They say no two pregnancies are the same. I could not agree more.
I never really paid much attention to pregnant women before – perhaps because it was more of a mystery to me since some women seem to handle it really well while others have it really rough. Or it could have been because I had no real need to understand what they go through… up until now... Well, it’s been more than four months into my journey and I have a newfound and heartfelt respect for every woman who has ever been pregnant!
Preparing for pregnancy is a highly personalized journey that involves navigating a labyrinth of information and perceptions (from old wive’s tales to modern myths) before making some key decisions. Well, I’ve penned my perspective of being pregnant here and I hope this will offer some useful information to mommies out there.
Congratulations, Your Body is No Longer Your Own
I would have been highly skeptical if someone had told me this before I got pregnant. But now, I wished someone had, so that I would at least have had some inkling getting used to my new physical inclinations and ‘rejections’ (more of this later).
Out of all the five senses, my sense of scent was acutely heightened and that was really not good. It got so bad that I felt like I was endowed with special mutant powers to sniff out undesirable scents and eradicate them. This effectively meant that all the familiar products and smells around me started becoming repulsive. The list included toothpaste, shower foam and everything else in sight. So my apologies to my family members who had to refrain from using their regular deodorants, perfumes and even alter their dining preferences – just to suit me. The most bizarre repulsion was not being able to take the smell of cooking oil! I have tried searching for answers to explain this but most literature would simply position this as one of the ‘mysteries’ of pregnancy that just can’t be easily explained or ever understood. So to this I say to expectant mums - just be mentally prepared and practise polite ways of telling people around you why certain smells are not acceptable. If you can’t do so, perhaps simple avoidance may just do the trick.
My next sense that is still constantly put to the test – taste! Most of my usual favourite food just started tasting bitter! During the first trimester, the greatest challenge was to try and keep most types of food down. Everything that was ingested could well find itself disagreeing with my taste buds and resurface through constant bouts of throwing up. These moments were the ‘rejections’ that I mentioned earlier. It was not long before I realized that all kinds of food were subject to trial and error: what worked for me yesterday may not work for my taste today. So I had to resist the urge to stock up snacks that I thought worked well for me and buy them in smaller quantities instead.
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Through these various ‘rejections’ of foods, I discovered that saltine crackers were a dependable, handy snack that met with the lowest rate of rejection over the past four months. After comparing notes with other mummies, I realised that this was mostly the case for most of them as well. Another good reason to keep them handy in your bag (alongside small plastic bags for surprises) was that the minute you start throwing up and have settled down somewhat, these crackers are a god send to prevent any gastric from acting up. The principle is simple – you will tend to throw up when you’re either too hungry, too full or you’ve eaten something that does not agree with you (or baby’s preferences) so you can never really tell when it will strike. Sounds tough? Well, it is. My advice for pregnant women: work with your body and don’t try to control it because you can’t.
So you can imagine what a mini challenge all these contextual constraints place on eating out. My patient husband has learned that he does not have any choice in deciding the menu anymore, since he’s learnt that any food that I will ‘reject’ goes to him so that we don’t waste food. Some of the useful pointers to keep in mind when it comes to food choices and sensitivities in the first trimester are:
- Keep a log/ journal to track the food preferences you develop and go easy on yourself. I don’t mean for this to be a calorie counting exercise but for of a general feel on the types of food you tend to favour and can stomach. This makes it much easier for your husband, friends and family members to work around meal choices as well. Judging yourself for your cravings definitely does not belong here as it gives you more pressure than comfort.
- Try to avoid spicy food, simply because you tend to be a lot more sensitive to spices and it’s definitely more manageable if you can’t keep it down.
- If it is more about the craving for certain types of food (even instant noodles!) then go for it (or risk sleepless nights) but do so in smaller doses, so that it eases the pressure off the tummy and still keeps you satisfied. Whatever the craving is (except for alcohol, nicotine and copious amounts of raw food) it is relatively safe to satisfy your cravings. You’d be surprised that some cravings are purely psychological and diffuse the minute you’ve tasted the object of your obsession. With me, it happened with durians –I was so sure that I would savor the taste of it only to reject it after one bite.
