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Ann Douglas on Pregnancy
Ann Douglas—mother, freelance writer and parent educator—offers wisdom and wit in her 28 books, including The Mother of All Pregnancy Books, The Mother of All Baby Books and Trying Again: A Guide to Pregnancy After Miscarriage, Stillbirth and Infant Loss. Douglas sounds off on the secrets to enjoying your pregnancy, starting with the first 30 days.
During the first 30 days of enjoying pregnancy, what are the typical thoughts that go through a woman’s head?
“Call CNN! Call The New York Times. We’re having a baby here!” You know other people have been pregnant before. But come on, this is you. You are convinced you're experiencing pregnancy in a whole new way—a way the entire world needs to hear about.
"I feel too sick to get out of bed. Ever." And then there's morning sickness, a.k.a. nausea and vomiting during pregnancy—a nasty bit of business that afflicts 80% of pregnant women to some degree. Some women experience the odd gagging sensation if they are stuck in an elevator with someone who would do well to double up on the deodorant. Others can only aspire to getting in an elevator one of these days, because that would mean taking a risk and getting out of range of the bathroom.
"I'm in the relationship from hell." You should at least consider the possibility that pregnancy hormones, early pregnancy fatigue, or the fact that you're both trying to adjust to the fact that this pregnancy thing is for real, is causing you to feel disenchanted with your partner. Of course, sometimes you are in the relationship from hell, in which case you need to come up with an action plan for dealing with this reality.
What can women do to “set themselves up” for happy and peaceful pregnancies?
Find out as much as you can about what pregnancy is really like—not the picture-perfect made-for-TV version, but the real-world variety that other moms can tell you about. Find out about the physical and emotional high points and low points and what mom-proven strategies allowed your friends to thrive or survive their own nine-and-a-half months in the pregnancy trenches. Ask them what they would and wouldn't do again. If they were having another baby, ask which products they'd buy, which services they'd use, which healthcare provider they adored and which one had the bedside manner of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, simultaneously.
Put your pregnancy support network in place. This is a group of people you can turn to for advice, support and practical help when you need it. If you're like most moms, you'll probably find that your network is made up of your doctor or midwife, one or more friends or relatives, possibly your own mom and your partner.
When the morning sickness seems unbearable, what can women do to continue enjoying their pregnancies?
Make yourself the priority. Put other things on the back burner for now. You can reconcile your bank statements and weed your garden when you're feeling better. For now, focus on taking the best possible care of yourself.
Take time to dream. Don't get so caught up on the logical/rational aspects of pregnancy–preparing for birth and so on—that you lose sight of the psychological/emotional journey.
Ask other women you know how they dealt with the types of pregnancy complaints you are finding most challenging. Your caregiver should also be able to recommend treatments and coping strategies to ease your discomfort. Don't assume that you have to put up with discomfort or suffer in silence just because you're pregnant. There may be more treatment options available than you think. The first step is to let someone know how you're feeling.
What are some ways women continue to cherish and appreciate the experience of pregnancy?
Remember that this is the last time you'll ever have your baby all to yourself. Write a letter to your baby saying all the things you want to say to him or her as you wait for the day of your baby's birth to arrive. Have a friend or a professional photographer take photos of you in a way that captures the fullness and lushness of pregnancy. Pregnancy silhouettes, black and white photography and photos of yourself in unusual lighting or, if you’re daring, showing some of your luscious pregnancy curves can help you to focus on yourself as a mother. This can encourage you to think, and possibly write, about the psychological changes that have been occurring inside you while your body has been busy changing on the outside.
When enjoying the first 30 days of being pregnant, what are some expectations that women should let go of?
Don't expect the birth of your new baby to make your life perfect, like some reproductive Cinderella happy ending. There will still be hard times ahead when your legacy of loss rears up again in unexpected ways, surprising you with the fact that the hurt is still there. But because you've had the courage to reinvest in life—in this new life—you'll create a new life for yourself and your baby; one that is different, yes, but more wonderful than you ever could have imagined during your darkest and most desperate days.
How can women move past any grief they might feel over the loss of their more “independent” selves in order to embrace the change?
Talk to other mothers about how they made this transition—or whether they're still struggling to make this transition. Ask them to speak frankly and honestly about the compromises that motherhood entails; and why those compromises sometimes feel like a gift that is willingly given to your child and your family, and other times like a price that is collected, whether you want to pay it or not—like a universal motherhood tax!
Express your feelings through art, music, writing, photography or a mix of different media—whatever form of creative expression works best for you. Check out the huge, and growing, number of motherhood memoirs, often called “momoirs,” online. There are magazines that specialize in motherhood writing. And of course, there's motherhood art, theatre, music, poetry, movies, fiction and so on. Mom culture has never been more exciting or more diverse. Dive in.
What is the belief you personally go to during times of change?
I have two personal mantras:
"I've lived through worse. I can get through this, too." The things that I file under “worse” include the stillbirth of my daughter Laura (due to a true knot in her umbilical cord); my daughter Julie's struggle with an eating disorder and depression; and my mom's death.
"The moment I let go of it was the moment I got more than I could handle." This is a line from "Thank U" by Alanis Morissette. It reminds me that there are times when I need to let go of whatever it is I'm freaking out about, because it's beyond my control anyway.
The best thing about change is...
…it can lead to new opportunities and it can be really invigorating.
What is the best change you have ever made?
Hitting the pause button this past year. I decided to take a year off from writing books so that I could think about where I am, where I've been and what I hope to focus on during the next chapter of my life. It's hard to find the time required to engage in that kind of thought process when you're always on the go—or at least it is for me.