The Second Time Around

as if first

Posing as if it’s the first…

What has been most notable about this second pregnancy is how different it feels from the first.

The first time around, I prepared myself for what I anticipated would be the life-changing and spiritual experience of pregnancy and birth. My friend Michael fed the fire, commenting on how spiritual it must be to have life growing within you and to be in such a powerfully creative place. I wanted to feel that way.

And, I wanted to be fully prepared for everything. We took every single birth class.  I mean every single one.  Not just the birthing and breastfeeding and first-year parenting classes, but also the infant CPR/first aid classes and infant massage classes. I even convinced Liz to come with me to a ‘prenatal partners’ yoga workshop.

Working with the midwives, my birth preferences were extensive. They articulated a plan for natural labor and reflected weeks of research on how things might go best. By the time I went into labor, I was ready in every way – spiritually, intellectually, logistically – to be transformed by this experience.

Thirty-hours of labor later, on August 2nd, 2016, Elliott joined us. The midwife said I looked surprised there was a baby at the end of childbirth, and she was correct. So much of my preparation had focused on me, my experience of birth, and what I would learn from all these things that I couldn’t clearly see how this was the start of so much more.

There is so much which is different this time around, both in my circumstances and in myself. I wish I could say it’s because I’m infinitely wiser, but instead I continue to learn from every new experience.  Here is what I’m seeing this time around:

It’s Actually About the Baby

but its two

…but it’s number two

The most important difference between my pregnancies is that it has shifted between this pregnancy being about me to this pregnancy being about the baby. I know the punchline now; God-willing, childbirth ends in parenthood. The whole point is bringing this little man into the world in a safe and healthy way. So, instead of being curious about the experiences I’ll have, I’m just excited to meet the little man. There’s far less interest in “What am I like in this situation?” and more interest in “What’s he going to be like?”

Who Has Time for That?
I realistically don’t have the time to be so self-centric this time around. I could point to a whole portfolio of demands on my time, but the ultimate cause is my daughter, Elliott. Two-year-olds do a remarkable job occupying every available minute of time, and I am (mostly) happy to give her those moments. As a result, pregnancy looks different. Last time around, I prioritized weekly acupuncture, gentle but diligent workouts, and frequent prenatal massages. This time, I sit in the closet while Elliott delights in opening and shutting the door or lay together on the floor waiting for imaginary deer and lions to come visit. (Elliott requires Liz to do much more active play for some reason.)

I Know I Don’t Have Control
Even if I don’t always act as if it’s true, I know through experience that I have nearly no control over all of this – from pregnancy to childbirth to parenting. The most important processes – physical and otherwise – unfold naturally. While I still struggle to act in accordance with this insight, I realize I am less in a position of control and more in a position of surrender. No birth plan, only birth preferences. A recognition that birth will come when it comes and go how it goes. And, most importantly, no expectations that the lessons learned caring for Elliott as a baby will translate into any better ability to care for number two.

And so…
Sometimes I step back and reflect on all this, wondering if my different emerging relationships to my two children – starting with even these early months of pregnancy – are simply the first manifestation of birth order conditioning. Though still in utero, Elliott had attention and focus throughout my pregnancy.  She’s maintained much of that while this little man has developed inside of me. For his part, the little man has either enjoyed or suffered through a pregnancy with far less of a maniacal focus on him. At times I’ve blamed myself that I have not been more pregnancy-focused during this time, but my wise friend, Nema advised me that “the baby will make sure he draws in what he needs.”

Little Man, I hope that you have everything you need. We can’t wait to meet you.

Meredith

 

That First Trimester Feeling

Let’s start with the headline: I’m pregnant. 15 weeks. Due July 25th. Don’t know the sex yet but will find out. Going to stay in our current house. Don’t have a name yet. And yes, our dog, Reese, is very pleased.

That’s the explanation for my blogging hiatus. It’s been 10 weeks and 6 days since I’ve blogged. That is 10 weeks and 6 days of feeling crappy.

Since the positive pregnancy test, my entire lifestyle flipped on its head. I went from keeping a primarily dairy-free, gluten-free, organic, minimally-processed diet to developing the appetite of a toddler. Most of my meals involved chicken tenders. I started eating hard candy. I could not get enough cheese and bread. Being a rational adult, I did try to sneak some cooked kale into my Whole Foods macaroni and cheese, but I couldn’t dupe myself and picked it out. Similarly, my sleeping habits shifted. I typically get eight hours of sleep and then turn into a whirlwind of productivity during the day. Now, I found myself ready to clock up to ten hours a night and cherishing a mid-day nap. Moving my body in any way sounded miserable. Leaving the house was not on my list of things to do. My wife wondered if it was invasion of the body snatchers; I had been replaced by a lethargic look-alike.

My doctor, one of the few people who knew of my pregnancy, described it best: it’s like having a constant low-grade hang over (except there’s no fun night out and no miraculous revival when you finally get out of the woods).

