Thursday, March 31, 2016

The Answers to Every Question I've Ever Been Asked About Running During Pregnancy

Can you believe it was almost 80 degrees here yesterday? 

What a glorious feeling to crawl out of the cave of winter in the sunshine of spring! This time of year always fills me with a renewed energy to set goals and tackle projects inside and outside of the house. One of the goals on my list is to dedicate more time to blogging.  The winter season was a rough one for our family, but now that we're finally coming up for fresh air after drowning in mold toxicity, Lyme disease, tonsil surgery and a broken collar bone, I think I might actually have enough energy to write!
One topic I miss writing about most is running.  At 33 weeks, I've had to trade my running shoes in for a walking pair, but I'm okay with that.  This is the longest I've ever been able to run during a pregnancy, and with just 7 weeks to go before baby (fingers crossed - they like to take their time entering the world), I'll be running again soon.

Over the past few years I've received a lot of questions from my readers about running during pregnancy, and thought it might be helpful to summarize those questions and answers all in one post for those of you who are looking for more information on the topic.

*Please note that I am not an expert in this field, or a trained medical professional.  Always consult your doctor before beginning an exercise program while pregnant.
1.  Is it okay to start running if I wasn't running before pregnancy?
The answer to this question depends on whether or not you were engaged in some type of exercise routine (besides running) prior to your pregnancy.  If the answer is no, then I don't suggest you begin running right now. Walking, swimming, or Pilates designed for pregnancy are a better option for you. If, however, you exercised on a regular basis prior to pregnancy, and walking at a brisk pace brings you no discomfort, then running is definitely an option for you!

2.  What are the benefits of running during pregnancy?
There are many wonderful benefits to running throughout your pregnancy (or as long as your body permits), which include more balanced hormones, increased energy, easier labor and delivery and quicker post-partum recovery.  You can read a more detailed list here.

3.  Do I need to change my regular workout attire? 
For the most part, no. Thankfully, it's becoming easier to find fun, comfortable, and stylish maternity athletic wear in stores and online. But tights and tops aren't the most important things you should consider when it comes to running.  The three items I suggest you focus on are:
:: bigger shoes
:: a better bra
:: the best belly support belt
Not everyone, but many of us naturally need to size up a bit in the shoe department during pregnancy. So, if you're clinging to your favorite pair of kicks, but notice that you're feet are feeling a bit squished in them, don't worry, you'll be able to sport them again one of these days.  But for now, your feet need plenty of cushion, support, and wiggle room, so consider purchasing a new pair a half size, or size up. 

As for the bra - keeping those girls tucked in neat and tidy means less chafing and more comfort during your run. Think structure, support, and sizing up (which is a bonus for people like me!) when looking for a new bra. Athleta and Title Nine both offer a wide variety of bras that meet very specific shapes and sizes, but if you're sticking to a budget, Target and athletic stores like Dick's Sporting goods will also provide a nice selection for you.

Finally, I cannot emphasize enough the importance of wearing a support belt (I really like this one). Not only will you find, as your tummy begins to grow, that the belt supports your expanding abdomen, but it also alleviates some of the pressure on your lower back and bottom, which can be quite a relief if you struggle with pain in either of those areas during pregnancy.

4.  How fast and how far can I go?
Distance and speed are primarily determined by two things: the level of shape you are currently in, and your personal comfort level as you are working out.  No matter what your exercise goals are for the day, you must listen to your body.  If you're feeling overly fatigued, light-headed, short of breath, or experiencing ANY pain at all, you must stop running, or at least slow down if you are pushing the pace. Fighting through the pain is a familiar routine for many runners, but it shouldn't be during pregnancy, so listen to your body.  With regards to distance, achieving a particular number of miles per day may be your goal, but perhaps not a realistic one right now.  Consider running for a particular amount of time rather than distance, or if you just can't let go of your mileage, try mixing some walking in with the run to give your body the much needed break it is asking for.

