Friday, March 8, 2013

Pregnancy: Invasion of the Body Snatcher(s)

Celebrity magazines are rife with famous fashion plates gushing about how incredible they felt during their pregnancies and how much they enjoy being pregnant; with stories reveling in how these moms can manage to do it all, to act, run an independent film company, to design her own fashion line for wonderfully overdressed toddlers, to serve on UN councils and visit third-world countries; with photos of how so-and-so has lost the baby weight and you can, too.

To all of them, I call bullshit. A little reality check.

First, these moms can do it all because they have the financial means to hire a gazillion nannies. Seriously, I think the Jolie-Pitts have about a gazillion nannies since they have one for each kid. They also have professionals who clean their homes, personal chefs or delivery food services, personal assistants, fashion consultants, you name it. Think how productive YOU could be if you had a small nation working for you.

Second, there's a reason they have their bikini bods back so quickly. Actually, there are many reasons. They can afford to have someone prepare unbelievably complex, healthy meals for them on a daily basis, while I'm happy to get at least one "cooking day" a week, where I attempt to make as many meals during naptime as possible to last us the rest of the week. They also have personal trainers and nannies to watch their babes while they workout, while I try to squeeze in a workout at the ass-crack of dawn before my husband has to get ready for work.

But the coup-de-gras ... they have plastic surgery. As a mom of twins, let me just tell you, there's no way all those celeb twin mommies out there got those flat tummies from diet and exercise alone. Pregnancy wreaks havoc on your abs and skin is only so elastic, especially for those of us over 30.

But my loudest bullshit echoes for those that gush about how amazing they felt throughout their pregnancies. Because let's be honest, in a lot of ways, pregnancy kind of sucks.

Don't get me wrong. Pregnancy is an incredible experience. I'm still floored by the fact that my body could grow not just one but two beautiful creatures, complete with minute replicas of all of my husband's and my parts. That my body could provide all the sustenance they would need to bake for 38.5 weeks and even most of what they would need for their first six months in the outside world. That my innards could move aside to make room for 16 pounds of kids and return to (I hope) their normal positions.

I will forever remember what it felt like to feel them move and shift inside me, a surreal and overwhelmingly vital sensation. At first, it would just be little jabs and nudges, alerting me to their presences. Later, it was entire limbs protruding and undulating Aliens-style across my midsection. I would chuckle each time Big Boy surreptitiously mooned the world, which was often.

However, for as wondrous and life-changing as the experience is, I think most women would tell you that most of the time, they felt oh-so-far from amazing.

But don't worry. I'm not looking to make this entry a bitch-fest. Rather, I thought I'd offer a little practical advice for the travails ahead.

1. Buy a Body Pillow

Something I never knew about pregnancy until I actually got pregnant: your bones actually become softer and more pliable, which makes sense since they need to accommodate a rather large object. So, what do you get when combine looser joints, softer bones, and an ever-growing midsection? Cranky joints that will send you fiery missives when you've lay on them too long and make sleep nearly impossible.

By the time I was dwarfing Moby Dick, I would get stabbing pains in my hip after sleeping on my side. I'd switch to the other side, but on that side, my stomach put a lot more pressure on my back and soon that hip would become equally sore anyway. And thus began my endless bedtime mambo, shifting my hips back and forth in time with my hip pains. Until I found my savior ... my body pillow.

I heartily recommend the full length ones that are shaped like a comma and provide both a pillow to put between your knees as well as belly support. Without it, I don't know that I would've slept more than an hour at a time during the final months.

2. Eat Frequently

OK, don't hate me, but I was lucky. I never experienced morning sickness. I had times when very little appealed to me and, in general, I couldn't stand the smell of cooking, but I never got sick. I know, I know, I suck. I actually felt quite guilty because some of my friends had been very sick, in some instances, out of work for long stretches of time sick or throw up on yourself in your car and have to drive home for a second shower and outfit sick.

But I do know that with many of my friends (not all but many), there was a common theme: empty stomach equals roiling intestines. (I found the same was true of heartburn: empty stomach always seemed to fan the flames.) Some of my friends would keep a stash of food in their purses or desks at work, etc. Others would eat little snacks in the middle of the night. Come on. Who really needs another excuse to eat something tasty?

