Why? On the surface I could say that my life circumstances are different: there are actual spaces in my schedule. I'm living somewhere I like. And I'm being more gentle with myself in terms of work, exercise, and pretty much everything else.
But when I dig deeper, I can see that things are different this time around because I am different. My decidedly gentler approach to everything is a result of my being stronger than I used to be. I don't take as much shit from people as I once did. Including myself.
Life is gentler.
Don't get me wrong: it hasn't been all smooth sailing, singing to my unborn baby, and dreaming of how to decorate the nursery (what!? No, not this lady.) There are still exhausting days: I have a toddler with nearly a full set of teeth who demands near-constant breastfeeding; a husband who is transitioning from being a long-time student to a fully-fledged health practitioner and has needed a lot of support from me to do so; and the usual work, study, financial, and general life stresses of most humans in our society.
But there's no sign of the perinatal depression, awful nights crying myself to sleep, and massive emotional upheaval I experienced this time in my first pregnancy. Touch wood.
Contrary to my first pregnancy, I'm not striving like a crazy person to fit as much work and teaching yoga in as I humanely can. In fact, I'm not teaching yoga at all right now, for reasons I explain here and here. Although having just finished a prenatal and postnatal pregnancy yoga teacher training, I can't wait to start teaching again in a softer, more feminised way.
I work from home, and at a holistic health centre that I love. I space out my consultations, and put limits on my availability. I refuse to work for businesspeople who squeeze every drop out of me and demand additional unpaid work that enables them to build their personal empire (which I allowed for years). All basic-sounding, self-respecting, self-preserving things that I never used to do.
I'm not stressing about how much longer it's going to take to finish my naturopathy degree. I'm about two thirds of the way through a four-year degree, but between having kids and working it's probably going to take a few more years to complete. I'm studying just one herbal medicine subject at the moment and I made sure it's one that involves no assignments (exams are my forte). And I don't stress if I don't make it into lectures 2 (or 3, or 4) times in a row.
And although I sometimes still get those old A-type urges to take every training, study module, exotic adventure overseas, and job opportunity under the sun... I restrain myself. Mostly.
When I look back on the way I continued to practice yoga throughout and immediately after my first pregnancy, I cringe.
I can now understand why, in my desperation to cling to the person I was before having my first baby, I wanted to keep practising the dynamic, gymnastic forms of exercise that I had identified with for so long:
Really fucking yang yoga practices with loads of inversions and jumping around my mat.
Long distance running.
Road riding, off road riding, endurance triathlons (like, half Ironmans).
That kind of thing.
This pregnancy, and for the last two years since Archie was born, I have given zero shits about ANY of that stuff.
My current prop-heavy, slow, womb-centred home yoga practice would be unrecognisable to my 20-something year old self.
I do occasional yoga classes and opt out of harder postures I used to relish, and smile while I hear other students panting and straining around me as I lie back, eyes closed on an inclined bolster in supta baddha konasana.
I no longer run or bike at all, preferring bush, beach, and neighbourhood pram strolls with my kid.
I LOVE swimming in the ocean.
I love mindful, functional Pilates with teachers who know what the hell they're doing.
Having trained with a PT for the last year and a half, I now love strengthening my body with and without weights once a week. And no it's not a beast mode session, just moving my body with awareness, joy, and with the intention to stay strong for pregnancy, birth, and carting kids around.
Being a pregnant nutritionist, I love applying my knowledge and aiming for optimal pregnancy nutrition as often as I can. Nutrient dense and delicious foods, eaten in a relaxed environment with awareness and gratitude, make me feel good. And I enjoy knowing that I'm nourishing my baby with plenty of omega 3 fats for her brain's development whenever I eat a tin of sardines in olive oil.
But I'm also a human. And that means that sometimes I will choose the Kraft peanut butter - with its sugar, salt, and hydrogenated vegetable oils - over the organic 100% raw PB. (I usually have both in the pantry so I can choose the one I feel like at the time.)
Did some of you just fall out of your chairs? If you've read enough of my stuff, then no... you're probably still comfortably reclined in said chair, most probably eating a big tablespoonful of Kraft crunchy PB, too.
I no longer subscribe to the "every time you eat or drink, you are either feeding disease or fighting it" bullshit. This rhetoric not only makes eating sounds like a weapon to be used for or against yourself; for many health-conscious folks, it's a free pass for disordered eating behaviour (which is totally NOT ideal whilst pregnant. Or ever, really).
After years of taking this myopic approach to eating (where nutrition = dieting, and health = weight loss) and the disordered patterns it fuelled, I eventually came to discover the far more balanced philosophies of intuitive eating and the non-diet approach - which promote wellbeing but not at the cost of sanity, relationships, and ironically, physical health.
