Adrenalin pulses the moment you hear the starting gun. The shot pushes power from your core, along your arms, into your fists, down through your hips, to your quads and calves and into your feet. Your legs carry you on cushions of air, running like the wind. You have to rein in your enthusiasm, knowing you should ration your energy. So many months preparing for this. You’re on track for the hardest thing you’ve ever done.
The memory of the pain of pushing her out has faded. Her sweet smell makes you hold her closer and closer until you are breathing in the gossamer strands of her hair. She’s awarded you her first smile. Every morning the sun rises in her eyes and your heart melts. She’s only waking once in the night now. The four hours of uninterrupted sleep feels like a holiday. You’ve had sex for the first time since the birth. A little early, you think, although you were keen to try. With a tender smile, he says it’s good to be back on track.
You’re finding your rhythm. A metronome swings back and forth in your mind as your arms pump and your feet slap the pavement. You mustn’t forget to drink at the next water station to avoid dehydration. There is a nagging pull in your hamstring. You try to ignore it, to concentrate outwards rather than inwards, but you are forced to focus on every cell of that muscle. The protein filaments of actin and myosin slide past one another to produce the contraction, stride after stride. Thirst creeps up on you, filling your consciousness like an ocean.
The baby has started taking solids as she needs more than you can offer. You think it might be time to stop breastfeeding altogether. She has sucked you dry, and however much fennel tea you drink, it doesn’t increase the flow. You develop an intense hatred of fennel. Along with the exhaustion comes the sudden compulsion to burst into tears at unexpected moments. You think you might be suffering from delayed post-natal blues. You’re finding it difficult to drop the weight you gained. No amount of giggling and cuteness can lift you out of the habit of checking the clock after bath-time to see if it’s appropriate to open the Chardonnay in your fridge. And it’s nothing to do with dehydration.
The twinge in your hamstring has eased, but now a blister seems to be forming on the outside of your little toe where it rubs against the inner sole of your shoe. Maybe there’s a fold in your sock? Your imagination turns it into a massive knotted seam containing a piece of grit. Your foot starts to burn. You’re thirsty all the time now, and you gulp too much at the next refreshment station. The water sloshes around in your stomach. You ease off the pace. You probably won’t finish in your predicted time.
Despite the gurgling that could be interpreted as first words, the belly laughs, and those gorgeous blue eyes, you’re feeling like shit. You’re tired. Dead tired. She slept through the night at three months, then started waking again at ten months. Nightlights, favorite toys and gentle music. Nothing helps the separation anxiety. And you foolishly keep going to her every time she wakes. The only relief, to sustain the comfortable numbness, is a bottle every night now. For you, not for her.
There’s a whirring sensation in your chest like a helicopter. Tears are close, but you know you can’t afford to cry, as this will sap the last of your energy. Sweat has dried on your face. You taste salt every time you lick your lips. You wish this could be over. Your legs are pillars of concrete. You can barely put one tender foot in front of the other. You keep them moving, although you only see pain, and more pain, and the gates of hell ahead of you. Every fiber in your body is screaming out for you to stop.
She’s beautiful. She walks, she talks, she feeds herself, she plays, and she loves you unconditionally. You want to stop wishing she would master ever more complicated tasks to make your life easier, stop wishing her life away. But there is a glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel. You are beginning to enjoy the journey. Fueled with a fierce love, you cling onto that tiny speck of hope, and move towards the light. Every fiber in your soul is screaming out for you to stop your evening drinking habit, and you listen.
The demons that have screamed at you to lie down for the last five miles finally flee. The tightness that has been coiled in your chest unfurls and is released. As you approach the inflatable finish banner, hundreds of spectators cheer you on, beating their hands against the metal panels on the barriers lining the course. A bubble grows in your chest and tears dampen your cheeks. This thing you have done, the months of training, this glorious achievement that will carry you into the future with pride. It has been worth every single mile of effort for the medal they place around your neck.
In the playground you gaze at your girl. You are in awe of her beauty. You worship this little human, and you are determined to nurture her to independence. She will be the light of the next generation, she will experience glorious achievements. It has been worth the rollercoaster of anxiety and guilt over the past months, for the medal you will wear on your heart for the rest of your life.
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