Today, I was reminded that laughing and running with a partially full bladder is no longer what it used to be.
It had just started to rain, and Michael was grinning manically as Lyn (my helper) and I raced towards the nearest building for shelter. It was absurdly dramatic, as only a mad dash through rain with an ecstatic baby in a rattly stroller can be. The rain drops were coming heavy and fast. Lyn expired about 50 metres into our jog, because she “hadn’t run since she was in school”. So I took over the stroller and sprinted for the building, making it to safety just as the rain poured down in grey sheets. Lyn joined me a short while later, holding her hips.
“You really can’t run, huh?” I asked her.
“No. I feel… fat? I think, heavy.”
Lyn is not fat, and is in fact the strongest woman I know. Her upper body strength is better than Ralph’s. She moves Michael through the air with ease, all the joints and muscles locking into invisible and age-old pathways which have been honed through years of cradling babies and gripping toddlers with one arm while making her way through markets in the rain, groceries in one hand and an umbrella in the other.
“My arms are strong but my legs cannot run. I used to play softball in school and I could run then. I really need to go to the bathroom,” she ended abruptly.
Off she went, and I wondered if she was incontinent too, until I remembered that I knew the answer to this. We’d already discussed all manner of pregnancy and birth related issues. She’d given birth once, by C-section, after labouring for 24 hours. I’d given birth once, vaginally, to a 4.4kg baby, after being induced and labouring for 4 hours.
We’re both 31 years old, and she can’t run 50 metres and I can’t run without peeing.
The first time I finally attempted to go for a jog after the long pregnancy and postpartum hiatus was about 6 months after giving birth. Everything instantly felt wrong. I felt like my pelvic floor was falling out. I went two rounds around my condominium – that’s about 1km – rattling like an old train on a broken track, leaking pee as I went. It was horrifying.
These days, I usually run three rounds around the condominium, three times a week, complaining in my head all the time. It still feels terrible, starting from about 300 metres in, mostly from a stamina (or lack of) point of view. My pelvic floor has strengthened enough so that it no longer feels loose, but I still leak pee quite frequently, depending on the fullness of my bladder.
Which is not something I would have ever imagined I would intentionally say on the internet. But this – the monumental physicality of birth and motherhood – is something I’ve had to confront and I feel almost blindingly angry to think that there could or should be any shame about it. Some of this is horrifying to me – because it is shocking when your joints, skin, muscles, boobs (ohhhh the boobs) change in ways you don’t expect or welcome – but it is not shameful. Because… battle scars. We’ve been through war. We’ve turned ourselves inside out and survived.
Every time I think about getting pregnant again, that’s the first thing I think of: the war ahead. And I cringe. And I wonder how many times I can tear through tissue already torn. In moments like these, I wish I were the father – placing an order for another baby, and waiting for the waitress to bring out the entree on a plate. I am sometimes outraged that the physical burden cannot be shared. Never before have I appreciated how closely my body is linked to my soul. I am hurt, that it is hurt. The scars don’t matter, in the light of everything, and yet they do. I would do it all again for another baby – it is completely worth it, infinitely so. But. I crave to be renewed and to rejuvenate in peace, once and for all.
In the evening, Lyn and I discussed our exercise plan. I will continue doing my little runs, and she will join me for the first 300 metres, all the way to the tennis court. And together we will keep running, more and more, until it becomes easy. Because there is hope, after all, that our legs will grow strong, and muscles not used for decades will remember what they can do. For this and for everything else, I can only trust that what we have been called to be, we have been amply given the grace for.