Pregnancy: a sorting of the psyche, a polishing of the soul.
The surface level labels of my life as an independent dietitian and yoga teacher felt like they provided just enough cover to shelter my soft, squishy inner life from the prying eyes of the world.
Being pregnant has been a reminder of the sensitive spirit I nearly forgot about, with all its vulnerabilities, weaknesses and wild curiosity. At times it feels like a fire is burning this carefully constructed outer shell away to reveal once again the inner softness that was intentionally forgotten. A softness that must be permitted to nurture, love and be highly attuned to the baby that is growing inside of me.
The creation of life does not depend on outward validation, nor success, nor fame, but a clear understanding of one's true strengths and weaknesses. So my second trimester has been all about stripping back the unnecessary layers and discarding them as quickly as possible to reveal some deeper truths that had to be faced.
This stripping has been painful at times.
I now see a side of myself I've not seen for over a decade - my naked, sensitive, raw and native soul, one that cries in front of people, one that cries at all. One that shows fear, admits confusion, admits defeat.
In the stripping of dross a clear slate has been revealed, much like the fertile, muck-filled forest floor which - whilst not as aesthetically pleasing nor delicious as the flowers and fruits in the canopy - is far more capable of acting as rich detritus upon which new life can thrive. A surface that's less cluttered by the selfish hoardings of my adult life so far. A place where asking for help is finally a conceivable notion rather than a sign of weakness.
With that in mind, I'm excited to share "the good, the bad, and the hungry" of my second trimester. It is my hope that in being vulnerable and real about how tumultuous this part of my pregnancy has been, other women and mothers-to-be are empowered to be honest and open about their own experiences, no matter how difficult. Surely, honesty, openness and vulnerability are qualities I'll want to take with me as I step out onto the unknown terrain of motherhood. So here we go...
At the beginning of my second trimester (around week 14), all remnants of the horrendous food aversions and morning sickness of the first trimester had disappeared, and I felt wonderful.
Brimming with vitality, my appetite for (mostly) healthy and hearty foods slowly returned. Creative juices started to flow again and I felt innately driven to write, work, and venture outdoors to explore. My increasing energy levels meant I could suddenly run along the beach, practice inversions in yoga, do AcroYoga and generally live life pretty close to my usual patterns of existence.
The first time I felt a kick around week 18, I thought I was imagining things as I had been dreaming about my baby moving around in there for days. Then baby immediately kicked again, hard, and I screamed in surprise and delight! Sometimes, despite all the evidence that there's a baby in there, I find it hard to believe. Kicks from the inside are a pretty good sign that there's definitely something in there.
The next week I had my morphology scan, with Andreas and my Dad in tow. I've never seen Andreas grin as widely as I did when we found out we were having a boy! Although I initially had hopes for a girl, seeing my beloved that happy to be having a son warmed my heart immensely.
Around week 23 Andreas started to feel the kicks when he put his hand on my belly. Now we have conversations with our little boy when we are relaxed at night or before bed, a time when he is super active and wriggly. He's also very active around 4am - an indication of future sleeping patterns when he's finally out?
We were recently approved for a forest home amongst the trees in Tallebudgera Valley (yay!) I spent the week before that visualising myself walking through the forest, baby strapped to me. Digging a veggie garden, baby attached to me monkey-style. Doing family things in a pristine natural setting. A few weeks ago when Andreas and I did this forest visualisation together and spoke directly to our baby, he kicked in response whenever we asked him about living in the forest! It was a lot of fun and just a bit cute.
As baby started to move more, I began to feel more and more connected to him. For all of the first trimester and the first half of the second, I had the unsettling feeling that I "wasn't connected enough" to my baby. I didn't feel a strong bond to him, a bond that I expected for no reason other than that I just thought that's what pregnant women do - coo to and float along lovingly in admiration of their babies from the moment of conception, in perfect communion and completely at one with their unborn child.
I didn't feel the urge to talk to my baby or even really communicate to him, beyond one wild meditation I had in Bali at 6 weeks where he strongly hinted that he was a boy. I didn't want to believe it as I really wanted a girl at the time! In the absence of any desire to communicate to my growing foetus, I feared I was destined to be a heartless, detached, uncaring mother, fears I already held as I've never been a "baby" person. Among the first of many fears that were to arise.
