As I round the corner of my 39th week of pregnancy and realize that I’ve spent more than eight months in this unique and ever-changing state, I’m struck by just how much I’ve learned. Aside from all the books and well-meaning advice from friends and seasoned parents, I’ve found that pregnancy itself has been my greatest teacher.
As with any big life transition, what I’ve perceived as challenges have been the lessons I’ve needed to learn most. And I think these bits of wisdom are applicable to everyone, regardless of whether you’re ever pregnant. Here are six lessons pregnancy has taught me about how to live a more mindful life:
1. Be Instead of Do
I’ve always been a goal-oriented person who loves to-do lists. For me, a satisfying day is one in which I’ve accomplished certain tasks so I can rest at night knowing I was “productive.” Though part of this is my own nature, I also think our current culture of busyness has encouraged me to feel that I should always be doing more and that being busy is a virtue.
One of the most beautiful and surprising aspects of pregnancy has been that there is nothing to “do” or “construct.” I don’t have the faintest idea how to grow a brand-new human being and yet every day my belly expands and I feel the kicks and movements of a person who is preparing to enter our world. What a mystery and miracle!
And yet, my most mundane activities are what make it possible. I find myself joking that “my only job here is to eat, sleep, and keep breathing.” Of course there are lots of ways to support my health and the baby’s health through good lifestyle choices. And I’m so grateful to have a low-risk pregnancy, a privilege I know not all mothers have been granted. But the fact remains that the biggest gift I’ve received in the last eight months is the mandate to surrender, letting the process unfold naturally and in its own time instead of trying to plan and achieve specific tasks.
What I’ve learned is that life simply wants to create more life. This journey has grounded that concept for me in the most physical way possible. I now understand that I’m part of a natural unfolding of creation that is so much larger than me and yet I’m specifically designed to participate in that creativity.
2. Listen to My Body
In pregnancy, I’ve had to let go of the part of myself that will push through a work task even though my stomach is growling for lunch. In my first trimester, my body’s needs made themselves known in a way I couldn’t ignore—through cravings and waves of energy that made me feel primal and fierce. Since then, I’ve heeded the voice within and I find it is full of wisdom.
Where I used to spend hours tethered to my computer, totally immersed in a given project, now my back will alert me when I haven’t moved enough and need to get up and stretch. I know now when is the best time to take a break to eat a healthy meal, rest, or get fresh air. If I’m in a situation that feels negative or stressful, I take action to leave the room or go within to do some deep breathing.
In fact, I’ve noticed that my own worrying and other negative thought patterns make me feel immediately nauseated, so I’ve had to remove them for the sake of my own well-being. My body simply will not tolerate it anymore!
3. Trust My Voice
As a woman growing up in the Midwest, the dominant culture taught me to be “nice” and consider others’ feelings, often over my own needs and desires. As my energy has turned inward, my patience for people and circumstances that sap my energy has dwindled. I find myself speaking up more to share my opinions and needs, and I find I’m less afraid of what people will think.
For the first time in my life, I’m prioritizing what I need in a given moment over my perceptions of what others’ expectations or wants might be. People respond more positively than I thought they would to my newfound assertiveness. It’s a very empowering feeling and it’s something I hope to carry forward in the future.
4. Slow Down
As my pregnancy has progressed, my inner rhythm has slowed down, as has the pace with which I move through life. I used to speed-walk to the train each morning, but now my slower gait allows me time to notice the sky and flowers and say good morning to a neighbor.
I used to take a 15-minute lunch and eat quickly while checking my phone. Now, if I eat too fast, I feel serious discomfort, so I’m embracing the opportunity to taste each bite and think about the life-giving nourishment I’m providing for the baby and myself.
In my third trimester, I’ve found tremendous nourishment from taking time each day to go outside, sit on the ground, feel the sun on my face, and merge with the rhythm of the plants rustling and birds hopping from bush to tree. Moments like these are precious and I’m so grateful to have slowed down enough to appreciate them.
All of this makes me think that the so-called symptoms of pregnancy (joint and hip pain, heartburn, backache) are actually signals asking us to pay attention and surrender to the rhythm of creating life. And when you think about it, we are all in every moment co-creating our lives.
5. Ask for Help
I’ve been independent since I was a toddler. My mom has told me that while my brother loved to cuddle, I was often so busy exploring and interacting with the world that I wasn’t very interested in stopping long enough for a hug. I grew up to be an adult who would much rather do things myself than ask for help.
I remember the day I realized I would have to change. I was in the very early stages of pregnancy, a time that felt precious and precarious, when life was rooting into my body without a guarantee that it would flower. I was in the process of moving out of my old place and, though I knew I shouldn’t lift or move anything heavy, out of habit I reached toward a big dresser that needed to go outside for people who were buying it. In that moment, my body told me “no!” So I walked to my neighbor’s house to ask for help and he was kind enough to lift other items for me until another friend came to the rescue later that day.
Asking for help is such a valuable tool to acquire, particularly at this stage in my life when the support of community, family, and friends feels vital. It’s been wonderful to notice that in letting go and asking for help during each stage of this journey, I’ve received so much generosity and abundance from people and the universe itself.
6. Enjoy the Moment
These days it’s been easier to acknowledge and cherish the present moment, whether I’m packed like a sardine on a train, having dinner with my brother, going out last-minute to a concert, or sleeping in on Sunday morning. I’m relishing these things because I’m aware I will likely regard them as a luxury once the baby comes.
Each solo trip to the grocery store and hangout with a friend has a patina of specialness because it might be the last time sans baby. I hope I can continue viewing each day with this type of appreciation, because the truth is that each moment is only lived once and we don’t know what tomorrow brings.
Pregnancy, like life, is a process as unique as every woman and child alive. Even after these many months of apprenticeship in a new way of being, I’m still by no means an expert in being mindful. But I believe that each of these lessons will grow and support me as I continue down this path to become a person who responds to a brand-new name: mom.