During my adult life, self-care has not seemed particularly like a mandate to me. On the contrary, I have chosen to perceive it as an optional add-on, like paying $1.50 extra for guacamole: it would be nice, but who can really afford it. Growing a small human has changed my outlook in ways that are almost imperceptible until I call attention to them and celebrate them publicly.
One of my first pregnancy symptoms was exhaustion. I was on vacation, with no particular stressors or exertions, and suddenly found myself collapsed in bed for an afternoon. Aside from indicating to me that I might be expecting, this was a warning that I would need to make some adjustments to my daily routine.
First, my boundaries and behavior at work would need to be revamped, if not dismantled entirely and then rebuilt. My frantic efforts to accommodate every request like the case manager equivalent of Olivia Pope would not be conducive to an emotionally stable pregnancy.
I found myself eating a fiercely protected 30-minute lunch in the break room every day. No more blank stares at my office screen while I spilled soup in my lap – and I would read a book during lunch.
I also began holding people accountable at an almost feverish pitch. Manipulative behavior could not touch me, and excuses were in a language uninterpretable by my ears. If something was not my job, I asked someone else to do it. I had always preferred not to set boundaries because I would rather be loved than prioritize my own wellness. A fetus the size of an almond was the impetus I needed to put myself first.
For most of my life exercise has seemed like something inaccessible, belonging to a privileged realm populated by slender, wealthy aliens who understand concepts such as a “runner’s high” and whose homes are carpeted with yoga mats. During my pregnancy I have learned that exercise is something I can enjoy no matter what my body looks like or whether I can afford a costly gym membership. There are many uncomfortable side effects of pregnancy for which I wasn’t prepared, including round ligament pain and sciatica. For me, exercise has proven essential in alleviating these symptoms.
As someone in recovery from an eating disorder, exercise can be a dangerous concept. Although exercise bulimia was not a part of my story, it is easy for me to be tempted by the glowing numbers on the elliptical machine indicating how many calories I’ve burned – and to formulate the perfect number that I need to reach before I can allow myself to step off the machine.
As a pregnant woman I’m encouraged to do gentle exercise for 30 minutes 3-5 times weekly and I hope that I can maintain that same schedule after giving birth rather than forcing myself to up the ante under the pretext that I no longer deserve to treat my body tenderly.
I have found that there are a number of ways I can do pregnancy-approved, self-care-tested exercise and feel accomplished without pushing myself beyond my limits.
I take walks around the neighborhood. I’ve made it a summer project to identify the “Little Free Library” boxes in my area and make miniature pilgrimages to them.
- I do yoga on my bedroom floor. I found a set of cards for $2 at a thrift store that illustrates prenatal yoga poses and I use it as a guide instead of paying for classes.
- I take beginner’s ballet classes at a local dance center. I get to love my body more when I allow it to participate in something that normally seems reserved for people with a different body type than mine. I don’t have to have a petite frame or thin legs to practice pliés or tombé pas de bourrées.
- I do 30 minutes of gentle training on weight machines at the YMCA. I like the weight machines because they don’t taunt me with the number of calories I’ve burned and because I can sit down while working out.
- I play tennis with my husband. Even if most of the time is spent chasing after a ball, it is enjoyable and makes me feel strong. You can find tennis racquets and balls for a few dollars at thrift stores.
If you’re reading this, you may not consider all of these options to be accessible/affordable, which I want to acknowledge. The specific activities I do are less important than the point that none of the above are big calorie-burners or Olympic training routines. My baby needs the calories I am consuming, and for the first time in my life I don’t actually want to burn them: I want to be stronger and to feel physically well.
Listening to my body
As part of my recovery from disordered eating, I eat a vegan diet and have been doing so for over two years. I was afraid that that I would be continually fending off the concerns of family and friends if I continued this diet during pregnancy. It has been wonderful to realize that I am not the only woman having a vegan pregnancy and that I am supported when I speak about it.
In addition to learning that my diet can be safe and work well for my pregnant body, I have found that I am likely to make better choices about food while pregnant. I am also less likely to be hard on myself when I get takeout because I am too tired to stand in front of a stove.
I try to balance my cravings for junk food with nutritious additions, like adding fresh herbs/vegetables to ramen. I’m aware that my cravings are going to fluctuate continuously. Two weeks ago I only wanted to drink vegetable juice and as of this writing I have absolutely no interest in it. I know that’s OK and that listening to my body is the right move, during my pregnancy and after.
It has been pointed out to me that the word “healthy” can be both semantically meaningless and potentially derogatory, especially when used to call into question decisions that are or aren’t so. My hope is that I can continue the practices that have been working for me during pregnancy, and I want to define them by what makes me feel powerful and capable rather than judging them by standards of health or wellness which have always seemed out of reach for me in the past. It’s a new feeling for me to be able to say that I’m happy with the choices I am making and that even when I’m not, I can treat myself with compassion knowing that no one does pregnancy perfectly.
Author: Lauren Poole is expecting her first baby in January 2017 and is currently the mom to several plants. Her most consuming hobby is hoarding and learning about antique and vintage jewelry. She also loves sewing and DIY projects. She works in Human Services.