Monday, July 20, 2015

9 (not-so-average tips) to a healthy 9 months

If you found this post looking for advice like:

The best water infusions for healthy hydration

How to push out a baby in 3 easy steps

Finding the best prenatal yoga class that is a good fit for YOU

I'm sorry. You'll just have to go search BabyCenter. 

Pregnancy has never been easy for me. (You could make the case that it has in fact been very hard.) And my pregnancies have taught me some lessons I'd like to share. Even if they aren't what you would call conventional.

I've been pregnant 5 times, and have given birth to a live baby once. I've had scary complications like HELLP Syndrome, Preeclampsia, threatened premature labor, threatened miscarriage and hemorrhage (and that was in my successful -- unplanned -- pregnancy.) The other pregnancies ended in a ruptured ectopic pregnancy and first-trimester miscarriages. I have been diagnosed with secondary infertility.

When American Recall Center asked me to write my 9 tips for 9 healthy months,  I joked with Ryan that I really could just boil my tips down into one big tip:


Now, if I haven't totally scared you off yet with my fertility resume -- let me share why I think you should keep reading . . . 

What I have lacked in success, I have more than made up for in experience.

If you are like most women, you want a perfectly planned pregnancy, followed by a perfectly executed 9 months, followed by the most meticulously planned birth (that follows their plan a "t"), which ends in a glowing season of postpartum bliss.

No one Ahem.  Few people get their perfect pregnancy.

You might be one of the few who do get a perfect 9 months. Awesome. Congrats. You rock that bump and postpartum bliss.

But the for the rest of us -- here are my 9 tips to have as healthy of a 9 months you can have.

1. It doesn't have to be planned to be good.

My first positive pregnancy test was a bit of an undoing for me. (And by undoing, I mean, I became a tearful mess, took myself to bed instead of to work, and wailed to my husband that "we are going to have a boy, and when he becomes 16, he'll get his girlfriend pregnant, and we'll have a teenage pregnancy on our hands! What are we going to do then??!!") 

Yes, those were my words. My husband simply replied . . . "Are you even serious right now?" 

(For the record, I was quite serious.)

(Also for the record, we had a girl.) 

Now in this world where we expect kindergartners to already know what they want to do with the rest of their lives, it makes sense that we all expect to plan our pregnancies. The right equation for a baby in today's culture seems to be:

Love + 

A few years to play + 
A few years to plan + 
A house (owned, not rented, with 20% down) + 
2 successful careers + 
College funds started for kids + 
Exotic vacations (because you'll never get those again) + 
Marriage (if you're traditional) =
The right time to start a family

Everyone around us says we have to be READY for a baby for it to be a good thing.

But can I tell you a little secret? Our unplanned pregnancy was the most beautiful blessing of my life.  And if I had waited to plan for a baby, chances are, it would have been too late. I think God maybe knew that if it was going to happen at all, it needed happen now.

And so if you are faced with an unplanned pregnancy -- know that even if the circumstances seem extra stressful, or you just don't feel ready -- relax a little bit. This baby is one of the biggest blessings you'll experience. 

2. Screw the silence on pregnancy. (If you want to, that is.)

I don't know when it became the "right" thing to pretend to friends and family that you've had a 3-month flu, hide the fact that you have the energy of a walking zombie, buy a whole new wardrobe that isn't maternity clothes but will cover your growing bump for the first trimester. And all so that if your precious miracle dies, you can mourn and grieve alone, still while pretending to the outside world that you are OK.

Seriously, why was this ever cool?

If you are the silent type, and honestly want to crawl in a proverbial hole from the world in case of a miscarriage, to each his own. By all means, hide your pregnancy. That is your right.

But if you are hiding because it is the RIGHT thing to do (according to everyone else), but you actually WANT to share in the joy (and maybe in the grief) of your pregnancy, do so.

You don't officially become pregnant at 13 weeks. Pregnancy doesn't instantly turn safe at 13 weeks. So if you want to shout it from the rooftop -- or just come up with a really adorable, Pintrest-worthy social media announcement -- anytime before the 13-week mark, DO IT! 