5.  What should I eat after a run?
While fuel is an important factor to consider when running, even more important is hydration.  I cannot stress how vital it is for mamas to stay hydrated throughout their pregnancies, especially before and after a workout. Dehydration can be dangerous for baby and for you.  If you plan to run (or take part in any exertive exercise) for thirty minutes or longer, then I highly recommend replenishing fluids with an electrolyte replacement.  I prefer Nuun, because it is lower in sodium than Gatorade type drinks, it's very low in sugar, and doesn't contain any artificial ingredients such as food coloring or flavorings.  If you are working out in warm weather, be sure to dress appropriately and consider carrying a hand-held water bottle (like this one) with you when you run/walk. 

Post workout replenishment should be simple and nutritious (you really don't need as many calories as you might think).  I like plain, non-fat Greek yogurt with fresh fruit, a small scoop of paleo granola with coconut milk, fruit and veggie smoothies with a whey protein mix (I like this one), or a banana topped with a couple of teaspoons of almond butter. Quality protein and slow digesting carbs will help repair your muscles and replenish your energy for the remainder of the day.

6.  Should I consider my posture and form when running?
Yes! There are a couple of really important things to remember when it comes to posture. First, because your center of gravity is going to shift a bit as your tummy begins to grow (which can effect your balance), and your loosening joints and ligaments can also cause some instability, you will find it necessary to shorten your running stride.  Doing so will give you greater stability, balance, and sense of security out on the road.  

Second, take a posture check in the mirror.  Is your expanding belly causing your back to arch? If you feel a dip in your lower back, try bringing your spine into a neutral position, by tucking your pelvis in a bit.  The posture correction may feel a little strange at first, but really you are just aligning your spine over your hips, and this should take some pressure off of your lower back.  In doing so, you will find a greater level of comfort while running by simply keeping the posture of your lower back in check. 

7.  Is it okay to race while pregnant?
To me, racing means training and working towards a PR, and pregnancy is not the time for either of those things.  If your definition of racing means signing up for a local 5K and running/walking for fun with your friends, then sure, if you were running prior to pregnancy, go for it! On the other hand, if racing means long runs, speed work, and strength training to meet a goal race time, then it's time to set aside those ideals for the next few months.  Shift your focus to the health and strength of your body for the benefit of the baby and to achieve a smother labor and delivery. What race could be more important?

8.  What should I do about an overactive bladder while running?
Multiple births have a way of making a mom feel a little insecure when it comes to bladder control. My suggestion is to hydrate well throughout the day, but avoid drinking anything 1 hour before running. Then, be sure to replenish fluids post-run.  Run close to home, in case you have an urgent need to go. And, if the motion of running is simply too much, it's simply time to start walking.  I know that no one (including myself) likes to do those annoying pelvic floor exercises, but if it's a choice between being able to run and having to postpone exercise until after birth, then it may be well worth your time to devote a few minutes a day to doing them.

9.  What are some signs that I should stop running?
I can speak with confidence in this arena, because I have had a myriad experiences over seven pregnancies.  During some of them I felt fantastic running, while with others I wasn't able to endure more than a few weeks of running. The decision to stop running and switch to another form of exercise should primarily be determined by the first and most obvious symptom, which is pain or discomfort. Pain is always your signal to stop! Also, if you are unable to catch your breath, or feel extremely thirsty, do not continue running. Consistent low blood pressure or aching joints and ligaments post-run, may also be serious reasons to postpone any future runs. If you are going to run pregnant, you must run smart for your own safety and for baby's as well.

10.  How did you run a marathon while pregnant?
Given the answer to question #7, I hope I don't sound like a hypocrite here.  First of all, you should know that I didn't set out to run a marathon while pregnant.  It was during the last couple of weeks of training for the Chicago Marathon that I discovered Steve and I were expecting baby #7.  Since I was on the taper portion of my training, and was very early on in my pregnancy, I knew that I could finish the race if I fueled properly, paid extra careful attention to hydration, and abandoned any goals to finish with a PR.  

