The kernel, the gist, the essence of nurturing yourself during pregnancy is treating yourself like you are in the womb. Learning to believe you have the right to be cared for by others, to be supported. Understanding how frightening and exhilarating it can be to open yourself to the new identity growing inside you: the identity of you as a mother. Grasping that you’re in the midst of one of the biggest life transitions you will ever experience, and at the end of this transformation, you are going to be called upon to do more giving than you ever have, and for an extended period of time (motherhood is about endurance). If you’re not good to yourself now, if you don’t take time to replenish and enjoy yourself, how are you going to do it after the baby arrives? (This is true for veteran moms as well, although of course, it is already very difficult to find time for you. But the reality is: it is going to be exponentially difficult after you add your new baby. So although you feel you should be putting all your focus on helping your first child(ren) adjust, some of time and attention needs to be given to you, too.)
For Whitney Kershaw, mother of Ian and Lily, pregnancy was the first time her life became her own. She has been a professional actress, dancer, and singer since she was eight, always being told where to be, what to do, always being asked, “So, what are you doing next?”. With her first pregnancy, she felt, “Finally, I didn’t have to explain myself to anyone. I didn’t have to prove myself because it was obvious what I was doing. I became valuable for me, not for what show I’m doing, or what award I won.” For Whitney, nurturing herself became her entire way of life. She gave herself the gift of spending most her pregnancy “doing everything I had never had the time for. I finally believed I deserved to take care of myself. Before I got pregnant, I didn’t feel worthy (this from a woman who has danced on Broadway and starred in a TV series–just so you know that beautiful, talented, accomplished women struggle with the belief they are not worth self-care). My pregnancies were a peak time in my life because I went with my body rhythms, I did what I wanted with my time, I felt wonderful because I was doing good things for me.”
Jodie, mother of Livingston, reported a similar experience. “I made time three times a week to attend exercise class. I would have never taken the time before. Pregnancy made me take better care of myself. I felt absolute clarity for perhaps the first time in my life. You can feel strong, healthy, and empowered. Every bit is so unique; you only have this one time. The most important thing is to be present.”
I hope this chapter, this book, will help you to create this liberating, wonderful feeling throughout pregnancy and motherhood.
WHAT TO DO:
What I Wished Someone Would Have Told Me
When I was pregnant with my first baby, I wish someone had told me to take it easy. Loll in bed. Go to three movies in a row. Read lots of books. Do only what you want as much as possible. Celebrate your freedom. This may be your last time for many years (gulp). So repeat these phrases to yourself as often as possible: Take it easy. Enjoy this time – it may never come again. Write these words down and carry them in your purse or briefcase. It helps to be reminded.
Wrap your arms around the unknown. So many moms I interviewed said, “If I would have only known what the whole thing was going to be like, especially labor, I could have relaxed. I wouldn’t have been nearly as uptight, worried, afraid, ambivalent, (take your pick).” I once lead a group of women on a high ropes course (a series of balancing elements on ropes suspended 40 to 60 feet in the air that you walk through wearing a harness attached to steel cables). It was the same reaction for many of the participants – fear, sometimes all consuming, until they zipped down a pulley to the ground, at which time their reaction was, “That wasn’t so hard. If I had only known.” Don’t dismiss your fear but remember – you have faced the unknown before. You can relax. You can handle it.
Talk to other pregnant women regularly. It is a huge comfort. Find a pregnancy (and later mothering) mentor — a woman who has gone before you who can help you keep your perspective and perhaps your sense of humor.
Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Don’t hesitate to ask for help. Please, ask for help.
Work on believing you are a wonderful, unique, whole, person. Motherhood is so fraught with guilt and doubt, shoring yourself up as much as possible now helps a lot.
Shouldn’t I Focus on the Baby Instead of Myself?
While it should be obvious that taking good care of the fetus growing inside of you is crucial, pregnancy isn’t solely about the baby. It isn’t only about birth either, although most of the attention is usually focused on labor. It is also about you becoming a mother, a fact that is mostly overlooked or downplayed. If the baby and labor are your only concerns, you are set up to believe you don’t matter and you will have little emotional preparation for the reality of being a mom. If you already have a hard time taking care of yourself, focusing only on the baby’s well being and ignoring your own is doubly tempting. It is so easy to come to believe that nurturance is only for others.
Of course you want to keep your baby’s welfare firmly in mind (so taking care of yourself precludes late night slam dancing and Kamikaze chasers), yet it is vital for you to also emphasize your own needs and desires.
