As I sit here writing this I am 34 weeks and two days pregnant, which to most moms might not seem like too much (40 weeks is your due date), but for the past two months I have been struggling with Braxton Hicks contractions (usually non painful, non purposeful sporadic contractions many preggos experience) and a shortening cervix. Three weeks ago my cervix reached the danger zone (less than a cm) and my contractions progressed, which have sent me in and out of the hospital for a total of 6 days. Now I am on moderate at-home (thank god) bed rest, and Baby Girl could arrive any day.
So you might say that after three weeks of bed rest I have had a lot of time to watch Grey’s Anatomy on Netflix (just started season 6 today), grade some papers I was behind on, take lots of naps, do a little online shopping, and the double edged sword: think. I think about everything, especially all the millions of things that I NEED to be doing but CAN’T because I am not allowed to leave the couch for more than a few minutes a few times a day. I have also thought about all the things I have not yet learned in preparation for our baby (our childbirth classes don’t start for another few weeks…) and I have thought about my pregnancy in general. I have thought about how not only has my life changed for the obvious (you know…the whole being pregnant and getting ready for a baby stuff) but in ways that I didn’t really expect.
So here are the 5 things I learned while being pregnant…that didn’t involve the pregnancy or baby:
1. Ridding Myself of Negative Qualities:
You know how we all have those bad habits we wish we could get rid of? I have many, including biting my lip/cheek, swearing, picking at my finger nails, and not picking up after myself. Most bad habits we can blame on our childhood in some way, either the trait was learned from our parents/siblings/role models, or they are a manifestation of something that is inside of us that we can’t move past. So when that little stick shows a plus sign, your mind starts to race and at least for me, one of my first thoughts were, “How can I not mess up my child?” As Dr. Drew says, all parents mess up their kids in some way, you just hope you don’t do it too badly. Then it hit me, if I don’t want to pass my negative traits to my child, I have to fix them fast… and I only have 9 months to do it. I think my worst habit is not picking up after myself/finishing projects/organization, so that is what I’ve been really focused on teaching myself. I know it sounds so silly and obvious, but I was never taught how to pick up after myself as a child. My room was always a mess and no adult in my life seemed to care. About once or twice a year my mom would freak out and threaten that I couldn’t leave my room until it was clean (this usually coincided with holidays we were expecting company), and after locking me in my room all day while all I did was play with my toys, she would let me out for dinner and would not bring up my messy room again….until the next year. My mom also has hording tendencies, so the mindset that we must keep everything was instilled in me at a young age. This was how I lived until I moved to college, when living with two other girls in a closet quickly taught me how to be more organized and tidy. Now that I have my own apartment it is harder to stay organized, but I really am trying. I have small disorganized sections of the house, (we all have those junk drawers) but I live my life by the Einstein theory and know that I will never be truly clutter free…and maybe I shouldn’t want to be. I am actually excited to get a bunch of bins for my children’s rooms and teach them how to put away their toys when they are done. I am sure I will mess my kids up in some way, but at the very least they will not learn from me how to be disorganized.
Not only did I want to rid myself of all my bad habits, but I wanted to rid myself of all my “bad” thoughts. Never have I evaluated and tried to understand how I truly feel about life, religion, diversity, equality, etc than during these 9 months. I want to make sure I understand where I stand so I am prepared to face the hard questions when it comes time with my own children. I also want to make sure I don’t pass on any negative thoughts or degrading language. This never hit me harder than when I was visiting my sister and her family a while back. My beautiful, talented, smart, niece was in first grade and was trying on a one-size-fits-all shirt that her school gave her to wear on an upcoming field trip. Right after she put the shirt on she burst in to tears and yelled that she didn’t want to wear it because it made her look fat. That is right, my perfect, 0% body fat, dancer/gymnast/cheerleader, petite, 1st grade niece not only knew what being “fat” was (not sure I did at that age) but she was already aware of the social stigma around that word and knew it was something she had to avoid at all costs. My heart broke. I lived with my sister and her family for 6 months and so I know it is not like my sister walks around talking about how “fat” she is. In fact, my sister and brother-in-law try to lead by example by eating healthy and exercising regularly. This fat stigma is something that my niece probably picked up from numerous sources, the media, school, and friends being large factors that as parents you can’t control. Who knows, when I lived with her I could have even said something once that she picked up on and internalized too. If I can’t protect my daughter from the outside influences in her life, I have to at least make sure that her home life is filled with enough positive roll models to counter balance all the negative ones. I have learned that I need to watch what I say about not only myself, but about others too. Each generation gets more tolerant than the last, which makes me hopeful for the future. I consider myself a very open minded and tolerant person, and yet I still slip out a few ignorant things once in a while. Instead of working on what I say, it is easier to focus on how I think (and WHY I think it!), because then my language will follow. I know I won’t become Gandhi in the 9 months of pregnancy but it is something I can continue to work on as my children grow. I also need to be prepared to be honest with my children when I say something I shouldn’t have, which in itself might be a whole other life lesson I can teach my children, humility.