3. Remember That Supplements Are Your Friends

More than one friend has referred to her oven bun as a parasite, and while this may sound appalling to some, the reality is that it's an accurate description. Your baby is literally sucking the life out of you. And in this case, literally is literally accurate. Whatever you eat goes directly to baby, and whatever her or his umbilical cord hasn't sucked out of what you've ingested eventually goes to you.

Thus, those vitamins you start taking early on aren't just for the baby, they're for you. In some cases, if your body is a bit low on those nutrients, you will begin feeling low yourself. This is especially true of iron. I'm not much of a meat eater, so early on, I became anemic, and my doctor recommended a daily dose of iron supplements, a dose that increased as time went on.

Now, be prepared. Pregnancy can already make you long for the days that you made fun of ExLax commercials. Add iron supplements to the mix and you can be bound up better than little Ralphie in his snowsuit. And when you do finally poop, don't worry if it looks as if you've eaten nothing but spinach for weeks. Green, in fact, is the new brown. (Sorry, too much? I think parenthood has officially dislodged my filter.)

While some are hesitant to dose up on iron because of the tummy issues, I can tell you that it's worth it. My energy level definitely dipped significantly if I let myself get too low.

4. Buy Antacids in Bulk

For me, the worst part of pregnancy was probably the heartburn. As your baby gets bigger, her body will further invade that space near your esophagus, leaving food very little room to move. (Side note, I'm still fascinated that my innards and my monster babies could all fit in that one small space.) 

I stashed antacids everywhere. (Metaphorically this time, not literally.) On my nightstand. In the kitchen cupboards. In the car. In my desk at work. In my purse. Too, as I mentioned before, try not to let yourself get too hungry. I found that once my tank neared empty, my pyloric sphincter would become increasingly fidgety.

5. Be Sure to Have an Air Conditioner

What, you say? You're always cold. Yeah, not anymore.

Trust me, I was that person. I slept in fleece. I once kept my house at a balmy 71. I hated air conditioning. But the more pregnant I got, the more likely even a warm breeze would make me feel like some horrible combination of a sweat-drenched pubescent boy and a hot flashy future menopause me.

My babies were born in August, so I also had the fun privilege of enduring the final trimester in full-on summer heat. Though, even 80-plus-degree days would have me cranking the AC. I simply had zero tolerance for heat. Simply, I think if we hadn't had central air, my husband would've eventually found a puddle in the living room surrounded by stretchy pants, the TV remote and Big Y fish and chips. (This was my one craving. This fish guys actually came to know me by name.)

6. Have Your Husband Rub Your Cankles

Now ladies, you know you deserve some pampering anyway, but here's proof that it's completely essential. Let me first say that I am blessed. My husband is one of the most sensitive, attentive, and caring men you could ever meet. When my ankles started to get a little swollen and sore, especially after standing on my feet all day in the classroom, he offered to rub them ... every night. I mean, who's going to turn that down?

We didn't realize, though, how helpful this was until he was away in India for two-plus weeks for my brother-in-law's wedding. In the weeks he was away, I noticed my ankles gradually becoming cankles. Balloons may be fun, but not so much on top of your already taxed feet.

As soon as he returned, he diligently returned to his nightly ministrations, and my ankles quickly made a reappearance. I truly believe that his labor of love helped I avoid hard-core edema.

Besides, what else does your hubby need to do for the next 40 weeks? ;)

7. Practice Self-Acceptance and Do Something For Yourself

Here's the hard truth, it's easy not to feel good about yourself when you're pregnant. You will see numbers on the scale you never saw even in your worst nightmares. You will live in stretchy clothes for a large chunk of your pregnancy and beyond. (Thankfully, maternity fashion has come a long way.) You will have likely have poop issues, be it constipation or diarrhea or green poop or something else. You will probably be extra gassy and may not have the muscle tone any more to control that gassiness. You may feel sick often or feel as if you spend more time in the toilet than out of it.

Just remind yourself, it's temporary. For now, your body is not your own. It has been commandeered by a creature far more demanding and, in the end, far cuter than you are. And the end result will be worth it.