- Practically speaking, working around smaller portions of food help considerably as well so that you can have more frequent meals without taking double portions of food.
- In terms of inclinations, I did notice a preference for sweet drinks and foods but I knew perfectly well that I could not give in to them all so I modified my approaches. When it comes to having sweet drinks, I take a quarter of the drink and mix it with five to six tablespoons of water. Sure, it does dilute the original taste but I really don’t mind because I would much rather taste a little (sugar) than have none at all. This works well with juices, and Ribena but not with soft drinks of course. I swap ice cream with frozen yoghurt if I’m out or simply low sugar yoghurt at home. If all else fails, instead of grabbing that sweet drink or dessert, most fruits will do the trick as well
To Medicate or Not To Medicate: That is the Question
One of the hardest things to deal with when pregnant is when you fall ill. Suddenly, you can’t reach out to simply self-medicate and you start doubting if you can even take any medicine without any side effects for the little one. It happened less than a month ago for me and I caught the chills while staying in the shower too long – because dinner that day was so disagreeble that it led to a bout of throwing up, 12 times in a row. That placed an obvious strain on my throat and I was left parched, feverish and miserable.
It was over a weekend and I really believed I could fight it off on my own (plus I didn’t want to seem overly worried by placing an emergency call to the doctor). So I did what I thought was best – I reached out and tapped on the collective wisdom, knowledge and kindness of all the mummies I knew so they could share their best solutions. It worked like magic. Each of them had something sweet, supportive and practical that I could use. My favourite was a dear friend who shared how mixing specific portions of baking soda, salt and warm water could decongest that blocked nose.
I also searched motherhood forums for information on the types of cough and fever medication that would be safe. It was then that I discovered that a pregnant woman’s immunity lowers considerably and that is deemed a good thing for the baby but makes us more prone to colds and the flu. In the end, I chose to take medication to prevent my fever from rising as it just did not make sense to not do that merely out of apprehension. It also helped that I called my gynaecologist for advice and I was given the go ahead for the following: Leftose (throat inflammation), Chlorpheniramine (cold), Prospan (cough) and Fluimucil (phlegm) [Note: I am sure this may vary for each individual, depending on your doctor so please make an extra effort to communicate often with the doctor for the green light before taking any sort of medicine.] As of now, I have not decided if I would get a flu vaccine to reduce the chances of getting it again.
Decisions, Decisions, Decisions
One of my key discoveries in this journey so far is how being contented has been a big help in appreciating every step of my pregnancy, especially when it comes to planning and making decisions. These typical revolve around planning for the financial, emotional and environmental aspects of welcoming the little one. The more I realised that I did not have to buy (own) everything all at once also meant that I was free to make decisions based less on my wants and more on the needs that can be duly considered.
Let Me Count the Way$ I Love Thee
Having a baby can be the most inexpensive or expensive choice you decide on. It’s not rocket science knowing that there are endless items to splurge on when it comes to welcoming a new baby. As tempting as it seems to purchase all things glossy, pristine and precious – I’m proud to say that thus far, I’ve been exercising a lot of restraint. This just means that I cut through the (marketing) chase for all things related to baby and have a practical discussion with my husband on what we would like to prioritise for our baby. This process involved:
- Talking to as many parents as we could to find out what they wished they could have changed, or done more of when it came to baby related purchases
- Exploring as many options as possible for retail outlets highly recommended by parents such as BabyKingdom and BabyHyperStore
- Noting the upcoming baby fairs and observing your behaviour when you arrive at your maiden fair. I was so overwhelmed that I was determined not to buy anything. I have recently learned that you can pre-order items instead of jostling with the crowds but we’ll have to see how it goes. For now some of the fairs to check out BabyMarket
- Understanding how it was not necessary to buy every item brand new since babies outgrow them within months and it really does not reflect on you any differently
- Appreciating how generous friends can be in passing you pre-loved items that they no longer need – we have been the happy and blessed recipient of many such items
- Comparing various “To Buy” checklists easily available at major departmental stores and wholesale outlets. This is useful in sifting items that belong to the “essentials” and “good to have” categories based on your assessment
- Checking out second hand items sold on Carousel and other sites for respective price ranges. I’ve learnt that many first time parents make impulse purchases while some others gladly give away itemsCompiling your own list of things to buy / borrow with a proposed budget in mind
Bearing all this in mind, I strongly believe that taking the time to pace purchases (i.e. slowing things down) helps keep me in check so that my hormones do not overtake and influence my purchase decisions.
