Wednesday, May 26, 2010

How Natural Labor is like Running a marathon

A friend of mine is scheduling an early-ish induction because last time her labor went so quickly she didn't have a chance to get an epidural and she found herself in an unexpected drug-free birth. Mother and baby were both fine, but the pain of that birth has convinced her that rather than risk it again she wants to hand the control completely over to the doctor and anesthesiologist. While obviously this represents a very different way of thinking than my own, I also can't really blame her. If my only labor experience had been drug-free without any preparation, I'd probably give drug-free childbirth a less-than-stellar review.
Another friend of mine recently ran a marathon. We chuckled at the idea of someone CHOOSING to run 26 miles... that is NOT my idea of fun. I've never even jogged for more than 6 blocks. But I'm still proud of her for doing it, and I have no doubts she's gotten a lot out of it.

Anyways, it got me thinking. Imagine someone told you that in 9 months you had the chance to run a marathon. With preparation you could run the marathon, or you could opt to take a car to the finish line- either way it takes you to the same place.
You know that running a marathon is intense- some might say painful, even. You know you may have to push yourself harder than you ever have before. You know a lot of preparation will have to go into it if you are going to make it to that finish line. People have gotten hurt running marathons- heat stroke, pulled muscles, or sheer exhaustion. There's almost always someone there to come take a person who can't make it any further off the course and to the finish line. But you also know you will be a healthier person for all that hard work. You know you have the potential to do it, and you know the sense of achievement you will feel if you conquer that marathon.
If you were to plop me as I am on the starting line of a race, I would "try" it. I would run, then jog, then walk, then sit down and wave my white flag. When I drove up to the finish line I might say "I tried it, I now know what running a marathon is like, and I still don't know why someone would put themselves through that".
But with preparation I could make myself physically ready. Even then, I could run and run... and odds are, like most runners, there would be a point when I hit a wall. The only thing that would get me through that is mental preparation- confidence, knowledge that I could do it, faith in my body and in my preparation.
Would I ever judge a person if they tried to run a marathon and something kept them from running to the finish line? Of course not! Sometimes no matter how you prepare things just don't work out the way you planned. Is that reason to regret preparing for and trying to run the marathon? Of course not!

I'm sure you can get the whole point of my analogy, I won't spell it out for you. There are obvious loopholes in the analogy- for one, by taking a car to the finish line the only thing you really risk is missing out on the marathon. By choosing an intervention-filled birth, you risk a lot more than just missing out on experiencing childbirth. But that's another post.
The thing that is interesting to me is the different social views on running a marathon versus birthing naturally. If I were to tell people I'm going to subject myself to the intensity and risks of running a marathon, I would get hearty congrats and encouragement. Some people might express doubt in my abilities to complete the task- but in general, I would get tips and support. People would understand that I was challenging myself, improving myself, and that I would have something to be immensely proud of, even if I tried and ended up needing help to the finish line anyways.
But if I tell people I want to endure the intensity and the risks of a natural childbirth, the general reaction is "why on earth would you subject yourself to that? we have drugs and medicine and doctors for a reason".
Why would anyone subject themselves to a marathon? Don't they know we have cars for getting around?
The reason? Some people know that the journey can be just as important as the destination.


  1. I love this analogy! In fact, I was just listening to Penny Simkin on NPR on the way to the grocery store and she was talking to a client who had run a marathon. I gotta go look up the rest of the story because, unfortunately, I live really close to the store. This was the one day I wished it was a longer drive there ;)

  2. I like your post and analogy. So very true the journey can play an important part. :)