Running teaches us valuable life skills. Most runners exist in a state of goal setting, self-discipline, work ethic, confidence, getting comfortable being uncomfortable, and overcoming obstacles. I used to think there are no secrets, but I think there is a secret to how some runners reach higher levels than the rest. It is not just their physical abilities, it’s the way they think. They demonstrate the champion’s mindset; psychology plays a huge part in their success in sports. The mind is a very powerful thing.
I learned that mindset is more powerful than ever as I became a mom. Just how runners push their limits at the end of a race, parents push theirs, too. In the hospital delivery room, I literally and figuratively pushed my body to new physical limits. As my little baby boy looked up at me with his tiny hand wrapped around my finger, the feeling of eternal love and responsibility hit me like I never thought possible. It may sound romantic, but this special motherly feeling also really scared me. Actually, it terrified me. The excited, yet fearful feeling you have as you stand on the start line before a big race: nervous, vulnerable, hopeful, nearly turning away and running the opposite direction…that’s how the beginning of motherhood felt for me.
Over the past 9 months I’ve sometimes felt like I’m falling apart, and frequently like I’m about to fall apart. I’m being held together only by the finest, but bizarrely strong, thread made of guilt, fear, determination, hope, and even shame. I feel totally overwhelmed with the demands of motherhood, of the unbelievable physical and emotional exhaustion involved in caring for a newborn. But even more so, I feel overwhelmed by a sense of loss – losing all choice, freedom, the ability to walk away. Then, I have crushing resentment and anguish for what my life has become and my inability to change it, to change my mind. The baby that I had so excitedly and hopefully awaited is here, yet I am embarrassed that I miss my old life. Even as I love him. It is confusing and continues to cause me serious inner turmoil.
Being a mother is hard. It’s been the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do. With 9 months in the rearview mirror, I am able to reflect and share my story. Writing helps us learn, grow, and maybe show others that they are not alone. I feel vulnerable and naked writing about postpartum depression, but that’s a sign of the beginning of bravery, right?
Pause. The backstory to me pre-baby. I got pregnant a month after I qualified for the 2020 Marathon Olympic Trials. The race (CIM) was a classic example of preparation meeting opportunity. I ran exactly what I had trained to do, hovering right around 6 minute pace and smiling through the line when the clock struck 2:39:06. My fitness propelled me into an incredibly active pregnancy; running 60 minutes the day my water broke (39 weeks pregnant). Storybook marathon build-up and PR, fairytale fertility, bodacious pregnancy, healthy blue-eyed baby boy. Things seem annoyingly perfect? Keep reading.
Fast forward 1 month of cyclical feedings, diaper changes, baby projectile puke, laundry galore, sporadic and very interrupted sleep, infinite crying, constant bouncing, sore muscles from baby holding, never having 2 hands… I thought these were all things that an elite athlete, like me, could handle physically and emotionally. It took a great deal of strength to merely stay afloat. I was utterly overwhelmed by this new repetitive routine; and I was overwhelmed by the endless decisions trapping me at home.
The first week with my baby I cried 3 or more times a day. The doctors said that your body is chemically is out of balance because you literally have a void in you after housing a baby in your womb for 9 months. I knew this was true, because anything cute made me sob- I was hormonally out-of-whack. I thought the uncontrollable emotional crying would diminish. I can honestly say I cried every day of the first 3 months post-partum. Those 3 months are called the “fourth trimester” because your baby is reliant on you as if they are still in the womb. The days and nights of dependency weighed on me as the guilt crushed me like a heavy back-pack. After 3 months, I was at the end of my maternity leave and went back to working 40 hour weeks; “full time” took on a new meaning.
At the end of my maternity leave I admitted to myself that something was not right. The optimistic, hardworking Lyndy was not there. I found myself giving up in situations that should be simple. I would try to get out the door for a stroller walk and after countless “baby obstacles” got in my way, I would give up and just stay at home. My internal dialog shifted from being a problem solver to a victim. Why does my baby not take a bottle? Why can’t I nurse laying on my side? Why don’t I get to sleep more than 2 hour intervals? Why does my baby not like the car seat? Why can’t I set my baby down without him crying- is the ground lava? If you know anything about “growth mindset”, that used to be the way I functioned- driving motivation and achievements. Not once I became a mom.
After four months post-partum, I started seeing a therapist for the first time in my life. These feelings were new to me and I was scared. I hate the term “mom-guilt” because it automatically frames the female as the default parent, primary caregiver, the one to feel bad about child related things. I prefer to say, “parent guilt.” I felt “parent guilt” for not anticipating the gravity of this life change.
I am desperately grieving for the Mrs. Independent I was before I became a mom. I grieve for the freedom I used to have- my old schedule, my personal and professional goals, to not feel rushed, the running routine, the ability to make my dinner, or say “yes” when I got invited to social events. My therapist helped show me that I missed more than my old routine. I missed her.
The postpartum depression that I am going through feels like I am grieving for a deceased loved one. I know I will slowly regain parts of my pre-baby life, but right now, I am really sad. I am not sad when I am playing with my baby or making him giggle. To some extent, it isn’t even about him. It is about missing a previous version of myself. I really liked her; she was brave and had great goals. I know I will like this new Lyndy, too, it is just taking some serious growing pains getting used to a new lifestyle.
Parent guilt is paralyzing for me. I feel guilty for wanting to clean my house, when I should only be aware of my baby’s needs. I feel guilty for wanting to go for a run, when I could be taking my baby for a stroller walk. I feel guilty for taking time to stretch after a run, when I could be nursing my son, sooner. I feel guilty for saying “I’m surviving” when someone says, “Isn’t being a mom the best?” I feel guilty for enjoying creative projects at the office, when other women tell me “It must be hard to be away from your baby”. I feel guilty for wanting to have date nights, when my husband wants to bring our son along. I feel guilty for feeling guilty, because I should be thankful for our fertility and to have a healthy baby.
In response to some of the “parent guilt”, I tried to give up running because I thought it would relieve me of the pressure to come-back faster and stronger. Not running sucks. Running less is ok. I would suggest to anyone going through mental health issues to get outside and sweat 1x a day. There is magic and healing powers in being outdoors. Get all the outdoor baby things: baby front packs, baby backpacks, stroller for walks, KidRunner (trailer designed for running parents, it has given me hope again as a runner), tents for baby at the beach. Not having the gear shouldn’t be the excuse – try Craigslist.
I continue to struggle. Asking for help doesn't make me weak, nor does it make me a bad mom. In fact, asking for help is a sign of strength; a good example for your kids. I have learned that fighting for my right to run is a way to protect my mental health. Running with my son is something that makes my personal goals possible. My family is still calibrating to this new lifestyle and it is still uncomfortable at times. It is normal to struggle. What isn't normal is feeling like I have to be silent about post-partum depression and that I have to give up a piece of me (running) to be a "good" parent.
I will be running my first race with my baby boy on July 4th. Quentin will be with me in the KidRunner for the Sauvie Foot Traffic Flat half-marathon in Portland, Oregon. This race is a monumental moment for my son and me. I want to show myself that being a mom has changed me, but only in that my champion's mindset now tackles running and parenting challenges. This race begins a new chapter where I am choosing to bring him into my world of racing.
PS: It is in my blood to set goals. I plan on attempting a world record pace on July 4th. Fastest mom to run a half marathon with their baby? #HeadUpWingsOut