I had a lot of grand ideas about pregnancy self-care when I first got pregnant. A vacation before the baby was born? Certainly! Prenatal massages? As many social events as my calendar would allow! But then a funny thing happened: I actually realized what being pregnant was like and learned that my wants and needs (and wallet) were different from what I figured they would be. The things I did for myself when I was pregnant usually had to do with maximizing physical and emotional comfort — things were a lot more fundamental than I'd presumed.
When I discuss the things I did for myself when I was pregnant, I'm mostly talking about my first pregnancy. When it came to my second pregnancy I was raising a toddler and, spoilers: when you have a toddler you do almost nothing for yourself, regardless of whether or not you're knocked up. A toddler is self-centered (which is developmentally appropriate) and DGAF about your struggle (which is also developmentally appropriate, but is nevertheless annoying and often feels like a personal slight). Ultimately, first pregnancies and any subsequent pregnancies are related but wildly different animals... like a Chihuahua and a Great Dane. They're both dogs, but I feel like that's over-simplifying things.
But let's talk about that first pregnancy and the ways I defined and prioritized self-care. Because it's not always easy out there for a mama-to-be, and you deserve time and space to take care of yourself before you fling yourself into taking care of someone else.
I Enjoyed Pedicures
Because lugging around a baby (and placenta, and a Sea World aquarium's worth of various fluids) does a number on your poor feet, ankles, and legs. As such, they deserve to be rubbed and exfoliated and prettied up as a reward for how hard they work. That's why I kept up-to-date on my pedicures during my pregnancy. Also? It was one of the few of my favorite indulgences that was not off the table or at least tainted by pregnancy. Craft cocktails were a no-go, my favorite foods often made me gag, and staying out past, like, 10:00 p.m. was not happening in most cases. I took what pleasures I could in life.
I Ate All The Snacks
Some women are very careful about what they eat in pregnancy. They want only to nourish their baby with the healthiest, most wholesome foods they can find. They also want to "watch their figure," even as their tummies are growing, so postpartum weight loss doesn't become some insurmountable challenge. I respect those women, to be sure, but I am not one of those woman.
Look, it's not like I was some junk food monster, wolfing down so much candy and chips that I turned into a hideous beast with Twizzlers for hair. In general I'm a pretty healthy eater anyway, and when I was pregnant I made extra sure I was getting lots of dark leafy greens and whole grains... but if I wanted ice cream I ate some motherlovin' ice cream, you know what I mean? I didn't deny myself either because I was worried Ben and Jerry were going to render my unborn child incapable of leading a healthy life in the future, or because I worried about "letting myself go" (seriously, don't even get me started on that one). I indulged my cravings (once I was able to have one without gagging, that is), enjoyed them, and didn't beat myself up afterwards. I especially appreciated having done this during my second pregnancy, when a combo of nausea that lasted 24 weeks and gestational diabetes rendered such freedom impossible and/or medically inadvisable.
I Wasn't Afraid To Say "No"
Could I have muscled through a dinner with friends set for 10:30 p.m. followed by a night at a bar? Sure. But considering I was typically rocking an 8:30 p.m. bedtime most nights, wicked "morning" sickness, and was going to be the one sober person in a posse of drunk people, I knew I wasn't going to have fun. I love my friends, but, to quote Kennedy, "Sometimes party loyalty asks too much." Sometimes, even when you're not pregnant, self-care is the name of the game.
I Said "Yes" Even When My First Thought Was "No"
Because other times you underestimate yourself and you just have to jump over that first mental (and physical) hurdle in order to realize, "You know what? I would have fun if I went out tonight. Besides, in a few months I'm not going to be able to just pick up and say yes to impromptu social invitations for another decade or more." I tried to maintain perspective and, while I never pushed myself too hard, I did force myself to consider the possibility that emerging from my pillow and duvet cocoon to socialize was a good idea.
