I’m writing this in response to emails I’ve received from first-time expectant mothers.
How to avoid becoming Pregzilla:
10 tips to help you keep your wits during nine months of beautiful freakishness.*
1. Don’t stuff your face the second you see a plus sign.
I get it. You’re pregnant. You’ve been granted a one-way ticket to weight-gainsville, so why wouldn’t you overindulge? After all, everyone around you keeps telling you that you’re eating for two — even women who’ve had children. You have the world’s blessing to pig out. At no other point in your life will people smile at you cutely as you order two double cheeseburgers and a bucket of french fries. Oh, she’s pregnant. Look at the pregnant woman eat. If I had a quarter pounder for every time someone told me that I should “take advantage” of being pregnant, I’d look like the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man. Seriously. For your well-being and your baby’s well-being, eat smart. That doesn’t mean you should sweat every pound. (See Pregnancy Confession No. 7.) Nor does it mean you should deny yourself every milkshake. (See my obsession with Reese’s Cups.) It just means you’ll likely feel better, look better and be happier if you at least AIM for the recommended 35-pound weight gain. BTW: The average preggo needs an extra 300 calories a day. That’s one Hershey’s bar. My advice for newly knocked-up mamas: eat small healthy meals and/or snacks all day. And by snacks I mean, fruits, vegetables, crackers, cheese, whole wheat toast and cereal. My favorite staple: peanut butter. The sooner you cut out junk food and processed crap, the sooner your body stops craving it. It’s easy to forget that every morsel of food you ingest travels down a pipeline that runs straight into your baby’s stomach. That’s a lot of f#@%ing responsibility. But so is motherhood, so get used to it. Look at being pregnant as going on a nine-month health food kick. Take “advantage” of it in that way.
TRY keeping frozen fruit bars in your freezer. They combat nausea, chocolate cravings and they’re low-cal.
2. Stop obsessing over being pregnant.
Women having babies ain’t nothing new. Not everyone on earth is as excited as you are. While you shouldn’t repress your enthusiasm, just be aware of the baby talk. If you catch yourself dropping the B-bomb all day with co-workers, family and friends, maybe it’s time to change the subject. You’re housing a human and that’s AWESOME and certainly a worthy talking point, but remember you were once a woman with other interests outside of baby books, baby websites and Babies R Us. Don’t lose your identity in pregnancy. I suggest when you learn you’re pregnant, you get a subscription to a non-mommy magazine you’ve never read before. You’re growing a baby in your belly, not your head. And believe me: there will be plenty of opportunities to focus on and talk about being pregnant. Fill those other moments with enriching non-prenatal experiences. I promise your gestating fetus won’t feel neglected and you’ll find your pregnancy to be a generally less overwhelming experience.
TRY diving into a television series or a book that has nothing to do with pregnancy. I found this to be especially useful during the first trimester. When you feel like hell, the best thing you can do is take your mind off it. My favorite diversions: Quality reality programs (Survivor), bad psychological thrillers (Whiteout) and escapist coming-of-age fantasy novels (Boy’s Life).
3. Chug water.
I can’t stress this enough — especially in Florida. Water aids in digestion, a bodily process that’s easily compromised during pregnancy due to squished organs. Water will keep your skin supple as it STRETCHES beyond what you thought humanly possible. Water will help you combat illness at a time when your immune system (like your digestive track) is also compromised. Water is FREE and filling. Often when we think we’re hungry, we’re actually thirsty. For some women, water tastes awful in pregnancy. During the first two months, I could hardly stomach a glass. It tasted like metal. I was frustrated because I normally only drink water. Guess what zapped the metallic taste and settled my nausea? Perrier, that pretentious carbonated stuff. I was a total Perrier priss during my first trimester. People who knew me (but didn’t know I was pregnant) were like, “What’s up with the Perrier?”
TRY purchasing one of those plastic to-go tumblers with a built-in straw. My sister gave me one for my birthday. I carry it with me everywhere I go. The straw factor instantly increased my water intake. It made it more accessible. I think I refill my cup 10 times a day. Oh, and don’t avoid drinking to avoid nighttime piss breaks. When you’re pregnant your bladder RULES your sleep. There’s no two ways about it.
