Treating Yourself The Best While Pregnant

Jennifer Louden guides you through taking care of your pregnant self -- which also happens to be one of the best ways to take care of the life inside you. And, she says, "If you're not good to yourself now, if you don't take time to replenish and enjoy yourself, how are you going to do it after the baby arrives?"
by Jennifer Louden

What is nurturing yourself?
The kernel, the gist, the essence of nurturing yourself during pregnancy is treating yourself as if you were in the womb. Believing you have the right to be cared for by others, to be supported. Understanding how frightening and exhilarating it can be to open yourself to the new identity growing inside you: the identity of you as a mother. Grasping that you're in the midst of one of the biggest life transitions you will ever experience, and at the end of this transformation, you are going to be called upon to do more giving than you ever have, and for an extended period of time (motherhood is about endurance).

If you're not good to yourself now, if you don't take time to replenish and enjoy yourself, how are you going to do it after the baby arrives? For veteran moms, it is already difficult to find time for yourself. But it is going to be exponentially more difficult after you add your new baby to your life's equation. So although you feel you should be putting all your focus on helping your first child(ren) adjust, some of time and attention needs to be given to you, too.

True to yourself
For Whitney Kershaw, mother of Ian and Lily, pregnancy was the first time her life became her own. She has been a professional actress, dancer, and singer since she was eight, always being told where to be, what to do, always being asked, "So, what are you doing next?" With her first pregnancy, she felt, "Finally, I didn't have to prove myself because it was obvious what I was doing. I became valuable for me, not for what show I'm doing, or what award I won." For Whitney, nurturing herself became her entire way of life. She gave herself the gift of spending most her pregnancy "doing everything I had never had the time for. I finally believed I deserved to take care of myself. Before I got pregnant, I didn't feel worthy [this from a woman who has danced on Broadway and starred in a TV series -- just so you know that beautiful, talented, accomplished women struggle with the belief they are not worth self-care]. My pregnancies were a peak time in my life because I went with my body rhythms, I did what I wanted with my time, I felt wonderful because I was doing good things for me."

Jodie, mother of Livingston, reported a similar experience. "I made time three times a week to attend exercise class. I would have never taken the time before. Pregnancy made me take better care of myself. I felt absolute clarity for perhaps the first time in my life. You can feel strong, healthy, and empowered. Every bit is so unique, you only have this one time. The most important thing is to be present."

I hope this chapter, this book, will help you to create similarly wonderful, playful, centered, true-to-yourself feelings throughout pregnancy and motherhood.

What you'll need
Your journal or paper, and a pen. Bubble baths, country music, historical novels, solitude, whatever makes you feel contented and cozy. The courage to set limits and say no.

When to do it:

  • When you are worn to the bone but it would never occur to you to cancel your third cousin's visit from out of town, or the wedding of a colleague, or to leave work before 10 PM.
  • If your idea of being good to yourself involves tax receipts, Lean Cuisine, and re-runs of Punky Bruster.
  • When pregnancy has physically forced you to take it easy but you can't relax because you feel too pressured by everything you should be doing.
  • If creating an enjoyable, enriching, exceptional pregnancy sounds grand.

What to do: What I wished someone would have told me
I wish someone had told me, when I was pregnant with my first baby, to take it easy. Loll in bed. Go to three movies in a row. Read lots of books. Do only what you want as much as possible. Celebrate your freedom. This may be your last time for many years (gulp). So repeat these phrases to yourself as often as possible: Take it easy. Enjoy this time; it may never come again. Write these words down and carry them in your purse or briefcase. It helps to be reminded.

Pregnant Woman's Comfort Book Wrap your arms around the unknown. So many moms I interviewed said, "If I would have only known what the whole thing was going to be like, especially labor, I could have relaxed. I wouldn't have been nearly as uptight, worried, afraid, ambivalent" (Take your pick). I once led a group of women on a high ropes course (a series of balancing elements on ropes suspended 40 to 60 feet in the air that you walk through wearing a harness attached to steel cables). It was the same reaction for many of the participants -- fear, sometimes all-consuming, until they zipped down a pulley to the ground. Then they said, "That wasn't so hard. If I had only known." Don't dismiss your fear but remember -- you have faced the unknown before. You can handle it.

Talk to other pregnant women regularly. It is a huge comfort. Find a pregnancy (and later mothering) mentor -- a woman who has gone before you who can help you keep your perspective and perhaps your sense of humor. This can be particularly comforting for single moms and mothers trying to calculate the logistics of combining day care and work schedules.

Don't be afraid to ask for help. Don't hesitate to ask for help. Please, ask for help.

Work on believing you are a wonderful, unique, whole, person. Motherhood is so fraught with guilt and doubt, shoring yourself up as much as possible now while you are pregnant helps a lot.

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