All of this caught me off guard. While I have many close friends with babies, I never fully realized how tough first trimester could be. Instead, my images of pregnancy were vibrant, lively, and (as it turns out) disproportionately second trimester. My Facebook feed abounded with pictures of smiling pregnant women; they ran half-marathons, twisted into impressive yoga poses, and modeled for bump-focused photo shoots. They all had elated grins, silky hair, and more stylish clothes than I have ever worn. Even the pregnant ladies I met in person fit the mold: they ran seven miles a day, designed adorable bump-focused Halloween costumes, and munched on cucumbers when everyone else housed holiday sweets. In short, all the pregnant women I observed embodied the pregnancy glow.

I, on the other hand, was eating a mega-sized bag of gas station Doritos on my drive back from a doctor’s appointment, pants unbuttoned.

All this brought up two major emotions in me: self-blame and competition. First of all, why wasn’t I doing a better job at being pregnant? What was wrong with me? Why was my body acting so strangely – and why was I giving into it? Second, I was resolved not to underperform at this pregnancy thing. What did they all have that I didn’t have? What did I need to do to succeed at this?

In my life, I’ve become accustomed to the idea that thoughtful, diligent action drives results. Do the right work in high school and get into college. Do the right work in college and get a job. Do the right work in my job and craft the life I want.

But that’s the thing I’m learning about pregnancy: there is nothing to do. My body’s got it. Beyond taking some prenatals, cutting the booze, and moving a bit, I can’t do much to influence the development of this baby. S/he is going to grow however s/he grows, whether I eat kale or cookies, whether I run a full marathon or watch a Transparent marathon. To be clear, I’m not giving up my responsibility; I’m just letting go of my control patterns a bit more.

Second trimester has provided more relief and normalcy. I eat vegetables again. I have fewer waves of nausea. I even started doing prenatal yoga (like those ladies in the pictures). But I’m glad to have gone through the unexpected unpleasantness of first trimester. With this little one coming into the world, there will be only more and more things I can’t control, from my child’s feeding schedule to the job s/he chooses after school. In that sense, this lesson in letting go is probably the healthiest thing I could do first trimester (aside from buying the organic version of chicken tenders).

 

baby or burrito 2

Still in the uncertain place:  Is that a baby, or did I eat a burrito?

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Empathy for Bridezillas

Liz and I continue to beaver away at wedding planning, tackling some new aspect of the event nearly every night. Our loft is filled with reply cards, flower vases, and various sizes of ribbon. Our inboxes alternate between guest questions about plus-ones and responses from a fantastic collection of vendors. Our calendars are filled with events like trial hairdos, venue walkthroughs, and just one more trip to Michael’s.

More than once I’ve been completely overwhelmed by the details. Which forks should we use? Will the cake be cut at 8:20PM or 8:35PM? Do I want blush or bronzer? While I value (and perhaps overvalue) the importance of nailing the details, it is certainly not my strength. Instead, I’m constantly surprised about the volume and specificity of the choices that need to be made. Wedding decisions are like matryoshka (Russian nesting dolls); you think you are seeing the entirety of the question, but then you open it up to find that there are infinite layers of decisions nestled within the high-level decision you just made.
wed_linensWhile all this planning stresses me out, Liz, on the other hand, brings an operational fluency to the whole process, grounded in her military background and healthcare expertise. I may be emotional about the fifteenth decision about flatware, but she has the capacity to see the overall vision and also manage the component decisions to achieve the plan. She is unsurprised by the level of planning needed and unfussed about making it happen.

In some way, I’m surprised that these decisions stress me out in the first place. True, I’m not naturally good at dealing with the details, so I may feel incapable. But I also would not be stressed if I didn’t think these decisions were important. Why does this endless parade of decisions matter to me?
wed_napkinOn some level, I believe the efforts we put into orchestrating a gorgeous event – from finding the right forks to arranging the tables – serve as a proxy for the love we’re giving to our guests. If we can control the event and get it all right, then people will enjoy themselves and know how much we love them. If I’m honest with myself, it’s like every other dinner party I’ve thrown in the past; if I make it perfect, all will go well. It’s a lot of pressure to put on picking flowers and candles and desserts; if they’re not exactly right, then people won’t feel loved and we won’t be okay.

Reflecting on my own control issues around our wedding has helped me empathize with the bridezilla trope in a new way. In addition to endless questions around event details, weddings confront us with questions around many of our core values: family, religion, community, beauty, self-worth, tradition, love, gender roles, commitment, and meaning. As the bride (or one of two brides), it’s easy to pretend to control over all those questions by controlling the details of the day. Society tells us that it is ‘our day’ and we can do whatever we like, so why not dictate all the details, avoid the most difficult questions, and ensure the logistics perfectly conform to our vision?

