I played volleyball in middle school, own a yoga DVD, and went through a pretty intense workout phase for like four months in college, so yeah, you could say I have a pretty good handle on my physical capabilities. Even still, I’m not sure there’s anything that could have accurately prepared me for pregnancy. It is impossible not to learn more about your body when you are pregnant. You can read all the books, watch your friends go through it, and be in the best shape possible, and it will still turn you inside out. (See what I did there?) I used to think I was in charge of my body at least most of the time. OK, definitely not after a five-hour carride with a venti iced coffee, but pretty much all other times.
Pregnancy taught me otherwise. It taught me that, as much as I wanted certain aspects of pregnancy or birth to go in specific ways, I actually had very little say in what my body needed, or what it was going to do throughout the entire process. For someone who had always felt really in control of her body, that was a much harder reality to swallow than anything else.
On the plus side, believing that my body would get me through the birth of a child was a powerful thing, and as confusing as somewhat disarming it was to feel out of the driver's seat of my own body, that basic belief — "I can do this. My body knows how to do this." — was the one thing that got me through. I was asked more than once during pregnancy if I was scared about labor, and my answer was, “Are you kidding? Of course I am." It's a pretty intense time, at least it was for me. It was also an eye-opening, humbling experience, and what do you know? Now I have a whole new relationship with my body. Here's what almost everyone who goes through pregnancy and birth will learn about their body:
Your Body Can Be Trusted
As far as I could tell, I was the only pregnant woman who cried during my childbirth class. And damn if I wasn’t sitting in the front row so the instructor was staring right at me the entire time. She was really thorough in her explanation of the transitional stage of labor, and I left that class terrified that I was going to lose control of myself during labor and scream obscenities at my husband while my head rotated 360 degrees.
It didn’t actually happen (although I totally understand now why it does happen). During my actual labor, the nurses even encouraged me to make more noise, but I was content (as content as one can be during labor) with shutting my eyes, scrunching up my face, and not making noise. I did what came naturally to my body, and it worked.
Your Body Knows What It's Doing, And It Will Get You Through Labor Little Or No Direction From You
Speaking of the stages of labor, aside from walking around the maternity ward in the middle of the night to induce active labor, I did very little to encourage the process. Up until I was told to push, it felt very automatic. Every birth is different, so, of course, this isn't the case for everyone, but it reminded me of a theme park ride: complete, with a clear beginning and end, with plenty of ups and downs and crazy feelings in my mid-section. I wish I could say that there was screaming, like on all good rollercoasters, but alas I turned out not to be a screamer during labor. Maybe other women are lucky enough to be more vocal; I really feel like it would round out this rollercoaster analogy in a really pleasing way. Anyway, the point is! Pregnancy and labor are both kind of...insane. Your body knows what to do. You won't fully get that until you go through it.
Your Body is *Full* Of Surprises
I’ve known some women with the kind of morning sickness that nightmares are made of. One of the most nerve-wracking things for me during the early weeks of my pregnancy (besides the health of the baby) was not knowing when or if I’d have it, and how bad my morning sickness would be. I know – what a weird and fairly unimportant thing to fixate on, right? When I signed up for pregnancy, I knew it was likely that I would feel crappy at certain points. I prepared for it. I tried to tell myself that it would be fine. I did everything I could to stop freaking out about it.
You probably know where this is going: My morning sickness turned out to be fairly mild. It slowed me down, but didn't render me completely useless (which was a good lesson to appreciate the times my body cooperates too). So often, the things you worry will happen to your body might not every happen...but then again, things you might never assume will befall you could pop up and occur. Learning that I can never fully predict how my body will react or respond to certain things was a powerful, somewhat liberating lesson.
Your Body Is Capable Of More Than You Might Realize
It’s been more than two years since I first discovered my pregnancy, and it still sometimes blows my mind that it even happened. My son is now walking and talking and rarely does a day go by that I don’t think about the process that brought him here. Before I carried and delivered him, I had serious doubts about my ability to do so. Now? Now I know that I’m more than capable. My body can handle anything.
Your Body Doesn't Typically Care What You're Supposed To Be Doing On Any One Particular Day
I was lucky to have a very compassionate and supportive boss who knew about my pregnancy early on. Still, I hated having to use sick days during my first trimester. It only happened a few times, but I put this weird pressure on myself, like how using a sick day for pregnancy said something about me and my work ethic and our society and motherhood and "leaning in," and all the complicated things that go along with those kinds of issues.
However, now that I'm looking back, I'm not sure why I was so hard on myself. Like, I was so nauseous that I couldn't lift my head. Work and my other responsibilities had to take a backseat for a few hours. If nothing else, pregnancy will force you to realize that you're better off letting the needs of your body dictate the nature of your activity level on any given day, than trying to force your body to do what you want all the time.
You Can't Predict The Exact Details Of Most Births
You can write the best birth plan that's ever existed, but here's the truth about that: It's a work of fiction. You are basically writing fan-fiction about your ideal birth. The chances of that "plan" actually synching up to the reality of what goes down in L&D? Eh, it's not impossible, but that's about as much reassurance as I can offer. Even if you're scheduling a c-section — you never know! You really just don't! Your body is doing a major thing when you get a baby from the inside to the outside, no matter how that transition occurs. And when bodies do major things, there are infinite variables that can come into play.
I read so many books and websites and posts about pregnancy and birth that I was exhausted by the end of it. Like, picture how diligent a pregnant Hermione Granger would be at gathering information, and then imagine someone who is far less rational than she is. That was my approach. So, I felt like a had a fairly decent technical grasp of how childbirth worked. Though, once it was my turn, it still felt new and surprising and overwhelming and intense, in many ways that I never expected or anticipated.
Your Relationship With The Basics, Like Food And Sleep, Can Evolve And Change
Until I got pregnant, I was a pretty picky eater. However, once pregnancy started, I could not afford the luxury of pickiness. If hunger struck, I had to eat now, not three minutes from now. And I had to eat real meals, like jerk chicken from that food truck over there, not a granola bar from my partner's pocket (sweet as it was that he offered it to me, though). I never knew how particular I could be about food until I got pregnant. You gotta respect that beast, guys.
Your Body Also Might NOT Change In The Ways You Expect It To
I thought that once they had kids, all women turned into super-light sleepers who stirred any time their baby breathed loudly, like wildebeests. I was surprised to discover that, once our baby got through those somewhat scary newborn weeks, I went back to being a heavy sleeper who sometimes snoozes through the sound of my toddler crying on the monitor. Not, like, the intense cry he does when he needs something, but the half-sleepy whimpers from him don't stir me. To be honest, I feel kind of guilty about it, but thankfully, I have a lightly sleeping partner who doesn't hesitate to wake me if the situation calls for it. Thanks, body!
Not Having A Period Isn't The Worst Thing In The World
Granted, I found pregnancy to be more uncomfortable than a period, but at least we don't have to deal with both at the same time. Ugh, can you imagine? Thanks for throwing us a bone, Mother Nature.
You Might As Well Get Used To Sharing Your Body
I'm not just talking to the breastfeeding moms here, although this certainly applies to them. In my experience, young kids assume that no part of you is off limits to squeeze, grab, kick, or poke. Though, on the flip side, they don't think anything is weird about sleeping on you, which is one of my favorite things about motherhood, so deep down, this one's kind of a win.
You Can't Predict What Your Body Will Need To Recover From Childbirth
But mostly, it'll be time. Also, lots of baths and months spent rising slowly and carefully out of the seated position. And maybe that granola bar from your partner's pocket. Who knows? Not you, not until you're in the middle of it. But don't worry — your body will undoubtedly tell you.