Even though I faithfully followed through with those specific conditions, I was still pretty tired throughout the race (first trimester fatigue is tough!), but I finished, and was happy with that.  If I were a newbie at running, I would not have attempted the race. But, with years of running experience and the advice of experts on my side, I was confident that I could make it to the finish line safely.

Looking for more information? I highly recommend these two resources:
2. Fit and Healthy Pregnancy by Kristina Pinto

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Baby Calves and Broken Bones ~ Spring Break Part II

It was somewhere around 2:00 in the afternoon a couple of Sundays ago when I felt that feeling. Driving home with the boys after a lovely weekend with my family, I was suddenly overwhelmed with a very strong intuitive feeling of concern for Steve and the boys, who were in Colorado skiing.  

This isn't your normal mother's intuition, the one that tells you during your bathroom "break" that a toddler is drawing all over the walls with a Sharpie, or that the mysteriously quiet house means two boys have decided to take homeschool science into their own hands, and it involves flammables and a lighter.  

It's deeper than that.  

The feeling doesn't overwhelm me very often, but when it does, I can almost always be certain that it's soon to be followed by a difficult or stressful event.  The first time I experienced it, I was in high-school, and ever since then it has been a pretty accurate predictor of everything from bad break-ups to flight delays.  

At first I tried to talk myself out of the possibility that anything could potentially be wrong.  After all, I did have some pretty convincing photo evidence that their manly trip to the mountains was nothing short of fantastic.  

Hey mom, we're on top of the world!

Getting ready to race down the bunny slopes blacks.

He has my a bar! (Sweet Home Alabama?)
I obviously had nothing to worry about, right?

Nasty intuition. Of course it wouldn't go away, so I did what I usually do when the feeling gets to nagging me - I began to pray. Then, the phone rang.  It was you know who.  

I did the whole Jesus take the wheel thing, took a deep breath, and waited for the voice on the other end to deliver the news.

Hi Honey. We're in the ER.  George fell on the mountain and broke his right collar bone.  

What was screaming in my head: They were racing, weren't they???? 
You let them race down the mountain on the last run???? 

He's going to be fine. The rest of us are okay, I'll call you later with more details.

What I said: Okay, be safe (haha), I love you all.

{BIG exhale.}

The very second the name George passed through the receiver, my heart broke in two.

I hope I don't sound insensitive when I say that if it were any of the other boys, I wouldn't have been as upset as I was over George.  But, its true.  

George has been counting down the days until baseball and track club practices begin.  His heart condition limits the sports he can participate in (no high-contact or high-exertion), including football, wrestling, and basketball, all of which are his first loves.  

I admire him so much for trying to stay positive despite his limitations, but its impossible for him to hide the sadness that stirs deep inside his heart while pacing the sidelines at all of the football games and wrestling meets he so desperately wants to be a part of.

When they arrived home the next day, the very first thing George said to me was, "Does this mean I can't run track? What about baseball, is that out too?"

I don't know why God allows some of our children to struggle and to suffer more than others.  It's easy for me as an adult to look George in the eye and tell him with deepest sincerity and truth that God has a great plan for his life, and that his injuries and ailments are all a part of that plan. For Geoge to believe me - that's the hard part.

If it seems as though nothing positive can possibly come out of an unexpected injury, I want to reassure you that it very well can.  

The day-to-day energy and activity in our home is full of a mixture of emotions and conversations that spring from brotherly competition, teasing, laughing, fighting...they are just normal boys. But, when one guy is down, all the other guys come to the rescue.  They take comfort and take care of each other in the most amazing ways.  

Children are capable of exhibiting so much more kindness and compassion that we realize.
Henry insisted that George wear his favorite Spider Man pajamas, even though they're 2 sizes too small.  He looks like a Hobbit with those high waters and big feet!

The night after George's appointment with the orthopedist, he needed a lot of help from both Steve and I to get in and out of the shower and dress himself.  After we finished, I opened the door to our bedroom only to find five brothers waiting patiently outside, wondering how their injured teammate was faring.

