My first pregnancy was tough. Emotionally and physically I’m not sure I was completely ready a little after a year of completing cancer treatments. I spent most of my pregnancy hardly being able to eat and didn’t have a good support network as I was mostly the first/only one in my friend group to be having a kid. At one of the lowest points, I called a dear friend who had also had a very difficult pregnancy the year before and told her “I need you to tell me honestly this is worth it. You’re the only one I’d believe right now.” And she, of course, responded that it was absolutely worth it and that it all faded behind you once you had your baby and that helped me get by.
Now I’ve made it through my second pregnancy and have a one-month-old and a two-year-old. I was warned by some friends with multiple kids that during pregnancy (and after) you’re a lot more tired this time around and in some ways, it’s harder, which is totally true because you can’t be as self-indulgent in your needs when you have a little person with needs. I also continued to struggle with various pregnancy induced ailments that have led me to the conclusion that my body does not like being pregnant and I will not miss that.
However, this is a very different experience of being pregnant this time around and I’ve learned and grown a lot from the first experience.
1. This time I have a village. A lot of that village is remote and that is totally fine. It comes in forms of close friends who have kids/are pregnant now and being able to ask advice from or just understand the frustrations. It also comes from friends forgiving the fact that I’m in a tough friend period right now with my availability and weathering through that with me (thank you so much). I also have an amazing Facebook group this time full of a few hundred parents in New Orleans that has been invaluable with advice, support, and humor around kids, babies, and pregnancies (It’s basically 90% of the reason I have a Facebook account). They’re not affiliated with anything and the tone is very “do what works for you” which is exactly what I need. I also made Mom friends in New Orleans while struggling through newborn and baby life with Nono. This time I don’t feel like A. and I are doing it alone. I closed myself off a lot my first pregnancy and looking back recognize there was a lot of depression going on with that as well and this time around I made the time/effort to see my friends, have phone dates, and return texts/emails even when I was exhausted from pregnancy because I knew when the infant days came it’d be a while before I return to the world again.
2. I got a doula. A. and I decided last time to do it just the two of us and take a really extensive birth class. I don’t regret it at all, but this time around I recognized that I would feel anxiety about being completely reliant on A. with Nono in the picture. We had a plan for Nono when I went into labor, staying with A.’s parents who live a mile away, but what if they’d been sick or he’d been sick? There’s a lot of things that can happen and I didn’t want to be in the position of having to choose between having A.’s full attention and stressing about Nono or being alone for any of my labor. It was absolutely the right decision for me. I went into labor on a Friday night (same as with Nono) and it was perfect having Melanie there to support me and for her and A. to tag team getting a hospital bag packed (she was early!) and coordinate Nono and the dogs without me having to be alone. It was also really awesome to have someone to check in with when I was having a tough time with hospital staff that has been around the block with labor.
3. I got a new job. My last job was not pregnancy/family supportive and I worked long hours and had a lot of stress at the end of my pregnancy, no real plan for coverage while I was out, and then had my team and boss tell me how hard things would be when I got back (while still on maternity leave). It was exhausting and it definitely deprioritized my self-care at a time I needed it the most. This time around I’m at a very pro-family company that I’m able to work from home when I want to which made the end of pregnancy much easier and the hours are significantly better. They also offer 12 weeks of paid leave which takes a lot of stress/burden off and we prepared for me to be gone for months ahead of time, including telling the clients 4 months ahead of time. It enabled me to feel like I could make time to do a lot of self-care things I needed and the peace of mind being part of a strong transition/coverage plan.
4. Self-care! I started going to a chiropractor at the end of my first pregnancy because I was having bad nerve pain and walking was a struggle. It helped, but was limited in what we could do at that point. This time around I started seeing a chiropractor very soon after finding out I was pregnant, Nono and I actually see the same one which helps with cutting down on appointments. One week I was in intense pain whenever I moved and she fit me in that day and I felt so much better after she adjusted me, it was like fucking magic. I actually got adjusted the day I went into labor (probably not a coincidence), but I think it really helped how I felt post delivery. I’ve also gone to yoga on an almost weekly basis for the second half of my pregnancy. It’s meant that I miss some bedtimes and have to make time when I feel tired and overwhelmed, but I think it’s been so good to do something that both physically feels good and mentally makes me clear my head and be present in what I’m doing. I also started seeing a pre/post-partum therapist. Looking back, I badly needed to do this the first time around but was so overwhelmed with appointments and not feeling like I could make the time that I didn’t. It’s been a really interesting experience seeing someone who we just focus on pregnancy/birth stuff and preparing for that and she’s made house calls for my early post-pregnancy appointments so I wouldn’t have to drive. I got incredibly lucky with my referral having space, taking my insurance, and being someone I click with. It is NOT easy finding mental health resources.
5. I made things easier based on experience. First time around we were new parents and had no idea and was also skeptical of “what we needed” (seriously it turns out if your baby is into it that a wipe warmer is a game changer). This time around I knew exactly what things were more difficult and am not trying to power through it now that we’re juggling infant and toddler. Examples would be getting a used glider chair (nursing is so much easier in those but they’re so expensive new), a king size bed so that Noah and baby can fit with ease when we happen to overlap bedtimes, and a dockatot because even though we weren’t co-sleepers with Noah there are times an infant is only going to sleep on/with you and it was incredibly stressful/not conducive to sleep not having a way to manage that with some baby protections in place. I also did a thing I said I WOULD NEVER DO, I got a TV for our room. I was exhausted by 8:30 when I was pregnant and going downstairs to hang out was just often not in the cards for me and now I also have the option of staying upstairs with our infant and not being bored out of my mind if she’s sleeping on me and we’re upstairs. Plus now I go up to bed with her around 7pm and I’m up for the night.
6. I stopped feeling guilty (mostly). The first time around I felt so guilty for how little I could help A. at home because of how sick/exhausted I was (if you can’t eat, you also have no energy). I felt guilty doing things for myself and I felt guilty for leaving him to go do things with my friends that were “girls only”. It was all in my head and it sucked. This time around he did even more with being Nono’s primary caregiver the majority of the time, I probably did 10 or less mornings with Noah since becoming pregnant because my number one focus in the morning was ‘take it slow and try not to vomit’. BUT instead of feeling guilty, I feel empathy. I appreciate everything he’s doing and I empathize with how much he’s putting into work, household, dogs, pregnant wife, and kid which is often at the expense of time for himself. I also recognize that being pregnant is really hard on me and we made this decision together so we each have our sacrifices and roles to play while we get through this. From last time I’m also very aware that in the infant days I am going to be really limited by breastfeeding and exhaustion that’s going to take a really heavy toll on my social life that he’ll have some more flexibility with. So I (mostly) let go of the guilt and I try to find balance with empathy in supporting him when I can to take some time for himself too, and also give myself permission to do things for myself that ask him for more time (such as going to a women’s retreat for a day a few months ago). I read something recently that talked about how it’s rarely 50/50 in a marriage, especially with kids and appreciation is really how to make it work which I completely agree with.
So is it better/easier now that I’m one month in (well technically tomorrow). Yes and No. It is better. I’m not a scared first time parent and the comfort and confidence I have with an infant this time around is soooo much better. I also get to have time with Nono that feels so precious and is a big mood boost that I didn’t have the first time. It is not easier though. It’s still exhausting, it’s still an emotional rollercoaster, and this time we have to divide and conquer rather than take turns. But just like with our first infant go around, it gets better with more sleep from her, big brother moments with him, and I know her first smile is not far away to really change the game.