10 things I’ve learned during my pregnancy

Troy and I on our recent BabyMoon -- a honeymoon of sorts before Madelyn arrives.
Troy and I on our recent Babymoon — a weekend getaway trip before Madelyn arrives. It was one of our only free weekends before Madelyn’s due date, so we took advantage of our time together. We stayed at an adorable B&B, explored the various historic sites in St. Augustine, had good convos, and ate lots of tasty food. 

Pregnancy has taught me a lot — about my body, self-care, and the early stages of mother-daughter bonds. I could easily think of 50+ pregnancy lessons, but I’ve narrowed it down to a Top 10 list…

1. The human body is pretty remarkable.

Pregnancy is so common, and yet it seems so miraculous. I’ve become increasingly fascinated by the changes that are happening in my body, and I love reading about Madelyn’s ongoing development. Over the past 18 weeks since finding out I was pregnant, Madelyn has grown from the size of a peppercorn to the size of a cantaloupe! In thinking about my baby’s development, I’ve gained a greater appreciation for what it takes to grow a baby inside of you. You realize that every choice you make about how you treat your body and what you put in it is not just a choice for you but a choice for two.

2. Babies are a beautiful motivator to listen to your body.

Just months after my mom died of breast cancer when I was 11, I developed anorexia. I underwent hospitalizations, residential treatment, and years of therapy, and I made tremendous progress throughout the years. But for all of my adult life, I continued to struggle with disordered eating habits, often yo-yoing between restricting, binging, and exercising obsessively. At various times, I would temporarily split up with my eating disorder – most recently while training for my first marathon earlier this year. It wasn’t until I realized that I was going to become a mom that I finally decided to sign the divorce papers. The fear of passing on disordered eating habits to Madelyn was enough to scare me into healthier eating behaviors – for both Madelyn and myself. It hasn’t always been easy. I’ve had a few slip-up days, and the weight gain sometimes gets to me, but I’m making meaningful progress. All those baby steps I’ve taken throughout the years have mattered.

One night after a long day away from home without access to good food, I got back to my hotel and ordered a whole pizza for myself. (I ate it all.)
One night after a long day away from home without access to good food, I got back to my hotel and ordered a whole pizza for myself. (I ate it all and I’m ok with that.)

3. The word “hangry” is suddenly a lot more relatable.

I used to think “hangry” was simply a fun word to say. Since becoming pregnant, it has taken on a whole new meaning.  To fend off nausea in the first trimester, I started eating every three to four hours – a schedule I’ve maintained throughout my pregnancy. When I don’t eat enough, because I’m traveling or in a situation where I don’t have easy access to food, I get irritable, agitated, and cranky.  Now, I bring lots of snacks with me wherever I go.  (Granola bars and individual packets of Trader Joe’s trail mix are key!)

4. Pregnancy can make you really clumsy. 

It’s not a myth. Pregnancy hormones loosen your ligaments and joints and can cause you to retain extra fluids, making you more apt to drop things. I’ve dropped a lot, including my phone. The screen shattered in dozens of pieces, to the point where I was getting shards of glass in my finger when I tried to swipe it. I ended up having to get a new phone. I’ve also dropped a lot of food – on my shirt. Stain removals have come in very handy lately.

5. Pregnancy can make you a lot more nurturing.

I seem to see babies and children everywhere these days. Of course, they were always there, but I didn’t pay as much attention to them before. When I hear a baby cry, my ears perk up. Even when my cat meows, I want to pick her up — something I didn’t do as much in the past. When I see a child ostensibly in need of something, my nurturing tendencies kick into high gear. While in Portland, Oregon, recently, I saw a little boy walking around the street shirtless in 55-degree weather and immediately thought about how cold he must have been. He needs a sweater! Where is his mom? Is he ok? He soon after went into a store, where I hoped he’d find warmth.

Here I am trying to take a nap after some encouragement from Troy (and Clara).
Here I am trying (emphasis on trying) to take a nap after some encouragement from Troy (and Clara the cat). I’m not a very good napper…

6. You’ll never again take a good night’s sleep for granted.

The majority of pregnant women have trouble sleeping. I can’t help but think it’s the body’s way of preparing us for life with a newborn. I’ve always slept on my back, which is unfortunately discouraged during pregnancy. You’re supposed to sleep on your side to help increase blood flow to your baby, so I’ve been trying to fall — and stay — asleep in the fetal position. I inevitably end up tossing and turning a lot, and I always have to get up to go to the bathroom. I seem to wake up even more throughout the night when I’m traveling, which I’ve done a lot lately. I always look forward to returning to my own bed — and my funny-looking but oh-so-comfy Snoogle pillow.

7. You’ve got to make time for self-care.

I realize that once Madelyn is born, I won’t have much, if any, time for myself. So I’ve tried to carve out time for guilt-free pampering. I recently got a manicure (with natural nail polish, to ease my fears about the chemicals in regular nail polish); and I got a haircut (with highlights, after my OB convinced me that getting highlights is ok). I also treat myself each week to prenatal yoga – a class that helps me maintain my physical strength and gives me an opportunity to meditate in the company of other moms-to-be. I’ve been wanting to get a prenatal massage for months but keep putting it off. Sometime in the next month, I’ll get one. It’s hard to make self-care a priority; I’m at least trying to make it less of an afterthought.