Now that he's kicking (and somersaulting and apparently breakdancing) it's proof to my academia-impaired brain that there's something in there. I now find talking to my baby feels natural and normal. Andreas has made up a number of interesting songs that he sings to our little boy, whereas I mostly talk to him and let him know what's going on in the outside world, and how I'm feeling inside.
As cute and wonderful as all of the above has been, that fire I described earlier has at times risen to a viciously biting inferno licking painfully at all the protective defences from the outside world that I have built around myself. For the first time in a long time, I've experienced incredibly distressing emotional lows. Unprepared for such intensity and eventually unable to cope, starting from week 19 I quickly landed in a space of darkness and loneliness.
I used to gloat about my lack of emotional PMS and felt secretly smug about my general psychological stability. Pregnancy has truly knocked me off my high horse! It's been as if all the PMS symptoms I've blissfully skipped out on during my life so far, came at once. And stayed there. For two months straight.
Around the five month mark I slowly but surely began to notice the hours and days where I felt cranky, tired and irritable starting to mount up. Irritability turned into frustration, anger and fury. Then isolation. That I continued to work at full steam throughout my entire pregnancy until last Friday probably didn't make things easier. My psyche rebelled against my persistently pushing my energy outwards, in the form of emotional swings and eventually the closest thing I've felt to depression in my life. It's as if it were warning me, "Stop! Stop pushing outwards. There is inner work to be done."
Too much yang, not enough yin
To say my preexisting yang imbalance was amplified would be an understatement. All I could think about was, "What more can I do? How can I better provide for this baby? How can I work harder?" As a sole business owner with a partner studying full time, my worries about finances magnified with each passing day. The reality of becoming a parent started hitting me hard, and repeatedly.
In my pool of isolation and frustration, I completely dismissed the possibility of relying financially on my partner and began to plan how I would support a child alone as soon as possible after giving birth. I spent hours looking for community dietitian jobs in remote Australia and researching ways to create the stable, secure income I've never experienced as a freelance consultant.
To top it off, my Dad came to live with us indefinitely in our tiny, noisy Broadbeach unit in early May, and only recently left (seven weeks later) after I finally and clearly voiced my feelings (i.e. totally lost my shit) over not having enough space. Having two men in the house who have no idea what it's like to live in a lake of female hormones whilst working full time was beyond frustrating!
What the hell, progesterone?!
I recently spoke to a wise older woman and mother who said that whatever emotional debris you have not dealt with can show up during your first pregnancy before you bring a new life into the world. This happens so you can finally address some of your built-up psychological residue (i.e. clear your shit) to help you more easily manage the emotions of another human who is totally reliant on you.
This made total sense to my left, logical brain. During pregnancy, the female hormone progesterone increases markedly to help keep the uterine lining thick for the developing baby, among other things. And as I explained in a recent blog, progesterone levels also rise during the second half of a woman's menstrual cycle, after the monthly egg is released from her ovary. If she becomes pregnant, the progesterone level continues to rise, and. If she does not become pregnant, levels of progesterone fall, signalling the body to shed the uterine lining during menstruation.
Progesterone, although essential for reproduction, sometimes produces unpleasant symptoms for women during the last two weeks before her menstrual period. These symptoms include mood swings, teariness, bloating, breast tenderness, and acne. Yes, welcome to the wonderful world of PMS.
Basically, PMS and pregnancy symptoms (physical and emotional) can feel very similar. And as someone who barely experienced PMS during that phase of my cycle pre-pregnancy, the hormonal and emotional changes have felt even more extreme and unexpected. Like a tonne of bricks hitting me between my two naive little eyes.
Just before our period it's as if the tide is out, and everything on the bottom of the river that you don’t want to see, will show up. So everything that is not working in your life can hit you like that tonne of bricks on day 3 or 4 before your period is due.
I have a very good relationship with my Dad, and as a meditating, nature-loving gypsy we have heaps in common. But he's still my Dad, and after nearly two months of sharing a confined urban flat with a parent, having no room to practice yoga indoors, mounting stress over a million other things, and my cells swimming in the above potent cocktail of pregnancy hormones, the frustration steadily built to the point where I would walk through the door after a long day of work and break down in tears. Whilst easy-going and talkative, Dad wasn't able to give me much useful advice or emotional support.
I began staying at work just to avoid going home where I'd have even less privacy and space. But you can't work forever, especially with the food and sleep requirements of being six months pregnant.