Define Your Needs
Pregnancy can be a very needy time, both psychologically and physically. That can be frightening and confusing. If you determine what you need, you can then pinpoint what comforting actions would meet those needs, providing some relief. Clarifying what you need also reinforces your sense of self, which during pregnancy can feel under siege because your psychological boundaries are enlarging and becoming permeable to include the presence in your belly. Finally, the more you can find ways to recognize and meet your needs now, the more likely you will be to do so after the birth.
You’ll need your pen and journal, or paper, for this. Complete this sentence as many times as you can as quickly as you can:
To feel nurtured and taken care of during my pregnancy, I need . . .
Next, consider the following list of needs supplied by women in various stages of pregnancy as well as post-birth.
The need to be physically safe.
The need to know everything in the house is repaired and freshly painted.
The need to nest: to buy new sheets, to have my partner help me keep the house clean.
The need to be surrounded by beautiful things.
The need to have help eating right.
The need to sleep without feeling guilty or pressured.
The need to feel financially solid and prepared.
The need to not have to worry about money or talk about budgets.
The need for reassurance that everything will be OK, no matter what.
The need for reassurance that my mate is going to stay with me during delivery and after the birth.
The need to know my husband loves me and still finds me attractive.
The need to not do anything besides makes it to work.
The need to quit work and relax.
The need to be touched, cuddled, massaged a lot.
The need not to have sex.
The need to have lots of sex.
The need to have lots of sex in ways we have never tried before.
The need to masturbate.
The need not to drive.
The need to have others drive safely.
The need to feel crisp and attractive.
The need to take multiple-showers daily.
The need to get all my work done before the birth.
The need to play a lot in the month or so before birth, to go out to eat, see movies, read a novel all Sunday without distraction.
The need for someone to care for my daughter and give me time alone regularly.
The need to go out into nature often and alone.
The need to cry a lot without anyone worrying or making a fuss.
The need to grieve the changes in my life.
The need to grieve not being alone with my son ever again.
The need to talk to many people about having a baby and how great it is.
The need to be with my baby a lot.
Copy any of the needs from this list that strike a chord in you, adding these to the needs you came up with by completing the sentence. Take enough time to name all your needs. Don’t panic if your list seems long.
Next, go through your list, and consider how you can fulfill each need, by yourself or with help.
If you feel overwhelmed by all your needs, investigate just two or three right now, the ones that feel most manageable. Some of your needs may be hard to meet but the attempt to do so is nurturing and empowering in itself.
You might consider doing this exercise again, after the baby is born. Try answering the question:
To feel nurtured and taken care of during the next three months, I need . . .
Then consider each need, focusing especially on how others can help you. Repeat every three months for a year.
Giving Yourself Permission to be Good to Yourself
After you figure out what you need, you have to allow yourself to meet those needs and enjoy doing it. Eight weeks into her pregnancy and feeling horrible, Lynn hosted a baby shower for one friend on Saturday and a brunch for her in-laws on Sunday. “It would have never occurred to me or my husband to cancel. I was sitting at the table on Sunday feeling so ill and all I wanted to do was go lie down in the living room but it took me so long to ask everyone if they would mind moving to the living room. Then I insisted everyone sit on the couch while I laid on the floor.” Being pregnant grants you special privileges. The trick is letting yourself take advantage of them, use them, until they become second nature so that you can continue the same healthy self-nurturing behavior forever. Try:
Reminding yourself this time will never come again. Of course, that is true for every day of your life but the rareness of pregnancy brings that reality home. This is the only time you will be pregnant with this child. If you can’t say no when you want to, or you burn with guilt over not maintaining the same pace at work, you miss the wonder of this time. Little by little, start facing the reality you can’t be everything to everybody and still be there for your child and yourself.
When you are feeling conflicted or unable to relax, talk with the voice of your pregnancy. There are many inner voices available to dialogue with. You may be most familiar with your internal critical or judgmental voices. Pregnancy provides a unique inner voice, what I think of as the energy of life, which can calm you and remind you what is important. (This may sound wacky but bear with me.) Find a few moments when you can relax alone with your journal and a pen. Close your eyes and concentrate on breathing deeply into your belly. Feel the breath going down into your belly. After a minute or two, pick up your pen and write whatever first occurs to you. It might be a question like “Why can’t I relax?” or it could be simply “Hello.” Now step back and let the energy of your pregnancy answer your question. Don’t strain, just tune in. Dialogue with this voice. An example:
I’m so tense.
BREATHE. FEEL THE LIFE IN YOU.
I feel so scattered. I want to relax but then I get caught up in everything I need to do.
COME BACK TO THE LIFE IN YOU. FOCUS ON THE FACT YOU ARE BEING CREATIVE EVEN WHEN YOU SLEEP.
