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.
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.
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.
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 Wraps. Diaper 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.
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.