I’m pregnant.

Yup. We’re having a baby – she’s kicking me right now.

It recently hit me that I’m about to head into the third trimester. I figured I should probably write something on this blog. But what? Recap all the TMI details of how pregnancy has been? Talk about the weirdness of pregnancy after infertility & loss? Discuss sleep-training and breastfeeding controversies? Type in all caps? Eventually decide to say nothing at all because there’s a tiny part of me that still doesn’t feel safe enough to announce to the internet that I’m pregnant?

I’ve settled on doing a Q&A with my previous self – the one in the thick of it and not knowing if she’d ever get out – and imagining the questions she would’ve wanted to ask me. Here goes…

How does it feel to FINALLY be pregnant with an actual baby? Oh, it feels pretty amazing. Even complaining about my tailbone and my reflux and baby kicking my bladder feels kind of thrilling: like humble-bragging, grateful-complaining.

How has your pregnancy been so far (physically)? I have an extremely detailed record of all my physical symptoms and when I experienced them. I’m sure you’re not surprised. To summarize, weeks 5-12 were horrible due to unrelenting, round-the-clock nausea and vomiting. I was also fatigued beyond what I could’ve imagined, but being knocked out was the only thing that really took the edge off the nausea so I didn’t mind that much. Weeks 12-17 were me slowwwwwwly transitioning out of feeling like crap and beginning to eat again. Weeks 18-24 were pretty amazing energy and appetite wise. Since then I’ve been heading into uncomfortable territory once more – backaches, pelvic pain, and food just…coming back up.

How has your pregnancy been so far (emotionally)? I was a nervous, anxious wreck until about 14-15 weeks. Even though every appointment/ultrasound was completely reassuring, I cried constantly and spiraled daily. I couldn’t get it out of my head that I was waiting for the other shoe to drop, waiting for my punishment to come. Therapy was my lifeline, and poor K put up with a lot from me (while going through a lot on his end too). But something shifted pretty quickly around 15 weeks – a combination of encouraging statistics, slowly beginning to see a bump, dwindling nausea, and starting to feel baby move around. My heart still feels really “tender” all the time – I cry at most TV shows, many youtube videos, and out of the blue. Sometimes I am just overcome with feeling – by how much I love my baby, how lucky I feel to have her. So, normal pregnant person stuff 🙂 But sometimes I think I’m still grieving (and will always be grieving) my experiences of infertility and loss. My path to pregnancy has been drastically different than the vast majority of my peers (especially at my age). I’m learning to own that and accept that.

When did your bump start growing and what does it feel like? If I’m honest, I didn’t see anything til about 12 weeks, and even then, I had to be trying really hard. 14 weeks I had a bump that might have been a baby but also might not (I felt huge, but looking back at pics I was laughably tiny). I think around 16-17 weeks I began to look more unmistakably pregnant. I measured my belly at 24 weeks and it had grown a whole 10 inches, which is incredible! Having a baby bump feels like…when you eat a lot of food and feel uncomfortably stretched out, except 10 times more intense, plus it’s hard to wear shoes/give hugs/wash dishes. And also, you’re still really hungry.

How has eating/body image stuff been? Has it been hard to watch your body grow? Actually, this has surprised me: so far, I feel really good in my body. I am eating a lot of food very frequently, and I don’t feel any guilt around my eating at all. If I’m honest, I’m dreading stretch marks (which 90% of pregnant people get!), though so far so good on that front. Anyway, I already have some stretch marks from my ED recovery and they’re not that bad once they’ve faded. I don’t flinch from looking at my body and it’s summer so it isn’t like I can hide under big hoodies. This isn’t to throw shade on anyone who isn’t feeling so good in their bodies, pregnant or not. I think that’s totally valid and I’m still mentally prepared for days like those. But it’s also super nice to know that it’s possible to be feeling okay.

