Pregnancy stresses the limits of our endurance. It takes us to emotional heights — and depths. It changes our values as well as our shapes.
But too often, we focus on the inconveniences and aches of pregnancy. Instead, it should — and can — be a time filled with good health, motivation, contemplation, re-evaluation and just plain fun.
Here are 25 ways to enjoy the opportunities pregnancy provides so you can really savor this special time in your life.
1. Take advantage of your status. Never again will more people be so willing to help you. Accept that bus seat. Say yes to offers to carry your packages. Rather than feel guilty, resolve to pass the favors on to another pregnant woman later.
2. Go easy on nesting. Setting up a nursery and shopping for a new baby can be fun, but don't let it overwhelm you. All he really needs is shelter, basic clothing, diapers, food and you.
3. Look your best. Invest in a couple of special maternity outfits, including some pretty lingerie. Wear flattering colors and styles. Get beauty treatments often. Have a glamour photo taken (don't worry, you can keep your clothes on).
4. Revel in your belly. When your baby is awake and active, put a jelly bean or half-filled glass of water on your belly, lean back, and watch the show. Photograph or videotape your ultrasound. Record the heartbeat. Have a cast made of your belly. Show the real thing off, too.
5. Evaluate your life. Suddenly, climbing the corporate ladder may not seem so important. Perhaps your lifestyle feels "off" now that you are bringing a child into it. Take advantage of any doubts or discontentment to do some soul-searching, and be prepared for shifts in your priorities.
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6. Be queen for a day (for nine months). Trash your to-do lists. Nap without guilt. Go to a day spa. Take extra showers. Take your shoes off and put your feet up. Sleep late (but do get up and dressed so you feel part of the world). Buy a body pillow for your last trimester. If meals or housework are too much, hire help or call on a friend.
7. Renew your spirituality. The timing couldn't be better. "When you're pregnant, you're more contemplative, more in tune with creation," says the Rev. Susan Plymell, mother of four and pastor of Pueblo West United Methodist Church in Colorado.
8. Enjoy being kneaded. Performed correctly, prenatal massage can safely relax you; ease muscle stress, swelling and back pain; and improve circulation. "Massage can also help a woman develop greater sensory awareness, which is very useful in labor and delivery," says Paula Koepke, a prenatal-massage instructor in Oakland, Calif. "Studies have also shown that women who are touched in a nurturing way more easily transfer that nurturing to their babies."
9. Get motivated to live more healthfully. Sometimes we'll do things for someone else that we won't do for ourselves. You have several months to develop healthful eating habits, start a moderate exercise program, take up meditation or do whatever else makes your body a better home for both you and your baby.
10. Reconnect with your parents. More than ever, you have something in common with your parents. Use that fact to improve communication with them. "Sharing the mothering experience brought my mother and me closer together," says Kathy Ward, a mother of three. "It brought back memories for her and increased my understanding of what she went through with five kids."
11. Enjoy your heightened senses. "When I was pregnant, colors seemed brighter, and I felt a real connectedness with other people," says Ginny Bettendorf, the mother of two children and two stepchildren. "As we carry this new life within us, we're more clearly aware of the life around us." Just as your pregnancy-enhanced senses send you reeling at the smell of fish, they can send you into ecstasy over the scent of a rose. Enjoy your new awareness. If you can, capture it for a lifetime.
12. Spice up your sex life. Pregnancy can be a very sexy time — hormones are altered, senses are heightened, concern over getting pregnant is gone. Because conventional sex may be uncomfortable, now is a great time to get creative. Experiment with novel positions, new lingerie, different lighting. You may discover "treats" you and your partner can enjoy even after the baby is born. If the sparks have dwindled, keep the embers alive with cuddles and communication; the fire will rekindle.
13. Experiment with your hair. Changing hormones may make your hair stronger and thicker. "Many of my clients find that pregnancy is the perfect time to grow out their hair, especially since they'll want an easy-to-care-for style when the baby comes," says Brenda Elliott, a stylist with Pro Beauty in Tucson, Ariz. Forgo colorings or perms, however: Your hair may react differently, and the chemicals may be bad for baby. Skip the temptation to try a drastic new cut, too.
14. Get information. Arming yourself with knowledge can decrease anxiety; just don't overstudy, or you'll defeat the purpose. Go to childbirth and baby-care classes. Ask your doctor, midwife or mother-friends to recommend a good pregnancy book. Surf the Internet for moms' chat rooms and information about pregnancy and parenting. Remember: Always double-check medical information with a reliable source.
15. Lean on your partner. "During pregnancy, the focus is on the woman, and the man often gets left out," says John Hewlett, a father of five from Laramie, Wyo., adding that sometimes the man doesn't know how to involve himself. Bring him to your OB appointments, have your health care provider show him how to judge the size and position of the baby, and attend childbirth classes together. Let him pamper you, and ask for what you need, whether it's a back rub, a shoulder or a sounding board.
16. Make new friends. Check with your hospital, community center, church or La Leche League to find other moms or pregnant women to share experiences with, tap for advice and keep as friends after the baby is born.
17. Share the joy. Ask other women what they love about pregnancy. Talk with your doctor or midwife about the beautiful births they've attended. Avoid horror stories. If someone insists on sharing an awful experience, ask, "Would you do it again?" Often, women with the worst stories have several more babies.
18. Act naughty. Paint your belly. Get a T-shirt that answers the usual questions — gender, due date, "I feel ___." Tell rude questioners that you're carrying sextuplets and give them an address for donations.
19. Discover your baby's personality. "There are characteristics about her baby that a mother can learn in utero," asserts RoxAnn Hinkhouse, a Lamaze instructor in La Junta, Colo. How active your unborn child is and how he reacts to certain foods, styles of music, even your moods can give clues about his character.
20. Go courting. Use the limited time you and your partner have to be alone together to deepen and strengthen your relationship. Go on dates. Take weekend getaways. Share your hopes and fears about parenting and how the baby will change your relationship. "Pregnancy is a time when you can go quite far in a relationship," says Andrew Condey, Ph.D., a psychologist at the Solano Center in Albany, Calif. "I wish more couples would work on issues then, because there's naturally so much more sensitivity and understanding."
21. Try new types of exercise. While this isn't the time to take up skating or train for a marathon, it is the time to learn firsthand what a soothing, gentle workout swimming or prenatal yoga can be. And prenatal aerobics often incorporates exercises that can assist you in labor.
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22. Get off the scale. Pregnancy isn't the time to obsess about every pound gained. Don't go overboard and gain more than your doctor recommends, but do enjoy your increased appetite. If you are gaining more weight than is desirable, standing on the scale won't help; instead, concentrate on developing healthful habits.
23. Focus on the goal. Within you grows a living being who will one day talk, dance, create and melt your heart with a smile. When you get achy, think about that first giggle. When you can't sleep at night, imagine rocking that soft, small person in your arms.
24. Laugh. Pregnancy opens women to embarrassing-at-the-moment-but-hilarious-later situations. Concentrate on the funny side. Laugh when "mother brain" makes you put your keys in the refrigerator and garlic in your purse.
25. If all else fails, blame the hormones. Sometimes, no matter what you try, everything seems wrong, changes overwhelm, and you just can't cope. It's all normal — indulge yourself. Cry. Rage. Then send your partner out for ice cream while you enjoy a warm bath surrounded by candles.
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