Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Pregnancy 101: 10 Things I Learned From My First Pregnancy

Photograph by TJMohr Photography

Being a mom is one of the scariest, most overwhelming, most surprising, most challenging, and absolutely one of the most AMAZING things God has ever allowed me to do. Every day I wake up and the first thing I think about is my sweet little baby boy sleeping in his room down the hall. Almost once every minute of each day while I am at work, I think about him and wonder what he is doing and if he is thinking of or missing me while I am gone. At the end of the day, before I shut my eyes, he is the last thought that goes through my head and the last prayer that leaves my heart is for God to keep watch over him through the night. Being a mom is SO MUCH MORE than giving birth to a new human, and I learn that more and more each day.

In the Beginning...

 There were a few years after Prince Charming and I got married that I wondered if I would ever feel the desire to be a mommy. Unlike many of my friends who got married and started having babies within a year of saying "I do," or at least started trying within a year because they had caught baby fever, I found myself just wanting to be selfish. I wanted Prince Charming all to myself. I wanted Friday nights that I could stay up as late as I wanted and Saturday mornings that I could sleep in as late as I wanted. I wanted to be able to plan a trip to the beach on a whim or head to Mississippi to spend a couple of days with my sister if I felt inclined. I knew from the get-go that a baby would change all of those things (boy, was I right), and I didn't know if I would ever want to give up those things.

Everything Changed...

Step in that fateful night in November of 2012...the night that a cotton-mouth water moccasin had made its way into our backyard with our two Jack Russel terriers, Desmond and Molly Jones. Molly was almost four, and Desmond was about to turn three. Molly Jones was my and Prince Charming's first baby; the dog we were freely gifted as a puppy by our Rongey friends. Both dogs were bitten, and while Desmond thankfully pulled through, Molly Jones lost her life within 36 hours of the incident. My heart was broken...into a million pieces...like...couldn't get up off the chair in the den for 48 hours broken. I grieved for her so hard that all I could do was lay in that chair and cry until I fell asleep. Then, I would wake up and cry some more. It was a vicious cycle. Prince Charming just stayed in the chair beside me to grab me every time I woke up and was overtaken by the sorrow again and again. I missed two days of work; I was such a wreck. The sweet little dog who had loved us so faithfully was gone after just four short years together. People were so gracious and kind to us during that time, and many would ask if we would get another dog to replace her. The thought was completely alien to me...replace Molly? Not possible. She had, no less, left a hole in my heart....a hole that I knew no other pet would ever fill...a mommy hole. It was in December of 2012 that I told Prince Charming that I thought it may be time to have a baby. We decided that although we wouldn't actively try, we would stop actively preventing in January.

God's Gift...

Fast-forward to March 2013. Prince Charming and I found ourselves having to go to Mississippi to attend a funeral for a relative. My (only slightly older) cousin had been tragically and unexpectedly killed in a terrible car accident, and we spent a few days in Mississippi grieving with family and friends. While driving home, Prince Charming and I stopped in McComb to grab some dinner. While waiting for our food to arrive, I was watching the sweetest little young family having dinner. Seeing how much the sweet little toddlers loved their mom and dad, I looked at Prince Charming and said, "I think I am ready to be a mommy." When we finally made it back to the house, I felt emotionally and physically drained and had to work the next day. Deeda had left some sleep aid medicine at my house, and I decided it would be a good idea to take some to help me rest. It occurred to me that since we were no longer preventing pregnancy, it would probably be a good idea to take a pregnancy test before I took the medicine just to confirm that I wasn't pregnant. Thank God He lay that precaution on my heart. I have never been more surprised by the appearance of a pink line in my life! And we aren't talking waiting a minute to see if it appeared...we are talking going on the stick and "TA-DA!"...pink line. I was in shock...I wasn't taking this test to see if I was pregnant because I certainly didn't have any inclination that I was...it was supposed to just be a confirmation that I could take the sleep aid and crawl into bed. Instead, I heard God's voice saying to me, "This is why you had that feeling in McComb. You feel ready to be a mommy because I am making you ready." My God is amazing, awesome, personal, and loving. He knew from the foundation of time this moment was coming, and He had given me a glimmer of hope that I was ready for what was to come because He would be with me.