2. Ridding My Life of Negative People
Maybe it was all the pregnancy hormones, or maybe it was me finally growing a pair. But to reword one of my favorite memes of all time, during these 9 months of pregnancy I haven’t been moody, I have just been less likely to put up with people’s shit. It was like the second the stick got a plus sign I have been this woman that knows who deserves to be in my life and who doesn’t and I am not afraid to make it known. The two biggest break ups I had were with a very close family member, and my “best” friend.
There is a member of my family who is suffering from mental illness but refuses to get help. I have been their constant care taker and their punching bag for a large portion of my life, which has been very difficult for me. Becoming pregnant was what finally made me realize that this was no longer about me, I had to be healthy to give my child the best life I can. There are so many studies out there that show how a mother’s mental health and well being affects her fetus, and I was not going to allow myself to be another statistic in that study. I told this family member that she either needs to get help, or she will no longer have me or my children in her life. This choice was by far the hardest thing I have ever had to do, but it turned out to be the greatest too. I finally feel a sense of freedom that I never felt before. Currently I have not talked to this family member for about five months and I wish her well and hope she gets help, but finally it is no longer my responsibility to make sure that happens.
I am not someone who has many close friends. I believe people consider me a friendly person and I have a lot of acquaintances and friends, but when it comes to someone who I share my deepest darkest secrets with, my list is pretty much nonexistent, especially when it comes to girl friends. My best friend from grade school became a druggie and then moved away, my “best friends” from high school lived their life like they were in the movie Mean Girls (and yes, I was Lindsey Lohan), and my “best friends” from my first few years of college were as fake as their bottled blonde hair. It wasn’t until the end of college when I started making better friend choices, just in time to graduate. And yes, I am in large part to blame for these so called friends in my life, I chose to hang out with these people and trust them. Why I continued to make the same mistakes is something I will leave to my therapist and perhaps another blog one day. I thought I had finally broke my curse with the “best friend” I currently had when I became pregnant. You know when you want something to work so badly that sometimes you ignore all the huge red flags in order to make it happen? Yeah…that was our friendship. There were all these things that I kept ignoring, largely beliefs and opinions that deep down I did not agree with. I am all for having friends that believe in things differently than I do, but sometimes people are just too different. Even though I could have ended things a little better than they ended up going down, I still do not regret my decision to break up with one of the only female people left in my life and it really did lower my stress.
3. How to Love My Body
Isn’t it ironic? Gaining 20 pounds (and counting) has made me learn to love my body. I suffered from Body Dysmorphic Disorder (a body-image disorder characterized by persistent and intrusive preoccupations with an imagined or slight defect in one’s appearance) for a large portion of my life. The thing is though, I refused to believe I had BDD because to me BDD was focusing on an imaginary flaw, and I knew my flaw wasn’t imaginary, I was fat and everyone knew it. At my very largest, which was in high school, I weighed somewhere around 160 pounds, and being 5’8″ that still put my body mass index in the “normal” range. In college I actually lost 30 pounds, over a few years wiggled up to 145 pounds, and then about two years ago worked my butt off (literally) to weigh about 130 pounds which is where I stayed until becoming pregnant. All throughout that entire fluctuation process I would go in and out of BDD, my last bout was a little before I decided to change my life by changing my relationship with exercise and food (you can read more about that journey in my “I Am A Work In Progress” blog entry).
Right before I got pregnant I was not suffering from BDD, but that still didn’t mean I did not weigh myself a few times a week and look at my body in the mirror almost daily. Even though I was at my very healthiest I had ever been, there were still things about my body I wished were different. Every day when I picked out what I was going to wear I always had to check the full length mirror to make sure I didn’t look too “fat.”
When I found out I was pregnant I couldn’t wait until I started showing. Magically not only did I not care if I looked “fat,” but I actually welcomed the belly. When I did start to show I wore tight shirts so I could show off the bump. There is that awkward time between not showing and really showing when you worry if people just think you are gaining weight, but even during that stage I didn’t really care if people thought I was just getting fat, I had an excuse even if they didn’t know it! I have been extremely lucky with my pregnancy weight gain, I am at 34 weeks and have only gained 18 pounds (after losing 4 in the hospital). My doctor says that for my size I should gain between 25-35 pounds for a healthy pregnancy, and I am right within that goal. I have been able to wear most of my pre-pregnancy pants (with the help of a hair tie around the button trick), and most of the rest of my body including my face and arms have stayed for the most part pregnancy-fat free. This 9 months of absolute fat shaming freedom has been eye opening to me and it has definitely changed how I look at my body. I no longer look at my body as something to be ashamed of, but something to be proud of! I am capable of growing another human being inside myself and very soon I will be capable of giving birth. My body is powerful and strong and feminine and amazing. So far I shockingly haven’t gotten any stretch marks (which I was expecting because I have them everywhere from puberty), but if they come I will wear them as a badge of honor, my mamma tiger stripes.