Andrew was the first person in.  He went straight over to George (who was still crying from the discomfort of getting his brace and sling back on), and asked him what he could do to help. Not satisfied with the "nothing" answer, he left the room and promptly came back with a hair dryer.

Can I dry your hair for you, George?  Would that make you feel better?

Really? Steve and I just looked at one another in total amazement.
You all know by now that I was doing the pregnant cry, all the while the boys were shouting between giggles, "Yeah! Spike it up! Give him a mohawk!"  It was an 80's hair event to behold.

People often love others in the way that they want to be loved.  I learned a lot about Andrew's heart that day, and have been so thankful that the boys' hearts have all been stretched in charity and thoughtfulness, to think more of someone else and less of themselves in the present circumstances.

I hope that one day George will be able to look back on this time and remember what it felt like to be loved and cared for by his brothers, and that those memories will overcome the sadness that he has felt from missing a springtime of baseball and track.
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Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Baby Calves and Broken Bones ~ Spring Break Part I

Happy spring break, my friends! I always look forward to spring break so much.  It makes me feel like we're on the final lap of the school year, and that summer and all of it's delights, including a newborn baby (heaven!) and margaritas on the porch (bliss!) are just around the corner.  

I'm writing our spring break tales in two posts, because our family had two different adventures over the weekend.  I took Charles and Joseph to my hometown to visit family, while Steve hauled the older troops to Colorado for a few days of skiing.

Let's just say that one story is cute and cuddly, and the other is more of crash-n-burn type. I'm going for the cute and cuddly story today, because I feel that you would all rather see adorable pics of newborn baby calves than x-rays of broken bones.  Amiright??

Since I couldn't get anyone to support the idea that a 31 week pregnant mom can totally handle the bunny slopes, I opted to stay home from the mountain trek and plan my own little adventure with the littles.
After chatting with my brother Scott, who let me know that calving season at his farm was in full swing, I knew that Charlie and Joseph would have a great time visiting my parents and seeing all of the fresh little cutie pies.
This mama loves her boss! Look how close she let him get to her chipmonk!
The little guy was born about an hour before we arrived.

Scott and his family live on the homestead where my dad grew up, just a few miles from my childhood home. I have the most wonderful memories of visiting my grandparents there as a child. Their farm was a joyful place where love, laughter, good times, great food, and chores where never in short supply.
Managing the cow-calf operation and farming are really what Scott loves most, but all of it has to be done in the evenings, or on weekends, when he's not working at his full time job as an electrical lineman. 

Anytime we get to go home for a visit, the boys automatically throw their work clothes in the suitcase, because they know that Scott will always have a list of chores that they can help with.  Since he's the daddy of three adorable little girls, I don't think Scott will ever say no to a bunch of wild farm boys who want to work!
The first afternoon that we took the boys to see the calves, it was cold and drizzly outside, so the babies were tucked in pretty close to their mamas.  
But the next day the weather was beautiful, and the calves were ever-so-happy to be out in the pasture scampering around as far as their mamas would let them roam.

I think sometimes the media paints a very sad and inaccurate picture of most beef producers.  Their descriptions lead us to believe that the animals live in miserable, cramped conditions, waiting in line for their food rations and daily shots of antibiotics, steroids, and hormones, while the farmer sits in his easy chair calculating his booming profits.

That just isn't so. Not on this farm.

In fact, I was amazed at how incredibly relaxed and calm all of Scott's cows were, despite the fact that we were walking close to them and their babies.  And that's simply because he's out there with them every day, giving them such great care.  They have plenty of room to roam, and the pens that separate the bulls from the heifers were clean, and fences tidy.  
A trip to the farm is never complete without a four-wheeler ride around the pastures.  Grandpa made sure Charlie got to be the pilot.  Aside from the near immersion in the pond, they both rolled back to the barn smiling from ear-to-ear.
Then there's Jophis.

Just looking at that danger-seeker's hyper-focused face makes my hair grey.
That's better.  I love me some sweet, squishy cheeked Jophis.
I treasure this picture of my dad holding his grandson. I could never have imagined as a child running around picking eggs and playing hide-and-seek on the farm where my dad grew up, that one day I would be watching my own children play in its pastures.  

