I do a lot of complaining about pregnancy. I like to think that it’s not complaining so much as brutal honesty, but, at the heart of it, I’m whining about it a little bit.
I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that, per se. Between all of the unsolicited advice, unwelcome touching, judgmental looks, doctor’s appointments, general physical and mental discomforts, and hormones, pregnancy really sucks sometimes. I’ve heard of these mythical women who absolutely loved every minute of their pregnancies, but I’ve never actually met one of them, so I’m not sure if they really, truly exist.
However, it is the Myth of the Woman Who Loves Pregnancy that has prompted me to ask why they love pregnancy. Believe it or not, I’ve actually been able to come up with a few reasons that also hold true to myself. If you’re looking for a silver lining to the pregnancy horror stories the media (which, admittedly, includes me) feeds you, look no further.
1. I eat whatever I want.
OK, so that’s not entirely true. I do not go overboard. I am not “eating for two” in the sense that I am eating double what I ate before. I do feel like I am eating constantly, but that’s due, in part, to the fact that this baby’s legs are firmly implanted in my stomach, making it much, much smaller. And the fact that I need 500 extra calories per day just to, like, survive and grow a human. This means that I never turn down dessert if it’s offered (and sometimes if it’s not) because, suddenly, I have a serious sweet tooth where I never had one before. It also means that I’m far more likely to indulge in a burger where, before, I might have opted for a salad. And, let me tell you, burgers are amazing.
I’m also 100% a proponent of the idea that cravings come from a place of need. If I’m craving something, my body must need something in that food. Sometimes, if I’m craving ice cream, I can get by with cereal because what my body wants is the calcium, but I think sometimes I need the sugar. If I’m craving a burger, I probably need red meat for the iron and the protein. My body is amazing and efficient, and it’s going to do what it needs to do to ensure that it and this baby survive, so who am I not to listen?
After 8 years as a vegetarian, one year Paleo, and a calorie-counter for as long as I can remember, it’s freeing not to restrict myself. Don’t get me wrong, I make sure I intake all of the proper nutrients each day, and we still eat mostly organic, whole foods. I just don’t worry about what I’m eating and what I’m not so much. Considering I’m well within a normal weight range and I feel pretty good (and I truly have surprisingly few cravings, which must mean I’m getting what I need most of the time), I’m starting to realize that I can trust my body to signal me when it’s hungry, what it’s hungry for, and when it’s full. Then, it will do what it needs to do with the fuel I give it. I won’t blow up like a balloon; I won’t feel horrible for days; I won’t break out. This freedom has given me the ability to trust my body and know that, even after pregnancy, food will be far less of an issue for me – I hope!
2. I am completely self-indulgent.
As I was looking at a pair of super cute, leopard print, bejeweled flats, my best friend told me just to buy them. She pointed out that, with the inability to buy new clothes (because, seriously, how many maternity clothes do you really need?), new shoes can dress up an outfit and be a fun accessory you’ll keep well after the baby is born. I hesitated, and she said, “Pregnancy is an excuse to do whatever you want. Buy the shoes.” To which I responded: “Funny. I usually use pregnancy as an excuse not to do whatever I don’t want.” She laughed and said, “Well, it’s that, too.”
You know how I said above that cravings are your body’s way of telling you you need something that you’re not getting? Well, I also believe that your body gives you pretty clear signals when you’re pushing it too hard and need to take care of yourself. Most of the time, we ignore those signals, but the signals get a definite boost when you’re pregnant. You’re not just tired, you’re bone-crushingly exhausted. You’re not just sore, you’re sore in places you didn’t even know had muscles. You’re not just out of it, you’re mentally drained and left with no more words.
I’m really selling it here, aren’t I?
