It is an early May morning and the earth is green and alive but you can’t see it yet because it is still too dark. Your son calls out to you and you feed him, then stumble downstairs to grind coffee beans and take in some caffeine, then pull on your ill-fitting running clothes and lace up your sneakers.
By the time the subway rumbles over the East River, the sky is light. The train car is silent save the rumble of its wheels against the elevated tracks and you watch the choppy water below you swirl, the same color as the gray, drizzly sky. You emerge in Manhattan, walking the stairs toward a canopy of vivid green trees. You are beginning to feel anxious; it’s been a while since you’ve run a race. You’re tired and perhaps a tad less in shape than you should be but you are determined, and by the time you get into your corral and hear the horn to begin, you’re ready.
Despite the short distance, the run is hard. You push through each mile, focusing on your breathing, lost in thought. Your body hurts but you are elated. With each mile marker you remind yourself that in just three miles, one mile, a few kilometers, it will all be over, and the accomplishment will far outweigh any pain or exhaustion that at the moment is so overwhelming.
You feel like you are carrying a secret: in knowing that you can push through mile upon mile to get to your goal, anything is possible.
It is 2am on a cold March night and you wake, breathing heavily. The pain is mounting and, after nearly two weeks of annoying pre-labor, you know instantly that the real thing has come. The contractions are almost at once less than four minutes apart and you suddenly find yourself on the bathroom floor, the living room floor, curled in a ball in your cab, breathing, breathing breathing through the agony. The trip from the sidewalk outside the hospital to labor and delivery feels endless, yet you know that there is so much more to come – more pain, more to endure.
You can feel your son moving downward in your body. If you concentrate between the pushing and squeezing, you can detect the exact location of his head and shoulders. In those brief periods between contractions, you find yourself marveling at how little control one has over the process of birth – that, ultimately, a woman’s power lies within her ability to focus, to breathe, to give in to her body and work with it, two pieces of one engaged in the rhythm of life.
So, you breathe. You repeat to yourself over and over again that each contraction will end and that, in time, labor will end, too, and a new life with rest on your chest. Perhaps this is why when it comes time to push you are so incredibly ready, diving in with an intensity that you feel in every muscle for days afterward.
It is, you think to yourself with a smile, that final sprint toward the finish line. And there it is again – that secret. If you can do this, you can do anything.
(Happy Mother’s Day!)