Our Coach MK is currently pregnant with baby #4. Her experience has not been as smooth as it was with the first three. We know that there is a range of experiences that women have with running while pregnant. Sometimes, it’s a piece of yummy cake; sometimes, not so much.
“God, you make this look so easy. I mean, yay for you,” she said without looking me in the eye.
I thought for a moment then said that thing I’m not supposed to say: “That’s because you don’t see much. Who wants to see vomit photos on Facebook? If Cheyanne had been this difficult, there would be no RJ much less a Shiloh. I’m really struggling.”
She sat up straighter and smiled right at me. “Oh THANK GOD! I mean, no offense. I thought something was wrong with me,” she said as she gleefully refilled her wine glass. “I always thought I would have two but I just cannot go through that again.”
Inwardly, I sigh with relief, thinking I can let my guard down. “My body is changing so quickly this time. It’s uncomfortable and I just don’t enjoy it.”
She cuts me off to enthusiastically tell me that I look GREAT and will be back to my former self in no time and something about how babies are ‘worth it’ (but not enough for you to do again?). Shamed back into place, my brain quickly fills with all the things I am not supposed to say and the conversation quickly reverts back to banal coffee-mug platitudes.
I no longer want to be here.
Personal interactions are guided by a huge set of complicated unwritten norms that can be difficult to articulate. A few of these norms explain why a subversive statement from a man is viewed as ‘brave’ and the same statement from a woman is viewed as brazen or whiney. Cultural anthropologists describe this adherence to society’s invisible-but-rigid operating structure as ‘Performance.’
If you’re a mostly functional member of society, you probably Perform pretty well most of the time. You know how to give the ’right’ answers without realizing it. But the right answers aren’t always the honest answers. We say we are ‘fine’ when we are not fine at all. Women are supposed to be calm at all times; emotional women, women who cannot ‘suck it up’ or put on their ‘big girl panties,’ are labeled illogical, irrational, or crazy no matter what we are responding to.
When you’re pregnant, these same rules apply. We’re supposed to focus on the prize, that beautiful baby at the end, and ignore the day-to-day suckiness of being pregnant because to do otherwise is verboten.
I’m exhausted. I suck at Performing and always have. And I am CRAZY. Let’s break some rules, y’all.
At the time of this writing, I am nearly 19 weeks pregnant with my 4th baby, and I am bigger now than I was at 25 weeks with my third child. I am bigger now than I was at 32 weeks with my first child. I know this, because I still have bridesmaid dress measurements from those days. I have 21 weeks to go and am only gonna get larger, which seems impossible since I still cannot keep food down.
My thighs touch. My knees touch. My butt touches my thighs. When I look down, I feel rolls forming on my neck. These feelings are not normal for me and feel gross. These aren’t things I notice in other people. These are changes in the body I live in. I know what caused those changes — but we cannot talk about my pregnancy without talking about my body’s new shape.
Worst of all, these changes have made it impossible for me to run. It is no longer painless and meditative. It physically hurts. My last run was six weeks ago. In November, I ran a respectable marathon in Philadelphia; now I can’t even climb stairs without panting. It makes my heart ache, I miss running so much.
Beyond painful, running is just not smart because I am hypermobile to begin with. My physical therapist is worried I’m going to push the running too much and do permanent damage to the ligaments in my feet as well as my SI joint. I have to treat this like my generic HRT marathon race strategy, “Reserve, Conserve, Preserve, SERVE.” With this pregnancy, my fourth, I skipped right to the ‘preserve’ phase. I need to hang out here and make sure I’m not breaking anything before crossing the finish line.
So, I walk. I walk and I try not to hate it. I try to ignore the way my underwear feels, how gross and odd shorts feel. I try to not fester in my jealousy of the super-pregnant woman running 8-minute miles while pushing three kids in a jogging stroller around Wash Park. I try to remember to run my own race and not compare this pregnancy to my previous pregnancies.
Believe it or not, I also practice Performing. I still suck at it — but I practice giving the ‘right’ answer instead of the ‘true’ answer. I'm just not comfortable in my big girl panties.