Another term for this is gentle nutrition. And really, it's common sense. When you give yourself permission to eat what you feel like, and you practice these skills and can tolerate the initial psychological discomfort of no longer dieting, eventually you come to a place where a lot of the time, you want yummy foods that are nutrient dense (i.e. "healthy") anyway. But without the deprivation.
And the times when you don't, unless you have a medical condition (e.g. coeliac disease) that means eating bread will definitely make you sick, it really doesn't fucking matter.
When judgement, restriction and anxiety are no longer part of the picture, you've entered into gentle nutrition.
I mean think about it. What's better: eating mostly nutritious food with the odd Kraft peanut butter sandwich or Weis bar or deep fried wedges and being relaxed about it all...
... or restricting myself to only "clean, perfect" food and stressing for days about that tiny non-organic muesli bar I had to eat whilst on the road when I had no other options?
If I were my unborn foetus, I'd choose relaxed mama with a varied diet over stress hormone-flooded orthorexic, any day of the week.
As the years go by, I become more relaxed, joyful and instinctual about my eating. And even though the undeniably expanding crows' feet around my eyes remind me that I'm ageing, my strength, vitality, and feelings of inner peace and acceptance seem to be growing with each passing year. Even with regular doses of Kraft PB, streaky bacon, and donuts.
All healthy in their own unique ways.
I am stronger.
I've had to work hard on NOT trying to constantly improve myself (which for me, usually comes from a place of "I'm not good enough").
I've had to work hard on NOT trying to please everyone, especially when they're not worth pleasing.
I've had to work hard on NOT striving, straining, achieving, and living up to my own impossible standards.
It's liberating, it's empowering, it's difficult. I had to be battered to the ground multiple times before realising that I needed to change my approach, but change I (eventually) did.
It means I now have fewer but far better quality friendships.
It means I now work less but earn more, and without burn out.
It means that when I exercise, I no longer exhaust myself and am physically stronger and fitter.
The thing I've had to work on most to enable this freedom and better health? Boundaries.
Right now I'm living somewhere I really like, on the southern end of the Gold Coast with a bush outlook. It's not perfect but I've come to a place of gratitude and appreciation for it, and for where I am at this stage of life.
More importantly, I have far more personal space which is super crucial to me. The last time I was at this stage of pregnancy, my nomadic dad was living with us indefinitely in a tiny apartment in the busy guts of Broadbeach. Kicking him out after months of holding back my true feelings (of feeling suffocated and of being taken advantage of) was really stressful for me, since I was not so good at maintaining personal boundaries as I am now.
None of that crap this time around. Somewhere in between then and now, my bullshit tolerance has dropped significantly.
I'm not as "nice" as I was two years ago - and that's a damn good thing.
Having been a perfectionist and people-pleaser nearly all of my life, I have sacrificed my freedom and preferences time and time again to preserve relationships and other people's feelings.
Even when those relationships were harming me. Even when those people consistently put their own needs first.
I don't know whether it's chronic sleep deprivation, becoming a mother, general life experience, or some other bag of factors entirely that have lead to this slow stripping of niceness over the last two years. I still treat people with respect and kindness. I just don't compromise my own needs anymore. I'm increasingly taking less responsibility for how other people feel and think.
In the past two years I have ended long-term friendships, learnt to stand my ground with family members, not be bulldozed by other people's bullshit, and done a whole lotta stuff my pre-baby self would have shuddered at the thought of.
Above all, I've (mostly) ended the war with myself. The constant striving. The relentless need to prove and improve myself. The desire to please everyone. The need to eat, exercise, and live "perfectly".
And I'm proud of how much stronger I've become. Of course I'm still learning and I'm nowhere near being the kind of badass, assertive, no-BS, loud and proud "nasty" woman I want to be, but I'm getting there. And that's huge for me.
Strangely (but not really), this newly acquired toughness has been my way into gentleness. Being strong enough to stand my ground means I now have more space, time, and emotional reserves to just be.
And so it's easy to see why this pregnancy has been far more enjoyable than my first.
The practical stuff
When my milk dried up early in this pregnancy, I was gutted. I've always had the intention of extended breastfeeding (for as long as Archie and I are happy to continue) and was sad that my pregnant body wasn't one of those that continues to produce breastmilk throughout the entire pregnancy.
During our couple months of dry spell, Archie had noticeably more frequent sniffly noses and colds. I hated that I wasn't providing him with immune-factor laden breastmilk. Devoted to the cause, he still dry fed for comfort, but no discernible volume of good stuff was coming out.
