When my husband and I first found out I was pregnant, I had a vision for how my perfect pregnancy would go. I would exercise, eat all the right foods, and keep our apartment pristine as we made room for baby. And on top of working full time, I wanted to squeeze in as much freelance writing as possible.
Then, reality hit. And by reality, I mean exhaustion, food aversions, and morning sickness. My plans suddenly felt ridiculous and unattainable.
The perfectionist in me wanted to hang on, but physically and emotionally, I couldn’t keep up with my own expectations. As I let go of my vision of a perfect pregnancy, I also let go of other perfectionistic tendencies. Rather than feeling let down, I’ve felt happier and more peaceful than I have in a long time. Why?
Because I learned to let go.
I let go of the perfect exercise routine.
I noticed something strange at the gym one morning. Usually, I felt energized after thirty minutes on the elliptical. But one day, I barely made it through a gentle walk. When I saw two blue lines appear on the pregnancy test a few days later, my fatigue suddenly made a lot more sense.
Still, I planned to maintain a good fitness routine. I bought prenatal exercise DVDs and promised myself I’d keep up my Fitbit step count. The Mayo Clinic recommends that pregnant women do moderate exercise for at least thirty minutes most days of the week—surely I could manage that, I thought.
But as it happens, I could hardly keep my eyes open, let alone maintain a hefty fitness regimen. If I had to choose between exercise and sleep, I chose sleep; exercise didn’t invigorate me the way it once did. Now, going grocery shopping felt like a power workout. Running multiple errands was a marathon. After several weeks of failed exercise resolutions, I realized I needed to let them go and accept my weary state. I wouldn’t be able to brag later that I exercised every day of my pregnancy, and that was OK. I wasn’t trying to make excuses or embrace a sedentary life. I was learning to listen to my body. And sometimes (often), my body was asking for sleep.
I stopped stressing about food.
Early in my pregnancy, I photocopied the pregnancy nutrition checklist from Marilyn M. Shannon’s Fertility, Cycles, & Nutrition. I laminated it and hung it on the fridge, so I could easily check the boxes as I ate my way through a nutrient-filled day.
In those early days, I proudly prepared myself a nutritious breakfast: a fried egg, cheddar cheese, and avocado on a whole-grain English muffin. Protein, dairy, healthy fat, whole grains.
Within a few weeks, nearly everything made me queasy. My dietary staples were bagels, ramen, macaroni and cheese, and slushies, give or take a few other foods. Instead of getting better when the first trimester ended, my all-day morning sickness got worse. Forget trying to count servings—I couldn’t keep anything down.
Finally, I stopped trying to tough it out and called the doctor: “You said something about a prescription for anti-nausea pills?”
Since then, things have gotten a lot better. Just about everything is back on the menu. But the checkboxes on my nutrition chart are still empty. The thought of making sure they’re all checked off stresses me out, and that counteracts the positives. My baby and I don’t need that stress in my life. Sure, I try to get in as many recommended pregnancy foods as I can. But along the way I’ve realized that missing a serving of something here and there doesn’t make me a failure.
I let go of having a perfect apartment.
My husband took over dish duty early in my pregnancy. (Best. Husband. Ever.) But we have different ideas about when things such as dishes should be done. I like to get them done right away; my husband is the “let’s do them later” type.
Before pregnancy, even when he said he’d do the dishes, I sometimes did them myself. I insisted I was “helping” or “surprising” him. It was actually more like a selfish attempt to be in control. But now, I don’t have the desire or energy to take over. And I’ve learned something: If the dishes have to sit for a few hours, or even overnight, they’ll be fine.
I’ve also learned to relax about other aspects of housework. I enjoy housekeeping, and there’s something peaceful about a well-kept home. But it’s OK if there’s a small pile of clothes on the dresser or a pile of shoes by the door. Instead of hurting our home, the flexibility and slower pace have made our home warmer. They certainly have made me let go of things that don’t matter as much in the bigger picture.
I stopped defining myself by my to-do list.
Just before I became pregnant, I started a new job with afternoon and evening hours. In my perfect world, I planned to spend the mornings writing, reading, exercising, and doing whatever else needed to be done.
But in my pregnant world, I spend the mornings sleeping, resting, and lying low. At first, I was too tired to feel guilty about “slacking off.” As my energy has ebbed and flowed in the past few months, I’ve done a lot of reflecting. And I’ve learned to get comfortable saying something that had been a struggle before: “I can’t.”
As women, we strive so hard to have it all, be it all, do it all—whatever “it all” is. But pregnancy has helped me realize that I’m tired of trying to do more than I should. I can’t do it all, and that’s OK. In acknowledging my limitations, I’ve found great freedom. Instead of measuring my days by how much I cram into them, I’ve started to focus more on living in the midst of whatever each day brings.
I’ve prioritized overall happiness.
A couple months ago, my sister told me that she and my mom noticed something: I sounded happier than I had in a long time. In part, I think it’s due to the excitement of having a baby on the way. But more than that, I think it’s because I’ve stopped trying so hard to meet perfectionist expectations. I’m listening to my body and taking care of myself. I’m not trying to jam-pack my days or do everything a certain way. I’m simply doing what I can and relaxing about the rest.
In acknowledging my limitations and accepting my imperfections, I’ve found the freedom to just be—which, in a way, is all my baby’s doing right now. There’s a lot of wisdom in that lesson my little girl has already passed on to me. I hope I’ll be able to model it for her after she’s born.
Photo Credit: Erin Woody