Throughout my second pregnancy I was a runner. I had discovered a love of running about a year before and it was an outlet for all the stressors and discomfort that life and pregnancy brought. I felt strong. I felt powerful. I felt energetic. Running was my therapy. I had a happy and healthy pregnancy and ran as long as I could. As my belly grew, my pace slowed and eventually the running scaled back to nightly walks around the neighborhood in the final days of waiting for my daughter to arrive. Our due date came and went. I walked every night for 13 days hoping it would be the day my little girl would make her grand entrance. On that final day our midwife helped us make the decision that it was time for our baby to make her way earth side. Our doula understood my heart as a runner and whispered encouragement and affirmations in my ear that motivated me to the finish line. Throughout the labored breathing, powerful surges, steadfast concentration, and pushing through incredible physical discomfort the parallels between running and child birth were omnipresent. I give much credit to my training as a runner in helping me to power through the rigors of labor. As I held my precious newborn, I had little idea how much my training would help me to endure one of the most difficult trials of my life.
Five days later I awoke and stared at my sleeping infant. I took a picture of her resting peacefully and posted it to Facebook with the caption “perfection”. Later that morning, a devastating imperfection in my little girl’s anatomy would come to light and our lives turned upside down. After every feeding, my baby would vomit. Sometimes a slow trickle as soon as she finished nursing, and other times a forceful projectile stream across the room in increasing shades of yellow and green. At the ER we endured multiple tests. She was given ultrasounds, x-rayed, and poked over and over again as her tiny little veins resisted intravenous injection. I had never felt as helpless in my entire life as I did that night watching my girl scream, cry, and vomit. The memory is forever burned into my brain and would linger heavily for years afterward. After these tests could offer no clear diagnosis we handed our baby girl to the anesthesiologist and she was wheeled off for emergency surgery.
Adrenaline. For the next 17 days I was sustained and survived on adrenaline. Much like a runner pushes through those arduous miles on a long run, my mind, body and soul pushed through our seemingly endless days in the NICU with my daughter. Akin to those long runs in which fatigue and mental stamina are at the lowest of lows, adrenaline and not losing sight of that finish line kept me going. I wanted my baby to come home. An intestinal blockage had been removed from her gut. Tubes kept her fed and an incubator kept her warm. One day at a time. One step at a time. One feeding at a time. I had to keep going. There was no choice. I had to keep going for her. For my family.
I have run in dozens of races since I started. My family has always supported my efforts. Seeing their smiling faces and hearing the cheers of “Go Mommy!” at the end of each race thrills and drives me like nothing else. I run for them. I run to gain strength for myself so I can be strong for them. I set an example for my daughters that self-care is not just important, but essential.
In the days after bringing our girl home for the second time, I felt shell-shocked. I was in sensory overload and everything was too much. Too loud. Too bright. The peace of snuggling my newborn had passed and now my days were tinged with anxiety and stress. I cried. A lot. My dog died. I cried even more. We moved cross country and I lost the community of friends that had supported us through the ordeal. New state. New house. New everything. Same sadness.
It was a dark season for me. I wasn’t running, but longed to. The New Year came and the signs of spring were showing. I started hearing about races in town and signed up for a St. Patrick’s Day run and slowly started to find my way back. I cried after finishing that 5k race. That first race after everything we had been through gave me courage to keep going. I decided to set an even bigger goal for myself. Our house is in a neighborhood at the bottom of a mountain. It is a bare mountain in the arid Washington desert. It’s a favorite for locals to climb and see the reaches of our Tri-Cities. I decided to sign up for a race that would traverse that mountain. I signed up to do the Badger Mountain Challenge 15k. I was thrilled and terrified at the same time. I would be 8 months post-partum at the time of the race. It takes 9 months to grow a human and even longer for the body to recover from that change, but I wanted my life back. I wanted to feel better. I wanted to know that I was still capable of doing hard things. I had been through hard things in the last 8 months. I wanted to do this.
I showed up early on race day which only served to amplify my anxiety. I had trained for weeks and I was excited, but nervous about what lay ahead. Whether I crawled, walked or ran I just wanted to finish. After the initial ascent I was extremely winded and the slivers of doubt started creeping into my brain, but I kept going forward. It was a beautiful morning. The crowd of runners was enthusiastic and comforting. Slowly and steadily I made my way around the trail. My legs burned with each step climbed but I kept moving. One step at a time. We ran through orchards and vineyards and snaked our way around the mountain. In addition to the 15k race, people were also completing an ultra endurance race that had started the previous day. I found myself in awe of their strength and stamina, imagining what it must be like to put your mind, body and soul through the ultimate trials of running for days on end. I found myself very much able to imagine. Had I not just 8 months before been through my own endurance race? Surviving on adrenaline, prior training, and mental fortitude to carry me through the weeks on end that I watched my family fight for our littlest member. Fight to heal. Fight to keep going. Fight to survive. One step at a time.
I was utterly exhausted by the time I reached the end of the race, but I finished with a smile on my face, pride in my heart and a renewed sense of purpose. I could do hard things.
I have participated in the Badger Mountain Challenge 15k for the past 3 years and this year will be my fourth. Each time I’ve participated it has inspired me and given me new confidence. I’ve grown faster and stronger as the time has passed since that difficult year after the birth of my daughter. I opened a fitness franchise to empower other mothers. I have helped to train other mothers to find their strength in running as well. It gives me immense pride that this fitness business, FIT4MOM Richland is a sponsor of this year’s Badger Mountain Challenge. The two are forever intertwined in the story that led me to climbing out of the darkness from the most challenging time of my life.
Erin Bradley is FIT4MOM Richland's Running Coach, a Stroller Strides Instructor and original franchise owner. She has a passion for running and empowering and motivating mothers to find their strength in motherhood!