Expecting the Worst When You Are Expecting
No one likes to talk about how it feels to be pregnant. Frankly, no one wants to hear the complaining. And for those of you who claim that they feel exactly the same whether pregnant or not (like my mom’s rose-colored memories), you can just move right along, because this article most certainly is not for you.
Disclaimer: The information below may delay any hint of baby fever for quite some time. Proceed with caution.
They say that every woman experiences pregnancy differently, and each journey of bringing a child into the world is unique in itself. Compared to my current pregnancy, my last three were a breeze. After discussing it more with other friends who have had difficult pregnancies, we came to the conclusion that if men were the designated birth-givers, the human race would be much, much smaller. Of course, our little joke is all in good fun, but the truth is, pregnancy and labor are no child’s play!
It is the middle of the night and I am four months pregnant, curled up in a ball, praying the nausea will go away. Even though the thought of writing about my experience thus far is enough to send me running back to the bathroom, I power through, hoping my experience will help other women (and their supportive male counterparts!) who are going through the difficulty of pregnancy.
Each day, the exhaustion is overwhelming, and I never know when I will just have to just stop and rest. Inevitably, I feel at my worst in the afternoon, precisely when my children get home from school and need me to be available to them both physically and emotionally. I have also developed a superhero-like ability to detect certain smells. In the morning, I know whether my children have had their multivitamins just from getting a whiff of their scent, even ten feet away, and can immediately tell if they have brushed their teeth or not. Unfortunately, because of this enhanced sense, I can’t tolerate the scent of meat, chicken, or fish cooking in an oven. Looking at food, smelling it, and cooking are all out of the question. This makes Shabbat preparations especially problematic.
Aside from the physical roller coaster my body is experiencing, my emotions have also gone completely haywire. The second I discovered I was expecting, I was immediately overwhelmed with excitement and anticipation, alongside an intense wave of anxiety and worry for my unborn child. Questions began swarming: Will my baby be healthy? Will there be chromosomal issues? When will the baby be born? And after hearing friends’ stories of miscarriages and stillborns, and my own personal past experience, at the forefront of our minds is the questions of if the baby will be born at all. Will the “fill in the blank” complication be resolved, or will this end painfully, both emotionally and physically?
Once you are pregnant, there is no going back – no matter the end result. And that is frightening.
Not complacent to remain in fear for the remaining six months, I found a few techniques that help me cope with these lingering worries. Besides the obvious things, like walking, meeting up with friends, and teaching, I notice that when my mind is completely focused on something (like writing this article), the nausea and fears are momentarily forgotten. I compare it to gum being stuck to the bottom of your shoe; it’s always there, but can sometimes be ignored. So, moving forward, my mantra has become living in the moment and giving my full focus to whatever I am doing, distracting me momentarily from my discomfort.
One of the most challenging parts of the day is bedtime. I try to divert myself from the feelings of post-dinner nausea and heartburn and instead focus on the words I am reading, shifting my mind to focus on the moment. Now, instead of a tired and nauseous pregnant woman, I am the mother of three beautiful children who is blessed to be reading them bedtime stories in our cozy home.
Another technique that has changed my perspective during these challenging months has been to picture myself leaning into G-d. I imagine myself falling, and G-d is there to catch me and give me support during my time of weakness. Alongside all of the other pregnancy woes I have faced, there have also been some health complications this time around, leaving me feeling completely helpless and out of control. Although the truth is we are never really in control, this heightened awareness has proved to be especially unsettling, leaving me feeling completely powerless.
But with this knowledge, I have come to the liberating realization that my body is merely a vessel, holding the potential for a life which hopefully will come to fruition. When the aches are strongest, the fears are most pressing, I turn to G-d and plea, “Hashem, if you want me to be a vessel for this unborn neshamah, that is what I will be.” This realization has strengthened my sense of serenity, reminding me that G-d is really running the show. All I can do is lean back and let Him support me.
Although this apparent lack of true control may seem scary, being a vessel of G-d is actually the most powerful and liberating position a person can be in. Suddenly, we realize we are a beautiful container filled with Hashem’s miracle, and we are partners with Him by simply letting go and accepting this challenge.
This state of mind can extend far beyond the nine months of pregnancy and is not bound by gender. I often find myself praying to G-d to allow me to be his kli (vessel) in other areas of my life. For example, before giving a lecture, I remind myself that I am merely a vessel to transmit G-d’s message, and if the speech is meant to go well, it will. My most powerful lectures are given when every inch of me internalizes this message, and I take on the role of messenger, rather than craving the praise for myself.
Being pregnant is essentially allowing one’s body to be the ultimate vessel of G-d, for better or –unfortunately, sometimes – for worse. With G-d’s help, a life is forming in the process, and although scary and vulnerable, leaning into that role is our only choice for remaining serene for our own sake and for the sake of the life growing inside.
When pregnancy, or any other inevitable bump in the road of life, are sapping your energy and dragging you down, take a step back and breathe into the moment, focus on other tasks, and allow yourself to lean into G-d for His strength. You might just find yourself crawling through those three trimesters a little faster – and maybe just a bit stronger, too.
Dear Readers: Sarah wants to let you know that she, bli ayin hara, delivered a baby girl over the recent yom tov and feels much better already.