Thursday, November 13, 2014

What I learned- The Pregnancy Edition

I imagined pregnancy to be this life-affirming magical period in which I woke up every morning with rays of sunshine streaming from my vagina.  THEN, I saw the two lines on the pregnancy test and my world shifted.  

I've been enamored with pregnancyfor years.  Even when I wasn't sold on having my own children, I considered being a surrogate solely so that I could know what it was like. To me, being pregnant and carrying a child was the most amazing natural experience that a woman could have.  You grow a person and without thinking your entire body just KNOWS what to do.  It's primal. It's nature at it's best.  After having the life-changing experience of assisting one of my girlfriends during the birth of her first child, I knew I wanted to be a doula.  I read books. I'd gone to classes.  I thought I had it down.  One quick shift in perspective and the whole narrative changes. I would no longer be a supporting character who helped girlfriends through their pregnancies, I would be the star of this ordeal. 

The truth is, seeing those lines scared the crap of me.  As I've gone through this experience and spoken candidly with other ladies, I decided to stop giving the standard "everything is great" generic answers and just being real. If I could go back 10 months to a newly-pregnant me, I would tell her the following: 

1. It's okay to freak out. 
I wigged out... big time. I spent the better part of my pregnancy completely and totally freaked out.  It took 6 months for me to verbalize that although I had no fears about birth itself, everything else completely terrified me.  I was afraid this baby was going to ruin my career, my marriage, my friendships, and my body. You know, pretty much everything.   The more I've admitted this to other women, the more they have acknowledged the same fears.  Pregnancy & parenthood are big unknowns.  Of course you're going to be afraid. Instead of avoiding your fears, talk about them. Own them. Shine a light on them so that you can process the fears. Name them. Give them space and be okay being afraid. 

2. Hearing "everything will be fine" only minimized what I was feeling. 
I didn't want cheerleaders.  I wanted someone to understand that right in that moment there was no guarantee to me that everything would be fine.  Part of me knew that they were right, but in those melt-down moments,  you just want someone to walk with you through the dark and twisty forest, not fast forward to the happy ending.  

3. People offering to help does not mean they don't think you are capable. It means they care. 
Initially, I was hell bent on doing everything for myself.  I found myself spouting phrases like "I'm pregnant - not disabled."  In time, I realized it came from my own insecurities about the changes I was facing. I didn't want to be seen as weak or incompetent at work or at home.  This shifted the bigger I got and the more comfortable I became.  People want to help because they want to help. Let them.  It builds your community.  Accepting a helping hand does not make you weak. In fact, it can help build relationships.  As I work through new motherhood, I realize this is still something I need to focus on. 

4. Being pregnant isn't limited to out-of-office hours.  I don't believe in crying at work. You can judge me for that if you'd like, but it's against my personal policy. This rule, well, it was broken a few times this year.  Early on, I did my best to hide these changes in tides- escaping to the bathroom, spending a few extra minutes in my car or bottling everything up until I could deal with it at home.  This only worked for so long.  Soon those pesky feelings managed to seep through and I found myself at their mercy - crying on the shoulder of an unsuspecting coworker in the hall.  It was forced vulnerability and from that moment on, I wasn't afraid to have real feelings 9-5.  In fact, the more I embraced them, the easier it was to be comfortable later in my pregnancy when things were undeniably changing.  

5. As a general rule, the more I resisted, the worse everything became.  From riding emotional waves, to not listening to my body when it came to rest, or not putting on maternity clothes sooner, I found very quickly that the more I resisted the changes I was going through, the more severe they became. I was already pregnant. I couldn't control what was happening to me, it just needed to happen.  The more I was able to give in, the more I was able to feel my way through experiences instead of spending so much of my energy pushing against them (Thank you, India). 

6. Stop Judging. I was judging other women very harshly.   Early on, I found myself on a high horse "I will never do.." "Why would anyone.." I was a know-it-all and even a bit of an asshole.  I'm not entirely sure when I came to this realization, but it's been one of my favorite truths and the one that is at the forefront of my mind every day.  The thing is, I don't know, but I do have preferences.  We all do.  That does not make them correct.  What is right for you, is not going to be right for someone else. It's okay to be impassioned about your preferences.  Know when to discuss and know when people really don't want to hear your advice.   I have preferences about how I would like to deliver my baby and raise my child, but I will not be arrogant and say this is the only way.  Instead of looking at how differently two women have done something, look for the ways in which you can support each other. Stop Judging.

7.  Be here now.  At the end of the day, pregnancy is beautiful and it will end.  There's something amazing about creating life.  Strangers treat you differently.  Your partner looks at you with reverence. People are nicer and the world gets smaller. Everyone is more gentle with you. Napping is allowed. Second helpings are encouraged.  Feeling your baby's hiccups and kicks - regardless of how appropriate the timing (like in meetings with clients) are insanely amusing. Enjoy the newness and revel in the firsts. Never again will you be in a position to feel these things for the first time. Take a moment and etch all of it in your mind.  That little peanut causing your heart burn is the safest they will ever be and life will never be the same after they are born. Enjoy the calm.

Someone told me that pregnancy is the only time where two souls exist in one body.  In the times I struggled most, that image pushed me through.   Pregnancy is hard and it's scary and it's also beautiful and inspiring. It's celebratory and somber - we celebrate a new life while mourning the end of our own childhood. You may be surprised how much you miss it one day.