I’m not going to sugar coat things: this pregnancy has been rough. Just a few weeks in, I was knocked out by hyperemesis and resulting trips to the hospital and various nausea medications, medical opinions, and IVs. I developed a painful hernia and bulging varicose veins. All this while navigating my husband’s waves of grief with his brother’s passing. There was an overnight trip to the hospital for a kidney infection and now I am at 36 weeks pregnant with walking pneumonia.
Couldn’t have written the script if I tried. But that’s the thing about life. There is no script so we have to take events as they come without fighting circumstances, and realize that happiness is a mental state we create that can withstand any chaos of the external world.
I am grateful the CIM 2015 marathon I ran is so close in memory, less than a year ago, because I’ve used so many moments of the training, injuries, the actual race itself to help get me through this past year with reasonable grace. The marathon has been the perfect metaphor for this pregnancy. Every time there’s been a challenge, I think of when I had to put my blinders on those last few miles of the race and just get through it with pure grit. Runners can gain so much life wisdom from the process of training and completing a marathon.
Don’t get me wrong; I haven’t been perfect with my approach. There have been many times where I’ve been brooding and full of self-pity. Just ask my friends or my husband. But that’s the benefit of obstacles. Each time we encounter them in life, we’re able to bounce back a little more easily next time, and develop one more layer of buoyancy so the next time we have a challenge, we’re more resilient. That’s why bad workouts and injuries are such a blessing. They teach us to know ourselves a little bit deeper and to trust the imperfect process. Our challenges make us more dynamic and more capable. It’s where wisdom and empathy are born.
Certainly not everyone relates to pregnancy. Replace “tough pregnancy” with anything: a marathon, a divorce, addiction, or death of loved one. In any scenario, we find happiness and strength through training our minds and hearts to embrace this journey.
One of the first steps we can take is to view pain as normal and stop fighting it. The moment you start fighting your pain in a marathon, it’s over. You can’t simultaneously fight pain and find ease from suffering. As soon as you can let discomfort be a part of your journey, you run faster, you live easier, the hard times pass, the race ends. Everyone goes through challenges in life; it’s how you get through them shows your character.
I wrote this Dalai Lama passage on the inside cover of my journal right around the time I got really sick with hyperemesis and my husband was sometimes immobile with grief after his brother’s death: “to a large extent, sometimes whether you suffer depends on how you respond to a given situation.” We accepted and embraced the waves of grief and Andy’s reactions and trusted that his brother was free from suffering and eventually Andy would be, too. We knew I would be healthy and the baby would be healthy. I just had to get through the weeks. Sometimes I would lie awake at night and think about mile nineteen when my Garmin stopped working and my feet were suddenly magnets to the pavement and my stomach was ravaged with the deepest cramps. Every time my mind wanted to go toward my suffering, I redirected my focus, and kept moving forward. Strong, calm, relaxed. Coming back to an image of strength, of moving forward with one foot in front of the other, can get us through the worst of it.
The greatest gift of going through painful times is that it allows us to empathize with others on a whole new level. Challenges are all relative. I even think complaining is good, as long as we complain with perspective. In the discomfort of this pregnancy, I constantly think of women who are unable to get pregnant and would give anything to be in my situation. Or women who have lost a child. I feel connection at the deepest human level of empathy and trust. This is compassion I wasn’t capable of knowing with two easy pregnancies prior. And when I get frustrated that I’ve been so physically limited in this pregnancy, I think of what a gift it has been to start a team of women running in this town along with my closest running gal pal. It’s been the season to pour my energy into other women, their goals, building community, and it couldn’t feel more right. If we can remember to find meaning in our challenges, we are more compassionate and will always be able to cope even during the most difficult times. When we look around and realize we’re not the only ones running the marathon, dealing with the discomforts, that unpredictable mile, we create the journey and the happiness within ourselves that can spread and multiply outside ourselves.