At the end of National Infertility Week, Beth Campagna, the founder of Mama Life London, shares her story of how running became her therapy during her own experience with infertility.
“I'm afraid we can't detect your baby's heartbeat." The words from the sonographer were crushing. We had been trying for a baby for two years and were beyond thrilled to find out we had finally fallen pregnant. We were told that day that I would have a miscarriage, which happened a few weeks later.
The years previous to this moment had been exceptionally tough, I'd lost my dad to suicide when I was pregnant with my son. And had experienced a range of emotions I never even knew existed.
We desperately wanted another baby and every month became a series of heartbreaking and familiar events. At the end of each cycle we would get the encouraging signs that we might be pregnant, tender breasts, being a few days late. And then that hope would turn once again to despair as another painful period would come and go.
After the miscarriage friends and family started to suggest to me that I should give up running. The reasons for our infertility were unknown, perhaps the stress of the previous years had taken their toll on my mind and body. Admittedly I had become underweight, and I was willing to try anything to help us conceive, so I took their advice.
Until this point I never realised how powerful exercise and running is as therapy. At a stage in my life when so much was out of my control, my fitness and getting outside to run had clearly been my anchor.
After a week or so of refraining from running I felt constantly tearful, tense and like another part of my life had been taken away from me. Going for a run on the toughest of days allowed me time to take a moment, to forget about everything else that had been going on in my life.
It gave me the freedom to listen to my music, focus on my pace and have something that was in my control to improve on and get better at.
After a run, I enjoyed the routine of stretching my muscles, having a shower after a sweaty hot summer run, or a warm shower after a freezing winter one. Getting cuddles from my little boy who would be excited to see me after a well deserved 40 minute break. These things, as tiny as they may be, lifted my mood each time without fail.
But a couple of months without running was clearly having a detrimental effect on my mood. My mind was feeling more and more overwhelmed. I’ve always needed to keep busy when I’m stressed, and although a toddler, a marketing job, and a house to stay on top of kept me active, it wasn’t ‘me time’, it didn’t allow that important time to process events, or the opportunity to think about absolutely nothing at all a part from the music and my pace.
I started up running again. Taking time for myself. And, after those first few minutes when my lungs stop screaming and adjust to the rhythm, I enjoyed the peace of being alone and in control of a small segment of my life once more.
Six months after my miscarriage we found out we were pregnant, this time a successful pregnancy that led to the birth of our daughter, Isabella. I continued to run throughout my pregnancy, until it became too uncomfortable from pelvic girdle pain in my third trimester.
As soon as I could, I got straight back into it. Thanks to a new mum friend, who is also into running, I had a partner to share childcare with while one of us went to blow off newborn baby steam!
After completing the Three Peaks Challenge in 2017 in memory of my dad, I started Mama Life London, and exercise has been a huge factor in reducing my stress. I can tell the difference in my anxiety and overwhelm when work is crazy busy and I have less time to workout. I’ve got into a better habit now of fitting in even just 20 minutes most days. It’s more important on the worst days to make the time, it’s a secret weapon in handling what ever life throws at you.
Since the birth of my daughter I have finally got back into running half marathons again and have done a couple that my children (who are now 9 and 5) have been there to watch. It drives me more, and I hope for them, seeing their mum active will encourage them to find something healthy to take their mind away from the tough times too.