If you can't decide, then play it by ear. Or try your best to think of what you would want to do if you DID miscarry. Would you want to retreat to your life alone in case of a horrible tragedy? Or would you want meals, flowers, cards, and caring friends and family to surround you. (Albeit, there will always be people saying the wrong things. It does come at a small price.)

The question here is not what's normal. It's, What do YOU want?

3. Let it go. Let it go. (Can't hold it back anymore.)

(And if Frozen is now stuck in your head, sorry about that.)

If my pregnancy experiences have taught me anything, it's that there is so little I can control. 

Now the things I CAN control, like diet, and well, um . . .  diet . . . THAT I will control. But as for the rest, pregnancy and life can throw you some major curve balls.

The biggest reason I want to bring this up is because I want you to know that your pregnancy might not end in a baby you get to keep in your arms. Now, I know this information sucks. Trust me, I've lived it out and it sucks.

But if you are the 1 in 4 whose pregnancy ends in loss, I want you to know this one super huge mega big thing:


It's not that you read 9 tips somewhere, did 8 of them and forgot to do #9. It's not the waterslide you went down before you knew you were pregnant. Or the one glass of wine you had. Or the deli meat you forgot to microwave that one time. 

When my tube ruptured, and that baby we named Olivia died, I blamed myself. I thought that maybe I didn't drink enough water the day we had sex, and my tubes weren't slimy enough, and she got stuck and that's why she died.

Trust me, when you are looking for answers, you'll find one . . . even if you have to make it up. Even if it makes YOU the one to blame. Lots of us bereaved women will blame ourselves unless our doctor can give us a really good reason not to.

But most of the time, doctors have to idea why it happens. And unless you've made it so far in your gestation, or unless you have recurring losses . . . they won't test.

So if you end up without a baby in your arms, please promise me: In your quest for answers, you won't blame yourself. You will know that you did everything YOU COULD CONTROL for this baby, and your baby knows it. She knows you did your best, and that you would do anything for her. 

 Loss is hard. But let go of any guilt a loss can cause.

(By the way, this tip is for you even if your baby was born sick or with a disability, or you had pregnancy complications, or you had to have a cesarean or other interventions you didn't want. IT'S NOT YOUR FAULT!!!)

OK, now that we've addressed the big elephant in the room . . . let's move on.

4. You're not the patient. You're the boss.

With Maddy, I visited L&D several times in my pregnancy. Once for what I thought was leaking amniotic fluid. (It was just pee. Eww. I know. Pregnancy can be gross.) Perfectly valid concern. They took me seriously, and I was wrong. But my concerns were alleviated, and I knew everything was OK.

The other times were for "braxton hicks" that were regular, intense and wouldn't go away. Each time I went in, I received shots of terbutaline, followed by 2 weeks of bedrest, and pills I had to take every 4 hours.  This started at 28 weeks, and happened every so many weeks. In spite of all the contractions (that were EXACTLY the same as my labor contractions), I never dilated.

It was RIGHT to go in, as I could have dilated at any point. And after I was in labor, I realized I couldn't tell the difference between my braxton hicks and my labor contractions because there WAS NO DIFFERENCE. At least not in the way it felt to me anyway.

And then at 36 weeks, I went in again. Throwing up every few minutes. In so much pain, I can't sit still. And having those awful (not dilating) contractions.

This time, I never got to see my doctor. I was told I was dehydrated (even though I KNEW that I knew that I knew that I knew) that my hydration should have been fine. (If I was dehydrated, it was because it was 6 am, and I did not consume water while sleeping. But that should not have caused intense pain.) 

My doula came to the hospital, but did not take me seriously. When I told her it hurt so badly that I wanted to die, she told me "Oh, hunny. This is just the beginning. It will get so much worse!" (Fast forward to tip #9 -- Hire the right birthing team.)

Ryan thought I was being a drama queen. 

Everyone thought I was crazy. Except me. I knew something was wrong.

They sent me home after filling me with bags full of fluid. Had they checked my blood, they would have noticed that they were sending a woman home who had a life-threatening condition called HELLP Syndrome. 

