Real-life pregnancy can come as a bit of a shock, even if the pregnancy has been planned. I know, having wanted a baby for years and having worked with women who had beautiful pregnancies and births, I was quite taken aback by the often nauseating realities of pregnancy.
I had envisioned myself floating around in white yoga clothing, cradling my growing bump, looking serene and bonding with my baby in utero, as I had often heard from other mothers. I did not see myself with my head in a bucket every day, carrying a quicky sick bag everywhere for the majority of my pregnancy, which turned out to be the reality of the situation.
I suffered from hyperemesis gravidarum (or extreme pregnancy nausea and vomiting) from around six weeks gestation until I was almost eight months pregnant. So the floaty white outfits were a no-go straight away!
The constant sickness was a real shocker for me: What happened to my perfect pregnancy and birth? I knew how to take care of myself before conception and during pregnancy. But like everything in life, pregnancy and birth are often not as we planned, even if we do "know it all."
The sickness really took its toll, and the extensive yoga I imagined I would practice every day often consisted of me lying on my yoga mat having a hormonal sob at the injustice. Always with a bucket at hand, just in case. Being a yoga teacher with an ashtanga practice six days per week, this was a major change for me. And it wasn't a pleasant one. I had always told mothers, "Pregnancy is not an illness," and here I was, vomiting and unable to attend my place of work on a regular basis.
I started to doubt what I had been telling mums. Was it all a lie? Was pregnancy horrible? Was birth going to be even worse? Were the people who had taught me actually been crazy?
As the weeks passed, the nausea didn’t get much better. But I continued my yoga practice, gently building up my strength again, practicing slow, deep ujjayi breathing and easing slowly out of my Downward Dog.
I started to manage the nausea and vomiting a little better as the pregnancy progressed. I sported sea sickness acupuncture bands at all times (I think I had 10 pairs by the end of the pregnancy in a range of jaunty colors.) I only ever took them off to jump quickly into the shower; if I was longer than five minutes I would be sick, so I know they worked for me.
Cheesy wotsits were also my constant companion during the nauseous times. A very strange craving, recommended to me by a local herbalist. I have never eaten them before and have never had the desire to eat them again, unsurprisingly. The odd thing was that even the smell of the cheesy wotsits took away the sickly feeling. It really worked. An emergency packet of cheesy wotsits could keep the sickness at bay for at least an hour, so I would buy multipacks at all hours of the day to keep in my ever-growing handbag.
As I started to find my own little tips and tricks, and as I was able to do a little more yoga, I started to feel more in control of my pregnancy and of what was happening to my body. I began to accept the fact that every day brought with it a lot of vomiting. I started to see the funny side. I would be walking down the street with my friends chatting away, then have to "excuse myself" to be sick in a bin, and then continue on my chat again. My friend said I was the sickest, happiest person she knew. I’m sure there is a compliment in there somewhere.
1. Enjoy your pregnancy, no matter what it looks like.
I had preconceived idealistic ideas of what pregnancy was going to be like. It hadn’t occurred to me that the glowing women in my yoga classes were all having lovely, healthy, vomit-free pregnancies. The ladies I didn’t meet were probably the poor sods being sick in a bucket at home, like me. I suppose this gave me a very one-sided view of pregnancy, the same way an anesthetist and provider of epidurals would have a very one-sided view of birth, seeing only the mothers who were experiencing a lot of pain. My pregnancy wasn’t the one that I dreamed of, but it was still my pregnancy and I was still going to have my own beautiful little baby to love and care for at the end of it.
2. Bond with your bump and slow down.
I still talked constantly to my bump (much to the amusement of work colleagues), singing songs and stroking my belly regularly. I loved feeling my little man moving around, feeling him grow stronger and bigger. Meditation and traveling within to chat with my little man became such an important aspect of my yoga practice during my pregnancy, because much of the time I couldn’t manage any physical practice.
I learned to listen to my body. I accepted that my body no longer wanted to practice dynamic yoga every morning. I swapped my vigorous yoga sessions for a few gentle, aware postures which felt good for me and my baby. I gave in to the early evening naps that my body so craved when I came home from work. I ate healthily (when the food would stay put) and changed to a liquid vitamin supplement with folic acid that my stomach could tolerate, instead of the horrible bulky tablets.
3. Remember that pregnancy ROCKS!
I learned that pregnancy is not always perfect, but neither is it a burden. My sickness was reassurance that my baby boy was taking hold and growing strong inside me.
Acceptance was the key for me, and this is what I try to teach to mothers who come to my classes during pregnancy. It could be nausea, it could be accepting that you can’t run marathons anymore, or that you have to slow down and you don’t really want to be in a blaring nightclub at 5 a.m. anymore. Every woman has an aspect of pregnancy or motherhood that wasn’t what she expected. That doesn’t make you a bad person, it’s just new and takes some time to get used to.
4. Surrender to motherhood.
We need to allow ourselves to surrender to motherhood. Women today are expected to achieve all manner of feats while pregnant: keep working, go to aerobics, prepare dinner, and look after other kids… the list is endless.
The thing that makes us strong, the thing that makes us mothers, is our ability to sacrifice what we want in exchange for what's best for our child. The word surrender has a connotation of weakness. Surrendering to pregnancy doesn’t mean you are weak; it means you are a strong and loving mother listening to what her body and baby need. Give yourself what you need during pregnancy, whether it's sleep, some time off work, or cheesy wotsits. And please, please forgive yourself if you don’t have that perfect, blissful pregnancy that we see on TV commercials.
Even though I wanted a baby so much, I didn’t want to be sick every day. By reaching a place where I accepted that this was my story, my pregnancy and my way, I found absolute joy in my new prenatal yoga practice and in pregnancy. I went on to have an amazing five hour, drug free birth and I will never forget the first moment I looked my little man in the eyes. So no matter how swollen your ankles or how creaky your pelvis becomes, I guarantee you that it’s worth every minute.