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Today marks week 20 of my pregnancy. Halfway there. The time has both flown and dragged by so slowly, and it has not at all been what I imagined it would be. This was to be my first truly active pregnancy. With my first two, I walked a lot, but that was about it. This was my first pregnancy as a runner, and I confess I harbored some dreams about documenting all the fabulous running I’d be doing while growing this child.

But my body, and my life, had other plans. I got pregnant pretty fresh off Hood to Coast, when I was badly injured and did little more than hobble from exchange to exchange. I then decided to rest the injury as much as possible before Ragnar Tennessee, and even then ran the fewest number of miles possible. I made it through, and just under the wire of first trimester feel-good time. I was juuuuuust starting to get tired but hadn’t started feeling nauseous yet–which was awesome given my usual relay insomnia, and the fact that my stomach was not yet turning when I was stuck in a van with a large number of sweaty people.

The next six weeks brought some pretty major upheaval in my home life as a series of events prompted us to, quite suddenly, decide to put our house on the market. I consciously forewent school, friends, and exercise to pack up a good deal of the house and move it into storage. Then came the deep cleaning and then, Thanksgiving and eight days of family in from out of town. Even if I had not been in the first trimester of pregnancy, I think I’d have still been exhausted. I tried to run a time or two, but my IT band was still horribly cranky, and I could not work up the energy to get myself out of the house and to BodyPump. I told myself this was a time to rest, to give up the old routines, and that if I needed to start back at zero after the baby, it would be fine–especially if my IT band would heal.

Then, mid-December, the perfect storm of stressful events hit. We got a contract on the house. I spent several days house-shopping so we’d be prepared to make an offer on a new place. Found one house, one beautiful, perfect house, where I could practically see my children growing up and coming back to visit, where envisioned high schoolers packed in for Bible studies, where I imagined my parents and in-laws coming for joyous holidays. With all the house-shopping and preparing for the holidays, I again made the choice to let the exercise, for the most part, go. I knew I was feeling a little more blue than normal, and a little heavier, but I told myself it was nothing I couldn’t deal with.

Three days before Christmas, the couple buying our house pulled out of the deal. We mourned the loss, celebrated the holiday with family in from out-of-town, and then a week after the house deal fell through, my brother-in-law, who is like a brother to me, ended up in the ER and then the ICU 350 miles away from where I live. I went up the day after New Year’s to help him and my sister.

That’s when my body piped up with a very serious message for me: NOT KEEPING MY BODY STRONG IS NOT OKAY. The day after I arrived I developed a near-constant, and nearly debilitating, ache in the right side of my upper back. It hurt to sit. It hurt to stand. The only relief came when I was lying down, and even then only truly felt better if I could sleep and fully relax. I haven’t had back pain like that since I was working full-time in TV, producing hour-long shows in an extremely stressful shop–when I was also heavier and not putting in any time to speak of on working and strengthening my back and my core.

YET STILL. My first instinct was not to go back to working out. I was out of the habit by this time, and frankly, I had already forgotten the good emotional feelings you get when your physical body is working. I was intimidated, ashamed, and worried that I couldn’t handle how much my fitness had surely declined. So I went and got a massage instead. And in the discussion during that session, my personal-trainer-turned-massage-therapist and I decided that the main culprit was my neglect of my core, and the only way to rid myself of this knot (which was, the massage therapist said, bigger than Stone Mountain) was to get rid of my new gym-fear and get back to working out.

Monday, January 13, I took a deep breath and opened the door to the gym. I went four times in the next five days. I couldn’t lift as much, I couldn’t run as far, and all of it was painful. But by the weekend, my back only spoke out at the end of the day, when I was tired anyway. I kept going, focusing on my abs and my back for strength, and running to give me the endorphins and motivation to want to keep going back. Within two weeks, the pain was virtually gone, and now, at almost three weeks back, I am once again in the habit.

So, lesson learned: I am a person who, probably due to the scoliosis, would be a chronic pain case within weeks of not staying in shape. And with that pain would come irritability, impatience, and a loss of many of the good qualities I work hard to cultivate. And yet within just days of making the very conscious decision to take charge again, experienced a complete turn around in my wellness, both physically and mentally. Health and fitness maintenance is not a luxury. It is essential to maintain any sort of quality of life. The fact that I let myself get into such a fog, denying that reality, is shocking to me. I’m grateful that I got in and out of it relatively quickly. I’m writing all of this down because I don’t ever want to go to that place again. I may look bizarre when I’m even further along in this pregnancy and lifting weights or working my core, but whoever wants to judge can go right ahead. I’ll be too happy at being pain-free to notice.