Wednesday, October 27, 2010

"compare labor to running a marathon"

Taken from a fantastic book titled: "The Birth Partner" by Penny Simkin, PT, CD, DONA founder.
"Childbirth has many similaritites to a marathon or other physical endurance event.  Both include pain and psychological demands for the participant.  Both  require stamina and patience.  Both become much more manageable when the participant is well prepared and flexible and has the following:
  • Knowledge of what to expect.
  • Prior planning with a knowledgeable guide.
  • Physical health and fitness.
  • Encouragement and support before and throughout the event.
  • Confidence that muscle pain and fatigue are normal side effects of such effort.
  • Fluids and adequate nourishment.
  • The ability to pace herself.
  • The availability of expert medical assistance, in case it is needed.
The meaning of the event (the race or the labor) varies among endurance athletes and childbearing women alike.  For some athletes, running a marathon means not only finishing, but also trying to come in at the front of the pack.  For others, finishing is the goal and the reward.  For some childbearing women, labor and birth mean not only having a baby, but also doing it without medical or surgical intervention.  For others, having the baby is the goal and the reward.

It is true for both athletes and birthing women that if they develop complications, or begin to worry about the tough challenges ahead, or become preoccupied with their pain, or lose confidence, or become overwhelmed, they will have to adjust.  The athlete may have to slow down or drop out; the laboring woman may have to change her plans and rely more on her caregiver to help her give birth in a safe and satisfying way.

The analogy between an endurance sporting event and childbirth breaks down, however, when we look further.  One of the greatest differences is the matter of choice.  Marathon runners do not have to run the race.  They choose to do so.  Healthy pregnant women, however, must go through labor and delivery (or another demanding and painful process -- cesarean delivery) if they are to have a child.  The other enormous difference between the two events is their degree of predictability.  The marathon runner knows when the event will take place and how long the course is, and can study and jog the course ahead of time.  The course doesn't change and is th same for all participants.

The most predictable thing about childbirht is its total unpredictability.  A pregnant woman does not know when it will begin, how long it will take, or how painful it will be, and she certainly does not know whether or how how it might be similar or different from her mother's labors or the labors of other women.  She cannot even be sure she can get a good night's sleep beforehand!  And she certainly cannot predict what her postpartum course will be like.

....[Mothers and] birth partners would like to know exactly what to prepare for, but it is simply not possible to answer these questions precisely.  Variations are inherent in childbirth because each human being and each labor are unique.  The key is to accept the unpredictability and pace yourselves while the labor unfolds." 
Penny then goes on to describe the basic process of labor, something that every woman can indeed count on.  I love this analogy and I love this book; birth is not something that should be feared by the mother or the partner.  Learn all you can, and then trust your body.


  1. I love this analogy! Joe just ran a marathon this past summer and has often times compared it to pregnancy and labor.

  2. Love it ... this analogy completely flipped a switch for me. It is a completely different kind of pain; an amazing experience. And I'm glad Joe is finding some connections with you! :)