Thursday, December 8, 2011

mama guilt

Have you seen the show I'm Pregnant and? It's a reality show that features a different woman each episode, and a different ending to the sentence "I'm pregnant and..." For example, "I'm pregnant and addicted," "I'm pregnant and a stripper," "I'm pregnant and have an eating disorder." I had never heard of this show until about a month ago when I decided to watch it out of curiosity. One show turned into at least four or five that night (not proud). I found myself obsessed with knowing what kinds of mistakes other pregnant women were making, because the truth is I feel like I am constantly making mistakes. Granted, my body is a pretty pure vessel given my obsession with organic foods, not drinking or using drugs (pregnant or not), exercise, food-based supplements, specially filtered water, avoidance of parabens, BPAs, and heavy metals, refusal to eat processed food….and the list of obsessive healthy practices goes on. So how can I feel like I have anything in common with a knocked up meth addict, how can I feel like I am not taking care of my unborn child as well as I should be? Because "I'm pregnant and a perfectionist."

It might sound crazy, and it probably is, but I have this overwhelming guilt that I am not doing enough and am somehow negatively affecting my baby girl in numerous ways. I attribute this problem in part to my over-zealous thirst for pregnancy-related information. I have read so many books and devoured so many websites, which makes me an incredibly informed expectant mother who can make sound decisions about what she wants as far as care providers, support, parenting and how I want this whole giving birth thing to go down. But, all that information can be anxiety-provoking and completely overwhelming. I've suddenly found myself collapsed in this guilt the past week and I think it's because I've read one too many books. The pressure of all the lists of "10 foods every pregnant woman should eat every day in order to have a healthy baby," "30 essential exercises and stretches you should do every day in order to have a successful birth," "6 different types of kegels that you should do 100 reps of every day if you don't want to end up with a c-section," "5 relaxation habits you should adopt if you don't want to emotionally scar your unborn child," "3 classes you need to take before you give birth"……gasp….can't breathe….pressure. I need to do all this to be a healthy pregnant woman and good mom? I don't go to a 9-5 job every day and I still say who has the time to do all that, especially while they are pregnant?!! 

I know there are women out there who have fabulous pregnancies, who feel healthier and more energized during their pregnancies than they did beforehand, but these women are the exception. And I am not one of them. The simple fact is being pregnant is hard work! Growing another human being is no small task for your body and can make getting through each day a challenge unlike anything you've ever known. I'm not saying it isn't magical, it isn't an honor to experience or it isn't worth it, but the reality is you have very little control over how your particular, unique body responds to pregnancy (something that is very difficult for me to accept). You may go into pregnancy with the best intentions in the world, you may be like me and have a list of healthy foods, exercises and relaxation methods you intend to use when you finally get that positive on a pregnancy test…..but if you have terrible morning sickness, exhaustion or any one of a number of pregnancy complications, you will have no choice but to abandon your intended "plan" and do what you have to just to survive. And that's where I find myself today—doing the best I can, but constantly thinking about that obsessive list I made in my head pre-pregnancy, feeling guilty about not having it in my usually disciplined, but now incapacitated self to follow.

Yes, part of my guilt and self-imposed pressure comes from all the books I've read and suggestions I've heard, but it's obviously more than that. It is the pressure my unrealistic, expect-too-much parents put on me as a child that I have unfortunately taken to putting on myself as an adult, that causes me to interpret all these suggestions as necessary….and if I'm not doing those necessary things, I'm not doing enough. So what if I feel nauseous or dizzy or like the living dead, that's what dirt is for…rub some on it and walk it off. But guess what? A pregnant body and a growing fetus do not care about your self-imposed psychological pressure—I've found you simply cannot push a pregnant body, it calls the shots and you have no say.

It's probably no coincidence that the universe gave me the type of pregnancy I'm experiencing (horrible 24 hr nausea, food aversions like a mother, uncontrollable dizziness, 20 weeks and still completely exhausted and weak). I cannot control it, but the perfectionist in me tells me I can and I am failing. Really though, I have no choice but to learn to surrender and cultivate compassion for myself….to feel proud of all the good, healthy things I am passing on to my child just by sharing a body with her. And perhaps I need to consider that I'm probably not the first pregnant woman who has struggled to incorporate exercise into her life as often as "the books" tell her to (or at all) or hasn't been eating 7 servings of veggies a day or who cries and screams and gets upset sometimes instead of striking a yoga pose. Because the truth is, I can be as hard on myself as I want, but it is not a clue that I am a bad mother. It is a clue that I care so much (maybe obsessively so, but I care nonetheless) and I want to give my baby the best I possibly can just like any other mother. 

Why I've allowed this anxiety to take me over this week I have no clue. But, after 4 days of feeling this way I've decided to admit it and move on. The funny thing is, amidst all of my worry, baby girl has begun kicking me with more strength than I thought was possible at 20 weeks (so much so that you can now feel her on the outside of my belly, which isn't supposed to happen for a few more weeks—so exciting!). Honest to god, whenever I start talking to my husband about my guilt or how much I'm not doing, she starts to flail about like crazy. I think it is her way of saying I'm here, I'm strong, I'm okay….now stop beating up on yourself and get me a sandwich!

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