Belly Laughs: Why Giving Birth is Nothing Like a Marathon

People often say giving birth is like running a marathon. Those people either don’t run, never had a baby, or they enjoy messing with pregnant women. I’ve run six marathons, completed two Ironman triathlons, and I’ve given birth to two babies minus pain meds. I think it’s fair to say I’m an expert when it comes to the running/birthing comparison. Trust me, they have nothing in common.  


You can train for a race. You can’t train to give birth.

No matter what anyone has told you, nothing feels like having a baby except actually having a baby. During my first pregnancy, I kicked my swollen feet up and pored over stacks of birth-related books. I interrogated every mother I knew about her labor. I bought special perineal massage oils so my husband could stretch me out, um, down there, to get my body ready for the real thing. I’d like to punch whoever came up with that idea. Just, no. This makes as much sense as giving a pie-eating contestant a few petit fours as a training exercise. 


The race course is marked. The course of your labor is not.

Every race–whether it’s a marathon or a 5k, has a beginning, a middle, and an end. You know roughly how long it will take to reach each mile marker. The course of labor, on the other hand, is about as straightforward as a game of Candyland. You could be having contractions for days and be only a couple centimeters dilated. Or you could have a few painful contractions and squeeze a baby out an hour later. Seriously. My neighbor woke up in the middle of the night with a cramp and she was barely out of her pants before she gave birth in an ambulance. 


You can quit a marathon. You can’t quit childbirth.

While you’re running a race, you might see spectators holding signs that say things like “Quitting is Not an Option.” They are wrong. Quitting is totally an option. All you have to do is step off the course and get an Uber. Childbirth, as the name suggests, is not over until a child is born. Whether drugs, forceps, incense, scalpels, or prayer beads help you get that baby out, you’re not done until a baby emerges. 


Crowds are awesome at a marathon. They are not awesome at a birth.

I don’t know about you, but I can hardly relax enough to poop in a public bathroom. “I really think I could get this thing done on the next push, if only there were a few more medical-type people in here, staring at my crotch, waiting for me to have a baby!” said no one, ever. And if the thrill of having an audience wasn’t enough, you also have the pleasure of rocking a one-size-fits-no-one hospital gown.  


Yes, running and having babies both cause you to use your body in ways you didn’t expect. Both have the potential to make you puke. Being able to persevere through either one is certainly something you will be proud of forever. I get why people are quick to compare the two. But after a race, you can kick your feet up and rest. Once you have a baby, you realize the hard work has only just begun.