The First Twenty Weeks: Positive Mindset Shifts That Have Made Me a Happier Mama-to-Be
I started out as a diligent pregnancy recorder, probably because I was terrified. I was taking day-by-day notes—how I felt, what happened that day, how I felt...mostly how I felt. Reading back those first three days (as far as my detailed note-taking progressed, ha), I want to run back to the beginning of April and give that scared little girl a hug. This is not to say everything is old hat now, or that I’m purporting I’m some expert on child bearing now that I’ve reached the halfway point of pregnancy. It is to say that I’ve grounded myself, and that I’ve come to appreciate my changing body and the things it has been doing. I’ve been able to transmute most of my fear into excitement, which has been wonderful for both me and baby. But what I really, really want other lady friends to know is the one thing I didn’t those first seventy-two hours: it’s okay to feel like everything is not okay, at least for a little while. New seasons of life can be scary, but with a few mindset tweaks and many deep breaths, they can also be very exciting. Below, you’ll find seven of the ways I worked to build a positive outlook (because it does take input and effort) and come to cherish, instead of fear, this new season of life.
- I had to learn, very quickly, that not all advice is good advice, and not all “universal pregnancy truths” are my truth. In essence, I’ve only held on to what makes me feel good—and I’ve let go of the rest, without judgment. Let me explain what I mean. This may just be the anthropologist in me, but I think the compulsion for people to share their thoughts, feelings, and anecdotes about pregnancy is tribal. Stick with me here. When we lived in smaller tribes, when agriculture was but glimmer in a lazy hunter-gatherer’s eye, it truly fell on the whole group, not just the biological mother, to raise the child. Multiple adult caregivers were the norm (and still are in other parts of the world—not so much where I am, in the United States). Look at the cliched statement, “It takes a village to raise a child.” This was, and continues to be, a truth in the lives of many people. My argument here starts with empathy for those feeling compelled to give me their advice, even when it refers to things that are scary, unlikely, or downright untrue (I’ve checked all three boxes, and baby is only 50% baked). Here is a universal truth for you—a real one—to sink your teeth into, pregnant or not: we cannot control what other people think, nor can we, short of sticking our fingers in our ears and screaming “NAH-NAH-NAH I can’t hear you,” keep them from sharing what they think with us. What we can control is whether or not we choose to internalize their thoughts, to make them our own, and let them control our outlook on this magical, personal time. Keeping this outlook—and not villianizing the people who tell me all their horror stories—has helped me turn unsolicited advice into a non-issue. And—I’ll tell you this, too—I’ve learned that if something someone says strikes a nerve, it probably has more to do with me than with them. This doesn’t mean their advice is a truth (though maybe it could be), but it does mean it is helping to uncover something deeper that might be bothering me.
- I waited to ask my doctor questions instead of relying solely on Google. Well, mostly. Mercy. I don’t have a lot of good things to say about Google and pregnancy. Short of using the internet to find a reputable OB and some book recommendations that weren’t What to Expect, the internet and its weirdness only managed to ruin the first week of my pregnant life. It’s hard to resist, though. Especially if you find out insanely early (I did), and you don’t want to tell anyone about it (I didn’t, except my dentist—which is a whole other story). So, you do what everyone does—you turn to the strangers on the internet. Hot tip—depending on how you google, you’ll get a different answer. Case-in-point: burpees. Google “terrible burpees dangerous pregnancy” and I bet you’ll get waaaaay different random message board responses than “burpees amazing badass pregnant.” Just saying. I felt so much better when I finally learned to resist the google siren song, because in the times I succumbed I ended up crying many unnecessary tears.
- Instead of focusing on what other weird external things could happen to me these nine months, I learned the actual internal mechanics of childbirth (stuff we probably glazed over in seventh grade science, but that I had long forgotten). Holy crap. This was empowering. I read Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth, and whether or not you are choosing to have a natural birth, I recommend you find it and at least read what your body is going to be doing when it brings your bambino into this world. It’s amazing. This was one of the most incredible, transformative moments of this journey—when I realized just how biologically cool the female reproductive system is—yep, even periods. When I finally get a period again, I shall never slam her or tear her down—all the phases of reproduction are magical. I know I’m sounding like a hippie dippy witch (probably because I am, deal with it :) ), but if we can view the process through the lens of awe and amazement and less through the lens of pain, birth and womanhood is a wonder.
