By Leah-Kate Lounsbury
If the wind will not serve, take to the oars. ~Walt Whitman
My wind had been abruptly taken out of me with the loss of my baby in Fall 2016. But not like a balloon that suddenly bursts…more like an inflatable mattress with a hidden hole, where you wake up the next morning on the floor and every part of your body hurts.
Like with my first pregnancy, it had taken a while to conceive. Naturally, the excitement had built and when the pregnancy was confirmed, I went swiftly into planning mode. We wanted to wait a few more weeks before sharing the news, so the melancholy in me came out in full force. I found myself collecting decor for the new nursery. I spent hours setting up the perfect backdrop for an announcement picture, with my then 2.5 year old daughter in the center.
A few weeks passed and I began letting those closest to us know baby #2 was on the way – due date would fall on our 7th wedding anniversary! We mailed off the announcements and let others know in person. Congratulations messages started to arrive via email, text, phone call. We celebrated with friends over dinner on a Friday night. It was, of course, a glorious time.
Then Sunday night came. A scary symptom surfaced and my intuition led me to call my sister (a nurse). She calmed me down and suggested I contact my midwife. It was decided that an early ultrasound needed to be scheduled and so the next morning I sat in the imaging center, shaking, and fighting hard to remain optimistic.
The ultrasound tech tried to keep me entertained with some small talk, but I truthfully had no interest in chatting. I wanted to see the baby! The simple conversation turned to awkward silence as she checked everything out. I asked to see the monitor and she replied, “I won’t be able to show you anything today, but your doctor will call you.”
When it was all said and done, I exited the office practically hyperventilating. My husband and daughter kept asking, what did they say? Are you okay? A pit in the deepest part of my stomach told my heart things were NOT okay. I looked down at my phone and at that moment a text came through from my sister, saying her heart, too, felt heavy and to call her. I shared what took place, and we chalked it up to bad bedside manner on part of the technician. Still, I frantically called my midwife and demanded to know what was going on. Less than an hour later (I actually don’t remember the timeline much – time seemed to stand still and pass so quickly simultaneously), I received a call back from my beloved midwife (who also delivered my daughter) and she told me, with heartache in her voice, that the pregnancy had turned from thriving to no longer viable. She delicately told me to prepare for a miscarriage.
My “wind” was suddenly stormy. She lovingly stayed on the phone with me and listened to me cry, and then walked me through my options. I hung up the phone, completely wrecked and feeling defeated. The deepest sadness I ever felt.
I lay at the bottom of the staircase, crying and wailing, with my daughter looking over me. Shock. Confusion. Anger. What was happening? I pulled my daughter in and hugged her for what felt like forever. In that moment I realized how precious life was, and also how much you can love someone even though you will never get to meet them on this side of heaven.
Each and every moment that followed in the days to come were surreal. My husband had to leave town for a work and business trip, so my mom drove from West Virginia to pick up Neileah for a few days. As I anticipated the miscarriage to happen, I resorted to what I knew as my best escape: running. I couldn’t physically run but I could surround myself with runners. I continued to be at cross country practice that week, eyes bloodshot and puffy. Those few hours every day while I coached allowed me to numb it all – a distraction from the pain and retreat from the emotional sorrow. I wasn’t as alone or scared when I was with my team, so I kept myself engaged with my athletes. It felt like the only constant I had as I gripped for mercy to come over my womb and prayed for comfort as I waited.
Take to the oars. Twelve days later, I raced a 5k. Every step felt purposeful, meaningful, and emotional. It was upon the completion of that race I knew what I needed to do to pay tribute to the baby: train and run a marathon, and qualify for the Boston Marathon, as the 2018 race would fall within a week of when he/she would have turned 1 year old.
Through my training, I began the healing process – one that is ongoing and often inconsistent. I looked forward to my early morning runs and workouts, as I pounded out the miles and let my mind sort through it all and my soul find peace. My 5k times were dropping and I was feeling fitter, just not yet whole again. Randomly, two weeks before my scheduled marathon, my knee blew up and I was taken completely off course. I couldn’t run AT ALL. I think I covered 10 miles total in those 2 weeks (talk about a taper!). I was being challenged but I couldn’t exactly understand the lesson. Three physical therapists, multiple visits to a sports medicine doctor, a cortisone shot, and ridiculous amounts of pain/anti-inflammatories later, I showed up to the start line. Here I was, 6 months later, about to run what I hoped to be a Boston Qualifying time. Not knowing what my knee would allow me to do didn’t stop me – I am as stubborn as a horse. So I went for it. Take to the oars.
