(When You’re a Normal Pregnant Human and Not a Magical Pregnancy Unicorn)
Vomiting. Exhaustion. Swollen clown feet. Bursting into tears for no reason at all.
Don’t get me wrong. Pregnancy is, in many ways, awesome. There is no feeling in the world like those first stirrings when you can finally detect your tiny one moving around in there. Or prodding that bulge on the side of your tummy and realizing that’s actually a knee. Not to mention hearing that initial, underwater rhythm that is the baby’s heartbeat. When people use the word “magical” to describe being pregnant, they’re not wrong. Knowing that you’re growing an actual person and feeling inexplicable love for a little miracle you’ve never met…magical doesn’t fully capture it.
But, if I’m being honest, there are some ways that pregnancy is also the worst. I thought people were exaggerating about swollen feet until I hobbled into work two weeks before delivery wearing my husband’s enormous slippers—the only shoes in the house that would still squeeze on. I’d never realized that morning sickness is like having both the regular flu and the stomach flu all the time (never had I so longed for food poisoning which is over after an agonizing 24 hours; not an agonizing 3 months). And while the entire system of growing a baby in your stomach is by far the coolest thing the human body does, I came to realize there are certain inescapable laws of physics– like how the idea of carrying a car in a wheelbarrow is bound to make the wheelbarrow break down eventually (“A baby is not the same as a car” you say? Well, it sure starts to feel like it around eight months. Big ol’ Sports Utility Vehicle).
Despite being warned about the many side effects to the miracle of life, the actual experience was—and continues to be—a true shock to the system.
And then I’ve spoken to those rare few who seem barely affected by the process. We’ve all seen them—as mythical and elusive as Bigfoot but somehow still in existence. The kind so skillfully portrayed in the film “What to Expect When You’re Expecting” by the “magical pregnancy unicorn” who doesn’t gain an ounce and still manages to totter off to Pilates in high heels seven months in. I’ve actually spoken to women who insisted they felt at their “physical best” while carrying a child. While I know it’s radically different for each, this idea is absolute madness to me. And as happy as I am for these baffling creatures, I’m also gripped with secret jealousy.
It’s infuriating to read profiles in motherhood and pregnancy magazines about the glamorous nine-month adventures of actresses and professional athletes. They talk about how in they’ve adjusted their rigorous workouts by swapping weights for eliptical and dealt with the additional hunger by adding beans to their lunch. Beans.
Who are these people?
Just once I’d like to pick up a pregnancy magazine and read a profile about a woman who was flat on her back for the first three months and eats ice cream for breakfast. Not that I’m promoting true unhealtiness while baby is depending on you. But a little dose of reality, especially for those of us barely hanging on, would be refreshing.
As a Pinterest junkie (my “Binterest,” i.e. “Pinterest binge” records have gotten truly epic) I’m always looking up those “Ways to ___” articles about whatever I happen to be going through. I’m grateful for those lifeline bloggers who throw me a rope at 4 a.m. when I search something like “How to Not Lose Your Mind When Your Children Were Clearly Bred by the Military to Exist on Zero Sleep.” I’ve read my share of posts giving advice for a better pregnancy. And while many have great points, I still feel that sometimes these words of wisdom are written for someone far out of my realm. Like someone in those gorgeous pregnancy portraits that look better than I did in my wedding photos (somewhere there is a field full of beautiful, posing preggers. I think they grow there).
For those of you normal humans who feel like you’re somehow failing at pregnancy, I give a little advice on how to be happier at a time when you cry because your shoe came untied and bending down to re-tie it would be about as easy as pole vaulting. That’s a Tuesday for me. So here we go!
7 Ways to Have a Happier Pregnancy:
1. Find your way to move.
I’ve never been the most athletic but I’d classify as sturdy and energetic (Not unlike the description of an up-and-coming race horse). Imagine my surprise when I emerged from the nausea of first trimester to discover every muscle had all but deserted me. Suddenly I couldn’t do anything my body had previously done. Certainly this was compounded by my absolute lack of exercise when I was too ill to even watch someone else exercise (Seriously, it made me motion-sick). But most women find their pregnant body unable to keep up with the rigors of previous workouts.
And yet, exercise during pregnancy is so important.
