A revised list on what to do before getting pregnant

What my miscarriage taught me about second chances.

This month I had a miscarriage. It was the first time I had ever been pregnant and the pain of the loss was incredibly visceral and real. Over the space of three months I was swept away in the idea that in a few months more, my world would be radically different. My life would not be solely my own responsibility anymore. I would be blessed with an experience unlike any other and my life would cop an entire overhaul. I felt nervous, excited and began readying myself. And then, one moment, laying beneath the cool jelly of the sonographer’s wand, it was all over. There was no heartbeat. No growth. There would be no baby.

It’s an odd feeling. Losing something that you never had, but that you so vividly imagined was already yours. The grief hit hard at first and then came in waves. While being in the midst of the loss, it was hard to see beyond the immediate pangs of my own sadness. I knew, deep down that there could be some lesson in this experience, some solace that, in time, I could grow within (despite the physical absence of such realities). I let my emotions play out. I listened to sad songs, wrote in my journal, sobbed in meditation and shared my journey with close friends and loved ones. As the acute pangs of grief subsided, I realised that there was indeed a gift that I could take from this tragedy. That gift was a second chance at a life without a baby, with space to allow myself to grow into a greater wife, friend and future-mother. I started asking myself what this second chance afforded me, and what I could discover and indulge in before my partner and I took the leap into the family-fray once more.

There are plenty of lists online about “what to do before falling pregnant” but they’re all about quitting smoking or taking vitamins or budgeting for nappies. But what about real, genuine learnings and experiences that would be useful (or at least much more convenient) before facing the impossible task of raising children? I asked a few of my friends who have kids. I thought about the limitations I felt I faced in my few months of pregnancy. I honed in on the things that overwhelmed and scared me most about the prospect of mothering. And I came up with this list…

Take Control of Your Thoughts & Manage Your Emotions

This one is not reserved for the parents-to-be, but is the responsibility of all of us. If you’re not behind the driver’s seat when it comes to your thoughts and emotions, they will well-and-truly run the show. Not to mention that, being unaware of how to deal with them effectively means it will be impossible for you to help teach your kids how to do the same. Learning to spot thought patterns that are destructive, limiting and unhelpful and becoming adept at replacing them with more cognitively nutritious ways of thinking is an incredible life-skill. As is learning to identify and sit with uncomfortable emotions, and not becoming obsessed with getting rid of them or changing them. This is something I’ve been working on over the past few years with regular mindfulness meditation, journaling and thought disruption practices, and it has been truly life changing.

Do Stuff that is Reckless and Indulgent

There is a LOT of fun stuff that they tell you not to do when you’re pregnant – beyond the whole no-drinking, no-oysters and lay off the soft, unpasteurised cheeses thing (hell, they even tell you you shouldn’t go in a spa bath). When I found out I was pregnant, I found myself wondering when is the next time I could ride a rollercoaster, or go on a horse trail ride? What about bungee jumping or trapeze? I know that life and fun doesn’t stop when you have kids, but it sure does get harder to drop everything one weekend and do something silly, lazy or possibly dangerous. When you have other little people whose lives depend on you, you need to get responsible. Which means that, post-kids, letting off fireworks out in a field somewhere, on mushrooms, might not seem like the best idea. But it doesn’t make it any less fun. So why not indulge now, when you have the freedom?

Get Comfortable Being Out of Control

As soon as I found out I was pregnant, I did all I could to ensure I was being a stand-up gestational goddess. I made sure I was drinking the right teas, taking the right vitamins. I stayed away from people with flu, I moved my body mindfully and tried to limit stress and manage my anxiety. And guess what? I miscarried anyway. I think there is this real idea that mothering provides you with the opportunity of total control – you grow baby, you raise baby. You are calling all the shots. When in reality, I think that it couldn’t be further from the truth. Before and even while you give birth, there is so much that can happen that really has little to nothing to do with you. Then, when you are raising a child, I’m sure you discover that they are a whole entire little person with obscure needs and desires that you cannot always intuit or control completely. You can’t take the reins of life and lead it in your preferred direction one hundred percent of the time. Realising that sometimes whatever happens is going to happen, despite how much you micro-manage or over prepare for alternate outcomes, is beautiful permission to let go and roll with it.

Cherish Your Body

I have to admit that being pregnant was the first time in a very long time that I was able to look at my body in a mirror and not greet it with the superficial desire that it should be different. That my waist should be smaller. My thighs should be slimmer. That my shoulders were too broad and ugly and my teeth were the wrong size. After discovering I was pregnant, I kinda said “fuck that! I’m growing a person in here.” And figured that was enough. And of course, it was. But I also stopped and wondered to myself “Hey…I’ve always been growing a person in here. Not, physically another person, but me.” I wondered why it took me gestating a foetus to pause and marvel at the gifts of the human body and all the wonderful experiences and opportunities it affords me. How it houses me and protects me and does so much intricate and incredible stuff to keep me alive without me even thinking about it. If I ever have kids, I’d love for them to learn that too.

Learn Gratitude for the Phases of Your Life

In our society, it’s easy to think that we live life in a linear fashion. One thing follows another thing. We grow up, we get a job, we find a partner, we have kids, etc. and we die (hopefully at the end) and that’s it, the story’s over. However, the more I learn from the lives of those around me and from the very essence and fluidity of nature is that life runs in cycles. Sometimes we can find ourselves back to feeling the same sort of vulnerability and confusion like we did as children lost in a shopping mall.  Or drunk on power and control like we did as the older sibling lauding over our familial minions. Transitioning into parenthood is not necessarily a step forward in life, but could be one of going back. Revisiting past challenges and rekindling past kinds of love in new and different ways. There is something to be commiserated in every phase of life, just as there is something to be celebrated. As I languidly woke alongside my husband this morning, on an overcast Sunday at 9:30am to the sound of birds chirping, and faced a day with little in the way of commitments or responsibilities – I figured it was something to be grateful for. As, with the future prospect of child-rearing, this phase may be one that will not be ours forever and one that we will not revisit for a good, long while.

Breathe into Your Future

Something that surprised me most about being pregnant was how real and vividly something became in my mind and heart before it existed tangibly in my life. It was as if the physical proof of the first ultrasound scan gave me licence to believe this was something meant for me in my life. It made me wonder why I am so reluctant to believe so richly and fully in other parts of my own future this way. Sure, there’s no “career prosperity” ultrasound scan that you can get, and hey, even if you could – it’s no hard proof that that’s what you can expect with one hundred percent certainty. But hope is a beautiful thing. And it did feel powerful to hold onto it as I did, despite this time, with it coming to nothing. I’d like to learn to bring more of this faith into my daily life. Give myself permission to look forward and fully own that vision of what I want my life to become – with babies and beyond.