I crossed the finish line with a 3 minute PR and more than 12 mins under the qualifying standard! I realize now that the lesson had been patience, appreciation (for the support that surrounded me), trust, and perseverance.
Following a few weeks of total rest and physical therapy, I was back on my feet, getting stronger physically and emotionally every day. Cross country season kicked off and I dove into training alongside my athletes, all the while with my eyes on the Boston marathon registration week. My 5k time was dropping even more and I performed within 14 seconds of my college and career PR. At the time, not many people were aware of the details but it was evident I was running and competing with passion, something that had fallen away a bit in the years before. The vigor was returning. Admittingly, I liked me best when I was running or coaching because it kept the woes and doubts at bay. I was determined to prove to myself that my circumstance did not mean my body was broken or incapable of producing great things.
In September 2017, one year after the pregnancy loss, I received the coveted email from the B.A.A. stating I had gotten into the 2018 Boston Marathon….it was one of the happiest moments for me! Shortly thereafter I set out on a mission to train at a higher level than before. I connected with a personal coach and put together a plan. Training started a few weeks after cross country season ended. During that training cycle, I raced multiple 5ks, a 10k, two five mile races, won a 10 mile trail run, and won a half marathon, PRing in many of the distances. I was definitely in a groove until I hit a little roadblock again with a few ailments and ending up going to physical therapy for about 6 weeks leading up to Boston. Even so, I refused to let the wind be taken from me and diligently pressed on.
Marathon weekend approached quickly, and unfortunately the weather report was predicting horrible conditions for the race. There is no denying that I was nervous and that my race strategy would need some adjustment. From start to finish, the weather was every bit of nasty, horrendous, and unpleasant. Freezing temperatures. Wind. Rain. Pretty sure hail or sleet at a few points. Things got even more interesting around mile 23 when I became dizzy, started seeing spots, and couldn’t stay in forward motion very well. I considered bailing, but found my resolve again and battled to the finish. The devotion in my heart wouldn’t let me quit even though my body was shutting down minute by minute. I admit, I walked. Twice. But finishing was a sort of redemption, and definitely a success – while not the time goal I trained relentlessly for, I crossed the line with a 90 sec PR! I was crying and hypothermic; they rushed me to the medical tent where I was stripped down, put in a heat bubble, withstood body cramps like I have never known before, and drank cup after cup of hot beef broth to aid in raising my core temperature….but it was worth it to celebrate that sweet soul who went to heaven a little early. It was an abominable ordeal, yet the whole time I felt the spirit of my child singing to mine: sweet VICTORY!
Truth is, no obstacle, circumstance, or event defines who we are. How we respond to the obstacle, circumstance, or event defines who we are. It’s how we manage the low points, the challenges, the unexpected. I have personally chosen to change my perspective and find positive in the negative, happiness in the heartbreak, confidence in the confusion. I vow to stand up and press on. To refresh, sharpen, and strengthen my fortitude. It isn’t easy, and I still find myself in momentary defeat. I seek to not only win my personal battles, but to assist others to do the same. My life mantra has taken on a theme to redefine my impossible. And for me, running is a powerful platform for doing just that. Running is a confidant, a therapist, a teacher, an encourager, a best friend that won’t let you off the hook. Running helps reignite fires, and it brings out the best in us. Running is an accountability partner, a truthseeker, a preacher, and a mentor that constantly stretches you to be more, be better, and rise up.
Never confuse a single defeat with a final defeat. And when the wind will not serve, take to the oars!
Leah-Kate grew up in the small town of Shepherdstown, West Virginia, where she took up running in the 6th grade. After participating in high school athletics, she went on to compete four years at the NCAA Division I level in cross country/track & field at High Point University where she held school records in the 10k and 3000m steeplechase events. Graduating with psychology and business degrees, Leah-Kate moved to Delaware in 2010, began working in the real estate and property management arena, and also partnered with a leadership team to help empower entrepreneurs. She started as an assistant cross country coach at Delaware Technical Community College in 2015 and is now entering into her 3rd year as head coach for the men’s and women’s programs. Involved at the high school level as well, Leah-Kate is passionately helping runners to realize their potential and reach achievement milestones. A competitive local runner and a member of the New Balance Delaware Racing Team, in her post-collegiate endeavors, she has completed six marathons, and countless races between the 3 mile and half marathon distances. In her spare time, Leah-Kate enjoys reading, baking, antiquing, exploring coffee shops, and spending quality time with her family. She resides in Newark with her daughter, Neileah, and husband.