I know, some of you are weeping openly just at the thought of trying to move. Let’s clarify up front that in my opinion, the first trimester is a no-fly zone. If you experience any degree of serious morning sickness, you won’t argue with this. Give your body a chance to work through that ever-present nausea and exhaustion before you start demanding anything beyond existing from it (and if you’re one of those unlucky ladies whose nausea lasts the whole 9 months, I will send you a gift basket because you deserve it!)
But once you’ve evened out, discover a system of movement that works for you. Maybe you can still conquer your morning jog (Kudos to you. I can’t even play tag). Or maybe you’ll find that a nice walk in the evening is about all you can handle.
For those of us who get winded just waddling to the bathroom, I suggest two great options.
First, pregnancy yoga. Pluses: you can work out for as long or short as you want at any degree of easiness or difficulty. If you can only handle five minutes of light stretching, stick to that!
*AWESOME ALERT!: Some genius went and invented a beautiful thing called bed yoga, which is exactly what the name suggests—yoga that you do in your bed. They should win the Nobel Prize in Pillow Sports (Sure, I just invented it. But I think I’ve been subconsciously training for years). You can do bed yoga right after you wake up—before you even sit up—to jump-start your day (Also it combines two of my favorite things: pajamas and calculated laziness).
Second, my personal favorite: swimming. There are countless articles about why swimming is the best all-around workout for your body and it has added pluses while you’re pregnant. Not only is it gentle on the joints and limits risk of exercise-related injury, it also relieves your body of its excess weight; which inevitably feels heavier when you try to work out.
During my current doozy of a pregnancy I went to swim a few laps and was once again amazed by how lighter-than-air I felt. I started to think, “Maybe this pregnancy isn’t so bad. Maybe I’ve just been having a rough patch and now I’m better! Or maybe I’m actually a mermaid who was meant to be pregnant in the waves and now I’ve returned to my fluid and beautiful self!”
Then I got out of the water.
And hobbled like Igor-off-for-more-electrodes all the way to the locker room.
If that wasn’t an argument for the gravity-defying power of swimming, I don’t know what is.
Swimming is also good for the soul. Experts say that swimming can be stress-relieving and even muscle relaxing. Being in water can have a soothing effect which, at this hormonal time, is always a good thing. Just be sure to invest in a nice maternity swimsuit. Nothing will spiral you into a breakdown faster than seeing yourself in a pre-preggers bathing suit.
Maybe you think that doing Happy Baby Pose with bed-head or managing six measly laps won’t make a difference. But, as with all exercise, it’ll boost your energy and relieve many of the pains and stiffness that come with pregnancy. It will also buoy your self-confidence. Because even though you’re rapidly becoming a stranger to your expanding body, you’ll know that you’re still trying to do something healthy for yourself.
Go at your own pace, and find the workout that’s right for you right now. You’ll be happier for it.
2. Find a balanced eating plan.
Here I say something many women seem ashamed to admit: I LIKE FOOD.
Let’s be honest. I love food. Food and I have a not-so-secret romance that includes midnight trysts by the light of the open fridge where sneaking a spoonful of frosting turns into emptying half a can. I’ve always had a weight problem partly because I just love food, dash it all!
Love of food becomes a whole different animal once you’re pregnant. Again, during that no-fly first trimester, everything you thought you knew about your own likes and dislikes may go right out the window. Suddenly just the smell of dishes you once loved can make you gag, and consuming perfectly normal foods sounds like absolute torture. TMI—I’ve thrown up at a mere glimpse of certain foods during those first few months. It’s strange indeed when just the sight of a perfectly harmless can of olives sends you running to the sink.
Despite all my good intentions about “doing it right this time,” first trimester becomes a time when I eat any food my body doesn’t reject. This includes existing on Captain Crunch and watermelon for several days at a time when that’s all I can physically keep down. Or having another pickle-and-potato-chip sandwich (Don’t knock it until you try it. Perfect combo of sour and salty crunch). It’s not the healthiest, but better to eat than not to eat.
That’s why it’s especially important, as soon as you’re body is willing, to find a balanced place with eating. I say balanced very seriously. During my second pregnancy I nearly laughed when an OBGYN scolded me for not consuming only produce and white protein. Then, when I realized she wasn’t joking, I felt like smacking her. Your body is being ruled by a whole mess of hormones and a sudden ravenous hunger (that makes transitioning canines in werewolf films look like dainty, high-class diners) and many people expect you to eat only rabbit-approved sustenance. Having a balanced way of eating is important, pregnant or not. But let’s look at the word “balance.”
