For one, marathons are planned for specific days and times while babies tend to come on their own schedules. Toward the end of my pregnancy I, like many pregnant women, found myself in a strange waiting game of not knowing how many more weeks, hours and days I would be pregnant.
Because marathons are scheduled, the day before the marathon is very exciting. You typically pick up a racing bib, shirt and a bunch of odds and ends at the expo, attempt to rest, and possibly load up on carbs. The day before you go into labor might be just like any other day in your pregnancy...especially if you've been accustomed to Braxton Hicks or other false alarms.
Similarly, the start of a marathon is usually crystal clear. You may hear a gun go off, see other runners all starting their watches, or run past a huge crowd of spectators cheering you on. The onset of labor is not always so clear cut. I, like many women, wasn't 100% sure I was in true labor until my doctor confirmed it at the hospital.
As a runner, I enjoyed racing at my own pace. Sometimes I joined others for a mile or two, but in the end, when I decided to push myself or hold back was up to me. During labor, you alone are not in control the pace...baby may decide to come faster or slower than you had anticipated.
When I ran marathons, my husband was an amazing spectator. I still have no idea how he was able to spot me in the sea of runners during larger marathons. Because he wasn't a runner himself, I only saw him a handful of times during each race. When I was in labor, however, I was extremely lucky that he could be by my side the entire time.
Of course complications arise during marathons. They can get cancelled due to unexpected circumstances. The weather may be surprisingly hot or cold. Runners may forget to bring important equipment such as their shoes, watches or snacks. But, for the most part, these complications probably also occurred at least once during training. In labor, a first time mom is in uncharted territory. No matter how much you prepare for your first birth, you don't get a trial run. It may turn out exactly as you anticipated, or it may not.
During my first marathon, I "hit the wall" around mile 16. I ended up lying down by the side of the road for half and hour before walking a significant distance toward the finish line. In labor you aren't given the opportunity to rest if you "hit a wall." An epidural may allow you to sleep or at least take the edge off the pain, but you still need to deliver the baby when baby is ready. Labor isn't just about you, your baby is going through it too.
After my first marathon I was very interested in repeating the experience. I was exhausted, sore and could barely walk down steps, but I was on such a runner's high that I couldn't wait to beat my PR. After having our son, we focused on him. I wasn't thinking about getting pregnant again or going through labor and delivery again. All I wanted was to be in the moment with my new family.
What life experiences helped you prepare for your first labor and delivery experience?