I also feel like I have to make this time so perfect, so relaxing, that stresses me out too.
WHAT DO YOU WANT TO DO? STOP WORRYING ABOUT WHAT OTHERS THINK WOULD MAKE YOUR TIME SPECIAL. FOCUS ON YOURSELF.
I do feel special.
YOU ARE AS UNIQUE AND WONDERFUL AS THE BABY INSIDE YOU. FEEL THE LIFE SURGING THROUGH YOU. FEEL ME.
I’m afraid to.
DO IT A LITTLE AT A TIME. JUST A LITTLE. BREATHE.
I’ll try. This could be good.
Use this technique whenever you are feeling bored, stressed, off center, or hating your pregnancy. It also works well when you are envisioning what kind of birth you want and perhaps feel you don’t deserve it.
Finally, if you can’t allow yourself to relax and be good to yourself, allow yourself to be good to your soon-to-be-child. Motivate yourself with “My baby needs to relax” or “My baby needs me to be good to myself.” After this practice is well established, transfer this caring behavior to yourself. Visualize how intimately connected you and the baby are. Grasp for the realization that at your core, you are as innocent and lovable as your tender, tiny baby. Feel in your heart that caring for and loving your baby cannot be separated from caring for and loving yourself.
Cut to the Chase
Many pregnant women and new mothers experience feelings of impatience and find themselves becoming brusque and irritable. While there are many reasons for this, including the increased sensitivity to your feelings (and sleep deprivation for new moms), behind this impatience can lie a dawning realization of what is important in your life, what matters the most. Intolerance springs up for anything or anyone who doesn’t “cut to the chase,” because you just aren’t interested in spending time and energy on things that don’t matter.
If you feel this impulse, honor it. Build on it. Rather than using this irritable energy to bite your mate’s head off for not getting baby insurance yet, try to explain why arranging the insurance is important to you. Use your vexation to clue you in on what you need to let go of or downplay in importance. Ask yourself when you’re irritable, “What could I change so I wouldn’t feel this way?”.
Wendy found that she, “slowed down and concentrated on nurturing myself and my child. I needed to get into the rhythm of my life more. I wanted to get back to the basics of life. I found myself buying organic produce, cooking again, not returning phone calls. If I didn’t want to do it, I let it fall away. I didn’t want to feel pressured.” Many women report being drawn inside. Let yourself go.
When you are faced with a situation in which you would usually say yes even though you want to scream no, say something like, “I would like to help you but my energy level is too low because of my pregnancy.” Or “I’m giving all my energy to this little being inside of me and I just don’t have any energy leftover right now. I have to say no.” Or “I need to say no because if I don’t lie down within the next five minutes, I may spontaneously combust.” Use your exhaustion to motivate you to carve out private time. Practice now so you can do it after the baby is here as well.
Ask yourself often, “If I don’t do it, and it doesn’t get done, does it matter?”. Or make a list of everything you have to do, then cross off everything that you can possibly put off or avoid until tomorrow. Do only what is absolutely necessary. (This is an especially good trick for the first few months after the birth.)
Look for bodily reactions to clue you into where your life may need stripping down. Susan realized her early pregnancy nausea had as much to do with her job stress as it did with her hormones. “I felt like crap all week but on Saturday, I spent the day relaxing with three good friends and I felt so much better. Sunday night I started to feel ill again. It was then I realized I had to start taking a more sanguine attitude about work. And I did. With the baby in my belly, it just didn’t matter as much if some agent yelled at me. I still love my job and want to do a good one, but I started having perspective for the first time in my life.” Susan fostered that perspective by asking herself often “What is most important to me right now?”. Also, when she found herself getting uptight, she would close her eyes and focus on the life growing inside her, visualizing her budding child.
Investigate the shoulds in your life. Every time you catch yourself saying or thinking, “I should do that,” you have probably identified an area of your life you can let go of. Try changing the should into a could and see if that helps you see new possibilities and choices for streamlining your life. “I should go shopping for Jack’s wedding present” to “I could go shopping for Jack’s wedding present.”
Cutting to the chase is really about having the courage to set limits and be firm when you do so. If this feels like an area you need to work on, check out RESOURCES for several excellent books on the subject.
If You Could . . .
Self-nurturing springs from doing what makes you feel good. But sometimes we forget what makes us feel good in the flurry of responsibilities. Explore the questions below by writing everything that comes in your head. Forget about reality for a moment. Or, if writing feels like too much effort, use the question as a starting point for daydreaming.