Take some time to do something for yourself. Get a massage. Have a spa day. Enjoy a wonderfully decadent multi-course meal. Buy a special outfit. Take yourself out for a sappy movie. Do something that is truly indulgent.

Finally, make an effort to make yourself look good. For whatever reason, that's always seemed to help. If I dress nicely, do my hair, put on some makeup, I immediately feel better. Besides, enjoy it now. Once the rugrat(s) is (are) here, personal care and beauty kind of goes out the window for a while.

8. Don't Break the Bank on Maternity Wear

Retailers are evil. We all know how much designers and stores mark up the products, but they really go buckwild when it comes to specialty markets. There are limited places to find maternity wear, so they know they've got you. It's not as if you can avoid buying maternity clothes unless you opt for the gunnysack look, and you know what, by the end of my pregnancy, I think even a gunny sack would've been a tight fit. Hell, I think a big top may have been a tight fit.

For the previously or currently pregnant, how many of you have shopped Pea in the Pod? Seriously, you want me to spend $45 for a plain, black, scoop-necked tee? Are you effing kidding me? I know a maternity shirt needs a little more fabric, but give me a break. I was just looking at their web site. BIG SALE, they advertise. Spend $200, get 15% off. Gee, thanks.

I know. They DO have cute stuff. And I know I just said try to make yourself look good. Just remember, you are only going to wear these clothes for a few months, and then maybe a few more months if you get pregnant again. Just think about how much you're paying per wear!

Some money savers? First, shop the consignment sales. Again, most maternity wear is only worn for a few months, so a lot of used stuff is in good shape. Second, trade with friends. A few of my friends have passed around the same clothes for quite a few pregnancies. Third, check out Kohl's, Penney's and Macy's. Kohl's has a decent section, and if you can shop sales and have a coupon, the prices end up being very reasonable. Kohl's was generally my go-to place for maternity. Penney's and Macy's generally have small maternity sections as well. Penney's was pretty cheap right off the bat. At Macy's, look for the sales. While there were certainly plenty of pricey apparel, I bought a lot of work clothes for reasonable prices.

9. Make Sure You LOVE Your Doctors

Because you will see them a lot. A lot a lot. This is especially true if you're a mom of multiples.

There are monthly check-ups and then bi-monthly check-ups as you get closer to your due date. There are ultrasounds. There are various prenatal screenings. There are non-stress tests. If you're going to spend all this time with these people, you might as well make sure that that time is pleasantly spent.

As a mom of multiples, in addition to monthly check-ups, I had monthly ultrasounds and, toward the end, weekly non-stress tests. I was lucky. My doctors were all fantastic. Shout out to Woodland Women's in Glastonbury!

10. Remember That Getting Your Pre-Baby Body Takes Time and May Never Happen

I know that last part is a tough pill to swallow, but it is a reality. Your body is going to undergo major trauma. It is going to stretch more than you thought humanly possible. You will be exhausted and you may not be able to be as active as you once were. You may get large enough that just lugging your relentlessly expanding cargo cabin up the stairs may require a rest period and bottle of water.

Even once the baby(ies) is (are) out, you first have a lot of extra blood and fluids that need to make their way out of your system before you get to the belly fat. Considering that you're not likely to be sleeping much at night, probably a lot of that possible exercise time will be spent sleeping or, if you're lucky, showering. Healthy meals? I was happy if I had time to put together any level of sustenance. Your world will have a new center, and it's likely you won't have the time or desire to put a lot of thought or effort into self-betterment.

Even once you do start to come out of the initial sleep-deprived infant-stage haze and make that vow to get back into all of your pre-pregnancy clothes, you may find that your body is just, well, different. I've been diligently setting my alarm for 5 a.m. to hit the gym before my husband leaves for work, but even months later, my belly still looks like a cross between Santa Claus three quarters of the way through The Biggest Loser and a pack of bulldog jowls and I'm still buying pants in the next size up.

However, for every time I look in the mirror and sigh, I can scan the room and watch my two perfect monsters playing peek-a-boo around the couch and nearly collapsing in giggles, or observe their looks of concentrated fascination as they put spoons in a bottle and take them out again, or see them lean down to give dog a kiss -- before trying to mount and ride her. And I remind myself that for what I may have lost and never get back, I've received infinite love for the two most beautiful parts of my life.

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