Here’s the thing, though: You have to listen to those signals. I’m not a huge fan of the idea that pregnant women have to take it easy and can’t do much of anything because OMG NO STRESS FOR THE BABY. Stress is a normal, important part of life and it is unavoidable. However, rest is also important. I’m someone who is go, go, go all of the time, so I had to cut back. Here is an abridged list of the things I no longer do (though some of these I stopped doing a long time ago because Tim is just better at them and doesn’t mind them as much as I do): vacuum, clean bathrooms, garden, cook elaborate meals, read books I have no affinity for, follow certain feminist websites, dress and do my makeup even if I know I’m not leaving the house, lots of the dog care responsibilities, join committees at work, do extra after-school activities that I do not enjoy. Tim has jumped in a great deal to keep this house looking presentable. I’d say the split now is about 40-60 (with him doing most of the work). While I’m still making a good deal of extra money with copywriting from home and growing a human, this seems like a pretty good split.
By getting rid of the things I feel like I “should” be doing but don’t actually have to do, I have a lot of free time. I use that time to knit while listening to audiobooks, watch copious amounts of television, or to sleep. I’ll tell you what: I could get used to this.
3. Those “holy $%)#” moments are pretty awesome.
A brief and incomplete list of moments that have been entirely surreal, both in a totally weird way and a completely amazing way:
-That first faint line on the pregnancy test
-That “PREGNANT” on the digital pregnancy test because I don’t believe faint lines
-Hearing a HEARTBEAT in an 8-week-old fetus that barely even looks like a blob on the ultrasound. Seriously. A HEARTBEAT. What?!
-Seeing the fetus go from a blob at 8 weeks to having a profile and fingers and toes at 12 weeks
-Starting to show at around 14 weeks
-Finding out it was a girl and crying like a baby in the middle of the ultrasound place because I was so happy
-Feeling like she finally had a solid identity in our minds because she had a name
-The first movements and then, as time passed, watching my belly roll around with her in there – totally alien, and totally cool
-Enjoying food again after months of non stop sickness; I couldn’t stop eating and everything tasted SO GOOD
-Connecting with a community of mothers, and being completely welcomed by them and their excitement for me
And that’s just a few.
4. A rediscovered love of root beer and fizzy, fruity drinks.
I’ve chosen not to drink during this pregnancy, which, as you know, has been a huge sacrifice for me. I’m not a binge-drinker, but I truly enjoy a cold, craft beer on a hot summer’s day. I also live for monthly wine tastings and various wineries in the area. Tim and I have a favorite local wine and cheese restaurant where we go to order a bottle of wine and the cheese and meat plate and we sit and talk for hours. Seriously some of the best date nights we’ve had have been at that place. I mean, we went to Napa on our honeymoon and stayed at a local winery the night after our wedding, for crying out loud. We like our wine! Plus, my mom and I have connected over many a wine tasting, as well. I’ve done none of that this pregnancy, and that has been a little sad for me, if I’m being completely honest.
Truly, what I miss is the camaraderie and social aspect of classy imbibing. I also miss that it was a part of my identity that I had to cut out. And we all know how I feel about losing my identity. I mean, I kept my last name when I got married if that gives you any indication.
So, in order not to give up the social aspect I crave, I’ve had to get creative. Instead of a cold bottle of beer, I’ll have a cold bottle of root beer. Instead of wine in my wine glass, I’ll pour a carbonated fruit juice in it instead. Not only does this make me feel like I’m not being left out at gatherings with friends and family, but it has reminded me how freaking awesome root beer and sparkling fruit juice are. They are SO GOOD! I mean, why don’t I drink these things more often? Yummmm!
5. The empowerment that comes with knowledge and good medical care.
Tim and I have attended a 12-week Bradley Method birth class and that, in conjunction with doctors who are absolutely on board with my desire for a natural, drug-free childbirth have truly given us a sense of empowerment. Back when I was yelling from the rooftops that I didn’t want kids, I was very honest with myself and with Tim about why: I didn’t want to be pregnant. It wasn’t about my body or about the weird symptoms. Honestly, what it came down to was that I didn’t want to give birth because A) I was sure I was going to die in childbirth; and B) I didn’t want a needle in my spine.