My partner had his own stuff going on. He's been finishing his third year of a naturopathy degree, something he is infectiously passionate about. But it also meant final exams and assignments due. Up until his last exam two weeks ago, I felt I was left to manage my emotions, financial anxieties, house-hunting, physical changes, and work life largely on my own without his support.
Since our old lease was due to run out mid-July, I spent a large chunk of this hormonally stormy time looking through rental properties, writing applications, and attending inspections by myself as my overwhelming urge to nest kicked in and continued to be pushed to the side. For most of that time Andreas crammed for exams, Dad went fishing or fixed his truck, and I failed to reach out to my friends out of that stupid excuse of "I can handle this by myself". As the weeks dripped by I felt more and more alone and unsupported.
It was around the Winter solstice, the darkest night of the year that I realised I had entered one of the darkest nights of my life. Just when I thought things would get better, they would just deteriorate more.
Asking for help
Crying oneself to sleep on a regular basis, waking up and crying, crying so hard one can barely breathe, and not wanting to come home are not normal things for me. Especially since I'd so carefully constructed a concept of myself as someone who has it pretty together, knows herself, is strong, independent and emotionally intelligent (what a joke! As if anyone could be all of these things, all the time, forever.)
But lots of crying is exactly what had been happening for weeks on end. At times I felt like an alien in my body, a moody, stressed, tearful, irrational alien with insomnia. And all this before the baby has even been born!
As I mentioned in my first trimester post, the only PMS I ever experienced before pregnancy was a barely perceptible increase in irritation a few days before my period. It was nothing I wasn't aware of and able to manage (suppress?) easily with relaxation and meditation. Full blown premenstrual emotional swings were one of those things I've never had to go through. Nor have I ever really experienced long term depression, severe anxiety, or any other diagnosable mental illness. Now I know just how powerfully hormones and stress can affect a woman's emotions.
In the absence of adequate support from those I (perhaps unrealistically) expected it from, I decided to seek outside help. I have now been to see an amazing psychologist - not once but thrice. This is a huge accomplishment for me. I did this on the advice of my wonderful GP who has herself seen the same practitioner, which made me feel much better for taking the plunge.
I intend to keep going because as the psychologist put it, "we all have stuff to sort through". And I'd rather sort through at least some of that stuff now before baby is born, rather than pass a large chunk of my neuroses and ingrained patterns onto my kid. Plus with depression running in my family, I'd like to avoid postpartum depression (PPD) in any way I can. Had I kept ignoring my inner stirrings to stop being so outward in the world, and continued to push on without reaching out to anyone, I'm pretty sure I would have tipped the scales in favour of PPD.
I believe that health practitioners, who give out so much of our energy to help others, have just as much stuff to sort through as anyone else. Helpers may even have to take extra care to look after their emotional and mental wellbeing. Knowing all of this lessened the blow of the terrible stigma around mental health issues we have in our culture, and lead to my making a decision to get psychological help.
Waiting room dilemma
My anti-establishment, stigma-rejecting high lasted right up until I sat down in the psychologist's waiting room. That's when I suddenly felt huge doses of shame and self-deprecation. This was probably contributed to by the realisation that one of my yoga students was a psychologist at the same centre. I freaked just out a little as my brain said things like:
"What will he think if he sees me?"
"He'll know I'm not perfect!"
"He'll know I'm human!"
"I'm meant to be a serene, got-it-all-together, om-chanting yoga teacher - not a crazy person!"
All of these, of course, are damaging self-judgments that did not help at the time. Because seeing an experienced and empathic psychologist has been one of the best things I've ever done for myself. I've lost count of the number of times I've recommended seeing a psychologist or counsellor to some of my patients who were experiencing significant levels of stress, anxiety and/or sadness, and was surprised at just how harsh I was on myself for being in that waiting room. Yet another reality slap for me.
Yes, it's obvious, I should have asked for help from my friends. I have a few hand-picked, extremely dear friends who would have dropped everything to offer me support, had they known just how absolutely shithouse I felt.
But did I ask them for help? Nope! My independent streak and stubborn belief that, "I should be able to handle this" prevented me from reaching out earlier and getting the help I needed from the sisterhood. A perceived lack of support from the men living with me just drove me further into my hardened shell of "f*&k it, I'll just do it myself".
