A Mindful Pregnancy is a blog series that will cover each stage of pregnancy, in six parts, with thoughts and research on how to be mindful throughout.
I swore I was on the verge of my period because, like every other month, I had cramps and my breasts were a bit swollen. Turns out pregnancy, and specifically implantation of the embryo into the uterus, can cause the same symptoms as menstrual cycles—even including light bleeding.
It was the first month my husband and I tried to conceive, including taking ovulation strip tests. As newlyweds without children, we had lots of time (and motivation) to dedicate ourselves to this goal. We were both almost 35 and heard conception stories ranging from ‘happily by mistake’ to years of intervention and recurrent miscarriages. So, a positive pregnancy test was truly a surprise, despite my husband Stan’s initial reaction of jumping up and down on the bed chanting, “I knew it.” I certainly did not know it. I was just as ecstatic, but also more in shock. The embryo inside my body could also account for this.
I had three hours to let the news feel real before boarding a plane for a 5-week honeymoon. Instead of calling our parents right away, I suggested we spend some time alone. We headed over to our neighborhood reservoir for a walk, silent and smiley, exchanging part-confused part-happy looks, until we got two-thirds the way around to the green meadow. We faced each other and it hit me, for the first of many times to come, that we were going to have a baby together. I burst into tears—another first of many times to come during this trimester. It was my happiest cry. I’m so grateful I let myself slow down emotionally and allow it to unfold. I sobbed, we laughed, then walked back home. It was important to let the happiness and news sink in a bit for us before sharing with others—time and space helped make the news feel somewhat real.
We didn’t have time to get to a doctor before leaving so we bought a few pregnancy books before our travels. My husband set speed-reading records and devoured three of them en route to France. I grazed a couple but started to feel overwhelmed by what I might learn and fearful the more I read about miscarriage. In “Expecting Better: Why the Conventional Pregnancy Wisdom is Wrong—and What You Really Need to Know”, author Emily Oster explains the difference between a chemical pregnancy and a miscarriage and also explains the risks by age and week of pregnancy in a handy chart. This helped Stan have an end in sight for feeling anxiety (based on her research he landed on six weeks of pregnancy). For me, it served as a reminder that it was possible this embryo might not be born. To curb my anxiety (and practice mindfulness), I remembered:
Some people feel anxious during the entire pregnancy. Some never worry to begin with. Others don’t learn they’re pregnant until a couple of months in. The fact is that each experience is and should be unique to each pregnant woman. After revisiting books and considering my health and daily commitments, I decided to drink coffee once or twice a day if I wasn’t too nauseated, that I won’t breastfeed, and that I plan to return to work a few months after giving birth. (Cue the shock and awe!) Commitment to a peace of mind through pregnancy involves respecting both the rationale and the decisions to which you arrive. Well-wishing advice-givers can create a cacophony of doubt. Try to gather sources you find credible, digest information at a pace which you feel comfortable, and make decisions that work for you. Everyone else can or will do the same.
Many women start to experience the misnamed “morning” i.e., morning, noon, and night, sickness during the first trimester. It hit me hard in week six, but only for two weeks. It was a trip to feel the need for crackers during the middle of the night—why couldn’t I wait until the morning? Why didn’t I want something more delicious like chocolate? Rather than ask for sympathy from Stan (I did that too and he obliged), I decided to get curious about this brand-new experience. Spending time with my own curiosity was highly instructive: since we might only have one child, it might be the only time I experience these feelings. As difficult as the physical sensations can be, I practice feeling gratitude, (and, on rougher days, acceptance) for my physical sensations. The symptoms, after all, are as a result of a growing embryo that we had wished for and now have. During this initial stage of pregnancy, Headspace’s Pain Management pack helped me better understand my relationship with discomfort. I found that naming and relating to my brand new bodily experiences was helpful, especially as these experiences continue to shift over time.