Tuesday, June 16, 2015

10 Lessons from RAAM That Helped Me Become a Mom

Every June, I get both excited and totally engrossed with the Race Across America. I love following along on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, the RAAM site, Tractalis, and any other way I have to track the race. The stories of exhaustion, suffering, and triumph get me every time. People throw everything into this race. It is an incredible event, and I am lucky enough to have finished it twice in the team category.

Once on an 8 person team, Team Shepherd, in 2012.

And then on a two person team, Power, Pedals, and Ponytails in 2013 with Dani Grabol.

Soon after the 2013 race, George and I decide to start a family. Apparently, the universe decided that we should jump right into family life, because we have two beautiful identical twin boys, Quintin and Candler.

Though they may seem unrelated, I learned so much from my RAAM finishes that helped me transition to being a mother of twin boys.  Here are my lessons!

1. Surround Yourself with a Great Team

In RAAM, your crew is everything. They keep you safe when you are descending the Rocky Mountains in the dark. They tell you stories to keep you awake in the middle of the night. They support you physically and emotionally. They are the soul of the race. RAAM taught me to trust other people with the things most important to me. I had to learn how to let go of some of the control that I used believe that I had. Even when it was hard, I had to allow the crew to do their job and help us get to the finish line.

You can't really see the exhaustion in this picture, but these people got us to Annapolis.

This kind of trust is hard to learn. We want to do things ourselves. Our egos are begging us to take back control. In the end, it is the team around us that makes us strong.

When we had the boys, I barely survived. (Here is the story if you are interested). They were placed in the NICU, not because they were sick, but because I was. From the moment they were born, I had to allow other people to help me. I had heard over and over that motherhood is easier if you accept help. The "if" was not available to me. I HAD to accept it.

Since then, I have become a believer in the saying, "It takes a village to raise a child." George is totally hands-on, my parents and in-laws are deeply involved, and I have welcomed help from all corners of my life.

2. Ambitious Goals Make You Work Harder

In 2013, Dani and I worked with Dr. Stan Beecham, a sports psychologist. He asked us what our goals were for RAAM. Initially, I wanted to have more conservative goals. Dr. Beecham told me that conservative goals don't get you up in the morning. They don't push you in your last set of a workout. Ambitious goals push you. They make you stronger and they make you work harder. So we left his house with the agreement that we were going to try to break the 2-person female record. That was the center of our training and our racing. We all knew that was the goal, and we pushed to make it happen.

And we did it.

When I was pregnant with the twins, I knew I wanted to breastfeed them. Anyone who has gone down this path can attest that this is no small task. It is complicated further by babies who are born 5 weeks early, and a mother who is 3 floors away from them in the hospital. This was a goal that I knew would take everything I had, even without those issues. So, while I was in the ICU, I asked for a pump and a lactation consultant. I was still receiving blood transfusions, but I was pumping for my babies. The ICU nurses suggested that I focus on recovering and living. In reality, that's what I was doing. putting my focus out of that scary place and onto my ambitious goal was part of how I made it out of there.

Here I am snuggling my boys in the NICU with the pic line still in my neck.

It took a month, tons of pumping, nursing, working with lactation consultants, donor milk, shields, help from friends, marathon cluster feeding hours, and very little sleep, but we did it. It was no small task, but after all that effort, it felt good for it to work for us. 

3. You Really Can Survive on One R.E.M. Cylce of Sleep

In RAAM you don't sleep a lot. You can't really. There is no time. I found in both of my RAAM experiences that you can keep pedaling with very little sleep. You might not be the best at math or in the best mood, but you can, and you will survive with very little sleep.

When the boys were born, we didn't sleep a lot. At one point, I woke up moderately refreshed after 90 minutes. I vividly remember thinking to myself, "You've done this before, Kacie! This is like RAAM!" It really did help me to know that I might not be my best self without a ton of sleep, but I could still make it.

4. Even If You Don't Want to Eat and Drink, You Should Anyway

I get sick when I am above 9000 feet. It's just how it is. I throw up, and it's awful. I knew this from hiking in the Andes. I knew it from RAAM 2012. It still didn't mean that I didn't throw up in the Rockies in 2013. Apparently my body thinks it needs to purge itself when we get above a certain elevation, and the last thing I want to do is eat. Unfortunately, you can't pedal for long without eating and drinking. My crew had to do some serious convincing to get food and liquids in me in that stretch. George even took me on a "date" where we had "drinks" and "dinner" (aka gatorade and cantaloupe) to try to get some calories and liquids in.

