Six weeks had passed yet I was still in pain. I felt powerless. The piercing pain in the side of my abdomen right above my scar was searing. The “I need my husband to lift me out of bed” kind of bad. The recliner had become my mattress since I couldn’t muster the strength to raise my torso up with my own muscles. Muscles I say, but they had been cut and stretched and were also learning what their new normal was right alongside my mind.
A visit to the doctor was no less assuring and I was told to “take one of these daily”. My doctor also noted that the pain I was experiencing was normal and that opiates were the solution. The medicine he prescribed may pass through my breastmilk to my baby but only in small amounts. That what I was feeling was “normal” pain due to a c-section and medicine was my best solution. I should have been given the sign-off to get back to normal activities at that check-up. Six weeks is what the baby books and mom friends said is a normal recovery time. Do yoga, have sex, be able pick up your helpless infant without piercing abdominal pain kind of “normal”.
Not having run much while I was pregnant while also living through a pandemic, I felt the pressure to move my body. My body had a different plan though. “How could it take so long to recover from pregnancy? Each checkup received good marks and I was healthy,” I considered. A six-week normal recovery expectation turned into six months. The pain finally started to wane and I knew the day had come to hit the pavement once again.
I strapped my breastmilk-filled breasts into a brand-new high support bra, put on clothes that were one size too small and tied up my laces on the shoes that got my waddling body through pregnancy. My husband pushed my son in the stroller and we ran around the block as a new family! One block was all I could manage since the increased volume in my chest was an unfamiliar obstacle to overcome. Additionally, I was so exhausted from the lack of sleep that I just didn’t have it in me to push myself; being a new mom was already proving hard enough. One time around the block would have to do.
A race on the calendar historically was a good motivator for me to log the miles and get my body race ready. This new version of my body and mind no longer accepted a circled date on the calendar and paid entry fee as inspiration to get moving. I showed up very unprepared to run the 17.1 mile Imogene Trail Run connecting Ouray, CO to Telluride, CO over a steep, gravely mountain pass. The tough nature of this race allured me many years back and now I had committed to the challenge! My husband pushed the stroller to the starting line while I ate a banana and sipped crappy coffee. As usual in the morning, I was running behind on time and got my fuel on the go. I needed to empty my breasts with a nursing session or I would be in a lot of pain mid-race.
7.65 miles and 3,005 feet of elevation later, I made the first cut-off at Upper Camp Bird with only 6 minutes to spare. I let out a sigh of relief but also felt discouraged since I knew that my tired body needed to get it into gear to be able to make the upcoming cutoffs or risk being disqualified and turned back to the starting line. The second cut off was the Imogene pass summit with an elevation of 13,114 feet. Again, I made it with just enough time to take a summit picture, drink some delicious soup and do some quick pace calculations. The remaining 7.1 miles was all downhill and if I just kept running, I could finish within the course limit.
Downhill running is traditionally stressful on quad muscles and as I would come to find out, also on the muscles of the pelvic floor. During labor, I’d made it to stage 4 – pushing – before being admitted for an emergency c-section. This combination of deliveries left me weak in my abdomen and also weak in my pelvic floor. Performing Kegel exercises has been shown to strengthen pelvic floor muscles. So, in an attempt to make it downhill without “lightning crotch”, (yes, that’s a real thing and is as described…) I began to do Kegel exercises while running.
I ran up to a group of two women and we got to talking. I lightheartedly mentioned my Kegel cross-training exercise which instantly became a bonding moment! They were both moms and one had a child about the same age as my son. We talked about the limitations of our new bodies after childbirth. The magic that we didn’t address was how limitless we actually were.
The video of me running across the finish line shows pure exasperation and a slight limp. After the high fives from my friends, I hobbled over to a table, sat down and nursed my son. My body, my new body made big things possible – for both me and my son. To a mom, her body can be unrecognizable after the daily, monthly and yearly tolls of motherhood. Yet, she can create life, be exactly the support that a child needs through the hardest moments and still show up for herself through it all. That’s the true power of a mother.