Saturday, April 16, 2022

Best Advice I Got for First-Time Pregnancy

I made it through my first pregnancy, and so the next adventure begins! I wanted to take a step back and reflect and share some of the things going through my head now before too much time passes and I forget. Something I would've loved to see when I found out I was pregnant for the first time was a blog post like this from a trusted friend, so I thought I would share some of my experiences. Please take everything I say with a grain of salt, though, as I only have a sample size of one! So in no particular order, here's a list of great advice I appreciated as a first-time pregnant woman:

  1. Get used to unsolicited advice. I got so much unsolicited advice during pregnancy and a lot of criticism about what I thought were silly things. Here are some of the choices I made that people questioned to my face with language like "Are you sure that's good for the baby?" and "You shouldn't do that": drinking a cup of hot chocolate, having a macaron, wearing heels, exercising, the list goes on. I was especially surprised by how frequently these comments came from people who don't know me well at all. I've heard it only gets worse once the baby actually arrives, anyway. There's something about child-rearing that causes people to drop all their filters and social niceties and stick their noses in your business.
  2. Safe exercise during pregnancy is a gamechanger. You should talk to your medical provider before starting any new exercise routine, but most people who were active before pregnancy can continue exercising with a lot of mental and physical benefits. I was fortunate that exercise including prenatal yoga, pilates, and cardio felt great throughout my entire pregnancy. I found exercise helped stretch my muscles, relieve aches, and prepare my body for the physical exertion of labor and childbirth. I heard that back in the day they would tell women not to exercise at all during pregnancy and just lie down most of the time. That certainly did not work for me and is not recommended by doctors who have stayed up on the research (unless, of course, you have a condition or other issue requiring bed rest). My favorite prenatal exercise YouTube channel is called Pregnancy and Postpartum TV - I highly recommend it!
  3. The amount of information out there is overwhelming, so be selective and give yourself grace. There is a whole industry of books, movies, classes, and more designed to convince consumers they can have the ideal pregnancy and birth and parenting experience. I loved reading several books about the experience and biological processes of fertility and pregnancy and taking a birthing class and learning about mindfulness-based childbirth preparation. But if you don't have time to do those things, you and your baby will very likely be completely fine. I never got around to reading that original pregnancy blockbuster of a book: What to Expect When You're Expecting. And it was fine! There's no medal for acquiring a set amount of knowledge about having and raising your child; it's an ongoing, lifelong process. Even if having a baby is "natural" doesn't mean any of it is intuitive. I personally don't know how people got by before Google, as I found myself looking up the most random questions throughout the day and night whether it was about symptoms or recent research on infant safety or medical myths.
  4. Comparison is the thief of joy. I think comparing yourself to others, especially other pregnant people, can be discouraging. Every body and every pregnancy is so different that it's okay if you're bigger than someone who's farther along than you or if you have acne when their skin is glowing or have lower energy or whatever it is you're going through. Of course, I think bonding with other pregnant women and especially learning from experienced moms really helped me, but don't listen if someone says, "Oh, you haven't developed x symptom yet? That's a bad sign..." (unless that someone is your trusted medical provider).
  5. Eating for two is a myth. I was so disappointed to learn that "eating for two" isn't a real thing. I assumed I would be eating double the food throughout pregnancy, but in the beginning most barely have to consume anything more and even by the end you're not eating double what an adult would eat. (Now, sleeping for two was closer to my experience, especially during the first trimester. Some nights I slept 12 hours just because I was that exhausted from a normal day.)
  6. Only you know the right amount of advance preparation for you. If you're like me, you want to read plenty of books and listen to podcasts and watch documentaries about pregnancy, childbirth, breastfeeding, parenting, and babies' development. Other expecting parents might get stressed out by all of that and prefer to figure it out as they go or rely on wisdom from their family and friends. One way isn't better or more right than the other; it just comes down to what will help you be the best you can be for your baby.
  7. Birth is one moment in the full life of parenting you have ahead of you. Sometimes, the pressure to conform to expectations for pregnancy, birth, and breastfeeding is intense - especially for women in a society that often attributes our worth to traditional standards of motherhood. I have so many friends with birth or early parenting experiences that deviated wildly from what they had hoped for, but the good news is that those things are just a small cross-section of the life you will spend raising and empowering and caring for your child. This is not to minimize mistreatment of mothers by medical providers, family members, or other people who should be supporting them and their babies, including respecting their choices, but I found this idea relaxing when facing things over which we sometimes have so little control. Regardless of how you gave birth or fed your baby, you will make millions of other choices that can nurture and support your child and help them thrive and lead a fulfilling life.
  8. Know your rights, particularly if you are working. For example, do not let anyone pressure you to take less than the leave you want and are entitled to by law and policy. For me as a pregnant woman in the Foreign Service, this meant taking the sick leave I am entitled to in order to recover from birth in addition to the 12 weeks of paid parental leave I am guaranteed by law. If you want to pump after you return to the office, go check out the pumping room or whatever facility your employer provides and make sure they understand that you need time to pump throughout the day. If there are physical aspects to your job that become too difficult during pregnancy, advocate for your needs. Some people will be more familiar with the rights of pregnant people than others, but ignorance is no excuse for denying you required benefits or support.
  9. Ignore the career advice that doesn't work for you at this stage. Many people assume pregnant women want to take a step back from their careers, and for some that is truly their desire. But for others, you may feel completely fine going ahead at full speed. Everyone gets to make that decision for themselves. So if you want to take on a big project, travel (within safe limits recommended by your medical provider), apply for a competitive program, change gears, or accept a high-profile role then don't let others' expectations of you hold you back. Even before my baby was born I received some negative comments about my choice to bid on an intense staffer job given that I was pregnant. Simultaneously, I didn't put myself forward for certain professional development opportunities and work travel assignments because I knew it wasn't the right time for me. At the end of the day, though, those are my decisions and I know better than anybody else what's best for me and my family. (I also doubt men get this same level of scrutiny on their career choices when they have children.)
  10. Expect people to comment on your body all the time. I heard some pregnant friends had a lot of people touch their bellies, but I didn't experience that much (possibly because I was pregnant during a pandemic). What I did hear was a ton of comments on my body, not just from friends and family but total strangers! For folks who struggle with body image, this can be really harmful. I appreciated the nice comments (e.g., "you're glowing!") from friends because I certainly didn't feel like pregnancy was much of a glow-up personally, but the important thing is not how your body looks but all the amazing things your body can do. (I think this is true in life, not just in pregnancy. If you're interested in this topic, I highly recommend the book More Than A Body: Your Body Is an Instrument, Not an Ornament by Lexie Kite and Lindsay Kite.) When in doubt, especially with someone you don't know, I suggest refraining from commenting at all on someone's physical appearance. I've heard multiple horror stories of people asking others about their due date or commenting on their bump when they are postpartum or even never pregnant. Assumptions can be hurtful and embarrassing for everybody.

I hope this post is helpful for someone else out there who might be expecting or trying to conceive! Congratulations and good luck to all the readers out there on their own journeys.

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