Sunday, December 2, 2012

Slow learning

Before getting pregnant, I ran a few times a week most weeks and sometimes every day, and I loved it. I loved how it made me feel strong, how it quickly and effectively it balanced my mood and cleared my mind. I'm a believer in moderation in all things, and have never been a distance runner or competitive about it at all. I'd usually run two or three miles each time, rarely more than five, on the creek trail behind our house or the treadmill at the gym. I also cycled two miles to and from work every day, and did errands largely by bike, too.

My ride, a 1970s Schwinn Suburban, parked in front of the historic DeTurk Round Barn

Then one day, late last fall, I had just started what I'd planned to be a thirty-minute run on the gym treadmill. I usually started at a ten-minute mile pace, gradually speeding up so that I ran the last few minutes at a seven-and-a-half-minute mile pace. But after a minute or so at my usual starting pace, I felt unusually winded. I slowed the treadmill down. Long story short: I ran for twenty minutes at a twelve-minute-mile pace--so a much shorter and slower run than usual--and it took a lot of probably stupid determination and what felt like most of the oxygen in the building to finish. When I got off the treadmill, gulping air and freakishly sweaty, I thought I was going to DIE. I felt so sick and exhausted I actually thought about going to get help, but when I started towards the front desk, everything started going spinny and black at the edges.  Mortified and not a little freaked out, I plunked right down on the floor with my head between my knees until I was mostly sure I wasn't going to throw up or pass out, and then I cautiously went on with my day. 

I figured I'd caught a virus or something. A few days later, I took a pregnancy test and laughed out loud when I saw the plus sign. I didn't connect my near-collapse at the gym to being pregnant, though, until a few days later when I started out on a trail run that turned into a trail walk after about fifty yards. It just felt wrong--so hard, so jarring, so tiring--and I couldn't shake the feeling that the little being inside of me was pleading for a smoother ride. 

A full year later, it still blows my mind that, even when he was smaller than a pinhead, Kamal was teaching me a lesson I'd struggled with my entire life, preached incessantly to others and yet never quite practiced: how to be gentle with myself. 

Kamal lounging around at 12 weeks' gestation: the size of a plum and already a master of chillaxin'

So the rest of my pregnancy was all about walking instead of running, literally and metaphorically. I stopped running entirely. After a few dizzy spells, the bike went to hibernate in the garage. My daily yoga practiced mellowed and shortened. During my first and third trimesters, when drenching fatigue was a constant companion, I worked four instead of five days a week. And even though slowing down was a challenge for me, I found taking it easy got easier and easier as I got rounder and rounder. 

Feeling very round, and moving verrrrrrry slow

I walked to work every day, but I had to budget more and more time for that walk as my brisk stride turned into a slow waddle. I only missed one day of yoga practice through my entire pregnancy, but the practice grew slower, more meditative, less sweaty every day. The daily thirty push-ups I prided myself on being able to complete gradually all turned into the kind of push-ups you do with your knees on the floor, the kind I'd long felt awfully superior about not doing. I watched other runners, cyclists, even fast-paddling ducks in the creek with envy. I missed being speedy.

Then came the weeks after Kamal was born, where my doctors and midwife had strictly forbidden exercise and I was so addled with sleep deprivation I couldn't imagine exercising anyway. When Kamal was about six weeks old, I began practicing yoga again. Kamal hung out on the mat and got a kiss with every chataranga dandasana.

Yogi Kamal 

Gradually I added in weight-bearing exercises, bearing Kamal as the conveniently-increasing weight: lunges, squats, very careful bicep curls and shoulder presses. And then today, while Kamal and Adam took a fortuitously timed nap together in our big orange chair, I went for my first run in a year. 

Oh my goodness, it was glorious. To be moving that fast under my own power!  To be taking those deep, clean breaths of late-fall, fennel-scented air! To be not carrying anybody! 

Still, I held on to the lessons Kamal had so rigorously enforced while I was pregnant. I ran at a comfortable pace, which today was a much slower pace than my comfortable pace a year ago, and didn't push myself to go faster. I thought about doing a longer run, but played it safe and just ran two miles. And it felt so good. So, so good. 

Post -run, sweaty and gleeful

Kamal changes every day, and so no two days look alike. There is less daylight every day, and between work and Kamal, my days and nights are full and wearying and rich. I don't know whether I'll be able to go for a run again tomorrow, or next week, or the week after. What I'm learning, happily ensconced (and sometimes submerged) here in Babyland, is that while one day's challenge might be running a couple of miles, the next day's is forgiving myself for not finding the time to exercise at all. I can learn  from both challenges, and I can learn to welcome the lessons. 


  1. This post makes your hero status in my book even bigger. If I ever get preggers, I'm going to re-read this post every day. Thank you for being an inspiration. Also, if you're ever up to it, I'd love to do a casual jog on the creek trail with you some time.

    1. This is so sweet, thank you. I'd love to do that jog with you! In a couple of months, Kamal can go jogging with us in his jogging stroller.