Thus began my education in pregnancy and mommy-hood. These posts will feature some of the important things that I have learned and experienced, and am still learning and experiencing, as I go and Eli grows. Feel free to post questions or comments but know that nothing negative will stay on my blog. Everyone's experience with pregnancy and motherhood is different and unique because every mommy and baby is different and unique. I would never even slightly claim to know everything by any means. I only pray that some of these things will help ease the mind of a new mom by showing her that she isn't alone. So without further ado, let's get started:

Photograph by TJMohr Photography

Things I Learned (Or Experienced) While Pregnant with My First Baby

The Experiences and Insight from My First Pregnancy

1. Thoughts and Feelings Change Often

We are talking change as in many times a day...an hour...ok maybe a minute. But seriously, so many thoughts started running through my head from the moment I found out I was pregnant. Fear was one of the first things that would pop in now and then. I had known a few moms who had experienced miscarriages or still births, and I was afraid of going through this myself. Thankfully, I was constantly reminded by my husband, my small group, and my family that God is Sovereign and in control and that no matter what happened, He would provide for me. That is the greatest comfort I could ask for, and it helped combat the fear when it would creep in. But fear isn't the only thing that started cycling through my mind. There was joy, worry, excitement, wonder, insecurity, urgency, curiosity...there were checklists and to-do lists and planning...no two days were exactly the same, and that is ok. One day I would completely doubt my ability to be ready for the changes that were bound to come by becoming a mommy, and the next day, I would be overjoyed at the thought of becoming a mommy. Let yourself feel it all because once that baby gets here, this emotional roller coaster will kick into high gear, so let your body and mind prepare themselves for it by experiencing each feeling as it comes. Some things that are helpful are having a strong support system to lean on. For me, that was Prince Charming, my family, and the women in my church. Also, don't let yourself get stuck on dwelling on the negative feelings that WILL occur. Fears, doubts, anxiousness, frustration...all of these things are bound to happen but don't let them overtake you. While it is good to let them happen, it is best to work through them. Staying stressed out or upset isn't good for you or your incubating little one. Talk to someone, go for a  walk, call your doctor (they are usually more than happy to help assuage your fears and give you peace), pray, relax, and/or have a good cry. Your body is doing something amazing and miraculous...its ok to ask for help or take some you time.

2. Your Body is Not Yours Alone Anymore

One of the most amazing, confusing, wonderful, scary, and awesome things about being pregnant is experiencing your body become the life support system of another human being. From the moment of conception, your body starts working to do all it can to provide for and sustain the life growing inside of it. This can be uncomfortable at times, but it is so worth it! No one told me ahead of time that it can be painful to feel your muscles stretch out to accommodate the baby growing in your belly, but when I would say I had felt a "sharp pain in my groin area" other moms would say, "Oh, yeah, that is normal." Why doesn't anyone mention that there can be normal pain associated with carrying a baby? I don't know...some pain is normal. Don't get me wrong, if you experience any pain at all that you can't explain or that makes you worry...talk to your doctor. Again, they want to help you be as comfortable and peaceful as possible during your pregnancy. But do know that if you have aches and pains associated with your changing body, you aren't alone. Discomfort isn't the only reminder that your body is not your own. You will most likely get a dark line from your belly button to your pelvic bone...maybe even longer...as your hormones change. You may grow hair in places you haven't grown hair before...(don't worry...it will most likely also eventually go back to normal when your hormones balance back out), and your skin may be gloriously clear and glowing or red and broken out. Your hair may change, your nails will grow, and you may or may not feel like you have a terrible stomach bug 24/7. But all of this is totally worth the work being done inside of you, and it pales in comparison to the astounding, marvelous joy of seeing your baby born. These moments of discomfort will be nothing more than a distant memory before you know it, so hang in there momma. Your baby depends on you and your body for safety, health, and comfort.

3. Your Growing Body Will Probably Receive Unsolicited Comments

I wish I could tell you why it is so, but it seems your growing body will receive comments from people that they wouldn't under normal circumstances feel are appropriate to say. One night, while walking up to church for dinner, one of the elderly ladies in our church said, "Look at that fat belly. You are just getting fat, fat, fat!" This was not, by any stretch of the imagination, the only comment like this I received. People seemed to find it perfectly normal and logical to say things like, "You are getting huge!" or "Wow! That is a big belly!" or some other variation. I wish I could say that people mean well when they make comments like this, but I really cannot begin to wrap my mind around what makes a person feel it is ok to make comments like this to a woman who is doing one of the most remarkable, exceptional things that a female human is capable of doing. My typical response would be just to smile and say something along the lines of, "Thank goodness I am growing because that means the baby in me is growing well, too." I mean, come on people...I am growing an entire human being. It is perfectly normal for your belly to grow, and grow, and grow...it would be worrisome if it didn't. Don't let these comments get you down or affect how you feel about your pregnant self. A pregnant woman is one of the most beautiful sights on the planet. It is life bearing life, and it is a miraculous, wonderful thing. Don't let the absent-minded, poorly conceived comments of others dissuade you from believing just that.