To address the first fear was easy. I have an incredible team of doctors, and I fully trust that they are not going to let me die. Plus, even though the maternal mortality rate is abysmal in the US, it is only abysmal considering that this is the most developed nation in the world, and the rate should be zero or close to it. Plus, it is not abysmal for women who have competent medical teams at their disposal. I am INCREDIBLY FORTUNATE to have some of the best medical care around, and incredibly fortunate to have been able to select that medical care from the plethora of wonderful options around me. It is absolutely unfair that not everyone has that option, and I will fight as an activist until everyone does. However, for now, I’m going to take advantage of this and rest easy knowing that my medical team will take care of me and this baby.
Addressing the second issue – the one about the needle in the spine – wasn’t that easy. I’d read stories about how women gave birth naturally and I couldn’t believe it. Even Kate Middleton did it! What?! No, I thought. There’s no way. Some women are just lucky not to have any pain, but they are in the very small minority. For the rest of us, an epidural isn’t an option.
While some doctors and patients believe that women need epidurals to get through labor and delivery, there is actually a huge faction of people out there who believe it’s something women can have if they want, but they don’t need it.
As it turns out, I have options on this front. I don’t, in fact, HAVE to have an epidural. Considering this was the part of pregnancy and childbirth that I was most scared (read: TERRIFIED) of, this was a relief to me. When I heard about the Bradley Method, I jumped on it. I didn’t even think about it. I knew this was the option for me. The Bradley Method focuses on natural childbirth and takes 12 weeks to actually train you in how to do it. Just because it’s natural doesn’t mean you don’t need training, and this training has made me 99.9% sure I can do this. (I mean, I’m not totally ruling out the possibility of needing an epidural. I don’t know what childbirth is like, and I don’t know how my body will handle it. But I’m 100% sure I’ll try, and I’m also 100% sure I’m still terrified of a needle in my spine, and that makes me pretty confident I’ll succeed.)
Now, as with anything natural, the pendulum swings pretty far the other way. Bradley courses tend to teach drug-free EVERYTHING along with drug-free childbirth. No Tylenol, no Pitocin to induce labor, no or limited vaccines, etc. I’m someone who doesn’t generally take drugs for anything unless I absolutely need to, just because I prefer not to, but I’m also not opposed to taking things I need for my health. Vaccines, antibiotics for an infection, etc. are all perfectly OK in my book. I like to minimize that as much as possible, because I like to go at it naturally first. This means I will not be refusing any medical interventions deemed necessary by my doctor, and my child will receive all of her shots and ointments and what have you, because those are incredibly important.
However, the thing about childbirth and parenting is that, very rarely do you have to make split-second, life or death situation decisions. There are only a few situations during childbirth that you don’t have a minute or two to think about before you decide what to do. They want to break your water to speed up labor? You can think about that for a second. They want to give you an epidural to help you relax? You can talk that over for a minute. The pressure is there and is very real when you are talking about the health and well-being of yourself and your baby, but you can take your time to think about it and weigh the risks and benefits for you before you decide.
This class has empowered me. It has empowered me in ways beyond just pregnancy and childbirth. It has given me the tools to take control of my medical care in the sense that is has given me the right questions to ask and the knowledge of the risks and benefits of many situations. It might not make sense, but after this class, I trust my doctors even more in what they are doing, mostly because I know why they are doing it. Even the best doctors sometimes don’t explain everything to their patients and, unless you know the right questions to ask, you’ll never know the answers you need. I know doctors and nurses get upset when patients refuse medical advice, but I also believe that a mistrust of the medical profession is due, in part, to a lack of information. I mean, some people are just jerks or idiots who refuse to take care of themselves, but some of us just want to make educated decisions about our health. I’m doing that, and I feel really, really good about it. As it so happens, I’m doing pretty much all of what my doctor recommends, but I know WHY I’m doing it, and that’s much more important to me. I have the feeling now that I’m working with my medical team rather than them working on me, which is so, so powerful. Plus, I don’t have to have a needle in my spine. So there’s that.
Photo Credit: Emiliano Horcada