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4 ways to let go of expectations and enjoy your first trimester

by Laura Riley

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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.

Information overload. That is the defining thread of the second half of the first trimester of pregnancy.

Books and breakthroughs abound. Or at least, I read books and knew I needed to have some breakthroughs to get through the 24/7 nausea and the less constant (but still present) anxiety. I didn’t get a chance to solicit sympathy cards on the morning sickness front; it only lasted two weeks and then stopped abruptly in the eighth week.

My husband Stan and I had read reports that pregnant women without morning sickness were more likely to miscarry, although the theories on this are just that—theories. But in the eighth week we were still on our honeymoon, thousands of miles away from my OB/GYN and two weeks away from the first prenatal appointment. So while my body was relieved, I had a few intensely anxious days until it dawned at me that if I didn’t figure out how to address my anxiety, I was destined to be worried for 40 weeks. Then, having a child to care for would probably be just as much of a ‘brand new world’ experience as pregnancy. I saw a dark path forming, filled with excuses to be anxious for years to come.

Pregnancies are as different as each woman who experiences one.

I decided there must be an alternative to constant preoccupation with the embryo’s survival. There was; it came in various forms of mindfulness, and the effort to stick to my meditation routine.

Limit expectations

Pregnancies are as different as each woman who experiences one. So as you educate yourself on what a healthy pregnancy can involve, be aware that the spectrum of ‘normal’ is broad. A friend of mine gave me the tip of keeping saltine crackers by my night table in case I woke up from nausea. I hated the idea of eating what I associated with having stomach viruses as a child but it worked to help the sickness subside. Sure, the books recommended I eat servings of fruits, vegetables, and protein, but realistically, I needed those crackers in 15-minute intervals to stave off nausea.

My saltine cracker phase, followed by the abrupt stop in nausea phase, was the first indicator that it wasn’t worth comparing my pregnancy to the ‘ideal’ one set out in books. It was a lesson in limiting, if not eliminating, the expectations I had for what my pregnancy should look like. The more I noticed what my eating habits were or my weight was, instead of expecting it to be something I’d heard or read, the more I was able to relax. The fewer the expectations, the lower my self-judgment.

Limiting, or more commonly “managing,” expectations gets a bad rap because it can seem like a dampening down of real feelings. I see it as a way to let what you really feel rise to the surface instead of predicting what the feeling might be or should be.

Limiting expectations helped in getting through the wait to the first ultrasound appointment. When my husband and I saw the fetus and heard his heart beating quickly, I forgot to ask the beats per minute, any of the stats being measured, and instead just sank into relief, love, and tears.

Get rid of guilt

My OB/GYN told me I was just lucky that my nausea subsided and that all looked healthy. While I was grateful, I still felt a twinge of guilt.

Why would anyone feel guilty about feeling good? I thought of friends who were nauseated for nine months and others who went through major difficulties in conception and pregnancy. I felt guilty when I compared my experience to theirs.

There is no rule for when you should or must tell other people that you are pregnant.

While guilt can cause mental pain, it also has the adaptive function of causing people “to consider their behavior and its consequences.” This consideration of our behavior can be helpful because guilt “goes hand in hand with other-oriented empathy.” We can use guilt to recognize the feelings or state of others and gain more understanding of ourselves instead of punishing ourselves.

Bottom line: guilt is not worth pain, whether it stems from feeling well or from complaining to your partner ad nauseum (pun intended). But it can be repurposed to understand others’ experiences better and relate to yourself more gently. Remember—you don’t get a medal whether you suffer during pregnancy or have a blissful one. All you get (and this is a big one), with any luck, is a baby.

Give yourself permission to enjoy the pregnancy

Certain side effects can make it difficult to feel grateful at every moment—don’t put pressure on yourself to do that. But, noticing enjoyable elements of your pregnancy will help you through the less pleasant parts.

The first time Stan and I heard our fetus’s heartbeat was one of the big moments that was easy to enjoy. There are smaller, subtler times to notice too, like how lovingly Stan rubs my belly, and how excited my mother is to talk about how I’m feeling—any day, for as long as I want.

Reach out for help

Speaking of my loved ones, there is no rule for when you should or must tell other people that you are pregnant. It is a personal decision without a one-size-fits-all formula. Reach out to however many people you want. The key is to start gathering your tribe, which could be limited to your partner until the second trimester or could include a bevy of people.

My pregnancy started to feel real at weeks 8 through 13. This new reality can be a magical secret or it can spur feelings of isolation if you want to share with people but are stopping yourself out of fear of how the pregnancy might go, or even fear of how it might be perceived. Proceed at your own pace, and whatever you decide, let yourself reach out to whoever you like to ensure you have enough support.

As you choose what tests to take and through your first OB/GYN visits, I found understanding my anxiety imperative. Headspace’s Anxiety pack helped me stay attentive to my tendency to get nervous and back me away from downward nervous spirals. If you have a partner in your pregnancy, it might also be worth starting the Relationships pack together. This can help with addressing any disparities you may notice, or enhance the communication around the pregnancy or how your relationship is going as your body (hello hormones!) changes.

Artwork by KAREN HONG

Laura Riley

Laura Riley is a writer and social justice attorney based in Los Angeles. She lives with her husband, three dogs, and an expanding belly that will, with luck and labor, soon be her son.

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