Listen to Your Heart
Everything about a baby can be emotional and this is definitely a little tricky when it comes to certain purchase decisions related to the point just before this. I recall some sound and heartfelt advice shared by a dear friend who resides in Perth (and yet never hesitates to send me valuable pregnancy essentials) who shared that “sometimes we need to ask ourselves if it’s really for us or for the baby? The baby doesn’t even know anything in the initial months”. She was spot on.
Making decisions about childcare arrangements is one of the most emotional decisions I’ve had to consider. After all, who decides what’s best for the child and how do we know for sure? Well, we don’t. I have been very blessed to have a reliable helper who is almost as excited about our baby (as we are) since she’s been like family for the last six years. To sweeten the deal, my mom is readily available and willing to supervise the arrangements as well. Having said that, the thought has crossed my mind if I would be willing to stay home full-time to take care of my own child and would it mean that I was not doing something right if I didn’t? Some may even consider engaging a part time nanny to ease the challenges of the confinement month. I can’t say for sure, but I can say that I have always known that I would appreciate working with a motivation to return home as happy a working mummy as I could be, so that settles it for now.
Nature, Nurture and the Nursery
“Are you intending on following any particular method like routines or schedules for the baby?” I was asked during my first trimester. My response: “Do you mean we get to decide, I thought it’s really up to the baby?”
Looking back, I was indeed blissfully ignorant of what the question embodied and that got my friend recommending that I start reading up on resources such as “Secrets of the Baby Whisperer” and “Baby Wise”.
From my initial understanding of the ideas shared, I found it the concept of “parent led scheduling” intriguing as parents set routines worked around the natural rhythm of the baby’s activity cycle. Some of the recommendations also included ensuring that parents avoid nursing or rocking babies to sleep, so that babies must learn to fall asleep without help. They recommend having your baby sleep in a crib in their nursery, rather than co-sleeping with you. I believe much of this is about creating a clear, conducive and natural environment for the baby. This is of course pitched alongside the other school of thought with the “baby led” schedules where anything goes within a loose routine and everything is unpredictable.
While I do not intend to study both resources rigorously, I do believe in keeping an open mind so that I am better equipped to make informed decisions about caring for my child. At the end of the day, there is no one perfect method and it remains to be seen what hybrid of methods I end up adopting for my baby. In this aspect, I have to credit Evelyn, a dear and trusted friend who does an awesome job raising her daughter whom I have affectionately christened “Lively Lea”. She helped me realize that the sooner I understood how important my child raising decisions were, the better, so that I could decide how I wanted to continue on the journey of parenting. With her advice and experience imparted, it occurred to me that a big part of parenting was really learning that making any decision, is better than making no decision at all.
As for preparing the nursery, I am so grateful that I resisted the urge to cave into my emotions and embark on a new coat of paint or wallpaper as a must. Instead, I decided on some good old fashioned cleaning up for the room to be functional before preparing for the essential furniture such as the baby cot and a chest of drawers.
This marks the end of this chapter on how I have prepared for my pregnancy thus far and I am sure more nuggets of collective wisdom will surface over the next five months. Until then, I am contented just learning more along the way for this journey.
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