Once the baby comes I can’t promise I will continue to be in this zen state about my body, but I can hope. I am sure I will want to quickly get down to my pre-pregnancy weight, but I know it will take time and I have accepted this (as they say, 9 months to gain, 9 months to lose). I will then get to be in awe of my body producing the only fuel my baby will need for months, then I will watch as my body carries my baby, chases after her, and plays with her, and then in a couple years I will get to witness this entire miracle over again. That is better than any number on the scale.
4. To Go With The Flow
I had a plan (sounds like the beginning of an unwritten MLK speech). I have a plan for everything. I am a planner. I am a type-A lets make a plan to make a plan, planner. I like to have 10 plans, just in case the first 9 don’t work out. And lets face it, my plans hardly ever work out. And I am honestly OK with plans not working out, because that just gives me an excuse to make a new plan.
If you couldn’t guess, I had a pregnancy plan. I am a teacher, and most of the teachers I know have children over the summer, simply because that means we get to stay at home for a longer time and we don’t have to make dreaded substitute plans. As Jack Black in “School of Rock” makes clear, “Those who can’t do, teach. Those who can’t teach, teach gym.” and I have added “Those who can’t teach gym, sub.” Finding a good sub is like finding a perfect condition Louis Vuitton purse in a thrift store. But I digress. My plan was to get pregnant in September, which means 40 weeks later would be June. That meant I could have my baby at the end of the school year and spend the entire summer taking care of her before I had to worry about day care the following September. And you know what? My plan worked. The first time we tried we succeeded and the due date was set for June 27th, a week after the last day of school. A few months ago I found out I had 17 sick days left, and magically we had 16 school days in June, so my plan was to take all of June off for maternity leave and use my last sick day for a four day weekend Babymoon during Memorial Day weekend. And then guess what happened? April 28th my doctor decided I needed to be on bed rest, and told me I couldn’t return to work. That was a month before my planned maternity leave, plus I can no longer take that Babymoon because I am not supposed to drive much further than an hour away in case Baby Girl decides it is time.
Though I was lucky enough to get a good substitute and my co-workers are AMAZING at catching her up to speed, it is really hard for me to let go of the control of my classroom. I didn’t know my last day teaching this year would be my last day, and it upsets me I didn’t get to say goodbye to my students and co-workers. If I would have known in advance, I would have been able to organize my classroom, deep clean everything, and prepare immaculate sub-plans. Instead I left my desk a mess (see pregnancy lesson #1), a million papers ungraded, and no sub-plans made. After three weeks the sub and I are starting to get in a rhythm and I am working on letting go of the classroom.
Pregnancy has once again shown me that no matter how many plans I make, no matter how many spreadsheets I create or how many vision boards I design, life is going to happen. Shit is going to happen. While I was in the hospital the nurses constantly praised how happy and nice and laid back I was and I kept telling them that it was because nothing I did would change what is going to happen. If Baby Girl wants to come she is going to come, so I might as well just sit back and enjoy the ride.
5. My Husband is Even More Amazing Than I Thought
I hope that every preggo feels that their partner is awesome, because if you don’t then why the heck are you having babies with him?! My husband and I have been together for 9 years, married almost 3, and I love him dearly. He is my best friend (see pregnancy lesson #2) and I can’t imagine my life without him. He and I are pretty great at sharing the house chores between the two of us, each have a list of tasks and a day they need to be completed by, and we both keep each other accountable (OK, so it is more of him reminding me…but that is because of pregnancy lesson #1).
When the bed rest news hit our family, I was in the middle of painting a dresser, bookshelf, and two night stands white for Baby Girl’s room, and we had no baby essentials purchased. While I was in the hospital my husband sat next to me for hours and reassured me as I cried. He brought me all the weird things I asked for from the house and even went shopping for all the food I wanted to eat at the hospital…and he even surprised me with a few of my favorite comforts I didn’t ask for. He then took over all the responsibilities at the house that used to be mine, including walking the dogs three times a day, feeding them twice a day, caring for my fish, doing the dishes, watering my plants, making dinners and going grocery shopping. He also went above and beyond and drove to my school a few times to deliver/collect assignments and things I needed, he finished painting the baby furniture, he went to the baby store and bought a few of the essentials we needed in case she came that day, and more. He was being more selfless than I had ever seen him be before and I didn’t think it was possible, but I fell in love with him even more. I know that he is going to be an incredible father and I can’t wait for our future together and this next chapter of our life.