“Balance” can be defined as something in “equal or correct proportions.” This says a lot about how we eat. It’s what led to my discovery of the only diet I’ve ever found that actually worked for me (see my upcoming post,“The Indulgence Diet: How I Lost 30 Pounds But Kept My Sanity”). The bottom line is allowing yourself that balance. In my book, that includes eating a few cookies, allowing yourself that piece of cake, or snacking on nachos if you’ve also tried to make healthier choices that day. I think a little buttered popcorn is okay, and even emotionally beneficial, if you’ve also had a serving of carrots and swapped out bread for a tortilla.
Especially during pregnancy you need to cut yourself a little slack. This doesn’t mean eating only pie for half a day (which I’ll admit to doing more recently than not). But it does mean finding a way to fuel your body with healthy food—without completely ignoring your cravings and newly amped-up appetite.
Remember to drink water—lots and loooooots of water. I know this is a joke when you’re already running to the bathroom roughly 6 times an hour. But the more water you drink, the better you feel—and the less chance you’ll get those pesky dehydration side-effects like cramping muscles and premature contractions.
Again, experiment and discover a system that works for you. And ignore those people who glare when they see you eating French fries. You’re growing a person—you deserve fries!
3. Accept where you’re at physically.
I distinctly remember the time in a restaurant when, squeezing through a tight arrangement of tables, I knocked over a stranger’s water glass with my pregnant belly.
Proud, proud moment for me.
Sometimes we’re not fully aware of our own newly acquired girth. Sad is the day when you can no longer see your own feet and walking becomes waddling. This growing body doesn’t look or even move the way it used to. And there is nothing more disheartening than standing in front of your closet and realizing that not a single item will fit anymore.
Picking out clothing can start to feel less like a fashion activity and more like a camping problem. How much square footage of tent is needed to comfortably shelter all the tent’s inhabitants? Dressing your pregnant body may become equally strategic and passionless. Not to mention many available maternity clothes are about as stylish as said tent (and cost 3 times as much).
A friend told me she’d never felt as beautiful as when she was pregnant and I longed for an equal feeling. Around the seventh month I tend to feel more like a great sailing ship about to depart the harbor. Just break a bottle against my hip for good luck and send me out into open waters. The S.S. Preggers has left port.
Maybe your feelings aren’t equally extreme. But as pregnancy progresses, many women feel less like a female and more like an incubation chamber. Not few are the times I’ve cried about my size and how utterly unattractive I’ve come to feel. But unlike feeling overweight while not carrying a child, there’s a new hopelessness because you realize there’s only so much you can do about it. You can try to eat well and exercise but your body will continue to grow no matter what (another of those inescapable laws of physics). That’s why it’s so vital, despite how impossible it may seem, to accept where you’re at physically.
When the early stages of my third pregnancy sent me to an all-time high weight and I buried my sorrows in a vat of cookie dough (hormones do not make us rational), my husband said something very profound. He looked right into my eyes and said, “You are more beautiful to me than you’ve ever been because you’re giving yourself for our family.”
While this may sound born of desperation to make a hormonal woman just stop crying, I believed him. I see that love in his face as my belly grows. It’s the same way I view other pregnant women who appear as adorable as they do noble, no matter their size. But feeling that way about yourself is not as easy (Especially when your “fat jeans” don’t make it past your hips).
All jokes aside, focusing on your weight gain can lead to a dangerous state of self-loathing and depression.
So how do we accept ourselves? I’ve found a few small ways.
First, don’t weigh yourself. During my first pregnancy I decided not to weigh myself at all. In fact, I purposefully looked away when they weighed me at the doctor. I was doing my very best to be healthy (though I wasn’t always succeeding) and the last thing I needed was added anxiety about the weight gain. When you’re trying to lose or maintain weight that scale can be helpful. When weight gain is unavoidable and even somewhat necessary, that scale is nothing but heartache.
Break up with your scale for 9 months (longer, really, to let yourself recover post-birth) and do not shame call it in the middle of the night. Like the shame call, it will do nothing but make you cry more the next day. You can even request that nurses not reveal your weight during check-ups. They’re very understanding about that. After all, some of them have been exactly where you are.
Second, find yourself a new style. If you’re a stay-at-home/work-at-home mom like me, you don’t require a lot of “going out” clothes. For me, it’s all about cute pajamas. They’re comfy, they expand with me (no condescending zippers and buttons at the waistline), and they take my focus off how I look. Find the type of clothes you can put on in the morning and not worry about for the rest of the day. If you feel better wearing matching pajama sets all day long, do it! If you need to trade in those tailored work blazers for some flowy blouses and leggings, trade away! You may not look how you used to or feel especially confident, but your clothes need to function for your current size.