- I hired a doula. Along the same lines—I wanted a pro-birth, pro-woman, pro-me advocate when I bring baby B into this world, and a doula seemed like such an excellent resource, I couldn’t pass it up. I’ll write more deeply about this experience in a separate post, but it is my belief that doulas are essential in allowing women to reclaim their birth experiences and to heal the planet. That’s a giant statement, I know. “Heal the planet.” If you’ve read any Eckhart Tolle, you’ll remember he talks about women and the “collective pain body” they are burdened with—and in my opinion, the fear of birth, the stripping of a woman’s control of the process, the portrayal of screaming, yelling, terrified mothers in television and movies—these all contribute to that massive pain. In large part to my doula, I cannot wait to give birth—I feel ready and capable and powerful—and I just want every woman to go into the experience feeling that very same way.
- I do what feels right. This is a big one. So many rules and regulations about being pregnant. So. Many. “Rules.” Now, I’m not going to jump on here and say “Who cares if you eat lunch meat?” or “Too much caffeine will give your baby ADHD!” or whatever else people will probably say to you. I will not even delve into what my doctor has told me, or what my research has led me to believe—because I think, deep down, each one of us can and will do what feels right to us. What would be the point, then, to drink a cup of coffee, but then feel miserable about it because you’re scared it’s hurting the baby? So what if March of Dimes says it’s chill? If you feel like a monster doing it, then it is probably not right for you. I love the guidelines, I love to look at the rationale, I like to know the actual effects, etc—then choose for me, based on both knowledge and intuition. I hold my own personal beliefs on a few things I believe are absolutes, but beyond that, there is a spectrum, and I feel most comfortable when I am triangulating with my intuition, my doctor’s advice, and my doula to decide whether or not I should be at spin class, eating a hot dog, giving my cat up for adoption (spoiler alert: hell no), or drinking that cold-pressed juice.
- I’ve come to know that the birth of a child is not the death of me—not unless I bury myself willingly. This was my biggest fear. I am getting real here. I have just started to come into my own as a person and as a writer. I thrive on my quiet routines, and I enjoy time spent by myself. I harbored a deep fear, early on, that all of this would have to take the back burner to a child—that I’d walk a boulevard of broken dreams for eighteen plus years before I could pick back up on myself again. You know what? This is such a hurtful way to think, not only for me, but also for my child. How did I learn this behavior, anyways? Well, it must’ve been modeled to me—that’s how we learn everything. Even in 2018, I see this kind of messaging everywhere. I realize that there must be a subset of people who do want this—who want to lose themselves entirely in their children, and that probably makes them happy. If it is what brings you ultimate happiness? Do it. I don’t judge that, not one bit. I bow down to those who pursue a happy, joyful life overall, whatever it looks like for them. But for me to put my aspirations on hold, to sacrifice the dreams I’m building for myself—that would be my ruin, and probably my child’s, too. God knows there aren’t enough people venerating happiness in this world—it seems to be a lost art. I want to model true joy—because the last thing I’d want for my little boy to do is give up on his dreams, because that’s what he watched his mommy do her whole life.
- I praise my changing body every day for its ultimate creative act. I have a negative association with gaining weight. I just don’t find it to be very fun. Suffering from all kinds of weird disordered eating issues—from too much intake to far too little, I’ve run the gamut of body sizes—from a size two to a size sixteen. I’ve never found the buying bigger clothes bit to be super fun, but I’ve managed to grab onto a kind of interesting joy in pregnancy—I’m loving this body each day by praising the billions of interesting things that are happening inside of it to create another replica Homo sapiens sapiens. It blows my mind. I swear, I feel like if I focus too much about how my body is making a baby with no input from my anxious mind, I think I’m high on acid. It’s so effing cool. And I’m sorry, but that’s totally worth getting fatter for, in the end. In the meantime, solace can be found in keeping up with regular workouts and buying kickass maternity wear. I know some people are of the mind that you shouldn’t invest in clothes you won’t need for very long, but I’m completely the opposite. This could be a fragile time for my self-esteem (it’s been growing more robust, but is always a work-in-progress), so I balance that by dressing myself in nice things that make me feel like my best self. Dressing like a shlumpadinka makes no sense, because right now I’m a queen baby factory, and I deserve to treat myself as such. :)