There's something so indescribably special about the way a particular place can weave itself into the life story of generations of souls, and how that place will always be where those souls come back together with their memories and experiences and feel connected.
Of the dozens of snapshots I took over the weekend, I have to say that these are my favorite.  Even though my dad spent most of his life career in the world of banking, he will be the first to remind you that you can take the boy out of the farm, but you can never take the farm out of the boy!

That's one proud farm boy with his beautiful bride!
Stay tuned for part two, of the spring break story!

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

The Story I've Been Waiting to Tell You About Baby #7 - The One In Which I Freaked Out {A Little}

Over the weekend Steve and I took the boys up to the local high school football field to burn off a little steam.  While the big guys threw the pigskin around, I was pretty content to circle the track on my own for a few miles.

I thought I was still running, but according to my oldest son, my pace looks more like a brisk shuffle. Leave it to a 5'10" 130 pound teenage boy to keep my 29 week bloated ego in check.
Anyway, after a few shuffling laps, Joey decided to cut in on my lane, giving me a sweet little view of his back side.  Baby buns are the best, aren't they?  With the sunshine pouring through his wispy locks, I was happy to have such a cute distraction from my mental workout.

My mind had been spinning for the past half hour with worry over how I am going to care for another little baby in the midst of everything that our family is currently trying to work through concerning Steve's health, Charlie's growth issues, the upcoming spring and summer activities, and farm life starting to ramp up.

Yes, it's true, mothers of big families don't always have it all together.  We're not experts, or well-seasoned at much of anything, really.  We worry, we fret, we even freak out once in a while. 

I freak out a lot, actually.

In fact, after writing my last post, I wondered if maybe my joy for raising a big brood of boys, and sharing our excitement over welcoming another little one (both genuine emotions) left you all thinking that I've got this motherhood thing down, or that we're some sort of Bob Ross portrait of big family perfection

Not so, my friends.  Not even close.

The crazy thing is, you can freak out about lots of things as a mom, including having another baby, and still posses a joyful spirit, still trust in God's plans (although you think His plans lean towards crazy at times), and still walk forward confidently in that plan, despite feeling a teensie bit overwhelmed.

Speaking of having another baby, in the past seeing two pink lines has never resulted in me reacting in any way other than bawling with happiness.

Except for this last test.  This last one was kinda different.  Let me break it down for ya....

It was the first of September, and Steve was out of town traveling on business.  I was here at home, holding down the homeschool-sports-music lesson-diaper changing-24/7cafe fort.  While the boys enjoyed a recess from the books outdoors, I remained in the classroom to prep for the next lesson.  In the middle of mapping out the Assyrian Empire, it dawned on me that I was a few days late for that favorite time of the month.

No biggie, I thought.  Marathon training tends to throw the ol' cycle off a bit. We've been here before. It's all good. 

I tried to return to the Persian Gulf, but the nagging thought of the possible (but so unlikely) chance of being pregnant would not stop nagging me, so I snuck into the house and dug around until I finally unearthed a pregnancy test from a crumbled box that was hidden underneath an ancient bag of bath salts that I bought a century ago when I used to have time for baths.

Doot-da-do, let's just get this over with. I mean there's absolutely NO WAY....

Yeah.  Way.

I didn't even get the faded lines, you know the ones that make your eye balls sore from straining so hard to see if there really is a stripe on the stick? The ones where you walk around the house and ask every breathing soul if they can see a line?  Nope, it was two bold pink lines.

Great, for the first time in 15 years, I'm the one who's been randomly tossed into that 3% margin of error pool. Awesome.

Slightly on edge, but not quite to the point of vodka, I ran outside, yelled at the boys like a drill sergeant and *lovingly* ordered them to buckle up in the burb, because we were going on a field trip to Chick-Fil-A followed by our favorite chain store neighbor, Walgreens.  