I Kept Up On Long-Term Work Projects
Yeah, sure I did this for my co-workers so that I could ease their load while I was on maternity leave... but I also did it for me so that I wouldn't have a mess to get back to when I returned. It was sometimes more effort, or a later evening at the office when I'd rather be chilling in my aforementioned cocoon, but in the end, jumping back from maternity leave pretty seamlessly (and receiving zero work calls or emails requesting clarity on anything) was well worth the investment of my time.
I Utilized Every Possible Resource
My company was actually very forward thinking and helpful when it came to work/life balance and services for new and expecting parents... and I took full advantage of all the programs and services they offered. I started by meeting with an HR person specifically versed in the University's parental leave policies. I worked with someone who helped me research day care facilities and pediatricians and talked with them ahead of time about their breastfeeding support groups and the many lactation rooms located around campus I could use when I returned.
Life is hard enough when you're about to welcome a new baby, so I was determined to take any and all help I could find.
I Watched A Variety Of Birth Videos
Was it daunting to know exactly what I was (or could be) in for by watching birth videos? Yes. Was I close to murder when, after watching birth videos with me, my husband said, "That doesn't seem to bad"? (Easy for you to say: it ain't your intimate parts that are going to open up like that, broseph.) But watching videos of different types of birth (not just the kind of birth I was hoping for, but births I was hoping to avoid, like a C-section birth or a birth involving an episiotomy) really empowered and calmed me when the time came to make choices in the delivery room, because I knew what different outcomes would likely look like.
I Went To My Favorite (Non-Kid Friendly) Places
Because I knew my art museum, fancy restaurant, and theater days were numbered (right along with my social time, in general). Shortly after discovering I was pregnant, I made a list of things I wanted to do before our baby was born. I managed to get to most of them and I still regret the ones I couldn't hit up before popping out an infant.
I Took All The Naps
Because growing a human is exhausting, y'all, and even when you're sleeping you're still hard at work making tiny little fingers and kidneys and all that. Invisible labor is still labor that needs to be taken into consideration, after all.
I Took Lots Of Pictures
It's fun to look back and see how much your body transforms in the span of 40-ish weeks. Sure it can perhaps feel a little self-centered or indulgent, but who cares? Enjoy it. Hell, feel free to share it on social media, because people should see what a gestating body looks like. I made a point to share not only the cute pictures but the pictures of the early days when it just looked like I overdid it on the donuts or something.
I Did My Makeup Every Day
Because as fascinating and empowering as it can be to have your body change so dramatically as you create a life, it can also be jarring. Personally, as happy as I was to be pregnant and as much as there were aspects of it I did enjoy, I also felt unsettled and invaded. Doing my makeup every day (something I really didn't do all that much before I got knocked up) was, in retrospect, a way to feel like I was in charge of some aspect of my body. On a simpler, shallower level, it allowed me to "feel pretty" when I definitely didn't feel pretty (it's hard to feel pretty when you feel sh*tty.)
I Did Some "Forbidden" Things
Yes, I was the pregnant lady who would have a glass of wine or eat soft cheeses or eat sushi. I'd done my research and I felt comfortable doing all those things to the extent to which I did them. I didn't bother worrying about the pearl-clutching concern trolls, regular concerned people, or silent side eye. I just nommed away on my sashimi and salmon and avocado rolls.
I Joined A Mom Group
While they (reasonably) get a bad name (I'll be the first to admit that you get a lot of hormonal people online and there can be some damn drama), I took comfort in hearing from other women who knew what I was going through and were thinking about a lot of the same things I was. Maybe I wouldn't have felt the need to join one if I had friends who'd had children or were pregnant, but I was the first in my group. I was charting new territory and, being a social creature, I needed to talk through that experience. (And, spoiler alert, non-pregnant people do not generally want to talk to you about your pregnancy all that much beyond "How do you feel?")
I'm also pleased to report that six years later, I still talk to a lot of those crazy broads because pregnancy is only the beginning of things you're going to need a tribe for.