Asking for help is something I know I'm going to have to learn to do given I'm about to have a baby and will be sleep deprived and generally exhausted for at least the first six weeks (months? years?) of this baby's life.
When I finally started to inform my friends of the hell I was going through, the help came fast and swift. Maybe it's something about being female, but no one can understand you (and your "crazy" female hormones, sensitivities, and emotions) quite like a sister. Before leaving for a few weeks my friend Tammy gave me the keys to her apartment, saying, "you will need these. Use them! And while you're at it, have my car too so you can escape!" (I don't own a car.)
Other wonderful friends who are also health professionals and counsellors listened with attentive compassion, gave loving advice, and offered their appropriately biassed opinions to my satisfaction.
The big lesson for me is to remember to reach out for help, that it's far from a weakness and something that can restore strength. I hope the next time I'm in that deep, I am mindful enough to remember that it's ok to be human and ask for help.
The hungry (fungry, and hangry)
That shit was heavy, and just typing it out has sent me into a state of hunger bordering on hanger. So I'm getting something to eat...
One peanut butter, banana, honey and cinnamon toastie and I'm feeling better :) I've been noticeably hungrier over the past two weeks, and now that I've hit my third trimester and have started growing faster, it's no surprise!
Even though my bump is much bigger than it has been for most of the pregnancy, some people still can't believe I'm anything beyond bloated. I've only put on a couple of kilograms since the start of the pregnancy, largely thanks to feeling like vomiting for most of the first trimester, numerous food aversions, and as a result actually losing weight. And possibly because I've been very stressed out, despite upping my yoga and meditation practices.
Now my belly is getting huge, at least to me! Still, when people express how little I look, I can't help but sometimes feel concerned I've not put on enough weight, although I suspect with my growing appetite that's all about to change. And I trust my instincts, appetite and body so I know that it will be fine.
Along with the huge amounts of growth baby is doing now has come a monstrously increased appetite. It hits with king tidal force and if I don't get a hearty, nutritious meal into me almost immediately, being hungry can quickly escalate to being fungry and then hangry in a matter of 20 minutes!
I've been craving red meat, something I've avoided for most of my pregnancy out of disgust. For three days in a row during week 26, I ate spaghetti bolognese with organic beef mince and lamb tagine, something my pre-pregnancy, mostly plant-based self would never consider! And certainly something my 23-year old vegan, environmental activist self would shun and rant about angrily.
How things change when it's no longer just about "you".
Iron is obviously a pretty important mineral to get when your blood volume has increased by 50%. Your iron requirements nearly double during pregnancy. And whilst red meat has plenty of it, I'm keen to (re)try blackstrap molasses on my morning buckwheat porridge to squeeze in even more of the good stuff.
Not surprisingly I've also been craving foods high in vitamin C - tomatoes, kiwifruit, orange juice, chilli, grapefruit, mandarines, strawberries, and capsicums. Vitamin C is crucial for iron absorption and the two should be consumed together to squeeze the most iron out of your food. I'm constantly astounded at how clever the body is at telling us what we need!
I've also been loving miso and slatherings of avocado on sourdough toast with chilli, peanut and almond butter on bananas, pasta, big pats of butter and vegemite on toast, massive serves of spicy chickpea and veggie curry, root vegetable soups with sourdough toast and pats of butter, salmon, chicken noodle soup, Asian omelettes, big warmed salads with goats cheese, homemade acai bowls packed with kale, apple berry crumbles with custard, and breakfast bowls of porridge with nuts and seeds.
I haven't grown any stretch marks yet, perhaps due to liberal self massage with coconut oil every few days, the odd dry body brushing, minimal weight gain, and plenty of sunshine. Nevertheless I am loving Carley's blissful-smelling blend and have been applying it to my tummy every night whilst having a chat to my little one!
I do get the occasional leg cramp and find smashing magnesium nightly does the trick. Oh and the odd piece of magnesium rich dark chocolate doesn't go astray! Sleeping is becoming a bit more uncomfortable as I need to sleep on my side and haven't yet invested in the wonderful pregnancy pillow everyone mentions, preferring to use Andreas as a pillow which he doesn't always appreciate.
From weeks 24 to 26 I felt ridiculously tired, especially following a hectic final fortnight at work where I barely noticed my baby bump and charged at full steam seeing patients and teaching yoga classes. After a weekend of camping last month, sleeping on the ground in nature (when I get the most restorative sleeps), and a few nights of 10+ hours sleep I finally felt a bit better, with some residual tiredness.