In what came as a surprise to no one, I got very sick during pregnancy. "Morning sickness" lasted all day. It lasted every day throughout most of my pregnancy. However, all of the research on multiples points to higher caloric intake for higher birth weight. In multiple births, you try to gain and gain early (because eventually you don't really have the room to eat enough for the three of you). This was tough since most smells, foods, showers, moving too fast, putting my head in the wrong direction, or my heart rate rising made me throw up. Again, I thought to myself, "I've done this before!" I used my methods of small amounts of food and drink to get through it.

There are no pictures of this miserable time....but our babies were born weighing 7lbs 6oz and 6 lb 3oz at 35 weeks!

5. Constant Forward Motion Is the Hardest, But Most Important Part

I believe that one of the hardest parts of RAAM is the constant movement. The only way to race it is to keep moving forward. But the forward motion is exhausting. You have to keep getting back on the bike, and when you aren't on the bike you are moving forward in the car (as a team of course!). This starts to wear on you partway through. If you learn to embrace it, though, in a zen kind of way, it makes the process easier. Just knowing that this is where you are and forward is where you are going makes the experience just a little easier.

With young babies, the work is constant. They sleep, they eat, they need to be changed. This happens over and over and over again. You can start to feel like you are on a bit of a hamster wheel, and that can wear on you. Again, embracing that this is where you are right now helps. Knowing that there is truly a short period of your life in which you are going to be doing this give me some solace when it gets tough.

6. When You Are About To Break, Things Are About To Get Better

For me, the Rockies were the hardest part of RAAM. I was sick and I didn't feel good. When we went over the mountains, I thought it would never end. Then, I got to take a sleep and eating breaks, and before I knew it we were in Kansas. I know that I might be the only person that enjoys riding across the flat, windswept state of Kansas, but I do. I started to feel human again once we got out of the elevation. I was so happy to be fighting the wind instead of gagging, that I was giddy!

I feel like the babies push you to your edge. You have 5 hard nights putting them to bed, and you start to get nervous when bed time approaches. You started to get worked up and have a little nervous breakdown, and then BAM!  They go right to sleep. Maybe this is one of those "hindsight is 20-20" things, but I swear that it happens to me every time!

7. Take Yourself Seriously

When we were in Oceanside at the start of RAAM in 2013, I started to get nervous a couple of days before. I asked George, "Who do I think I am to do this?" He said to me, "Who the *bleep* do any of these people think they are? That is the beauty of this race! Everyone here is just someone who loves to ride, has worked really hard, and believes they can do it!" That little conversation knocked out the remaining doubt I had in my mind. This goal was ours to achieve.

As a mom, I take my job seriously. I want to provide an enriching environment for my children to grow and learn. We read a ton, spend huge amounts of time outside, go on outings to the zoo and aquarium, and take swimming, art, and music classes. I want them to grow into thoughtful people, and I try as hard as I can to create those experiences for them. I want them to eat well, to be and feel loved and safe, to have rules and expectations, and to learn daily. These are all lofty goals considering the amount of sleep I usually get!

8. But Not Too Seriously

When things got tough on RAAM, you have to remember that it is important, but it IS a bicycle race at heart, and bicycles are fun! A little dancing, some tutus, and a unicorn mask can lift anyone's spirits on the road!

Well timed games of RAAM bingo also make the miles tick away.

Even though being a parent is an incredibly important and difficult job, it is also a chance to enjoy childhood again. Childhood is a blast! Playing with children is the icing on the parenthood cake, and it is important to take those moments and run with them!

And sometimes that means pretending they are Simba in the Lion King opening song.

Or sometimes it means being monkeys and bananas for Halloween.

9. Sometimes, Cuteness Really Helps

In RAAM, we worked hard to get jerseys that really highlighted....our bike paint jobs. And we might have each had our hair washed by Kim halfway through. And our nails certainly looked good at the start of RAAM. Sometimes these things are important.

And if you are putting in the hard work of raising twins, you should certainly stick them in pumpkins.  Because it's cute.

10. Everything Worth Having In Life Is Hard Work

Both of my RAAM finishes were hard hard hard hard work. They tested me physically, mentally, and emotionally. I was drained in Annapolis, but I was so proud to be a part of such an incredible race. In each race, we put ourselves out there and took huge risks. I believe that effort was met with great rewards.

There are a lot of teeth showing in these smiles!

George and I have been on the parenthood journey for over a year now. It is hard work. It turns your world upside down. I love these children so much that sometimes I think my heart will burst. I want to be the very best mother I can possibly be for them. Sometimes, just being the bare minimum takes everything I've got. It is worth it, though. I am proud to be their mother, and I am thankful for the life experiences I had leading up to parenthood that helped me be the best mom I can possibly be.

I hope that everyone on the RAAM course has a safe race! I hope that you learn things in this adventure that will help you in your life journey like I did!

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