Third, tell yourself that this is temporary. You might never get back to those size 2 jeans but feeling like the S.S. Bloat won’t last forever. Where you are is not where you’re going to live from now on. This is temporary. This is temporary…Let this be your mantra. Tell yourself, “Right now I’m making a baby and that’s what matters. This body isn’t who I am.” It’s easier said than believed. But the more you tell yourself, the more it might start to sound like the truth.
All this doesn’t mean you can’t still feel good about yourself. Which leads me to the next point–
4. Find ways to still feel like you.
Yes, you may have to make concessions to your personal style. But you can still have pieces of what you really love, no matter how differently you need to dress.
I’m all about neon colors and big jewelry. Those things make me happy; make me feel like myself. I’m more comfortable in an obnoxious T-shirt and sweats than I am in a pair of sensible trousers and a blouse (I’m not even comfortable with the fanciness of those words. Trousers. Blouse. Tea in the conservatory. I just hear them in an English accent). You might be the opposite of me and that’s okay! What’s important is that you identify the things that make you feel like you, and find ways to still incorporate them into your style.
This includes the little stuff like painting your nails (whether that’s a classic manicure or a glittery polish), jewelry (which can always fit, even if you need a longer chain), and even accessories. You might be wearing pants you don’t love but you have a killer purse. That can still make you feel like yourself.
This can also mean finding ways to still do activities that you love. I once saw a pregnant woman getting a pedicure who said, “This is my only fun thing right now.” Maybe you love pedicures too. Maybe you like getting a facial. I’m in heaven when my husband takes the kids so I can go to a movie all by myself. The solitude, the entertainment, the popcorn that I don’t have to share with anyone…It’s good for my soul (And if you think I don’t wear those afore-mentioned-pajamas to the theater, you’re wrong. I’ve stowed slippers in my purse and switched them for my shoes once I was seated. Once I even brought in a sleeping bag from my trunk and climbed into it after the lights went down. Best movie ever).
You might not have a ton of time on your own or the ability to afford some great spa day each week. But there must be things that will still help you visit your happy place. Write them down and then make a plan for how to include them in your life.
Through these small triumphs, connecting with who you feel like you were will make you happier. Because you still are that person! You’re just wearing slightly larger trousers (Hee hee!).
5. Allow yourself quiet time.
Being pregnant is exhausting. Even if you get a decent night’s sleep, about halfway through the day you’ll probably feel like you ran a marathon and then got beat with a stick at the finish line. Your body is creating another body inside itself—understandably, it’s a little worn out!
If you’re able to take a nap in the middle of the day, nap it up. There’s no shame in allowing your body some well-earned rest. Even if this means just closing your eyes for ten minutes in the car on your lunch break, it can still be a mental and physical breather. We need sleep as much for our mental health as for our physical health (at least it feels that way). So if you can lay on the bed and snooze to some relaxing music for an hour, you’ll be much better afterward.
This leads me to an important point. Being pregnant can be extra difficult if you already have children. Suddenly you’re trying to take care of other little people while your body is going through all this chaos. Plus, it can drastically change the day-to-day relationship you have with your kids. They may grasp the concept that you’re pregnant, but it doesn’t mean they’ll fully understand why you can’t race them up the stairs or chase them around the park anymore.
And your need to rest doesn’t coincide so well with parenting. No matter how desperately you need a mere twenty minutes of shut-eye, going off-line for just twenty minutes might not be an option (unless you want to wake up to a freshly-painted house).
You might have to get creative. If you don’t have someone who can take over while you nap it cat-style, you and your kiddies will have to figure it out together. This third go-round the preggo carousel, I’ve found a decent system. On those days when I just can’t keep my eyes open, I utilize my youngest’s nap time. The three of us (four if you count The Belly) pile into one big recliner chair where I put my littlest lady to sleep. Then, with her secure in one arm, I tell my older girl that I’m going to “Close my eyes for a few minutes” while her sister sleeps. She understands what that means and stays dutifully by my side and watches Kids YouTube on my phone while the rest of us get a little shut-eye. This way I’ll rouse instantly if either kid moves or needs something (the better to catch them if they’re eying a bottle of nail polish and stretch of empty wall). And having that close proximity allows me to actually shut down my brain for a little while.