I think it's important to challenge yourself, too. During our Babymoon, Troy and I climbed one of the tallest lighthouses in the U.S. 216 steps up a winding staircase, I started to worry about falling and became really emotional. Pregnancy hormones are weird little buggers. I pushed through the tears and fears and kept climbing. Here we are, together at the top.
I think it’s important to challenge yourself, too. During our babymoon in St. Augustine, Troy and I climbed one of the tallest lighthouses in the U.S. As we ascended 216 steps up a winding staircase, I started to worry about falling and became really emotional. Pregnancy hormones are weird little buggers. With Troy’s support, I pushed through the tears and fears and kept climbing. I’m glad I did. Here we are, together at the top.

8. You develop a secret language of sorts.

A couple years ago, I was in charge of writing down all the gifts that my friend got during her baby shower. Several times, I had to ask the mom next to me: “What was that thing called again?! A boopie? A snoopie?”

I now know about all sorts of baby products: Boppies. Snoogles. The Bob Revolution Flex. ErgoBaby. Moby Wraps. Boba WrapsDiaper Genies. Snotsuckers. I can casually mention these words in conversation with other pregnant women and they won’t flinch. We’re part of a “discourse community,” a fancy scholarly term for language clubs. I’ve found that I increasingly gravitate toward women who speak my newfound language – other moms and moms-to-be who understand and share my interest in talking about pregnancy and parenting.

Shorter hair, growing belly at 24 weeks.
Shorter hair, growing belly at 24 weeks.

9. From the moment you find out you’re pregnant, you form a bond with your unborn baby.

I find myself talking to Madelyn at various points throughout the day. Since she can now hear sounds in the womb, I play baby lullabies for her and read her books. (I love having an excuse to buy and read children’s books!) Studies have shown that babies who are read a specific book while in the womb will suck their pacifiers harder when they’re read the same book as a newborn. It’s a clear sign of recognition, researchers say.

Every night I read Madelyn the same book, “The Wonderful Things You Will Be,” by Emily Winfield Martin. The narrator is a parent telling a child that she will love and support her no matter where life takes her. “I’ll look at you and you’ll look at me, and I’ll love you, whoever you’ve grown up to be,” the narrator says in the book’s closing line. 

With every song I play and every book I read to Madelyn, I feel like I’m strengthening my bond with her. I like “introducing” her to others, too, especially when giving work-related talks. “I’m Mallary, and this is Baby Madelyn,” I’ll say, cupping my belly. The audience usually smiles and laughs, and I immediately feel more at ease. I silently tell myself and Madelyn, (“we can do this!”) and that confidence carries me through. 

10. Even when you’re by yourself, you’re never really alone.

As much as I love traveling and having time to myself, I don’t like being away from Troy. I get lonely when flying solo and hanging out in hotel rooms by myself at night. When it’s late and it seems like the whole world is asleep, I divert my attention to Madelyn. I’ll look down at my bulging belly and remember the life that’s emerging inside. Sometimes when I need it most, I’ll feel a kick from within. I pretend the kicks are Madelyn’s silent way of saying, “Hello! I’m still here! Love you!”

I didn’t think you could love someone you never met, but above all else pregnancy has taught me it’s possible.

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Highlights from Madelyn’s first baby shower

Gratitude. That’s the one word that keeps coming to mind as I think about the baby shower my mother-in-law threw for me and Troy in Texas last weekend. Everyone showered us with gifts, well wishes, and encouragement.

With each gift we opened, I got excited for Madelyn and thought about how lucky she will be — to be born into a supportive family, to have adorable clothes to wear, to have toys to play with and blankets to snuggle with. To be loved.

Troy and I will be lucky, too, to have Madelyn in our lives. I’ve been soaking up as much knowledge as I can leading up to her arrival. I’ve been reading books about pregnancy, labor, infant care, breastfeeding, and more. I realize, though, that for as much as I read, I still won’t have all the answers. There will be a lot of on-the-job training, a lot of learning by doing.

To help us out, my mother-in-law asked our family and friends at the shower to partner up and write down parenting tips. Part funny, part practical, the tips had me nodding my head in agreement. I know some parents-to-be get annoyed when people give them advice; I like hearing it, though, keeping in mind that I don’t have to heed it all! Here is some of the hand-written advice that family shared with us:

  • “Make noise all the time so Madelyn doesn’t need deep silence to sleep!”
  • “Remember, babies are very resilient. You will survive your caring parenting. Enjoy every moment; it goes so fast!”
  • “Take a little time each day just for yourself.”
  • “Get the baby on a schedule, but don’t force it until at least six weeks. Then chill.”
  • “Move next door to your mother-in-law.”
  • “Go to the park every day; it’s good therapy for you and good activity for kids.”
  • “Make sure you write down the stories or funny things she does. Right away. Before she’s born, write down your experiences during pregnancy.” (I’ve already started doing this!)
  • “Whenever she falls off the changing table, it’s ok!” (Um, we’re planning to avoid this at all costs!)
  • “SLEEP!” Whenever and as often as you can!!!”

Here are some snapshots from the shower. (Thanks to Troy’s Aunt Mary for capturing them!)

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Madelyn’s first (chocolate and caramel) cake!
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Lots of colorful presents.
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Troy’s mother-in-law’s friend, who we’ve never met, knitted Madelyn two blankets and a hat. So thoughtful!
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Naturally, a family friend bought Madelyn a Texas lone star bib.
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Still can’t get over the cuteness of baby girl clothes.
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Troy will have fun reading this Jimmy Fallon book to Madelyn.

We’re thankful for the shower (which is number one of three!) and are looking forward to celebrating with more friends and family in Florida and Massachusetts later this fall.