Pregnancy is tough, but it also can come with a lot of joy

I think this article should begin with a disclaimer: pregnancy is tough. So far, I’ve had two healthy and, for the most part, uncomplicated pregnancies—and they were still some of the most challenging months of my life. So if you are currently pregnant and simply not up for reading about how wonderful it supposedly is, I give you my enthusiastic blessing to close out of this article and do . . . anything else.

Mostly, I’m writing this for the woman I was before having children. I didn’t know much about pregnancy, but my impression was that, with the exception of Kate Middleton, it took sharp, confident women and made them scatter-brained and cranky. Even Kim Kardashian, with her millions of dollars and on-call massage-therapist-smoothie-chef (I assume), wasn’t immune. To pre-baby me, having children seemed pretty cool, but being pregnant seemed awful. So when I found out I was pregnant for the first time (the day before I started grad school, of all days), I braced myself for nine months of hell.

I wasn’t totally off base: for me, pregnancy was tough every day, and miserable occasionally (it’s true, I’m sorry). And yet, while pregnancy came with plenty of trials, it also came with a lot of joy—in unique and unexpected ways.

Pregnancy made ordinary life extraordinary

One of the most charming parts of pregnancy was how readily family members, friends, coworkers, and classmates showered me with admiration for what amounted to regular accomplishments: showing up to work, not failing my classes, doing literally any amount of exercise. (It is actually impossible to cross the threshold of a gym while visibly pregnant without at least three people expressing utter amazement. You don’t even have to workout, just walk into the gym.)

It makes sense: everything is more difficult when you are pregnant, so even the routine aspects of daily life become small but significant victories. Particularly as I neared my due date, even a short, slow waddle of a jog (I call it “joggling”) gave me a sense of accomplishment I was accustomed to experiencing only after crossing a finish line or setting a personal record.

But it was more than the simple joy of accomplishing normal things under difficult circumstances. At any given time, a pregnant body is doing something mind-blowingly productive. In a very literal sense, when you are pregnant, it’s not possible to waste time. Tapping into that reality imbued even the most mundane parts of my day with a heightened significance.

Pregnancy forced me to slow down

My life before having children was . . . intense. I ran marathons. I chugged beer (okay, that was mostly in college, but still). I was a work-hard-play-hard, multitasking, burn the candle at both ends, seize the day and milk it for all it’s worth kind of girl. In other words, moderation was not my strong suit.

By necessity, that changed when I became pregnant. I had to cut out the alcohol and excessive caffeine that propped up my whirlwind of a lifestyle. And with less energy to spare, conserving it for work and school became a top priority. So I cut back.

For the first time in years, I put training for long-distance races on hold. I spent more nights at home with my husband and fewer out on the town. I attended only the campus events and lectures I felt were truly important. I stopped trying to be everywhere at all times. I got better at saying "no."

Effectively, pregnancy forced me into the life of moderation that I’d always admired but failed to emulate. Some of the benefits of this newfound moderation were offset by the physical challenges of pregnancy, but not all of them—and not forever. The restraint I learned during my first pregnancy has had a lasting impact on my lifestyle.

Pregnancy brought me closer to my husband

Despite my lifestyle changes, pregnancy left me physically, mentally, and emotionally vulnerable in ways I’d never experienced and didn’t expect. I anticipated struggling with physical tasks like carrying laundry baskets full of clothes—but it was more than that. Under the burden of fatigue, back pain, insomnia, nausea, and with so much of my energy going to school and work, my command of my usual share of the housework began to deteriorate. And hormonal fluctuations intensified and confused my emotions so much that I struggled to recognize myself. I am, as they say, not a crier. But on a night I’ll never forget, I found myself weeping—big, fat tears squeezing out of my eyes in between stifled but audible sobs—for no discernible reason.

As a stubbornly (almost foolishly) independent woman who has a tremendous amount of trouble asking for help, these new difficulties challenged my ego more than anything else. Struggling to do laundry? To watch a Pampers commercial without crying? It all seemed so pathetic. But as my grasp of things slipped, my husband stepped in to help. He took on all the heavy lifting, shouldered extra housework, held me when I cried, and told me repeatedly that everything would be okay.

Sure, this isn’t exactly the stuff of fairy tales, and sacrificial love is what marriage is all about. But I think that somewhere deep down, I believed I was only worthy of love as long as I was not a burden. Time and again, my husband’s actions and words challenged that notion. His simple and unhesitating kindness moved me, and my feelings for him reached new, astounding depths. In that way, the sheer helplessness I felt while pregnant, opened the door to a whole new level of intimacy in our relationship. And I will always cherish that.