We didn't even go in to either place.  Drive thru field trip all the way. For the first time ever I didn't notice the spilled lemonade and Polynesian sauce sprayed all over the seats. The boys had never witnessed such oblivion from their mother before.  They were in awe.

Back home with a fresh batch of tests, I was ready for this chicken dance to be over.

Let's take a for real test this time.

Okay two for real tests.  Three?  {Sigh.} Stupid lines.

Bill Nye the Science Guy and Miss Frizzle would have to take over afternoon teaching duties, because I had charts and a calendar to study.

How (well, we know how) but.....when....could this have happened? I don't even think we've had time to hold hands or wink at each other lately.

Just to catch all you NFP fans up to speed, here's how Steve and I approach all that business:

Have a baby.  Use NFP for a few months until mommy's thyroid/hormone/adrenals start to function properly.  Throw the charts away. Buy pregnancy tests. Wait on the Lord to bless (or not to bless) us with some pink lines.

Seriously, that's pretty much been our typical routine. But, after we had Joseph, and concerns over Steve's health began to worsen, much more responsibility was placed upon my shoulders. His care, and the care of our children, and taking over as many duties that we normally shared together naturally became first in the order of charity and priority for me.

It was time to reevaluate things a little bit.  For the first time in 14 years, we prayerfully decided to practice NFP for just and serious reasons.

I'd be lying if I told you that in that moment of discovering I was pregnant again I didn't struggle with the loss of things of lesser importance, things I would be giving up again, things like sleeping through the night, Friday's gin and tonic, non-pregnancy/nursing attire, training for races.  All of those things seem so superficial don't they?  Yet, I confess that I don't have the detachment thing down.

I like routine, comfort, fun, sleep, and beer.  I dislike hemorrhoids, swelling, nausea, exhaustion, pre-natal vitamins and labor. Experiencing all of those little annoyances with a healthy husband at my side is one thing, going through them with a sick spouse, plus six very busy boys under my wing is entirely another.

Despite our prayerful and practical efforts to postpone any future pregnancies, God, in His wisdom, had an entirely different set of plans for us.  And, for Steve and I, that's really the beauty of practicing NFP prayerfully.  There never ceases to be an openness to life.  We offer the Lord our present circumstances, and trust Him to lead us....even though the path ahead sometimes looks completely different than the one we would have chosen to take ourselves.

In the midst of the shock and surprise over a positive test, I knew, deep down that the only resolution to the immediate tears of worry and confusion would be to trust.  To say over and over again, yes, Lord.  As you wish.

I want you to know, those of you who have ever been (or maybe you currently are) in the camp of worry, of anxiety, and of freaking out about your present family circumstances, that it's okay.  You don't have to have it all together all of the time.  

If others look at you and say, well, you chose this big family thing so that's what you get, then they can stick it.  No one lacks empathy for the med-school student working three jobs, or the ironman athlete who lost two toenails last week.

Because, what they're doing is admirable.


It's okay to feel frustrated and completely overwhelmed.  It's okay to cry, to be angry, to question, to desperately seek a way around the circumstances that we face, rather than walk straight through them with our pride as our shield of protection.

But, those feelings aren't the end of the story, they're just a natural and sometimes very necessary beginning to the great one that God is writing in our lives.

We can do our best to hide our fragility from others, but we cannot hide it from our Father. He made us. He even became human like us, so that there would be no distance between His love and understanding of us and our freedom to trust in that understanding.

He knows all, He sees all, and yet He is not a distant Father who leaves us to struggle out in the deep hopeless and alone.  He does not leave us weeping in fear and anguish on the floor of our bedroom, unable to face what it will require of us to open the door and bravely walk out into the storm. We are not alone!

I am blessed to have wonderful people in my life to remind me of that very truth, people who have been through tough times themselves and can testify to the Lord's love and fidelity, people who encourage me to place my confidence in Him and to remember, above all, that God is God and we are not.  He can only desire what is best for us, and it is up to us to trust Him.

I want to pass along that encouragement to you, and to tell you that you are not alone.  We are in this camp together, and we are going to make it, even if we have to freak out a little along the way.