4. Stop Googling every symptom and non-symptom.
The Internet is a fabulous tool. As a journalist, I can’t imagine life without it. But as a pregnant lady, I’d rather be rid of it. Googling every weird, awful or suspicious thing that happens to you during pregnancy will only make you weird, awful and suspicious. For two weeks I was convinced my baby was lying sideways based on the size, shape and sci-fi movements happening in my stomach. I went ape-shit worrying about it. The baby’s not head-down! The baby’s not head-down! I went on a Googling rampage. I exhausted five pages of “breech baby” links until Joe finally told me I had lost my mind. STRANGE THINGS HAPPEN DURING PREGNANCY. The sooner you accept this, the sooner you can relax in doing the things you used to do before your uterus tripled in size. If you must Google, keep it to a minimum. We have access to excellent prenatal care in this country. Unload your questions on your doctors or midwives. It’s their job to placate you. Plus, that’s what you (or your insurance provider) is paying them for.
TRY getting your Internet fix from one or two reliable sources. I get weekly email updates from BabyCenter.com. It satisfies my curiosities and keeps me from obsessively Googling worst case scenarios.
I know I’m an animal in this department, but I can’t help but preach the benefits of exercise. You won’t get endorphins from prenatal vitamins, but you will get ’em from moving your ass. I understand that as you get bigger and sorer and more exhausted, the last thing you want to do is EXERCISE. Exercise? More like waddle-cise? I can’t exercise with this belly and these boobs? And this bladder! Oh, but you can! I was running three miles up until my 7th month. It wasn’t always pretty and eventually I had to walk more and run less, but I made the effort at least three times a week. Now obviously I’m not suggesting you embark on a new rigorous training regime in pregnancy. But if you took spin classes pre-pregnancy, then keep it up until your doctor or midwife advises you to stop. Or better yet: keep it up until your body advises you to stop. I found the more I kept moving, the less I hurt. I’m not gonna lie. There were aches and pains, Braxton Hicks contractions and urinary incontinence, but I viewed the discomfort as good preparation for labor. (Note: I’m also a masochist.) Keep active early in your pregnancy and your body will thank you in months eight and nine. And yes, eventually you’ll need to slow down. But if you’ve laid the groundwork in the beginning, you’ll need to slow down a lot later, making you physically fit closer to your due date. You don’t want to be a weakling going into labor.
TRY walking. Load you iPod with good tunes and pound the pavement for three miles and appreciate the solitude. I know you’re busy, you’re tired, you live in a cold climate or your street doesn’t have sidewalks. Find a route and make it happen. Take 45 minutes. Take an hour. It’s a great time to reflect on what’s happening in your life. Or what’s about to happen in your life. You’ll be grateful you took the time when TIME is no longer yours.
6. Break some rules.
Remember that thing called common sense? The thing that you lived by previous to learning you were with child? It didn’t wash away with your menstrual cycle. It’s OK to take a swig of your husband’s beer, to toast the New Year with a few sips of champagne, to eat blue cheese and to soak your bones in a bath tub. If you’re content with being a pregnancy puritan, that’s awesome. However, if you’re anything like me, who in a fit of throbbing sleeplessness put Bengay on her aching ribs last month despite the warning label, you’ll understand my leeway. Be wise about which rules you break. Break them in moderation. You know what’s an absolute no-no and what’s fairly negotiable. If you don’t, ask your doctor. OR ignore Tip No. 4 and Google it.
TRY picturing your partner having to abstain from his or her various pleasures. It’ll make you feel less guilty about the brie cheese you just spread on your Triscuits.
7. Stop comparing yourself to other preggos.
Just don’t do it. No two bellies were created equal. How you look at five months pregnant versus how another preggo looks at five months is unimportant. Bottom line: we spend our lives having to face images of perfect women on TV, in movies and magazines. Cut yourself a break for nine months and rid your bathroom of all periodicals devoted to celebrity baby bumps — especially Gisele Bundchen’s.