Then around week 23 the milk started making a comeback and I was stoked! That is, until I noticed just how sore my nipples were, and just how often Archie now asks for boob. Making up for lost time, he's currently demanding "milk!" pretty much any time he sees me. Most hours of the day, and night. Combined with pregnancy insomnia, and his most recent viral cold and conjunctivits, it's been a tough week.
Oh, and there's the fact that most of the times he feeds, the spontaneous eruptions of discomfort, frustration or even anger that rise up in me make me want to tear him off and run out the door, screaming.
At first, it was so confusing because I'm committed to nursing my son as long as he needs to nurse. I was so happy to get my milk back, and now... THIS! After a late night desperate google search I discovered there is a name for this: breastfeeding agitation.
Knowing that this is a "thing" brought some relief from feeling like the worst mother in the world!
Apparently, pregnancy is a particularly common time for breastfeeding agitation to strike (affecting about one-third of pregnant and breastfeeding mothers according to La Leche League International). Mid-pregnancy seems to be a common time of onset, although agitation can strike any mother who is nursing an older child, even without a new pregnancy. For some mothers it abates by late pregnancy. For others, it never goes away.
I don't know when this breastfeeding agitation thing will get better, or if it will improve at all. Given that I'm moving towards tandem feeding territory, this is something I'll play by ear as I go as despite my current discomfort, I really do want to boob Archie for as long as I can without compromising my sanity. But I'm looking into gentle ways to wean, just in case.
For now, I've found that acknowledgement and acceptance of those difficult feelings while I'm breastfeeding, pranayama (ujjayi and Golden Thread breath), or just doing something to distract myself whilst breastfeeding like reading a book or watching Netflix, all help.
So yeah. A toddler who feeds like a newborn (apparently it's a two-year old thing) + sore pregnancy nipples + breastfeeding agitation = feeling like an aggravated bull in a pool of breastfeeding piranhas. But, as Maria my midwife says, at least Archie will help bring in my milk and relieve engorgement when baby is born! That is, if he's still boobing by then. Time will tell.
When I'm pregnant I usually step up the self care: massage, chiropractic, acupuncture, taking time out to draw and paint, that kind of thing. Nothing too exciting here besides saying that regular massage (i.e. every 2 weeks) has become my number 1 self-care thingamajig. I adore massage. In light of my amazing PT and massage friend recently moving away, I've had to venture out and find an alternative. The other week I had my first ever pregnancy Kahuna massage with Liana from Earth Therapies, just down the road from me. I'll definitely be going back.
In combination with pregnancy yoga (at home mostly, a few times a week), pilates (1-2 times a week), walking with Archie, a home weights workout once-ish a week, and a mostly well-rounded diet in line with the gentle nutrition philosophy I outlined above... I feel like I'm pretty much on top of things. Except when I feel like I'm really NOT. But hey, that's life.
For most of this pregnancy I've stayed away from herbs mainly because I haven't felt a huge need for them. I've come to the conclusion that it's generally best to avoid using herbs during the first trimester of pregnancy unless necessary (e.g. ginger for treating morning sickness), to only use those herbs known to be safe in pregnancy, and to consult with an experienced midwife, herbalist, or naturopath on the safe use of herbs in pregnancy.
In pregnancy minor symptoms such as nausea, colds, and insomnia are not uncommon. For these, natural remedies can actually be gentler and safer than pharmaceuticals – many of which lack proof of safety in pregnancy or are known to be harmful. While there is limited scientific research on the safe use of most herbs in pregnancy, there is really good evidence of safety for several.
Given I'm about to enter my third trimester I've started making some nourishing herbal infusions maybe every second day / when I remember. I steep a few tablespoons of dried herb in my little tea pot of boiling water and let it sit for a good 15 - 20 minutes. The herbs I use might be a single or combination of any of the below:
Nettle leaves (Urtica dioica): great for keeping iron levels up. Good all round tonic in pregnancy
Chamomile (Matricaria recutita): to help ease insomnia
Red raspberry leaf (Rubus idaeus): to tone the uterus in preparation for labour
Rose petals or lavender flowers (for a pretty scent and subtle flavour).
In addition, after having a gutful of contracting seemingly every sniffle and cold that was going around (I didn't get sick once in my first pregnancy and it's annoying enough when you're not pregnant), I stepped up the Echinacea. This awesome herb has been shown to reduce the length of colds and also prevent them from recurring. Most days I take 5 mL of the tincture, once daily.
First things last: here's a visual of the expanding bump throughout my second trimester:
I think that's about it from this trimester.
Oh, did I mention it's a girl?! :D