relatively easy physically throughout pregnancy- minimal nausea in the beginning .  I moved around easily.  I could go all night without peeing.  And I would listen to pregnant woman all day at work with many physical complaints (that I’m sure were real- I don’t mean to minimize).  After that turkey trot, I wondered if that was how other pregnant women feel all the time.  Maybe the physical ease was my trade-off for the emotional hardships I had faced.  Or maybe my mind was too busy focusing on the worry surrounding Down Syndrome, that it didn’t have time to focus on the physical issues of pregnancy.  Maybe I just wasn’t far enough along to really feel how hard pregnancy was on the body (still could be true).  The soreness after running gave me a taste.- though it only lasted that day.

 

When I was hospitalized in mid-December I was on bed rest for a couple days as we tried to figure out why I had low fluid.  Being on bedrest made me realize as much as exercise seemed like a chore at times, I needed it.  Once discharged and my doctors and midwives made it clear I wasn’t on bedrest, I got back into the swing of things, elliptical and bike.  And one day shortly after, we had a 60 degree day in December in Connecticut.  So I put on my running shorts (yup, shorts in December) and gave running another shot.  I was slow, but it felt good to be outside.  And then I was super sore the rest of the day.

 

That, and as I was running I couldn’t help think about my little baby in there, bouncing up and down with so little fluid.  Pregnant woman often worry about certain activities harming their baby, and I assure them that it’s really hard to hurt a baby on the inside.  Babies have this super tough water balloon with lots of cushion that they’re swimming around in.  Babies don’t mind most activities one bit.  But that reassurance didn’t help me.  My baby had so little cushion that I worried a bit while I ran.  And then when I got home I spent some quality time trying to feel fetal movement.  When some time went by and I wasn’t feeling any, Chris brought me some chocolate and tall glass of water. I got a little teary eyed as I waited for movement, thinking my selfishness wanting to run might have led to me killing my baby.  I know that may sound dramatic, but first of all- I am pregnant and so totally emotional.  And second, I think I get a little leeway as far as emotional status with all the new complications.  Chris tried to reason with me- our baby is more of an evening and nighttime mover, so of course s/he’s not moving much mid afternoon.  I was having nothing of it. At the end of the story, the baby moved.  All was well.  But the soreness and the emotional strain was enough for me to stick to my last time running vow.

 

Until today.  Another warm day in Connecticut. They are few and far between, especially on a weekend in the winter while its light enough to go outside.  Plus, our elliptical has been broken (that’s another story), the training bike is uncomfortable in different ways and I can only take so much Jillian Michaels in her exercise videos.  So I decided if I run slow, I’d be ok.  You’d think I’d learn.  Now 31 weeks, it’s harder to run- things hurt more; I had to stop once; I felt like I had to pee the whole time.  And that worry about the baby in low fluid crept back.  I came home and laid on the floor waiting for movement.  Baby eventually moved- but I don’t think I can take it anymore.  Now that I have no fluid, what’s cushioning my little baby now?  It’s enough pressure having to make sure the baby moves everyday (it doesn’t help that baby is most active at night and that now that I’m back at work and seeing patients, I’m so busy I barely think of it during the day).  The thought of my running causing extra stress (imaginary or not) on my baby is more than I can handle right now.

 

So today I vow (publically) that this was my last day of running.  The elliptical repairman came and supposedly fixed it.  My midwife has convinced me to try this somewhat cult-like bootcamp that all the other OB people go to.  I’ll be trying that this week, if I can keep up my nerve (Don’t worry, both my midwife and my MFM doc both attend, plus a myriad of other midwives and labor and birth nurses- so I’ll be in good hands).  Another friend introduced me to a pretty heart pumping 7-minute workout online.  So I have options.

 

It seems like yet one more unfair thing this pregnancy- all these complications not only cause me extra anxiety, but also limit my exercise which is one of the things that helps manage that anxiety.  But, I will stay active and try not to feel guilty about it.  I will help boost my baby’s brain power without worrying about squishing his/her cord.  Exercise is good, right?