Staring down at my bulging belly in the shower, I catch a glimpse of the tattoo on my inner left arm. I’ve had it for so many years that I don’t really notice it anymore. It reads “twentysixpointtwo” and is framed in a grid; a memory of a past life that revolved around running and pizza. When I was training for the Boston Marathon, I needed a bit of extra motivation to remind myself that I could go for 12-mile training runs on 30 degree days and then work 8 hour shifts in front of a 900 degree oven. These days, the meaning I extract from the ink on my arm is not what it used to be.
I’ve just come home from my weekly prenatal yoga class and I’m totally spent from an hour and a half of gentle stretching. Besides this class, the only exercise I can muster these days are long walks with my dog Ted. Even then, I’m breathless by the time we get to the park and have to plop down on a bench while he scurries around with his pals. I know that plenty of women recover from childbirth and go on to win Olympic medals and run marathons again, but standing in the shower, still trying to catch my breath, I cannot fathom the intensity and pain of that process.
The physical limits of my body have been seriously compromised. Just as I have struggled to define myself without beer, I have struggled to define myself outside the realm of fitness and exercise.
I ran my fourth marathon fast enough to qualify for the Boston Marathon, which I then ran in 2013. I was two blocks away from the finish line when the bombs went off.
Before I ran marathons, I played Division I soccer at Boston College. Over the course of my lifetime, my identity has been built upon my athleticism and fitness. I strove to compete at levels that were unattainable for most, seeking self worth in these accomplishments. After I stopped playing soccer, I sought this same status in marathon training. I ran my fourth marathon fast enough to qualify for the Boston Marathon, which I then ran in 2013. I was two blocks away from the finish line when the bombs went off. Far enough to walk away safely away, but close enough to be deeply affected by the bombing and the events that were to follow.
Now, looking down at my forearm, my tattoo represents a reminder of a perseverance that has since evolved. Rather than simply telling me to lace up my sneakers and get out the door, it ties me to the city in which I became an adult and to which I have given my blood, sweat, and tears. It’s a reminder of where I’m from and what I’m working towards. When I was younger, my mom always said that tattoos were just “a permanent reminder of a temporary feeling,” but I have to disagree (sorry, Mom).
How do I define myself without the things that were once so central to my being and day to day existence?
At 30 weeks, Big Snack is almost fully cooked and ready to make an appearance. Yet the farther I progress through my pregnancy, the more I feel like a shell of my former self. How do I define myself without the things that were once so central to my being and day to day existence? The void left by a lack of beer and exercise has been confusing to navigate and I have struggled to redefine myself along new lines. I never thought that significant feelings of loss and emptiness could accompany the miracle of new life. And yet, my tattoo reminds me to keep moving forward, one step at a time, one day at a time.
In ten weeks I’ll once again be able to dabble in the realms of beer and running, but more importantly, I’ll be a mother. My life will be richer that I can currently comprehend, and the feelings of loss associated with beer and exercise will fall to the wayside.