Because preeclampsia usually comes first, my HELLP was not caught. Because I was so concerned about being a good patient, and that maybe I really was crazy because I'm just a first-time mom . . . I didn't speak up.

Ya'll. I could have died. Maddy could have died. Seriously. Sending me home was the WORST thing they could have done.

In the end, we went back a few days later, I was correctly diagnosed, and everything went scarily fast. Maddy and I both lived. But I forever regret playing the patient that day, and not the boss. 

You are the boss of your body. You know when something is not right. And you are the one paying the medical bills. So if you need that test, if you need to be seen, if you need some reassurance, if you need that second opinion, if you need to stay overnight to be sure -- you do that. 

Repeat after me. "This is my body. This is my baby. I pay the bills. I'm not just a patient. I am the boss."

5. Choose gratitude. Maybe not always, but often. 

So far, I think we've covered that pregnancy really sucks sometimes.

Let's recap:

You pee on yourself. And then go to the doctor where he tell has to tell you you peed on yourself.

You have massive contractions for months that accomplish NOTHING.
You feel (and occasionally look) like a beached whale.  (I love you. I'm just telling it like it is.)
Your cute clothes don't fit.
You throw up.
And occasionally, pregnancy tries to kill you.

So I get that it's not all roses and rainbows.

But here's the deal. You have a beautiful baby -- half you, half your partner -- growing inside of you. And there are women all around the world who would pay any price, cut off limbs, and mortgage homes JUST TO BE a beached whale, throwing up, peeing herself and growing her own baby.

There are times you will need to vent. Find your safe, compassionate friends, and vent. (And just FYI, unless they offer, infertile or bereaved women are rarely the best people to vent to.)

But every day, spend some time in gratitude.

I complained for most of my pregnancy with Maddy. I didn't know at the time it was going to the be ONLY time I would feel like a beached whale. Or that I would feel kicks. Or that I would get baby showers. I didn't know she would be one of my greatest friends. If I knew then what I know now, I would have said thanks so much more. 

Spend a few minutes every day recounting your blessings with this baby, and all that you are thankful for. 

I hear gratitude is the best medicine. (Or is that laughter?)

6. Make YOU a priority. Not for the baby. But for YOU.

The other day, I took a shower. Normally, this daily practice of hygiene would not be considered a big deal. Never would it be considered selfish. And yet -- I was consumed with guilt.

My 1-year-old foster son had to be put in the pack-n-play, in front of the TV, while I took my 15-minute shower and did makeup, dress, and hair for the remaining 15 minutes.

Mind you -- he was perfectly content. But I was wracked with guilt for taking some time for ME that wasn't completely centered around my kids.

You see, this whole "die to self to save baby" thing starts right away. The moment you become pregnant, all the other pregnancy tip blogs are going to tell you what to change. For BABY. Don't eat this. Don't lay on your belly. Don't eat shellfish. Don't change your cats liter. Don't drink alcohol.

From the moment you suspect you're pregnant, you are already changing things for baby. While that desire to put baby first is good, you have to set some boundaries.

Some things, you just need to do for you. 

You need a nap because YOU are tired. You need a haircut and style because it makes you feel prettier. And because you WANT one. You exercise because it releases your stress. You eat well because it also makes your body feel better.

Healthy you + baby = awesomeness.

Stressed out, unhappy, postpartum mom that sacrifices it all + baby = danger and despair. (And not-so-awesomness.)

So take time for you. Not because you're pregnant. Not because it's good for the baby. But because it's good for YOU! Trust me, this is a habit you need to start now.

7. Like all journeys, this one comes with baggage.

We all have baggage in life. Things that trigger us, spark anxiety or depression, cause us to feel insufficient or not enough. 

We carry this baggage along. And think that maybe if all the right stuff or the right people join us, we can get rid of it. Some people think having a baby will fix their baggage.

But trust me -- it doesn't. Sometimes it even CAUSES baggage.

Getting pregnant is not a cure for infertility. 

Becoming a mom does not fix the pain of having a bad mother yourself.

Having a new baby does not replace a baby that died.