Okay, last question. How the **** did you end up getting pregnant? Oh friend. Oh my love. I know you are completely convinced that your body is broken and needs fixing and that you just need to find the right diagnosis or to do however many rounds of IVF it takes. I know you roll your eyes and want to scream when your husband, both of your therapists, AND several well-meaning friends/family suggest that maybe, just maybe, there is nothing medically wrong with your body. That maybe your spirit needs healing and you need to stop fighting yourself and that your mind needs a break. That it’s been a monumentally difficult year or so of upheaval and grief and relational pain. I don’t mean that medical conditions causing infertility and loss don’t exist, they absolutely do. It’s just that you don’t seem to have any of them – which I know is even more frustrating. You have healing work to do that doesn’t involve any more procedures or supplements. And that’s how you end up pregnant, with child, with life.

Self-care vs Resilience

This is a topic I did some research on recently for my program. I was so intrigued and couldn’t believe that this wasn’t being talked about more! Basically, it addresses an unnamed question that I haven’t been able to answer very well:

Why does self-care feel so…meh?

(for lack of a better word)

When COVID-19 hit, I was constantly talking about and hearing about the importance of self-care. Confession: it wasn’t very convincing. Sure, I love bubble baths, candles, and essential oils as much as anyone. Working out and taking steps to eat and sleep well are game-changers for my mental health. But if I’m honest, prioritizing “self-care” (as defined by popular culture) never took anything more than a tiiiiny edge off from my mountain of anxiety, chronic stress, and sadness.

Source: https://thingsgrow.me

According to Patricia Kerig (2018) – who has done a lot of research on how to address burnout and secondary traumatic stress in helping professionals – here are three reasons why self-care just doesn’t cut it sometimes:

  1. The emphasis is on the individual, not the system. It places the burden on the person at the mercy of unhealthy or even toxic systems to do all the work. Organizations and more powerful entities don’t have to take any responsibility.
  2. Self-care activities often work by helping us to distract from unpleasant emotions, rather than providing us the tools to process them. Caveat – I am a huge fan of distraction. But I know that it can’t be the only tool in my toolkit.
  3. It isn’t a very culturally-sensitive concept – it can feel awkward or produce resistance because it feels self-centered.

To make up for these deficits, Kerig developed a curriculum called Resilience for Trauma-Informed Professionals (R-TIP). She defines resilience as an interaction between self & environment; is a set of skills that can be developed rather than a personality trait. It is also multidimensional (emotional intelligence, meaning-making, interpersonal relationships).

If you’re a mental health professional, there is a continuing education course available here. I’m also citing her paper below.

But since most of us don’t have time to read a research paper and are not members of the APA, here are my takeaways re: how we can reframe the way we think about self-care:

  1. When feeling burned out, consider that this is not a reflection of individual failure or weakness on your part. Try to get curious about the systems you’re a part of – your workplace, school, household, etc – and see if there is a way you can ask for support or have your needs advocated for.
  2. Consider how to develop strategies for dealing with stressful and traumatic situations in the moment, and not just after the fact. If you’re anticipating a triggering or stressful day/event, be prepared and have a plan. Breathing, mantras, and escape strategies can be useful.
  3. Be careful of practicing self-care that is lacking in self-compassion. It’s so easy to take self-care and make it performative! Notice if you start telling yourself things like, “I failed really bad at self-care today, I need to do better.” Practicing self-compassion makes us more empathetic with others too. Sometimes we are so used to this punitive posture that we punish ourselves with our so-called self-care! (e.g. working out even when we’re exhausted, letting the logistics of self-care activities create even more stress, etc). It’s ok to let go of things that aren’t promoting healing and nourishment.
  4. Ask for feedback. Even though I like to think of myself as a highly self-aware individual, I know that I’m a poor judge of my true mental/emotional state. If you’re feeling brave enough, asking for honest feedback from a close friend or a family member can be valuable. I’ll ask my partner, “How do you think I’m coping with life? In your opinion, is ___ working for me?”. Sometimes the answer is hard to hear! But it’s in the spirit of trying to be more collaborative and systems-aware in the way we care for ourselves.

Source:

Kerig, P. K. (2019). Enhancing resilience among providers of trauma-informed care: A curriculum for protection against secondary traumatic stress among non-mental health professionals. Journal of aggression, maltreatment & trauma, 28(5), 613–630.