Pregnancy is beautiful…right? It’s truly a miracle that women can grow life inside their physical bodies. But when you really sit down and think about it, it’s also super weird.
As a woman experiencing pregnancy for the first time, I’m going to give it to you straight. (Listen, I’m in my ninth month, so I don’t have the mental resources to play around.)
Instagram would have you believe pregnancy involves dancing in long grass, wearing windblown chiffon dresses. But the skeletons start to come out of the closet as soon as you pick up your own copy of What to Expect When You’re Expecting. I’ll leave those medical recommendations to the experts and authors of those books (you can find my handy-dandy recommendations at the end), but if you’re ready for the truth, this is what I’ve found fascinating, superbly weird, and a bit terrifying about my past nine months of growing a human.
Belly button woes
Surely, everyone and their uncle expects a woman’s body to change while carrying a baby — you are a literal source of life support! But what I really wasn’t prepared for mentally was the belly button transformation.
Soon-to-be mamas, do not get too attached to the shape of your belly button pre-pregnancy.
After asking around in the secret pregnancy societies, it’s a thing. Your cute innie might very well invert itself. Read that again — INVERT. Those folds of skin have never seen light before! And even if it doesn’t end up flipping inside out, it’ll likely become the equivalent of an em-dash across the bowling ball landscape of your abdomen. And outie sisters — it’ll still likely shapeshift into unrecognizably stubby alphabet soup characters while that bundle of joy is camping out in your belly.
Obviously, your former umbilical cord site is nothing that should cause you shame or worry! In the words of Leslie Knope, you’re a beautiful, talented, brilliant, powerful musk-ox for lugging around another body within yours — what I am saying is that I would have benefited from anticipating this little-known fact as part of my pregnancy package.
I am a back sleeper. It’s not something I chose willingly, but it’s in that orientation that I woke up every morning without fail — until I became pregnant.
You may have guessed that sleeping on your belly while pregnant is not possible once your belly starts growing, but as someone who’d never looked into the research, I didn’t know that back-sleepers were discouraged from their style of sleeping, too! The American Pregnancy Association recommends sleeping on your side, with the left side being preferred. Why the left? When sleeping on your left, you keep the blood flow to the baby uninhibited, while sleeping on the right might slow down the flow of those nutrients.
Well, why not on your back? As the baby grows, he/she will be resting (and wriggling around) on top of your intestines and the major blood vessels of the aorta and vena cava. What could that mean for a pregnant momma? Hemorrhoids, digestive problems, breathing problems, and low circulation to your babe.
Surely, I didn’t need to know this information before becoming pregnant, but some good practice of sleeping on my left side could have come in handy before my husband and I had to resort to a barricade of pillows to keep me on my left.
The Mommy Wars
I have never in my life received so much unsolicited advice. Start cradling a human in your innards and strangers feel obligated to tell you exactly what they think.
You’re due in a week? No way! Your doctor definitely got your due date wrong.
You’re going to pop if you run for one more day! (I’ve been hearing this for weeks, yet here I am — still pregnant.)
You’re carrying pretty high — must be a girl! (Even when we’ve already found out it was a boy…)
Most of it is well-meaning, I’m sure. And I’m fine with helping a stranger feel seen in a grocery aisle as long as I’m not rushing to the bathroom yet again.
But I’ve found if they’re not commenting on what I look like, I might just get lucky enough to hear about what they think of my labor, delivery, and postpartum plans.
You hired a doula?!
You are opting out of pain medication? I don’t think you understand how much you’re going to need that. You’ll see.
Oh…you’re going back to work?
I think the most shocking part of this unending stream of comments and advice is that it’s coming from other women. Sure, maybe men might have a thing or two to say if they had the privilege of surviving childbirth. But ladies, as fellow mothers and women, why are we judging one another, especially in arguably one of the most fragile times of our lives?
As a woman days away from delivering my first child, I don’t want your horror stories or judgments — they’ll likely creep into my subconscious in the hospital room! What kind of support is that for our kind?
I want your prayers, well wishes, good intentions, hand squeezes, and support. And if you’re up for a foot massage, that’d be great, too.
But seriously, let’s lift each other up. Meds/no meds; staying at home/going back to work; formula/breastfeeding — those shouldn’t be lines we’re drawing in the sand. We’re all on the motherhood team. No matter how labor and delivery happens — perfectly executed or emergency-laden — the steps into the motherhood club aren’t often “easy,” even though bringing a child into this world is a beautiful thing. Let’s celebrate the journey and love it took to get to that point and continue to support one another in this topsy-turvy thing we call life.
Under the category of “information I did need” was the fact that there are options when it comes to labor and delivery. Until I started picking up pregnancy books, I had just assumed I picked an OB and (s)he did the rest — advise me on my prenatal prep and take care of the baby and me when I’m in labor.
But it doesn’t have to be entirely in the hands of protocols determined years prior for the “average” patient. And truth be told, as A-types, my husband and I were reassured that we had more of a say in how things could ideally play out as the patient.
When fellow pregnant ladies ask me for advice, I am a huge advocate of sharing the research-based knowledge about pregnancy and labor/delivery. Every woman’s pregnancy is going to look different and how she deals with labor and delivery likely will, too. There’s a peace of mind that comes with getting familiar with the science behind what’s best for you and baby and what delivery could look like, sans emergency situations.
If you’re going to take a deep-dive into the research, go beyond the typical classics. What to Expect When You’re Expecting is a pretty comprehensive guide, but it’s not the only one out there — it’s got a lot of recommendations and expectations, but it doesn’t include the science behind those recs, which is what my analytical brain needed.
I picked up a few books, signed up for Audible versions of a few others, and read to my heart’s content until I was comfortable asking questions. You don’t have to create a full-on birth plan to make use of the information — I think just knowing that hospitals and doctor offices have certain “protocols” that they follow can help you ask the right questions because even those standard practices can differ. I’m so thankful I asked those questions; it led to us switching providers (even though I was already 29 weeks pregnant) and hiring a doula — two choices I believe highly increase the likelihood of me going into this labor feeling confident and secure.
Likely, you’ll get to a point when digesting more research just becomes too much. Listen to that feeling. I got to that point around 32 weeks and put the books down. Once you feel secure in your knowledge and options, at some point you just have to let go and let God.
The transformation a woman’s body has to go through from pregnancy through delivery is nothing short of miraculous, and even when you’ve educated yourself on all that you’d like to happen (and obviously all that could happen that’s out of your hands), there’s a spiritual element to it that’s beyond human comprehension. And that experience leads not only to the birth of a child, but also the birth of a mother. And that’s a transformation you can’t ever fully prepare for.
Recommended books for further reading:
The following books are research-based and from a variety of sources. As with all reading, please place your own value on their worth based off of the sources they cite and the approach they take to communicate information. In my personal opinion, some of these sources were better than others, but a wide selection helped me stake that claim.
- Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth
- Expecting Better: Why the Conventional Pregnancy Wisdom Is Wrong–and What You Really Need to Know
- The Thinking Woman’s Guide to a Better Birth
- Feng Shui Mommy: Creating Balance and Harmony for Blissful Pregnancy, Childbirth, and Motherhood
- Nurture: A Modern Guide to Pregnancy, Birth, Early Motherhood—and Trusting Yourself and Your Body
- Bringing Up Bébé: One American Mother Discovers the Wisdom of French Parenting
- Brain Rules for Baby: How to Raise a Smart and Happy Child from Zero to Five
- The Sh!t No One Tells You: A Guide to Surviving Your Baby’s First Year
- The Whole-Brain Child: 12 Revolutionary Strategies to Nurture Your Child’s Developing Mind