But I've only really felt like things are on the up since last week when we moved out to the forest. We no longer live in a noisy unit next to the swimming pools of a busy Broadbeach hotel, surrounded by up to 30 sources of wifi at a time. I now feel the cleansing effect of the forest washing over me on a daily basis, working its magic on my tattered spirit.
I officially announced stepping down from work completely by July 10th - then changed that to July 3rd. This decision was hard to make as I love seeing clients, and work in an amazing medical centre with awesome people. I feel energised and uplifted from teaching yoga classes. However, with moving house and only a few short months left of pregnancy to go (and no baby clothes purchased as yet!) I figured something had to give.
Excluding some days of incredible busy-ness, emotional turmoil, then moving house, I was in love with morning beach runs and yoga throughout most of my second trimester. It certainly helped me to cope with everything that was going on. I was a runner for years but gave it up a year before I fell pregnant due to lack of decent local forest trails and a fear that I was damaging my joints, even running on natural surfaces. It wasn't until the end of my first trimester that I began jog-walking (what I like to call "jorking") along the beach to rid my body of the stagnation and yucky feeling of weeks of morning sickness and being pent up indoors.
As any runner knows, the endorphins running releases are addictive and one Sunday late in my second trimester I ran 7 kilometres along the beach, followed by 4 and 3 km the days after. I was conscious not to overdo it and mostly ran at the pace of a stoned koala, but it felt great anyway. The compelling urge to stretch after running lead to some delicious yoga practice and finally meditation. I feel fitter now in my third trimester than I have felt for about two years.
Now that I've moved to the forest and grown significantly bigger, I've swapped flat beach runs for hilly forest hikes and bushwalks. A few days after moving to our new nest I discovered a huge network of forest trails to explore. My soul finally feels as though it has come up for air!
To ensure my pelvic floor is in top condition for birth I've also taken up reformer pilates - the kind that uses all those weird medieval-looking machines. And I love it! My pilates teacher Indianna at The Living Well Studio is also a qualified physiotherapist and knows her pelvic floor stuff back to front (if you've done much pelvic floor work you'll pick up the pun), so I'm in the best of hands.
I've fallen in love with massage and have been treating myself to a near-weekly massage. This isn't cheap but feels like a necessity right now. Given the reduction in work and salary I'm about to experience I'm not sure how much longer I'll be able to afford it, but right now I'm wondering how I ever lived without it. Oh that's right, I wasn't always pregnant!
As I write this today, we've officially moved out to a basic but perfect forest dwelling and I finally feel at peace. Yesterday I spent the whole day pottering around our new place, unpacking, returning emails I've not had time to get to, hanging up washing, and cooking. And it felt fucking awesome. I've stopped working, reduced my obligations and finally feel like I can truly enjoy my pregnancy. I can now mentally and spiritually prepare for the birth and beyond.
I haven't entirely retired my can't-sit-still self. I'm just not one to sit idle. The loveliest thing about being a mother-to-be and a driven, creative woman is that I am allowed to share this experience with the world through my writing on this blog. I am allowed to spread my trepidation and joy, hoping that other women will feel empowered to do the same.
It's been very up and down but I'm blessed that I was chosen to be the mother to this soul. I'm one of the lucky ones, to be given the opportunity to experience the trials and joys of pregnancy. I'm glad to be going through this journey with Andreas. I'm lucky to have a partner as patient, loving and affectionate as he is and I reckon he will make a great Dad. It's hard to believe that in a few months we'll be meeting our baby boy and starting a whole new way of living.
What the third trimester and birth will bring is anyone's guess, but I hope it will be filled with spiritual awakenings, and that I will grow in patience and love for myself. I wish to continue on this path of mindful motherhood and constant discovery. I wish to live in a state of evolution. I wish to share love and kindness. I wish to absorb all of the wisdom that I possibly can. I wish to keep my partner and child close. I wish to show my son the world. I wish to feel wild and continue to feel vulnerable and afraid at times, as this lets me know I'm growing. I wish to nourish my body, care for my soul, and create a home for myself and my family that is abundantly nurturing and warm.
Missed my first trimester blog? Read it here.
Read my third trimester blog here.
Read about my labour and Archie's birth story, here.