It also gives me something else badly needed at this changing time—snuggle time with my girls. I can’t play with them the same way I could and this big difference has caused something of a wedge. Having said snuggle time helps me re-connect with them in a way I’m physically able to. Even if I don’t nap, that time with the three of us heaped in one chair, sharing one fuzzy blanket, invigorates all of us for the rest of the day.
Find a time and method for resting during the day—with your kiddies or solo—that will give you a chance to breathe and recharge.
6. Use whatever help you can get.
It’s an old adage: “It’s hard to ask for help.” It’s especially hard to ask for help when you need help because you’re doing something millions of women do everyday. With such a drastic range of experiences, some people seem to find it baffling that a woman would need help with just the day-to-day of being pregnant. Those women that “barely notice” (yes, that’s a direct quote) that they’re pregnant as they go throughout their day might give you that look when you mention how hard it is just to get your kids dressed in the morning.
Other than the unicorns, all of us could use help of some kind. Even having someone come by and do a single load of dishes or take your children out for ice cream can be a life-saving moment. So even if you find it difficult to ask for help (If I was up to my neck in quicksand and someone asked if I needed a tree branch to grab hold of, I’d probably keep insisting, “I’m fine!” so as not to inconvenience them), be willing to accept help whenever it’s offered.
There’s no shame in needing others. And if you have kids, they might need that extra, outside attention even more than you do. If you can’t accept help for yourself, at least accept help for them.
Help comes in many forms. For me, Kids YouTube is an absolute miracle. Unlike regular YouTube where some disturbed individuals have taken innocent kids’ videos and inserted something lewd or inappropriate (to who I say, “Come on, people. Do you really have nothing else to do with your time?”) Kids YouTube is all filtered specifically for children. It includes settings for age and timers—the app will literally go to sleep after the time is up. So I can hand it to one of my kids for thirty minutes and know they’ll be entertained and protected from bad content while I try to put away laundry.
People tend to turn up their nose at screen time for children. And I heartily agree that too much time in front of the TV, phone, computer, tablet, or whatever isn’t healthy for anyone—especially kids who are developing habits during these formative years. But when you’re a pregnant mom to toddlers, sometimes extra screen time is needed. I like to do “sitting activities”like molding Play-Doh or putting together puzzles with my girls so I can engage without standing. But there are a lot of hours to fill in a day, and watching a few extra movies might be necessary to the survival of all involved.
Whatever help you can get and whatever form in which it comes, don’t be ashamed. If you’re having a particularly bad day and you need to feed your kids pizza and chocolates while you all binge-watch Doc McStuffins, then GET YOUR ‘STUFF-ON!
7. Ignore everyone—including me!
Whaaaaaat?? I’ve given you all this advice and then told you to ignore me? YES. Because this post is about being happier in your pregnancy. That includes ignoring anyone who doesn’t understand your specific situation.
We’re human and we all love to judge other people. I put myself first as guilty in this category. We see someone struggling with something-or-other and think, “If only they’d do this,that would fix it.” But do we really know? Maybe that poor, pregnant soul who’s become a certified hermit for all nine months has developed agoraphobia because she can’t go even five minutes without throwing up (Yes, that’s someone I knew personally). Or maybe that mom buying her fussy kids a toy at the grocery store just wants to get through the line without bloodshed because she’s been having bad contractions since her 8th week of pregnancy (that one might be more personal).
The point is we never really know what someone is going through—especially when it seems like virtually any side effect can be attributed to pregnancy (“Oh, your ears spontaneously fell off? Yeah, that happens sometimes in pregnancy”). And they don’t really know what you’re dealing with either. So even when someone means well by insisting your nausea could be solved by a “brisk two-mile walk at dawn,” you have to learn to graciously accept and privately dismiss the advice that doesn’t actually apply to you. Because no one knows how it is to be pregnant inside your body but you.
I’ve cried and cried about being a “bad mom” because my pregnancies have made me so exhausted and unavailable—unable to even make a decent meal for my family or pump gas on my own. My sensible husband made another impactful point: “You’re doing the best thing you possibly can for our family right now by expanding our family.”
I think that’s good to remember for all of us. If you’re growing a human, you’re doing exactly what you should be doing right now.
So if you’re pregnant and doing your darnedest to take care of your little miracle, you’re not failing. I’d say you’ve NAILED IT!!