Monday, March 24, 2014
Pregnancy Then and Now
I came across a blog of a woman who, like me, started a "B team" later in life (although she didn't call it that!). She outlined how her later pregnancy compared to her earlier one. Most of her changes centered around her healthier lifestyle of diet and exercise, which resulted in a much easier pregnancy.
It got me to thinking how this pregnancy for me has differed from my previous two. This pregnancy has been so much "easier" than my first two (I know "easy" is a relative term!), and here are a few of the reasons why:
1. More emotional support
I felt very alone for my first two pregnancies. I didn't have many friends, and my side of the family lived far away. I didn't reach out to others, which left me alone with my thoughts and fears. This time around, I have had more support from family, friends, coworkers, and acquaintances. More people to smile and commiserate with me. More people to hug me and check on me. More opportunities to talk about how I am feeling. I have support groups through social media to ask questions and express concerns related to my pregnancy. I have more opportunities to talk with my family via phone and Skype. I have also made a concerted effort to be more honest about how I am doing and feeling, rather than trying to keep a stiff upper lip all the time.
I stayed at home and went to school during my first two pregnancies. This resulted in me going days and days without ever leaving the house. This pregnancy, I worked up until about 30 weeks, at which time I had to stop because of contractions and worries about pre-term labor. Working while pregnant is very, VERY difficult, especially during that first trimester. But on the plus side, it kept my mind occupied and made the days go by faster. I'm glad I was able to work as long as I did. While it made me physically tired, it did a lot for my mental health.
3. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
Speaking of mental health, I wasn't really familiar with Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) when I was pregnant with my first two. My hormone-driven emotions were off the chart, and it was so very hard to think rationally about my situation when I felt overwhelmingly weepy some days and numb on others. I learned how to use CBT years ago from a counselor. This time around, I use a simplified version of CBT in my daily life to recognize errant thoughts and emotions and change my reaction to them so they don't overwhelm me. For example, if I start feeling really down and depressed, rather than start to think that I am worthless or lazy or that life is just too difficult, I stop that thought in its tracks. I tell myself that my hormones are out of control due to pregnancy, and THAT is what is making me feel down. In response, I need to take a nap, go for a walk, read a book, or some activity that will help get my mind off of how my body is feeling. I also tell my husband, "I'm feeling xyz. I know it's not rational, and I know it's because of hormones, but that's how I'm feeling." It helps to identify the thought or emotion and say it out loud, so that others can help change the negative thoughts with positive, true thoughts.
Like the blog I referenced, I have been more proactive about exercising this time around, and it has made a huge difference in the way I feel physically. I don't have near the back aches or leg aches I did with my first. I still have crazy heartburn and contractions that make me feel like I've been in labor for months, but I feel more flexible and strong overall. I used Pregnancy Yoga videos on YouTube as a jumping off point, and doing those types of stretches and exercises every day has improved my physical complaints but also boosted my mood. I had to limit walking during my times of lots of contractions, but before and after, I have tried to make walking a daily habit.
5. Skipping Certain Pregnancy Books
I made myself crazy with "What to Expect When You Are Expecting" with my first two. I think this book should be banned for preggo moms. I'm sure it is helpful to many, but it made me feel like I was a failure of a mother because I didn't (and couldn't) live up to their model of a healthy pregnancy. My mom often reminded me that my "baby hadn't read the same books I had" and so I shouldn't worry if the baby didn't act according to the book. Finding more balanced books this time around has helped tremendously. I perused my public library, utilized resources from my doctor, and of course, searched the internet. (Public service announcement-- beware of Dr. Google when looking up symptoms! You can freak yourself out!) Any resource that made me feel guilty or shamed, I set aside. Any resource that was supportive, understanding, and balanced, I read and used. It made a big difference. (For morning sickness, the book The Morning Sickness Companion, along with doctor prescribed Zofran, made those months tolerable!)
The biggest difference between my first two pregnancies and this one is that I'm more mature, and dare I say, wise. Over a decade of life experiences can make a person more able to adapt and cope with the twists and turns that come along. I am definitely braver to advocate for myself and my baby at the doctor's office, which has made a world of difference in my medical care. Of course, I've also benefited from the new developments in obstetric research that says just because a woman is contracting doesn't mean she needs to be on bed rest 24/7. I had to be on bed rest with my first two, along with several stints in the hospital to be pumped full of meds to stop my contractions. I have been able to avoid strict bed rest and all hospital stays this time around, and this is in large part to being more confident in what my body is telling me and not panicking. I still get nervous and worried, but rather than let fear dictate my decisions, my husband and I think through each situation as rationally as we can and communicate with the doctor what we are feeling and thinking. That way, I am comfortable with every decision that is made. I don't feel like a lab rat this time around--I feel like an empowered mother.
There are more differences between then and now, but these are the biggies. Now, all of this isn't to say that my first two were bad... on the contrary, I got two beautiful, intelligent, funny, wonderful children out of the deal! Pregnancy is a difficult journey, even under the most ideal circumstances. I have found being more proactive about my mental and emotional health through family support, work, CBT, exercise, and resources have made these past eight months more than just something to endure. I have learned more about myself and what I am capable of, and I have an even greater respect and love for my husband, who has been steady as a rock through this whole thing.
Now, one more month... and eighteen years to go!