When you're pregnant, everyone is full of advice. Very often, this advice, while certainly well-meaning, is often anything but helpful. Nevertheless, there is advice I got from other moms that made me feel empowered, and thank goodness because if ever I needed a confidence boost it was when I was pregnant.
Sometimes it's hard to find a sisterhood — a metaphorical village of women to help you through new experiences — in a society like ours, which places so much value on fierce independence. But the truth is that the only way women, historically, have gotten through monumental life changes like pregnancy and motherhood is with the help and guidance of other women who had done the same. Finding my village of "Been-There-Done-That Moms" wasn't always easy. If it wasn't logistical issues (honestly I wasn't particularly close to many women who were mothers when I got pregnant, aside from members of my family) it was the fear holding me back that reaching out for guidance was weak.
But the truth of the matter is that our best defense in a world positively dripping with misogyny is to open up and validate the sh*t out of each other. Fortunately, my sister-mamas knew this even when I was too afraid to ask for it.
"I Did [X] & Everything Turned Out Fine"
The tone on this bit of advice and reassurance matters. If another mom is trying to pressure you into, say, continuing to smoke for the duration of your pregnancy, or trying to get you to share a bottle of scotch with her or something, then no. That's not empowering. That's worrisome.
But here's a pretty typical scenario: you don't know you're pregnant, you get drunk, days or weeks later you find out you're going to have a baby, and you spiral into a panic that you've done irrevocable harm to your future child because of something that happened before you knew they existed. In this moment, someone who's been there telling you about their experience is really empowering and reassuring.
"Do What You Gotta Do"
There are so many rules. when it comes to pregnancy. Eat this. Don't eat that. Don't drink this. Drink that. Rest. Exercise. And did I mention all these (sometimes contradictory) rules are in play while you feel like hot garbage?
It was so nice to hear experienced moms tell me, "Honey, you're in survival mode. If you can eat greens and whole grains right now, great, but if all you can manage to keep down is Cool Ranch Doritos and orange Fanta then go for it, baby." Or, "Exercise if you can, and if you can't sit on your ass and watch SVU marathons. Your body will let you know what you have to do to get through."
"Say No As Much As You Want"
There's a contingent of people who will tell you to "enjoy it now." "It" meaning your pre-baby life, of course. And there's wisdom to that, for sure, but it's also nice for someone who understands what it feels like to be pregnant to let you know that it's OK if the rules have already changed. Because, dude! Growing a human is a ton of work and sometimes that means bedtime is going to be at 8:30 p.m. Ya gotta take care of mama sometimes.
"Take Care Of Your Feet"
A friend of mine once told me "take care of your feet and your feet will take care of you," as a mantra for the importance of self-care. She stressed that this kind of simple pampering was extra important when you're pregnant, because your body is working harder for you, so you have to work harder for your body. And it was nice to have that double reminder: I was doing something significant, and as such I deserved to put extra attention on myself.
I treated myself to pedicures when I could and asked my husband to rub my feet at the end of the day. It's the little things, sometimes.
"Your Doctor Works For You"
This seems pretty straightforward, but it can be difficult to internalize that when you're faced with an authority figure. After all, our lives are in their hands — they understand our bodies, in many ways, better than we do (which shouldn't be taken to diminish our own understanding and empowerment of our bodies, it's just that they did spend, like, a decade studying it and have been gaining subsequent experience ever since).
At the same time, this is not your doctor's pregnancy or birth experience. This is yours. They are there to make you more comfortable and you aren't there to allow them to run a checklist of "Things Doctors Are Supposed To Do." You shouldn't probably let them do a bunch of those things since they're best practice, but you should discuss and feel comfortable with them.
"Here's How You Should Talk To H.R."
I was #blessed to be working for a company with wonderful maternity leave policies (at least in the context of the U.S.) when I was pregnant. But even so, it was very useful for experienced mothers to let me know my rights and the things they did/said/asked for that made their pregnancies and maternity leaves more comfortable, because I had absolutely no idea what to expect going in.
"You Don't Have To Share Anything With Anyone"
Now I am someone who does not shy away from attention or sharing news. I don't play things close to the vest, generally speaking. That said, talking to friends who tended to keep more to themselves was empowering and inspiring, because it highlighted that I was never obliged to reveal too much of myself, my plans, or my pregnancy to anyone.
There's a tendency to see women's bodies as being up for public discussion and debate, and this is never more true than when a woman is pregnant. But no one is entitled to any bit of you, ever.
"Connection Can Take Time"
My mom always told me that she loved me the moment she knew I was inside of her. I don't doubt her (she could probably sense how awesome I was) but this led me to believe that I would instantly feel a familiar but more intense loving feeling for my gestating fetus.
I felt fondness and fierce protection, but I didn't feel, like, love. And that made me feel sort of crappy; like it was indicative that I wasn't actually going to be as good a mom as I'd always imagined. But I had a great number of pregnant and formerly pregnant women assure me that, no, actually, you don't always feel instant deep bonding and that's OK. It doesn't mean the bond won't form, and knowing that I had time (and that there was no timeline) was empowering.
"It's OK To Hate This"
I for real did, you guys. I didn't even have the worst pregnancy among people I knew but I really did not care for it. I was basically just cranky for six of the nine months. And, again, that made me feel sort of crappy, because shouldn't I be glowing and grateful?
Yes, perspective is important. And of course be grateful for a viable, wanted pregnancy, even if it's not always sunshine and lollipops. But it's also important to remember you're a human with another growing human resting on your sciatic nerve sending sharp electric pains through your entire butt cheek. Other moms telling me their own annoyances was empowering and allowed me to really own my own narrative without feeling like I had to pay lip service (or attempt to conform) to a preconceived ideal.
So often, selfies, especially selfies of women, are seen as vain and shallow. But you know what? My body is doing amazing things and is constantly changing and I want a photo record of this magical time, damnit! Getting encouragement from moms who had done the same (or who wished they had) empowered me to follow my bliss and screw anyone who thought I was being vain or indulgent.
"Been-There-Done-That Moms" In General
Honestly, what would I do without you ladies?