Tuesday, March 31, 2015

First Trimester Experiences of the Mind-Body Connection

Matthew and I are expecting our first child in September 2015!

I am at the start of my second trimester (now 15 weeks along). Most surprising so far, never has the mind-body connection been more real to me than during my first trimester of pregnancy.

9-week Ultrasound
The first trimester was rough. I was tired almost all of the time (constant napping) and got sick to my stomach almost daily, sometimes multiple times in a day. Whereas television makes morning sickness look cute (like on the Mindy Project this season – just throw up in a drawer, smile it off, brush your teeth, and then enjoy intimate time with your partner right after), it was anything but cute in my experience.

My expectation was an hour of nausea a day or some fleeting moments, with most of the day being normal; my reality was more like a couple hours of feeling good on most days while just praying not to throw up in class or on mass transit the rest of the time. Doing all of the activities of normal life while feeling extremely ill all day and with very few people around you having any clue that you are suffering in front of them is pretty lonely and hard. My most memorable lesson from those months was that throwing up a raw apple – even a full hour after eating it – is so painful and chokes you so much that it can burst blood vessels in your eye lids and cheek bones. (And I learned that particular lesson twice.) I know it sounds pretty graphic, but it was my everyday experience until I recently started feeling good more of the time than I feel bad.

Although people kept telling me that it would soon pass, having never had a stomach flu or food poisoning for two months straight before, “soon” didn’t sound very soon to me. It was hard to see past the moment.

But the challenge was not just in the physical. The first trimester is a hormonally tumultuous time, which can make it emotionally challenging for many women already. However, I found that when I was physically ill, my ability to control my thoughts and emotions and to lean towards optimism was much more limited than on the days when I was feeling physically stronger.

Having a child was a planned event for us, so I was not prepared for all of the mixed emotions that would come along with it. Although we have both always known we wanted children and feel we are as prepared now as we are likely to be, I think we also both feel satisfied with our lives and marriage as they are without a child right now. I never felt like something was missing. Rather, the decision was more about wanting to open myself up to what God might want to do with and in me – the ways He might want to grow and change me – through the special relationship of parent and child and through the unique challenges that parenting brings.

Many people I know with children have expressed that it is the hardest thing they have done, but that they now feel less selfish, have realized they are capable of more than they ever thought, and have a bigger view of God and the world due to the experience. On my best days, these were the things that encouraged me and gave me hope.

But when I was leaning over a toilet feeling sick, or laying on the couch moaning, or sitting on mass transit just trying to make it to the other end, it was difficult to feel any connection to those encouragements. In those moments of sickness, the fear and negativity easily took over.
None of our close friends nearby have kids yet – they will not understand or will write us off as being unavailable now. The culture of parenthood here in the Bay Area is very different than what I saw growing up, and people seem to disappear into another world. What if I don’t want to be disappeared? Do I even have a choice living here?
Or what if it’s me that becomes a bad friend? Of course I will have less time, but I lead a busy life now and still try to make margin for important people. What if I lose all of my margin and the ability to be available to those in need?
Our families don’t live nearby. We will have no practical and familial support. This is going to be very lonely. And then there's the added downside that the going rate for babysitters these days is astronomical. How will we ever do anything just the two of us again?
My new career in public health is just getting started, as I will graduate with my MPH in May. Will anyone hire me while pregnant? Do I even want to work during the last few months of pregnancy? What if I take a break until the baby is a few months old and then employers don’t understand when I go to apply for jobs again?
My body is changing. Even the purposes of my body parts will change. I like the way they all function now and don't like the idea of having to share so much of me with a little dependent person. Not to mention the skin stretching and the organ smushing and all of the other fun things to come. 
There are so many ways for a kid to be messed up in and by this world. So many addictions and harmful choices and selfish motives and hurtful words and prejudices and fears and broken relationships in the men and women around me, including in my own life at times. How will we ever raise a child to be a man or woman of compassion and integrity? 
I never had an overly warm and fuzzy view of having a baby in the first place. But I still want a family and at least expected the prevailing feeling to be happiness when our plans came to fruition. What is wrong with me that I feel so negative so much right now? I should be feeling something different than I am right now. There are people all over the world longing for what I have right now. I should be thankful that it happened so quickly and that God is blessing us with a child. Can all of these confused feelings really morph into a good and loving parent?
And perhaps the darkest place for me and the most prevailing thought of all: a baby will change our marriage relationship forever and change my life – but I truly like my life and my marriage right now. What if everything just goes south? Will it be worth it? What if after that six-month “hard period” that everyone talks about, we don’t rebound out of it into a healthy rhythm again? What if these are the last months of this great thing we now have, to be replaced by something mediocre?
I wish I could say these thoughts were fleeting, but they weren’t. They came and went in varying intervals, sometimes sticking around just for a few minutes and other times for a few days. And the sicker my body felt, the harder it was to cheer up or listen to other voices. The body is so deeply connected to the mind and spirit, so intertwined, that I could not separate the experiences of the two. Many tears were cried during the first trimester, both over the pain in my body and the confusion in my heart and mind.

Today, going into my second trimester, I feel like I am in a better place than I was for most of the last couple months.

Sharing honestly with close friends has made a big difference. An extremely supportive, understanding, flexible, and sacrificial husband has made a big difference. Spending time in prayer and scripture has made a big difference. And in a very real way, not throwing up every day (just some days) for the last couple weeks is making a big difference, too.

Today, I have been optimistic about our growing family. I have thought about the ways I want to savor and enjoy this time, instead of wishing away the days and weeks. Today, I remember that billions of people have entered into parenthood before me, that God promises never to forsake me, and that He will lead me through challenges in whatever way He knows is best for me. That gives me reason for hope and peace in this time of change.

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