I knew that pregnancy was going to be a learning curve. I knew that I would learn things about myself and my body within the context of changing, growing and adapting to have a baby. What I didn't expect was how much this huge change would open my eyes to other aspects of living and life. I suspect parenthood will continue this trend, but for now I thought it may be nice to share the most striking things pregnancy has taught me about life... most of which have nothing to do with the life growing inside me.
1. The human body is an amazing, incredible, mostly logical thing.
Aside from eating the right things, not drinking alcohol, taking it a little easier on the late nights and exercise, I've been extremely lucky in that pregnancy has treated me well. When I say this to people I either get dagger looks (from those who've had much more challenging pregnancies) or I get pats on the back and "congratulations" as if I've achieved something in having an easy pregnancy.
However, when I told one friend how easy I was finding pregnancy she surprised me by saying "But that's what you're body is made for!". And she's right, mostly.
Pregnancy isn't easy for everyone - and for some it's downright brutal - but it's definitely not supposed to be impossible for all women, because we wouldn't be the giant world population that we are now if that was the case. I love that nowadays women are free to choose whether to become mothers or not (hopefully with no backlash either way) and I hope you know I'm not belittling those who suffer to conceive as I know that many do, but I am rather acknowledging in a more general sense that sometimes we assume things are going to be horrid, tough and difficult without thinking about the alternative, that maybe it could be fulfilling, enlightening, empowering. That's certainly true of how I imagined pregnancy to be.
My body has amazed me at every turn on this journey. The way my blood increased by 40% in the first trimester. The way I have occasionally got breathless when I did too much (and low and behold had a low blood pressure reading at my next midwife's appointment). The way the skin on my stomach has stretched to accommodate Baby Bird.
Of course some of the changes have been completely unnecessary - did I really need to have terrible acne for much of the last eight months? - but I have found a deep sense of peace and pleasure in feeling and watching my body change to do something both miraculous and admittedly "ordinary".
2. The human mind is also an amazing, incredibly, mostly logical thing.
I expected physical changes from pregnancy, but my mental changes are the ones that have surprised me most.
Yes, I know, hormones; I underestimated you.
For much of the first fear-filled three months of pregnancy I found my mind unable to focus on anything for longer than twenty minutes. I suffered from anxiety, and I did what I could to tackle it.
Later, even when I enjoyed the energy bursts of the second trimester, I was still having moments of crushing doubt. I can remember two occasions when I had gone into the kitchen to make a tea or get a snack, and before I knew it I was sitting on the floor crying my eyes out for reasons I just couldn't vocalise.
And recently, I've started to collect sleepless nights as I lie awake telling myself how unprepared I am to be a mum.
With these surges of hormones I've been reminded that one's mind has the ability to make you go crazy. It took me a while, (and some help from NewMan and the film Frozen) but my mind also has the ability to make me feel better. It's not easy and it's sadly not very natural a process, but I've definitely learned that there's a lot to be said for choosing to let negative thoughts go and adopting a positive attitude. This has hopefully made me a better person, a better mother.
As hard as it has often been, I realise now that this is my mind's way of taking me on its own journey from "pure shock and awe" at the idea of having a baby to "some level of acceptance and calm and a whole load of excitement" at starting a new chapter in my life.
3. Patience is not a virtue, it's a skill you can learn without realising it.
Pregnancy is a long, slow journey. But so are many things in life. In fact, I think some of the best things I've done - publishing books, travelling, building up this blog - have happened over a period of time that lasted much longer than 40 weeks. Furthermore, there are very few things worth waiting for that you literally have to sit still and anticipate (delayed flights being the obvious exception to the rule) so by embracing the things you can do to get to your end goal, you develop a productive kind of patience. I'm grateful to pregnancy for teaching me that this kind of patience is the best kind.
I've also learned that patience comes from balancing thoughts of the end goal with carrying out the actions you need to take to get there. If you spend too much time doing one, the other will suffer or fade out of focus. It also requires some trust in the ruler of us all; time. Patience is much easier when you enjoy each second that passes rather than crave the passing of the next and the next and the next.
4. Calm comes from within, not just outside.
I keep talking about how I've been dealing with anxiety and if you'd like to know more I'll happily share the techniques, books and other things that have helped but I definitely think it's worth adding something about how no matter how stressed, anxious, afraid or angry you are, you can always find some calm inside yourself. It's not possible for every single fibre in your body to be completely stressed, even if it feels that way.
Think about it like you're a super hero with all these different powers, aka your emotions; you can be sad, you can be angry, you can be happy, you can be calm. The truth is you always have the ability to be any of these things but we normally leave it up to circumstances and situations to tap into them or draw them out. This is normal, but it's not the only way. You can also choose to feel something else. That's the highest level of superpower and does indeed take some practice (it also doesn't always work) but persevere and maybe put on a mask and a cape and you may surprise yourself. And yes, this does mean I'll be giving birth while dressed as Wonder Woman, or maybe Cat Woman... I haven't decided yet.
Also on this point, I remember reading that stress hormones that start kicking off inside me when I'm anxious can also be picked up by the baby. This scared me, of course, and has helped me keep things in check (but not always avoidable, of course - I am human!) but what it also made me think is if I don't want my baby to be exposed to these hormones, then why should I let it happen to myself?
