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 My wife wondered if it was invasion of the body snatchers; I had been replaced by a lethargic look-alike.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

Try to Stop Trying

I’ve realized that I’m always trying.  Trying to do, trying to be.  Trying, trying, trying.

The whole idea of ‘trying’ has value to me because I believe that I have agency – a lot of agency.  When I work towards my goals with enthusiasm, intelligence, and emotional-awareness, my efforts are typically correlated with results.  All my experience supports this:  I send emails, stuff happens.  I make slides, stuff happens.  I talk to someone on the phone, stuff happens.  It’s a pretty straightforward view of the world.  Further, it’s a view of the world that has allowed me to be happy and successful to date (since I’m so good at trying).  Keep trying, and there will be success.

But what happens when I don’t try?

When a friend asked me that question last weekend, it leashed an avalanche of defensiveness and self-justification.  “Not trying?!  That’s inconceivable!” huffed The Defensive One in my head.  (I imagine him wearing an old-school British barrister outfit as he argues each point.)  “That’s an incredible betrayal!  It controverts the very idea of intentionality, one of your core values!”  He gets only more flustered and riled as he continues.  “For heaven’s sake, why invite the Queen to tea if you’re not going to show up?!”

barrister
It’s true; after observing the effort/result correlation enough times, I’ve been duped into believing that voice.  I’ve come to see that the world moves forward when I try – and therefore, I have convinced myself that I must keep trying.

So what happens when I don’t try?  With this worldview, presumably nothing.  And yet, I increasingly observe that’s in fact the case.

This Wednesday was a good case in point.  I worked all day developing a new piece of training content, figuring out the flow of the module and tailoring each exercise so it would serve the learning goal.  I sat in front of my computer, revising text, swapping slides, changing pictures.  As I finished the day, I had the sense that something was mildly off.  I decided to step back, take a break, and go for a pedicure.

Thus I found myself an hour later, sitting in the pedicure chair, feet in a shallow pool of water and journal on my lap.  I was writing about whatever craziness I typically journal on.  And I was giving myself a self-congratulatory pat-on-the-back for creating time for self-care.  But then, with three of ten toes bright orange, I realized:  “Ahh!  I know exactly what needs to change in that module!  I see how to reformulate the question to really make it sing.”

I’ve worked for so long under the belief that my efforts, directly exerted upon the task at hand, will create the most movement.  But I’m learning that sometimes there’s more movement when you stop trying and let things be effortless.  This isn’t just true because the subconscious parts of my brain get a chance to process the information (as in this example), but also because things external to me seem to work in a different way when I stop trying as well.  People line up to support a new idea.  Someone sends an email with the information I need.  A new offer comes to the table.  It sounds crazy and semi-magical, but something happens when I stop trying.  And much of the time, that force moves the world forward more powerfully than my trying ever could.

So here’s my challenge:  I am going to try to stop trying.  Or, phrased more positively, I am going to see if I can relax and let go.  That way, I may just find my way to that productive and elusive place where trying and not trying meet.

Meredith
try

 

 

The Intentional Bride

As we’ve started to move from the broad decision of a venue to the specifics of bridal parties, videographers, caterers and such, I’ve realized anew how stepping into the role of bride-to-be brings with it all sorts of expectations.

Happily, at the same time, I’ve also realized how elegantly your average bride navigates all these expectations.  Weddings are just such extraordinary events that they jostle all of us out of our automatic, everyday routines and into a more intentional place.

While the ‘shoulds’ that we feel in the wedding planning process are amplified over those of daily life, so is the intentionality with which your average bride faces these expectations.

In one corner:  The ‘Shoulds’
Sure, there is generally accepted flexibility within the guidelines, but everyone comes to the table with some longer or shorter set of expectations around weddings.  For a bride planning an Americanized wedding in the US, the short version of this reads something like:

  • You should have some sort of ceremony – religious or civil – that will proclaim you legally married
  • You should tell everyone where to come and what to wear
  • You should wear a dress
  • You should wear white
  • You should ask your best friends and family (particularly those of your gender) to show up in some sort of matching outfit
  • You should decorate the location with more flowers than you’ve ever bought before
  • You should feed everyone a meal (preferably with lots of accompanying alcohol)
  • You should have a cake. In fact, you should make a big deal out of cutting it and then shove it in your spouse’s face
  • You should have dancing. And good music.  Really good music.
  • Some combination of your save the dates, wedding invitations, programs, and signage should be in coordinating designs
  • You should pick colors to synchronize the color scheme of the event
  • You should document everything in extreme detail
  • You should pick a convenient weekend day for all of this to happen

 

Why all the ‘shoulds’?  To some extent, this is all incredibly useful.  Expectations and norms like these help write the cultural scripts that signal our change in marital status to the world.  They help everyone understand that “Yes, this event is in fact a wedding” and give basic guidance on how everyone should act.  They give us all parts to play without having to think a lot about it.

And beyond the cultural cues, many ‘shoulds’ are our collective cultural wisdom around how to marry.  They – and the hundreds of other ‘shoulds’ listed in bridal blogs, magazines, and books – serve as a helpful mix of best practices of party-planning, smart aesthetic choices, and guidance from tradition.  In so many ways, it’s nice not to have to start from a blank slate.

But, it’s also freeing to realize that none of the ‘shoulds’ are necessary.  And so:

In the other corner:  Intentionality
Liz and I are not revolutionaries looking to defy every wedding tradition; in fact, I think we’re both inclined to be more traditional rather than less.  But we – like every other couple planning their wedding – have a choice.  We can walk into the wedding planning process and let ourselves be pummeled by all these ‘shoulds.’  Or, we can be intentional about the event we create.

We can begin by identifying the ‘shoulds’ and sorting them out from our true wants and needs.  As we identify each ‘should,’ we can also figure out from where it comes.  Are they the voices of brides of eras past?  The comments of our friends while debriefing wedding season?  Our perception of what it takes to keep up with the Joneses?  We can consider which of these expectations fit our aspirations and which don’t serve us at all.

Being intentional means that we’re not going to accept the template of a wedding.  We’re going to start from the beginning – with the purpose of this whole ritual and the values that we want it to express.  And we’re going to build our wedding from there – adopting many of the ‘shoulds’ that match with our own desires and throwing away the others.

It’s not an easy process.  It takes far more mental exertion to plan the wedding that we want rather than accept each expectation.  But so many weddings I’ve been to lately (including the wedding just this last weekend) have shown exactly this intentionality – this willingness to make choices that are aligned with what the couple wants to create rather than thoughtlessly proceeding according to plan.  Just this summer, I’ve watched the bride and groom rip up the dance floor with an amazing ballroom number, and I’ve been to multiple weddings with no dancing at all.   I’ve been to by-the-book Christian and Jewish weddings, and listened to multiple (yep, multiple) Hindu/Christian fusion liturgies.  I’ve taken a boat to a restaurant reception and wandered up a hill to eat in a barn.  I’ve seen a wedding cake in the form of a tree stump and another surrounded by cardboard cutouts of sheep.  I’ve traveled to hill stations, grooms’ hometowns and Hawaii.  I’ve danced and hooted while the groom rapped about his love and clapped politely after the father-of-the-bride’s speech.  In so many ways, people are choosing the approach that fits their collective personality, where they want to invest, where they want to disinvest, and how they want people to feel.

However we act in our daily lives, the exceptionality of a wedding forces us to be intentional about how we design it.  And now the challenge is ours to sort through the ‘shoulds’ and align on our ambition.  I only hope we can do as well as our friends have done.

With love (and lots of planning to do),
Meredith

(See future posts on this topic under the category heading:  The Intentional Bride)