What I’ve learned in 39 weeks

The baby’s due date is 3 May, so he could arrive any day now. I’ve been meaning to write some of my experience of pregnancy, but have managed to procrastinate for a whole 39 weeks – unless I blame deadlines and the more immediate demands of the new allotment. Either way, I’m thinking back on the last nine months. Here are the main things that stick out.

Lesson 1
“Worry does not rob tomorrow of it’s sorrow. It only robs today of its joy.”

I can’t remember where I heard that quotation, but the first few weeks of the pregnancy was a sharp learning curve in not letting other people’s worries bring me down. However strange it might look in retrospect, falling pregnant was a surprise for me. I just didn’t expect it to happen at the time it did. It came as even more of a suprise for my parents and Nikolai’s parents. I guess I hoped for delight and excitement. At the time, though, there was a lot of shock and worry. Maybe parents are programmed to worry. Nonetheless, I knew that as time went on, their worry would be replaced with excitement and joy at meeting their new grandchild. Glad to say I was right. I only hope that I can remember this for future times when I choose to worry needlessly. Whatever for?

Lesson 2
You don’t need an instruction manual.

There is way too much literature on the market for expecting and new parents. Tons of it. Looking at the shelves and shelves full of reading material, it’s all too easy to forget that the humans have been having babies quite successfully for more than 200,000 years, and only the last 50 years or so have seen us believing that we need experts to teach us how to have babies and what to do with them once they’re born. The information is all in your body already. The most popular title on the market is “What to Expect When You’re Expecting” (so ubiquitous that it makes an appearance in both the big pregnant-themed rom-coms of the last year: Knocked up and Juno), which might as well be titled “What to Worry about when You’re Expecting”. Am I the only person who hated this fear-and-anxiety approach to pregnancy and birth? See lesson 1 above, damnit.

In fact, the best books I’ve read while I’m pregnant have been those that emphasise trusting your own intuitions and having the confidence to ignore most of what’s currently on offer. The best books I read were:
Three in a Bed, by Deborah Jackson
Unconditional Parenting, by Alfie Kohn
Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth, by Ina May Gaskin

Lesson 3
The stuff on TV and in movies is made up.

Morning sickness: I thought I wasn’t actually pregnant because I never got morning sickness. Fact is, only 1 in 3 women suffer from it. That’s a minority.
Cravings and aversions: I got kind of fond of yogurt and fruit and went off chocolate and coffee. I didn’t wake up at 3 am demanding weird combinations of deli produce. Your body will tell you what you want and need.
Exhaustion: No one told me I’d need 2-hour naps daily for the first ten weeks or so. They were the best, though, feeling the wave of exhaustion creep up on me, and then curling up in bed, simply because my body was giving me strict instructions to do so. I think what I liked best was the strong sense of simply knowing from my physical state what I needed to do.
Rushing off to hospital: This is the biggest myth – that women go into instant and agonising labour, and need to pile into a car and screech off to the hospital before anything goes wrong. Screenwriters love it, because it’s an excuse for instant dramatic action. Actually, these days, most hospitals want you to stay at home for the first stage of labour at least, and giving birth at home is (thankfully) returning to its rightful place as a normal option. Which brings me to

Lesson 4
Hospitals are not the best places for labour or birth

For most of this pregnancy, I was planning a hospital birth. Friends asked: what about a home birth? I shook my head. I would feel safer in a hospital, thank you.

It wasn’t until quite late in the process that I stopped and thought about where I’d gotten this idea that birth was “dangerous” and that hospitals were “safer”. Turns out that all the research points in the opposite direction. Birth is only risky to mother and/or child when things go wrong. Which should be very uncommon. Hospitals are places that are full of people who are ill, injured or traumatised. They are not soothing or comfortable environments. If you ask someone where they feel most relaxed and safe, chances are that they won’t say “at a hospital”.

Instinctively, a labouring mother – like an animal in labour – seeks out a place of comfort and safety, preferably somewhere reasonably private, and not too bright, where she can be closed in and feel safe and enclosed for the labour. Big open spaces, bright lights, a sense of the unfamiliar – anything that makes the mother feel instinctively threatened – can shut down the labour process or even reverse it (as Ina May Gaskin documents in her book recommended above). Even the NHS, these days, supports home birth and documents better outcomes for mothers that give birth at home (shorter labours, fewer complications, fewer medical interventions) than for those who give birth in hospital.

It took me months to realise that the idea of going to hospital for an uncomplicated birth was making me anxious and uncertain. I don’t have any problem with going into hospital if I need to – but going into labour is not enough of a reason to need a medical setting. If the day comes, and there’s some sort of complication, I’m quite open to having medical technology available to me. But for now, the plan will be to have the baby at home.

Lesson 5
There’s no need to rush

Pregnancy can be a delight. It slows you down immensely, and without much choice, you have to do things at a manageable pace, forgive yourself if you’re less productive than usual, and let it all go, because of course all this slowness and gentleness is simply in the interests of the little life inside you. It’s a lovely reminder to be present in each action, and it’s also a somewhat sterner reminder for those of us that forget to do so for ourselves the rest of the time. I know many women who only go the extra mile for others, not for themselves. Women who are extraordinarily gentle on every person around, except themselves, on whom they are extraordinary harsh. Pregnancy is great practice for being gentle on yourself. I’ve found myself eating with care, moving with care, thinking carefully before I do things that might make me tense or pressured or tired or anxious. I’ve smiled at myself and forgiven myself more often than I usually might. I only hope I remember this practice of gentleness when my body is separate from my child’s again.


About Lisa

I live in South Africa with my husband and two small children, doing things, thinking about things and sometimes writing about them.
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One Response to What I’ve learned in 39 weeks

  1. Lady Lilith says:

    Lisa, you seem to have a knack for making every experience into a spiritual journey. Fascinating to read your thoughts and observations.

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