Every year leading up to Mother’s Day, my husband asks me how I want to spend the day. My answer usually involves some combination of family time, the outdoors, a good meal (or two) and a fun drink (or three). And, a run of some kind. Whether it’s a family run in North Park – with the two of us racing strollers up and around the hilly, five mile loop, trying to convince our restless passengers that we’ll stop at the next (and better!) playground – or a long solo excursion through Shadyside and Squirrel Hill, just me and my thoughts and Pittsburgh’s uneven sidewalks, the run is always a priority – something we schedule the rest of the day around.
This year the question came and my answer was pathetic: “I don’t know. Whatever.” I sat in a pile of self-pity, counting the things I wanted to do, but couldn’t.
This has happened from time to time over the last six weeks. I’ve wavered mainly between gratitude and fear, but occasionally self-pity has crept in and left me feeling ashamed.
I would be lying if I said this hasn’t been a struggle. A large portion of my identity is wrapped up in being active. I love pushing my kids on the swings, and planting vegetables in our garden. I love coaching my daughter’s soccer team, and going to barre classes. I love swimming and tennis and skiing. I love planks and pushups. And I really love my runs, even the hard ones. I love the routine and consistency they create in my life. I’ve come to depend on them. I love when I power through on a day I feel off. I love how even a few miles can sometimes feel like a physical triumph. And I especially love when everything clicks and the distance flies by; three miles suddenly become six or seven or eight, and the runner’s high is real.
Over the years – and particularly as a mom – my runs have become a way of life, my form of stress relief and prevention, of maintaining health and energy, of getting from one day to the next. They’ve become such a part of me that I’ve been feeling a bit lost without them.
In my second year of grad school, as I worked towards my masters of science, I was tasked with creating a health promotion program for the City of Pittsburgh Paramedics; the 150 men and women who respond to over 56,000 emergency and medical calls a year. Over the course of two semesters I wrote out a plan and explained the benefits of physical activity and the vast health risks and diseases associated with a sedentary lifestyle. I told them that physical inactivity kills more people than smoking. That being active and healthy is the key to injury prevention and safety in their high stress and often unpredictable job. I provided detailed statistics and dose response curves to prove my points. Through the development of online courses and in-person sessions, I provided our participants with the knowledge, support and tools needed to make specific lifestyle changes both on the job and at home to help them prevent musculoskeletal injuries and save the City millions of dollars in workers compensation and other costs. I spent eight months doing this; researching, writing, creating and finally presenting. Now they have my plan, and paramedics all across the City are (hopefully) out there following it. But I’m on the couch, just sitting here.
It drives me crazy. It goes against everything inside of me because I measure my days in miles. In my planner, before the start of each month there is a full page layout of the days ahead. Thirty-or-so squares that I use only to track my miles. From speed work to intervals to long runs and various cross-training, I can add up my total and judge my week based on that number.
Since April 8th, every single box is blank. 40 empty squares. And it frustrates and annoys and physically pains me. It pains me to only be able to watch as my husband chases after the kids outside. To listen to his pounding footsteps on the treadmill each and every night. And, most irritatingly, to give up my bib a few weeks back and stand on the sidelines of the Marathon. I was so proud and excited to cheer on my husband in his first half-marathon and my daughter in her first little road race, but I couldn’t help to feel a little race day envy with each passing runner, and more and more self-pity.
An unattractive emotion, I know.
So last week, as Mother’s Day neared, I knew I had to once and for all shake off this self-pity and return to, and focus on, the overwhelming good in my state and in my life.
No, I can’t measure my days in miles right now, but I can measure them in kicks. Kicks that I alone have the privilege of feeling. Kicks that I thought were being taken away from me, but continue and strengthen day after day and cause me to pause: hello little one, I feel you in there, keep growing and fighting, I love you so much, I want you so much. With every roll and flip and bounce within me, I am reminded that there is no place for self-pity in me. Just a little passenger and a ton of gratitude. Because every morning that I feel a kick means I am one day closer to viability, the baby is one day closer to my arms, and we are one day closer to our Easter Sunday.
On Mother’s Day I embraced the inaction. I sat on my in-laws’ porch, and took time to reflect on the beauty, difficulty, and wonder of motherhood and the many inspiring mothers who have touched my life. I thought of their sacrifice, through pregnancy and childbirth and years of sleepless nights. I thought of their devotion to their children’s wants and needs and their elevation of others above themselves. I thought of all the struggles they endured, both openly and silently.
I am not alone in my fear and doubt and pain. Far from it. So many women have been there before me, and are there right now. Pregnant women with similar diagnoses, begging their bodies not to betray them. New mothers nursing throughout the night, anxious about the morning. Mothers (like the ones we saw at Children’s Hospital a few years ago) caring for gravely ill children. Mothers coping with unimaginable loss.
As I sat there on Sunday, I thought, in particular, about a few of those mothers. Particularly Mary – who, in the face of great power and uncertainty, simply said “yes,” and set the ultimate example of love, faith and sacrifice. She knew there would be terrible heartache, but she believed in a plan far greater than her and her fears.
Later, I wound my way to my own mother. A woman who has sacrificed so much to raise six children, but would never let you know the price. She loves being a mother; it’s who she is; it’s her great joy. But that doesn’t mean it’s been easy or simple. I’m sure there were many difficult days we never knew about. Fears and heartaches that she never shared with us. But she has always trusted in God, and focused on the blessing of motherhood. The daily stresses and nightly tears are the small price for a much greater gift.
Finally, I thought about all the mothers who would give anything to be in my state, with hope still remaining. And with that, the self-pity dissolved, and I felt ashamed that it ever existed.
This is not my ideal situation and this is not the exact pregnancy I had imagined and yearned for, but even so I am beyond lucky and immensely blessed. There are so many women who struggle with conception and who are desperate to have children of their own. I know their heartache is all encompassing and fierce. When I think of the millions of things that must go perfectly even before conception, through implantation and the various stages of development, it only proves that each healthy pregnancy and healthy baby is nothing short of a true miracle and a gift from God. There are so many opportunities for error, for heartache, for loss. The creation of each little life is beyond complex; it’s a miraculous biological process that requires the precision of millions of intricate steps.
These months are just months. The empty boxes in my calendar are just spaces on paper. They are fleeting blips on the radar of my lifetime. The child within in me is far more wanted and more important than any discomfort or frustration I may face. Mothers have been there before me. Mothers will be here again.
Someday, I will put on my running shoes again. But I keep reminding myself, that day can wait, because I have only so much time with this little one inside me and I refuse to wish it away.
So for now, I will measure my days in kicks. I will take comfort in them. I will be grateful for them. I will cherish them. And with prayers of thanksgiving on my lips and a heart full of trust, I will embrace my current state. When it comes down to it, there isn’t anything a mother wouldn’t sacrifice for her children. This may not have been the pregnancy I wanted, but it is the gift I’ve been given, and it is worth far more than a few months of disruption, uncertainty, and sitting. I will take it, and I will learn to love it. Because that is what I – and all mothers – are called to do. To give their bodies and hearts and souls to the little lives created within them. To say “yes” and then to have faith.