4. Listen to Your Body and Rest as Needed

I realize that this one sounds completely cliche, but trust me on this...rest is important and only you truly know how much rest you feel you need. In our society, we are taught that not doing something equates to laziness so our schedule should be full of work, personal, and social activities and moments not spent doing something with others should be spent doing something for ourselves...and moments not spent doing either of those things should be spent on social media catching up on and sharing all of our daily events with others. Don't be fooled into believing the lie of distraction; it is perfectly ok to be quiet and still...pregnant or not...but especially when you are pregnant. There were plenty of afternoons that I came home from my job that requires me to be on my feet a majority of most days, and all I had the energy to do was make it to the living room sofa to plop down for a nap or just to veg out. My husband let me know early on that it was ok for me to do whatever I needed to do to take the best care of myself and our baby as I could, so that is what I did. My only regrets are the times that I should have stopped and skipped out on something because I needed to rest and didn't. These moments aren't so easy to come by after baby arrives, so take advantage of the time you can find to rest and relax.

5. Working Out Incessantly is NOT a Necessity

Don't get me wrong here; it is important for you to do some sort of physical activity, as your body and pregnancy will allow, each day. For me, that simply meant taking a walk a few nights a week (weather permitting) with Prince Charming around the neighborhood. And we aren't talking power-walking or speed walking...just a normal paced walk around a few blocks. I have heard stories of women who participate in all sorts of strenuous workout regimes up until the day they go into labor...and more power to you if that is what your body is telling you to do...but don't feel like you need to do this so you can quickly bounce back to your pre-pregnancy shape and size. Our culture, thanks largely in part to the ever unrealistic ideals of Hollywood, seems to now expect women to be fully recovered and back to normal within a week or two of birth. Are you kidding me?!?! Your body has just done one of the most amazing, challenging, and taxing things on Earth, not to mention that you are now adjusting to being the caregiver of a brand new baby 24/7. It is ok to give yourself permission to take things slowly. I remember at my two week check up post birth, my doctor asking how I was doing. I made mention of how my stomach felt squishy, and he kindly said, "Yes. You can probably expect to have that feminine pooch from now on. It will get smaller, but it will always be there. Unless you are a mom in Hollywood...I don't know what the crap they do." Haha! I love my doctor. All that to say, there was a reason that old statues of women had that beautiful curve across their lower abdomen. This wasn't a characteristic of shame or embarrassment. It was a rite of passage; a symbol of glory; a trait of womanhood. Do NOT succumb to the lies that you are less than beautiful, and do not push your body past its limits for the sake of fitting into the world's dumb definition of what is beautiful.

6. Baby Advice Comes a Dime a Dozen

You will have a barrage of pregnancy advice, parenting advice, baby advice, marriage as parents advice, etc. both solicited and unsolicited from this point forward. Take it all in with a grain of salt. No two pregnancies are just alike, so you may experience things in a completely different way than even the people you are closest to. So many times when speaking to my closest friends and family who had been through pregnancy before, they would say, "That isn't how I remember it," or "That didn't happen to me." You know what? It is ok if what you experience hasn't happened to someone you know. You may have trouble sleeping while your best friend was able to sleep like a rock. You might experience morning sickness 24/7 while your mom never felt ill at all. You may crave corn dogs dipped in apple sauce while your sister craved pizza topped with feta cheese, gyro meat, and tzatziki sauce. One blog will say this while another says that...don't drive yourself crazy searching for your pregnancy doppelganger. Send all of the advice you receive and every answer to your inquiries through your own developing mommy filter. Keep what you like and toss out the rest. Everything will fall into place!

7. Make Plans but Be Flexible

Even our best laid plans sometimes work out very differently than we expected. Go ahead and make your plans as best you can: when I will pack the bag, about when the baby will come, who you want at the hospital, the timeline for the nursery, a birthing plan (I never wrote one), etc. Then, be ok with the notion that these things may not go exactly as you planned because the baby in your womb has no idea what you are planning. You may be firm in the desire to have a vaginal delivery, but circumstances may suddenly require you to have a C-section. You might be certain you are having a boy, and you find out you are having a girl. God works in us and through us, and His plans are better than ours. Take heart in the knowledge that even if things don't quite work out the way you would have planned or expected, they are working out exactly the way they are supposed to. In the same way, know that you cannot predict how your checkups will go. I am not the poster child for gestational diabetes, but I sure was diagnosed with it after my first blood glucose test. I went through the entire second half of my pregnancy on a strict diabetic diet to control my glucose levels. I had planned on a pregnancy full of late-night cravings and big plates of awesome shower food, but I had to follow a completely different path for the health of me and my baby. But in hindsight, it was a gift in so many ways. 