To really, truly, enjoy your pregnancy, what would you like to do? (Examples: Take off some time from work, buy several nice maternity outfits, eat lots of ice cream.)
Are you doing it or will you do it? If not, why? Is there anyway you can truly enjoy your pregnancy even for five minutes today?
When you contemplate the phrase “being good to myself during pregnancy” what occurs to you? (Examples: Being gentle with myself, not reading the newspaper and otherwise screening out the world, getting lots of attention, sleep, sleep, sleep.)
Use the answers to these questions to make a list of what you want to do to nurture yourself during your pregnancy. Glance at this list every few days to remind yourself of the possibilities. Add to it when new ideas occur to you. Push yourself to transcend limiting thoughts like “I work – only women who don’t work could do that” or “I have kids so I can’t.” Please give yourself at least a few of the things you enjoy.
Consider the phrase “being good to myself postpartum.” What occurs to you? Make a list and keep it handy for nap times and free hours when you don’t know what to do with yourself so you end up watching the baby sleep.
Zen and the Art of Peeing
Pregnancy presents even the busiest woman with built-in comfort time, ripe opportunities to weave relaxation into your life, tune into your inner self, and give yourself tidbits of pleasure. Try:
Taking a mini-relaxation break when you pee. Making relaxation a habit prepares you for labor, when knowing how to relax and get out of your own way can make a huge difference. When you sit down to pee, consciously relax your shoulders and jaw. Close your eyes. Inhale deeply (unless you are in a stinky bathroom) and say silently to yourself a centering word, for example, peace (or chocolate or orgasm, the choice is yours). Then exhale through your mouth. Repeat until you are ready to vacate your throne.
When you take your pre-natal vitamins, whisper an affirmation to yourself. Try : “It is an honor for me to be a mother” or “I am a mother in my own unique way” or “I know I will go into labor when my body, and my baby, are most ready for a safe labor and birth.”
When you feel your baby kick, take a moment to think of something you have done recently you are proud of and heartily congratulate yourself. Small accomplishments count as much as big ones. Nor does it have to be anything associated with your pregnancy. Getting a report written, refinishing a rocking chair, eating enough protein, remembering your sister-in-law’s birthday: unconditionally compliment yourself.
When you exercise, take a moment to praise your body, especially if you feel fat, uncoordinated, or ill. Visualize the increased oxygen in your blood flowing to the placenta and being transferred to your developing baby. Remind yourself your body is keeping two beings healthy and alive. Congratulate yourself on getting active, even if you only did three leg lifts and then had to have some peanut butter brittle to keep your strength up. It still counts!
Before or after your pre-natal care appointments, do something special for yourself. It can be as trifling as sitting in the shade of a tree and eating frozen yogurt or as extravagant as a new maternity outfit followed by a pedicure and two hours browsing in your favorite bookstore. If nothing occurs to you, use any time you spend waiting for your doctor or midwife to ask yourself, “What would make me feel really good right now?”
When one of the discomforts of pregnancy strikes, say a burp of indigestion or a cramp of constipation, ask yourself, “When is the last time I did something nourishing for myself?” Turn the discomfort into a reminder to treat yourself great.
Too Good for Her Own Good by Claudia Bepko and Jo-Ann Krestan (New York: Harper & Row, 1990) Excellent exploration of over responsibility. Help when you can’t stop doing for others.
The Woman’s Comfort Book by Jennifer Louden (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1992) Section on setting limits and saying no.
Learning to Say No by Carla Wills-Brandon, M.A. (West Palm Beach, Fl.: Health Communications, 1990) How and when to say no.
The Courage to Be Yourself by Sue Patton Thoele (Berkeley: Conari Press, 1992) A classic in learning to stop pleasing others.
Boundaries: Where You End and I Begin by Anne Katherine (Fireside, 1993) How-to recognize establish healthy boundaries.
Birth and Life Bookstore, 141 Commercial Street, N.E., Salem, OR 97301 or call (503)371-4445 or to order (800)736-0631. Complete source of books, videos, and audios on pregnancy, childbirth, and newborns. Mail order catalog too.
Excerpted with permission from The Pregnant Woman’s Comfort Book by Jennifer Louden
Jennifer Louden is a best-selling author of The Woman’s Comfort Book, The Couple’s Comfort Book, The Pregnant Woman’s Comfort Book, The Woman’s Retreat Book, and The Comfort Queen’s Guide to Life. You can visit her popular website at comfortqueen.com where over 600 articles about self-care, an interactive Inner Organizer, and a wonderful CQ store await you. Jennifer also works with a few clients at a time as a life coach. You can contact her about her practice at firstname.lastname@example.org.