TRY sticking a Post-it note on your full-length mirror that reads: “Gisele can suck it.”
8. Don’t blow your paycheck on expensive maternity clothes.
Maternity clothes are a racket. Motherhood. A Pea in the Pod. All those mall-based retailers hawking overpriced stretch pants and empire-waist shirts? I suggest you avoid them unless a.) you have plenty of disposable income b.) you absolutely must purchase a fancy maternity dress for an upcoming event c.) the store is having a sale. You’d be amazed by how ordinary clothes can easily pass as “maternity clothes.” Around month six, I started shopping for cheap billowy tank-tops and blouses at T.J. Maxx. My mother found amazing deals at Old Navy, which frequently marks down its already affordable maternity duds. Target sells some decent muumuus. Always check the clearance rack first. In nine months, I’ve not purchased one regular-priced maternity garment. When my friend Ricci got pregnant, she bought something like five cotton dresses from Old Navy to carry her through the last months of pregnancy. I thought this was genius. And let’s not forget the value of hand-me-downs. I’ve received at least a dozen bags of clothing from new mama friends and neighbors. I was amazed actually, at how quickly gently-used maternity apparel materialized when I announced my pregnancy. It doesn’t hurt that I live next door to Stellie Bellies, a consignment kid/maternity store that has padded my closet with shorts, dresses, tank tops and one invaluable bathing suit. The best part about rocking consigned maternity clothes? Most of the items originally came from overpriced mall-based retailers. Score.
TRY buying two belly bands (one in white and one in black) and stretching your current non-pregnancy wardrobe. You’d be surprised by how many months you can get away with not buttoning your pants.
9. Build your baby registry online.
Unless you get giddy over the idea of wielding a beeping wand while wading through aisles of baby merchandise surrounded by disgruntled mothers and screaming kids, I suggest making a couch date with your partner and registering for your Boppy and Baby Bjorn via the glorious Internet. Joe and I created our Babies R Us registry one night over ice cream and an episode of Wipeout. What’s especially advantageous about this method is that online retailers usually post customer reviews with each product. I found most of the reviews to be surprisingly coherent and useful.
TRY creating your registry with a girlfriend who recently had a baby. As much as I enjoyed turning the laptop to face my husband and asking, “Whatcha think of this umbrella stroller?” The best registry advice I got came from new moms. And yes, veteran moms are excellent sources too, but many of them are unfamiliar with the overabundance of newfangled crap now available to parents. If you find yourself getting caught up in the gadgets and gizmos, I suggest seeking counsel from a veteran mom. She’ll tell you her kids occupied themselves FOR HOURS with a slotted spoon and a kettle.
10. Appreciate this moment AND your mate.
For all its weirdness, nuisances and uncertainties, you’re only pregnant for the first time once. It’ll be over soon and if you spend your time fretting everything, you’re bound to miss out on the simple joys of starting a family. A lot of attention is paid to you when you’re pregnant. It’s a strange spotlight. Be comfortable with it. As soon as it’s over, the spotlight shifts to your baby. (Phew!) Be kind to your partner. Mine recently told me that the key to a healthy relationship is empathizing with one another even when you think you’re the only one on the planet whose feelings are valid. Remember: your man is freaking out too and unlike you, his body isn’t growing to accommodate a baby. So for every honey-I-feel-fat-and-tired, consider asking your baby’s father, “How are you feeling today?”
TRY writing down your feelings: good, bad or indifferent. Once the baby arrives you’ll be dealing with a whole new host of feelings. Perhaps by keeping something tangible to capture the craziness you feel Before Baby, you’ll be better equipped to process the craziness you feel After Baby.
*I’m not a health care professional or a pregnancy expert. I’m just a writer who learned a few things over the course of 38 weeks. Feel free to disagree with any or all of these tips. I wrote this for those of you who asked for advice –– and for my past-self to read.
For those of you WITH CHILDREN, please feel free to share your postpartum wisdom. I’m going to need it soon.