You want to know a secret? Listen close: it is HARD to be pregnant and take care of a little one at the same time. Heck, it’s hard to be pregnant! What, that isn’t a secret? Well I would have loved to have known this a few months ago.
The reality is that it really isn’t a surprise that pregnancies can be difficult. I mean, if we’re taking care of a kiddo already, then we’ve likely already experienced it once. But the sacrifice involved with the next round cannot be fully appreciated until we are in the throes of sickness, fatigue, soreness, fogginess, anxiety, and elation–and meeting the needs of the baby that has already been born, and attempting to fulfill all of our other roles.
In my case, I stay home with my toddler, so I can only address this from the perspective of a stay at home mom. I cannot even fathom doing this while having to go work outside of the home, though thousands and thousands of women do it every day. My theory on their survival is that they must all be wizards with access to magical elixirs that give them the strength and energy to endure. I know that’s what I would need to do what they do! In fact, I want to know where they get it, because I sure could use some.
So, what are some of the challenges we face? In talking to friends of mine who are in the same boat, I’ve found that there are definitely some common concerns. How am I supposed to find the energy to really engage with my child and not feel as if I am neglecting him or her? How am I supposed to find the energy to run errands? How am I supposed to find the energy to cook? How am I supposed to grow a healthy baby when I feel so exhausted all the time? How am I supposed to cope with vomiting or feeling nauseous? How am I supposed to keep up with the housework? How am I supposed to help my husband understand what I’m going through? How am I supposed to reach out for help when I’m new to the area and don’t know anybody?
I have had some interesting epiphanies while sleepily and lazily pondering many of these same questions and watching my daughter while she plays. I fully believe that as mothers we are entitled to absolutely specific inspiration and instinct when it comes to our children, and if we pay attention to these feelings, we can be comfortable with the solutions we implement. I don’t have an answer to all of the questions listed above, but here are a few survival techniques I’ve learned so far that have helped me in my unique circumstances. It goes without saying (but here I go!) that all women experience each pregnancy differently. What works here may not work there, and so on. If any part of this resonates with you, give it a try! I hope you can find at least one helpful suggestion.
1. Children need to learn to play by themselves, and we need to let them. There was a time in our history, not long ago at all, where a mother’s day consisted of heavy housework from sunrise to sunset. Chores that I shudder to imagine performing consumed their days. Anyone else grateful for modern conveniences like washing machines? I know I am! Where were their children during this time? Often times, they were playing. Alone. Or with the children of other super busy mothers who were doing the same tasks. Or they were performing their own chores. They did not need to be constantly entertained, held, and doted upon by their loving moms. When I first became pregnant with this second child, I felt so guilty for the time I wasn’t spending with Emma, who was only 15 months old at the time. I was with her, but I wasn’t with her. I spent hours laying on her bed while she played with her toys and books. If she tried to play with me, I would give half-hearted effort at being enthusiastic for her, but usually just ended up sinking back into the pillow and drifting to sleep as she returned to her play things. Over time, I began to realize that she wasn’t feeling the neglect I blamed myself for. She wasn’t suffering, and she didn’t think I had stopped loving her. She has learned how to play alone, and expand her imagination. There are moments when I am watching her, and I am astounded at the pretend things she will do with her toys. She “feeds” them and sings to them. She reads to them. She is growing. She is learning. She is okay. And me? I’m getting the necessary rest to make it through the day, even if I’m not getting to sleep for 5 hours straight like I want to.
In fact, as I write this in my jammies, Emma is sitting at the piano, smacking keys with her fingers and singing to herself.
2. Errands can wait. Seriously. Okay, so if I’m being honest, the errands I have to run these days are puny compared to the errands I know I have in my future as my kids get older, start school, start extracurriculars, and grocery shopping becomes more essential. As it is though, I relish not having to run, run, run most days, and I love getting to procrastinate. I know there are a handful of errands that will need to be taken care of each week, and I try to strategically organize them so that they can all be addressed on the same day. Rather than choose a day, however, I simply let myself wait until the right day. I know there will be at least a few hours a week where I will feel well enough to get out and do what needs to be done. For added motivation, I usually promise myself a treat while I’m out and about. That treat may or may not be a freezing cold Diet Dr. Pepper with Vanilla and Cranberry flavoring from Sonic. I always get a comment from the delivery girl about how that’s a weird combination. Baby wants what baby wants, sister.
3. Cooking can be very simple. Lower your standards. The table doesn’t need to be set, every option doesn’t need to be presented. The crockpot can be a lifesaver. Any stock leftover from cooking meat can quickly be stored in the freezer for a future meal. If you are feeling especially spry one day, cook way more than necessary, and then freeze the rest for a quick fix on a rough day. Some days you may just need to declare survival of the fittest and tend only to yourself and your little one, if your husband isn’t available to help. If he is available to help, seek that help as much as you want. He can make and serve dinner. If his version of dinner means take-out, just roll with it. At least you won’t have to lift a finger. My husband usually isn’t home in time to be able to make any dinner, so on the nights I just can’t, I usually just let him know he has a green light on picking up a couple of frozen pizzas or whatever. I don’t expect him to make a dinner I would make, and he usually just wants pizza anyway. It’s basically a win-win.
4. Nausea is the worst, so go with what works. I drank coke for breakfast every morning for weeks. Coping with sickness is so individualized, you just have to figure out what works for you, if there is such a thing. Embrace it, laws of health and good judgment be hanged. If you suspect that you are experiencing sickness that is beyond the realm of normalcy, absolutely contact your care provider. Some conditions resulting from morning sickness can be life-threatening for mom and/or baby, so take care of yourself and always, always, always, STAY HYDRATED.
5. If you can’t keep up, try just surviving instead. The most essential thing I can do for myself and my family is to stay as sane as possible while still doing what NEEDS to be done. What’s that? I haven’t folded laundry in a month? Are we naked? Well then. Putting laundry away isn’t as critical as wearing clean clothes, and sometimes the bare minimum of running it through the machines is all I can do, and all I care to do. The same goes for other household tasks and responsibilities. I’m okay with defying the laws of modern understanding and letting things that I deem unnecessary slide under the rug to rot. I’m okay with defying my husband’s preferences and letting him come home to a messy house more often than he would like because this is our baby in my tummy, and our baby on my hip. I’m certainly doing my share to love, grow, and nourish them, so I give myself a pass. Should he have a complaint, he can file it with HR and wait for them to respond. Mothers are obligated to take care of themselves for the sake of their own lives and the lives of their children and other loved ones. Reaching out for help can be hard and feel embarrassing, but if you’re fortunate enough to live near close family or friends, take advantage of their love for you. You would do the same for them, right? Right.
Don’t worry what others think, and give yourself a break. If nothing else gets accomplished within a 24 hour period, just remember that you spent the entire 24 hours growing a baby, and that is nothing to sneeze at. If you do sneeze, however, take care to cross your legs. It gets harder and harder to not pee-sneeze as time goes on. You’ve been warned.
Bottom line: Try not to stress about the details.