Instead, being pregnant and parenting your own child will trigger all sorts of baggage you might have. In between nesting, doing your baby registry, freezer-meal planning, and childbirth classes -- you really need to address some of the issues you have.

What in your marriage needs to be fixed?

What do you need to resolve with your own parents?
What part of your past do you need to make peace with?
Who do you need to sufficiently grieve?
What expectations do you have that are not currently being met?

And keep in mind during pregnancy and after what kind of expectations you had for pregnancy, birth and baby. Was it all you dreamed of, or do you feel let down? Are you struggling with attachment or feeling bonded? Do you need more help from your partner, or friends or family?

Right now, your head space is where it's at. Keep it healthy. Employ a counselor if you need to. Pray and meditate (on God's word).

Pregnancy can be amazing. And a miracle. But it's not a cure for baggage.

8. Take it a day at a time. And celebrate the baby steps.

Every day that I remained pregnant felt like a victory. I don't know why Maddy seemed to be in such a hurry to get out. But I remember feeling like I was literally fighting every day, every week, just to keep her in. 

Every time I moved up a size in vegetables or fruit on the Babycenter app, the better I felt. 

With our 3 miscarriages, I didn't know the outcome of those pregnancies. Every day I was pregnant was fraught with worry and fear. I had to force myself to say "I don't know what tomorrow will bring. But I know that today, I'm pregnant. Today, my baby is alive and growing. Today, I'm going to be as healthy as I can, and do everything possible to keep this baby here. Today, I'm grateful for today."

Your 9-month-long journey is made up of a lot of todays. A lot of little baby steps. 

Today, your baby is growing and alive. Today, your body is doing everything it can for your baby. Today, you are one step closer to meeting your little person. Today, you are grateful it's today.

9. Be informed.

Be smart. Be informed. Just try not to be crazy. :)

I highly recommend reading up on pregnancy complications. Make sure your doctor is explicit on when she wants you to come in. Any time you are in doubt, call your nurse. If you still don't feel satisfied, make an appointment. If you need to, get a doppler so you can listen to your baby's heartbeat at home. 

Make informed choices on your birthing team, home birth vs. hospital birth, vbac vs. repeat cesarean, If you choose a doula, make sure you are really comfortable with her. Same with your doctor or midwife. Change if you need to, even if it's late in the game.

Be prepared -- a little extra early. Births rarely come right on time, so have your bags packed and ready early. (Like, really early. When we gave birth to Maddy, I had no camera, change of clothes or contact solution. I gave birth over 3 weeks early -- and I was NOT ready. Remember really big tip: Do everything Rachel did not do!) 

If you have concerns, bring them up to your doctor. If you have tests you want run, then request them. As much as you can, take charge of your health.

And in that light, I'm going to pass on a tidbit of info to help you be a little more prepared, from the American Recall Center: 

One issue American Recall Center is currently raising awareness about is Zofran side effects - this anti-nausea drug has been used ‘off-label’ to treat morning sickness, even though the FDA does not approve the drug for that application. As you’ll see on our site, the Zofran drug severely increases the risk for birth defects like cleft palate and heart defects.

OK guys! That's it! I hope that these tips have helped you. Best of luck on your journey to baby!

What are some of your favorite tips for a healthy pregnancy?


  1. I LOVE this piece! Thank you for sharing!

    The one tip I'd like to add is: be sure to take out life insurance BEFORE you conceive as I retried to take it out after I became pregnant but was told that pregnancy at my age (I was 44) made me "too high risk."

    "He must not know what he is talking about!" I thought. "In THIS modern age pregnancy is probably safer for women than it's ever been!"

    But it turns out that the man with the actuarial table knew what he was talking about. On the day my daughter was delivered (by emergency C section after a severe case of HELLP syndrome hit with no warning) the doctors told my husband he had to "accept the fact" that I was going to die. "We're sorry, there is nothing we can do to save her," they told him. "Her brain appears to be hemmoraghing again and her liver has ruptured and we can't take her off of life support long enough to see how bad it is."

    "That's not an option," he told them.

    Anyway, obviously I did survive but had I not, I would have left him with no life insurance to help pay for funeral costs, etc.