If having the perfect pregnancy were as easy as enrolling, I would have sent in my credit card info without hesitation thirteen years ago, when I was pregnant with my first son. So much of what I read about pregnancy was laced with the same implications: there was one right way to be pregnant, and if you didn’t follow those rigid guidelines, you were ultimately responsible for anything that was wrong with your baby. Your community was entitled to repercussion-free commenting on the state of your womb. I wanted this “perfect pregnancy,” to please all the strangers (and friends!) evaluating the quality of my diet, exercise, and even my maternity wardrobe. Deciding whether or not to do something as a simple as spending time in the sun nearly provoked panic attacks—there was no way that I could decide whether a hospital birth or a home birth would be better for my unborn child’s future!
The wealth of conflicting pregnancy advice that women face has always been staggering, and the advent of the internet has infinitely increased the volume of available guidance. And just as there is no way to guarantee a perfect pregnancy, there’s no perfect way to tune out messages that tell us to be perfect. Whether you planned for a home birth and ended up with a C-section, or you wanted to exercise for 30 minutes a day but the stress of your job and your all day “morning sickness” left you stranded on your couch, pregnancy is going to come with its disappointments. Though imperfection is inevitable, it doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t make a plan. It means that your plan will be most effective if it includes practices that help you to accept what you can’t change and focus on the basic end goal of pregnancy: to get the fetus out of your womb and into the world.
Pregnancy and Serenity
Given the topic of this post, I’m hesitant to admit that my first pregnancy went according to my anxiety-inspired plan—but I didn’t enjoy it. And though it produced another healthy boy, my second pregnancy was nothing better than a flop. I could barely dress myself. I felt sick all the time, and my midwife had an eerily accurate feeling that my boy would be born breech. The Gaskin maneuver couldn’t help us out of this one—I ended up in the hospital with nothing to hold after birth besides the sneaking suspicion that I did something wrong.
When I became pregnant for the third time, I realized that I had to approach it differently or I wasn’t going to make it through birth. At the time, I thought the only perk of my previous “imperfect” pregnancy was that it showed me that I could try to do everything right and still fail. It could have been much worse—my baby could have died, or I could have struggled to conceive him in the first place—but I was focused on everything going my way, and thought that getting my way was the only way to achieve happiness.
As you are probably aware, this isn’t true. Happiness is much more contingent upon focusing on the good that is present in your life. I decided to trust my instincts, and the pregnancy skills I had already built. This didn’t happen overnight. Yoga helped me learn to keep calm and embrace failure. I bought new maternity clothes to help make pregnancy seem enjoyable. I visualized giving birth to another healthy baby, and took up praying to a deity I didn’t necessarily believe in. I felt much more serene when approaching my third birth because I handed over the ultimate health and safety of my baby to a higher power and only relied on myself to eat healthy most of the time and avoid smoking and driving without my seatbelt. I gave up on the perfect pregnancy by letting go of the things that were out of my control and focusing on what I was doing right.
These, of course, are similar to practices recommended by psychologist Dr. Alice Domar, whose work focuses on women and perfectionism. In a conversation with Dr. Oz, Domar recommends challenging negative thoughts and keeping a gratitude journal—practices that will redirect your focus to what’s working, whether this is your first pregnancy or your fifth. While I wouldn’t necessarily take refuge in advice that shrugs its shoulders at smoking while pregnant, take statistics with a grain of salt and remember that your child will love you no matter where you gave birth or how many donuts you consumed in the process.
Kristen Hurst is a writer and stay-at-home mother. She received her bachelor’s degree in fashion marketing, and writes often about pregnancy, feminism, and maternity fashion. When she’s not trying to juggle the lives of Casey, Austin and Ben, she enjoys painting and catching up with a Jane Austen novel.