5. Laughter will get you through a lot of things.
Laughter is simply the greatest gift we have been given. It costs nothing, it has only positive side-effects (peeing one's pants and snorting aside) and you'll never run out of it. Ever.
6. No two people (and pregnancies) are the same.
My pregnancy has varied from every other pregnancy I've read or heard about. Sometimes drastically, sometimes only in a snall number of ways. The midwives then tell you that not only are no two pregnancies the same (even for the same woman) and this is partly because no two babies are exactly the same. That was when I had a bit of a face palm moment and realised to myself that it's actually biologically impossible to be the same as another person. Maybe in a few generations cloning will call bullsh*t on me for saying this, but for now and for the foreseeable future, it's impossible. So scientifically it's also impossible to experience, feel and be exactly the same as someone else.
This then begs the question, why do we compare ourselves to others when we can never, ever, ever be the same as another person? What a waste of energy. SO STOP TRYING EVERYONE!
7. Sleep is your friend not your enemy.
I'm not sure exactly why I've been blessed with an easy pregnancy but if I had to pinpoint one thing that has possibly helped, it's sleep. When I was dog-tired in the first trimester and needed a nap, 8 times out of 10 I took one. When I've wanted an early night or to snooze in the morning, if I could, I did. It took a while, but I've stopped feeling guilty about sleeping for 9+ hours at night. I know that I will never again get the chance to sleep this much so I'm doing it and I'm enjoying it and I honestly think my body and my baby are benefitting from it.
It's funny to me now that I did used to feel guilty about taking naps or having an early night. I definitely used to be one of those people who thought success and achievement and "good things" could only follow suffering and any tired soul will tell you that sleep deprivation is definitely a kind of suffering. Again my mind boggles. Why do we see sleep as an obstacle to so many things when really it could be an aid? When I'm well rested and not thinking about my bed all day I'm considerably more productive in my work, more content in myself and I'm definitely more pleasant to be around. Of course, this is all going to change soon (so stay out of my way if you know what's good for you!) but at least I've shed that silly guilt that could have stopped me enjoying and benefitting from sleep.
8. I've been seeing and using my body the wrong way for a long time.
I spent much of my late teens and 20s seeing my body in a certain way. Yes, it carried me from A to B and it enabled me to do a wealth of different activities, but honestly speaking, my opinion of my body was that it was there to "look good". I spent a lot of time, worry and effort (but not necessarily in that order) trying to make my body look good to me, to the opposite sex, look good in clothes, look good in photos.
I spent drastically less time, worry and effort trying to make my body feel good, as in to make me feel good about my body.
I don't know if I can explain in words how sad that makes me now.
Pregnancy has somewhat rid me of any choice over what function my body serves. Number one priority has been growing a baby. While much of the baby's development has been out of my control - babies are precious, delicate things - what I can have an influence over, has become my priority. My body's purpose isn't too look good for someone else or myself. It's to carry and grow and nurture a new life. Rather than obey orders from my mind which has always had highly unrealistic hopes and dreams for my frame (and more!), I've had to stop, listen to my body and be guided by what is best and healthiest for my baby.
I don't know if I can explain in words how GOOD that makes me feel about my body. It's a pride I hope I can keep hold of as my body continues to change.
9. Enjoy the journey and the destination.
There is no doubt in my mind that should everything go well, I will enjoy the "final destination" of my pregnancy more than anything else in my life. But that moment, those happy series of moments will end and I will then be thrust on a new journey, one that is completely unknown to me. Heck, I don't even know what to pack!
What I do know, is that the journey that has brought us here has been a million times more fun than I thought it would be and in some strange way I will mourn not being pregnant anymore. Pregnancy is a process with a very clear beginning and even more obvious (and messy!) ending. This has taught me that all processes - or yes, journeys - should be appreciated for what they are as much as is possible.
10. Life is full of several beginnings (and lots of lines).
When I look ahead to the future I see a big, thick line dividing my life. This line marks the change in my life when I go from being just Frankie to Frankie, the mother. I have been scared of that line as its crept closer and even now, weeks away, it still seems to rise up unexpectedly, blocking my view of the horizon that follows it. This fear has led me to forget that while this line is certainly stronger, more pronounced than other lines in my life, it's not the only one.
I have crossed several lines in my life; there's a line dividing the years before NewMan and the ones since we met, there's a line separating my life in London with my life of permanent travel, and then there's a line marking the time we stopped travelling and chose Amsterdam as our home. And there have been harsher lines to cross too; losing friends and family members, getting my heart broken and a list of other character-defining personal battles. Every time I crossed one of these lines - good or bad - my life begins again, forever changed... forever to change again.
You will have crossed these good and bad, thick and thin, anticipated and unpredicted lines too. Maybe you're crossing one right now or you're just about to and I applaud you for doing so. Maybe on a micro level we are crossing lines every single hour of every single day.
What we don't realise is that these lines are what fill our life with colour and texture. That's why I'll do everything I can to cross the thickest line of my life with a smile on my face and with a heart full of hope for the new beginning on the other side. I hope you can too the next time you find yourself crossing a line in your life.
Frances M. Thompson
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