A Marathon First Year

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One mom finds a correlation between running and new parenting.

With the sport of running being a top priority in our household, I couldn’t help but compare it with my son’s arrival, as it was a race from the beginning and clear that he was going to make his entrance into the world in record time. I thought the stories of water breaking and the mad dash to the hospital only happened on TV. It turns out those things really do happen – and yes, it is possible to hear a pop when your water breaks! That unforgettable moment happened unexpectedly, 10 days before the due date, at 1:50 a.m. one early Saturday morning. Phone calls made and bags in the car, my husband Matt, first born daughter Shannon and I all headed to the hospital, but just three minutes from home, our vehicle was sideswiped by a truck in a roundabout. “We can’t stop right now! My wife’s in labor but we’ve got your tag number!” yelled my husband as he briefly stopped the car and shouted out the window to the other driver. The man hurriedly drove away, but immediately after he hit us, I managed to grab a pen and write down his license plate number. On the way to the hospital, my husband called the police who arranged to meet him there in the parking lot. So, while I was getting checked in, he was filing an accident report! I think my son, Iain, born a few hours later at 5:55 a.m., will be proud when he looks at his baby book and finds a police report as proof of his birthday saga.

We should have known our lives were about to change again, but no matter how much you try to prepare, you still never really know what life is going to be like. As the days and weeks race by and we get accustomed to our “new normal,” the challenge to adjust to our growing family and all of the inevitable changes continues every day. Like most new mothers, most days I’m content if I am able to finish any task I begin. To try to take on anything that requires a genuine commitment seems impossible. That includes an exercise program or anything related to my pre-pregnancy body. My goal has been just to get through the glorious and memorable, yet difficult and unpredictable first year of our new baby’s life. While that has been my goal, I knew, this second time around, that I needed to strive for more than that … for my husband, for my children, and yes, for me.

I’ll admit it. The first time around, I felt like a complete failure. The first year with our first child, while filled with so many wonderful moments, was a very difficult year. I was fortunate enough to be able to choose to put my career on hold to stay at home with our daughter. As any one-income family knows, it takes quite a bit of planning, creativity and sacrifice to make that adjustment and to do it right. But there were physical adjustments, and emotional changes as well, such as loss of friendships, lack of family support and just an overall personal question of who I was to be at this stage of my life. Every new mother goes through it, but I now know every experience is different and should not be generalized. I remember sitting on the floor in my daughter’s nursery, holding her and crying right along with her for hours as she suffered from acid reflux and colic. She awoke every two to three hours for the entire first year. It was hard not to think that the world was passing me by while I sat there and watched, with the shoulder of my third shirt of the morning soaked with vomit. Having worked full time right up to the week of Shannon’s birth, the sense of accomplishment I used to feel on a daily basis was suddenly gone.

What I didn’t know and most certainly couldn’t see then was that the rewards do eventually come and that there was no better decision I could have made for my family to stay home.

The Business of a Marriage

The first time around, our first year as new parents took a toll on both of us, in different ways. The business suit that our formerly casual-clothed marriage used to wear was beginning to show. I began to question myself and wonder exactly when it started looking more like a business partnership than, well, a marriage. With the difficulties of schedules, finances and finding time for each other, I knew it was really going to take some work. With this in mind, a funny thing started happening after our arguments. I began to realize that if I wanted to be heard, I needed to listen … to really listen. I began to see that there is an art of compromise in a marriage, and there is nothing wrong with that. With so many things pulling at our attention, there was no longer any time for guessing, and less communication equaled greater distance between us. It was OK to say what I needed without feeling guilty, but I needed to listen to my husband voice his needs as well. Sometimes our exchanges resembled a business deal.

I was extremely active before my children were born, but taking care of them naturally took precedence over taking care of myself. I wanted to be able to take care of both them and myself. I knew that it was going to take some clever negotiating skills to make that happen, but I also knew for the health and well being of my entire family, that I needed to be up for the challenge. Little things made big differences like Matt taking over the middle-of-the-night diaper change since I was breastfeeding throughout the night, or putting the kids in the jogging stroller and taking them along on a run while he trained for his next running event.

I was pregnant with my son when my husband completed his first half marathon. I completed my first official 5k in April of 2010. I attempt to maintain a consistent work out schedule on the treadmill or along with the kids in the jogging stroller and will continue to support my husband and my family without neglecting myself. By doing that, I will teach my children that they are valuable and that, in the future, by taking care of themselves they are consequently taking care of those they love.

I will set a goal for a half marathon, maybe even a full marathon. For now, during this precious time of my son’s new life, I am running my own personal marathon by getting up in the still hours of the morning to nurse him, change two sets of diapers, potty train our daughter, cook, clean, launder, budget and, of course, perform all of the other many tasks that come along with motherhood. Most importantly, I’m molding two precious lives and somewhere in all this, finding some rare moments of time for me.

I know the time will come again when I feel like I can take a deep breath. The chaos that defines the first year with a new baby will subside and in that year, like running, I will make a plan for me. I will be up before dawn. I will keep getting better and stronger day after day. Like running, I will feel like giving up but I will keep going anyway. I will feel alone. I will push myself to limits I didn’t know I possessed. Like running, there will be a sweet reward at the end of a long, hard race. I will succeed in my mind and in my body. I will look at what I’ve accomplished and be proud of it. Like running, there is an end and when I reach it, I, along with my family, will be stronger when I cross the finish line.

Holly M. Abernathy is a mother of two and a freelance writer.

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