8. Surround Yourself with Godly Mothers

The advice and encouragement I received from the women in my church was priceless. It is one thing to go online and read a million different opinions from a million different people about what is best for you and your baby, but it is another thing entirely to have someone who knows you and your faith well to encourage and support you. You see, when someone you know well who is also striving after God's heart gives you advice, it is not with condescension or judgement. It isn't loaded with hidden meanings and subtext or an "I have it all together" attitude because they offer it from a place of grace and love. I never felt pressure from the women I sought advice from one way or another. They would simply and openly share their own experiences, for better or for worse, with me and always follow it up by saying that every baby and pregnancy and parenting experience is different. They encouraged me to listen to my heart and follow my instincts while also sharing with me the path they had taken with their own families. It was invaluable to have this kind of counsel, and I would encourage anyone to seek this type of support system.

9. Take pictures of yourself pregnant...no matter what.

I know this one seems so simple, but I truly am grateful for any pictures I had taken during my pregnancy. Pregnancy is like any other change that happens over time: I saw myself changing each day, but because of the gradual nature of the growth, I didn't truly grasp just how much my body changed during that time. Don't get me wrong...there were definitely days that I noticed my belly sticking out suddenly or how much larger it felt, but I didn't appreciate the amazing gravity of what my body was doing until I went back and looked at photographs of my pregnant self. When I see the images my husband snapped of me before I went to the hospital the night Eli was born, I am blown away at the size of my belly and the fact that it contained the tiny human I was holding just hours later in my arms. It truly is remarkable and awe-inspiring what the female body can and does do to bring new life into the world. Document it...swollen ankles and all! Speaking of swollen ankles...

10. Pregnancy is fleeting...enjoy every moment! (even the not so comfortable ones)

I loved being pregnant. I mean...I LOVED it! It was, by far, one of the most challenging, joyful, overwhelming, phenomenal things I have ever done. Not all of it was easy: having gestational diabetes that caused me to maintain a strictly regimented diet, all of the blood tests I had to go through because of the diabetes, getting really bad swollen ankles the last couple of weeks...not all of it is comfortable: my body was growing and stretching so there were aches and itchiness, I had some "morning" (yeah right) sickness for a few weeks at the end of my first trimester, pregnant women often get gassy (ahem...yep), the last few weeks find it difficult to empty your bladder completely or sleep well, the exams to see if you are dialated (no one warns you just how much it hurts to have that exam...well...it flippin' does!!)...but in all of that, I enjoyed being pregnant. I was able to find joy in my pregnancy even in the hard parts because of the reassurance of God doing a miraculous work inside of me. I was able to smile and feel beautiful despite the swelling and bloating because I had a husband who reminded me every day that I was. And I reminded myself of just how temporary pregnancy is. Even in the moments when it felt hard or uncomfortable...I reminded myself that it was only a matter of months, days, weeks before the pregnancy would be done and (Lord willing) a sweet baby would be in this world because of what my body was doing. I remember late in my pregnancy going to the grocery store and the check out girl asking when I was due. I told her a few weeks, and she said, "You are one of the most beautiful pregnant ladies I have ever seen because you look so happy. Most women who are pregnant just look miserable." I am not saying at all that every moment of a pregnancy is easy or comfortable...and I know that for many women they are anything but...however a pregnancy goes, it is a miracle and you are part of a marvelous, miraculous story that is growing right inside your belly. You are joining the ranks of billions of women who have walked this journey before you. You are blessed to get to do something that some women want with all of their hearts to be able to do but cannot. You are doing something that literally keeps the human race going. You are a walking wonder! Let that be the fire that ignites your joy even when it is hard. Do not take a single second for granted because it is a precious and awesome event.

So...there it is...ten things I learned and/or experienced during my first pregnancy. It is certainly not the extent of all I learned, but it is a start; and I hope it will be a source of hope, inspiration, comfort, or reassurance for someone out there who just wants to know they aren't alone in what they think or feel. Happy Easter, my friends!

In Christ Alone,