I’m trying to unplug my controlling tendencies here. I’m trying to dissociate the precise linen selection with the love that we have for our guests. I’m trying to I’m trying to channel a bit more of Liz’s capacity for making these decisions without becoming stressed. And I’m trying to not control the world in order to increase my own sense of comfort. It’s not easy to do this, particularly as each vendor comes with question after question about decisions that apparently matter. But my hope is that by letting go of a bit of my wedding, an even better, co-created celebration can grow up in its place.

With love,
Meredith
wed_vase

Goodbye Perfect

San Diego, CA

It was only an off-handed comment, but I remember it so clearly.

It was around 1997 and I was in high school. Specifically, I was hosting a dinner party at my parents’ house (as one does at sixteen). I set the table with china and crystal, carefully arranged the linens according to my recent studies of napkin-folding, and cooked up three different pasta dishes as a sort of ‘pasta bar.’ I was chatting with one of my guests when she turned to me and delivered bluntly: “You know, Meredith, if not for one thing, I would want your life.”

I felt wonderfully validated by the compliment. “You want my life?” I thought. “Well then I must be doing something right!” But beyond that, I became immediately fixated on this one exception: “Wait, what part of my life could she judge and find wanting?” I reflected. “I should definitely fix that right away.”

Much of my early years were spent striving to perfect myself. I worked hard in school for academic achievement, certainly studying more than necessary to get along. I poured myself into an appropriately diverse and engaging set of extracurriculars. Yet my definition of achievement wasn’t focused on resume-building alone. In addition to being the smartest and most accomplished I wanted to be the most well-rounded too. I journaled about my experiences and build a strong sense of self-reflection. I spent time with my family. I built emotional intelligence skills around listening and connecting. I committed to reading the Bible every morning and night as I plumbed for spiritual depth.

While I had a broad view of life, I had only one metric to measure every dimension against: excellence. Was I getting A’s on tests, devotedly going to the gym, cultivating both breadth and depth in my relationships, calling my parents, and taking on leadership roles? Was I being the best? My goal was to do everything required to become a ‘complete human being’ and to do it all well. Like my friend’s comment, I would know I was on track if people looked at my life and said “Gosh, I want what she has.”

There are plenty of issues with this worldview. To begin, this perspective set me on an endless quest with predictably unsatisfying results. I learned that there will always be someone who is smarter, funnier, more empathetic, better-read, more well-rounded, etc, etc, etc. It’s tough to be good at one thing, and much it’s harder to be the best at all things.  Given that I didn’t always find myself at the top of the heap, I also had to become an agile mental gymnast to preserve my sense of self-worth. I looked for ways to reestablish my identity when I lacked hard proof of relative superiority (like test grades). One trick was to subtly reframe and recontextualize what types of excellence really mattered. “Yes, it’s important to be smart and emotionally intelligent like me,” I would think to myself, “but it’s not that important to have a great fashion sense or win at chess. So, in a way, I’m still the best.” I picked the constellation of things that I would judge on; it meant that I could still define myself as comparatively excellent in any range of situations.

Though this worldview drove my achievements and gave me worth, it became clear that these subconscious patterns didn’t help me connect with others. It’s no fun to sit in a room silently cataloguing the reasons why I’m smarter than this person, more engaged than that person, and more emotionally aware than that other person. I didn’t want to be constantly striving for more – or perpetually reframing why my slate of achievements are just as good as the next person’s.

So I’m working on giving up those old habit patterns. I’m redefining success away from ‘excellence, comparative superiority, and enviability’ to simply ‘authenticity.’ I used to make authenticity a sub-goal of my overarching quest to be the best (i.e., “Goal 283: Be the most authentic person around”). But I know it’s far more powerful when authenticity becomes the dominant lens. Who am I? What is innately valuable about me? And how do I sit with all the parts of me instead of trying to perfect them?  Frankly, I don’t want you to covet my life. Instead, I want you to live your life fully, just as I want to live my life fully.  With all it’s real messiness and imperfection.

This focus on authenticity neuters my reliance on external validation. I began my journey with a sense that if I made myself good enough then others would want my life; they would like me and I would have done well.  But you remember my friend from high school and her one reservation about wanting my life? She said she would love to be me except… “you worry too much.” And so, as I throw out the idea of perfecting my life, I’ll also throw out my biggest worry about doing so: the fear that unless I make myself better and better, then I might not be worthy of your love and approval. Hopefully, striving for authenticity means that love and approval don’t need to come from you anymore; I should be able to find them independently.

It’s so easy for me – for any of us – to present only the Facebook veneer of a sublimated life: the travels, the engagements, the meals, the beach days with impossibly beautiful Californian weather. But regardless of what you see on your smartphone, here is the truth: I am not perfect. There is messiness and brokenness and not-all-put-together-ness in me. And far from being something I need to polish and perfect, I am more and more embracing those imperfect parts and loving myself even more. It has taken me until my earlier thirties, but I have learned that I don’t so much want to excel at life.  I just want to live it.

With love,
Meredith

goodbye perfect