As promised, here’s my Guide to Surviving Pregnancy Exhaustion!
I’d venture to guess that most women who have been pregnant can relate to the awful fatigue of the first trimester. (And if you have been pregnant and you can’t relate, then I envy you!) Somewhere around 7 weeks, you suddenly feel like you have the worst flu of your life – you know, the aches, the tiredness, and the feeling that you couldn’t possibly manage to drag yourself out of bed if your life depended on it. It hits and it lasts… for weeks, sometimes months.
And if you’re unlucky enough to simultaneously suffer from fatigue and morning sickness, or worse, hyperemesis gravidarum (been there), feeling like crap doesn’t even begin to describe you.
When you get the flu, you can call out sick and let the dishes pile up for a few days, then you feel better and get back on your way.
But when you have flu-like symptoms that last weeks or months and you feel completely wiped out, what are you supposed to do? You probably can’t quit your job or take extended time off, and if you already have kids or a partner at home, you certainly can’t call out sick from your job as Mom and/or Wife.
Bottom line: it sucks. But it IS survivable with some sacrifices and changes in mindset. Here’s what I’ve learned in dealing with fatigue and sickness in my five tours of duty through the first trimester:
DON’T push yourself.
Your energy is low because of the raging torrent of hormones running through you forcing your body to make drastic changes, not to mention that cute little critter that is leeching off of you so it can keep growing like a weed.
You are supposed to feel tired during pregnancy! It’s nature’s way of making you slow down and take good care of yourself. So take a cue from your body and take it easy! Get plenty of sleep (while you still can), eat a healthy diet of whole foods (or whatever you can actually keep down), and get some light exercise (for an energy boost later) – but only when you feel up to it. Don’t push yourself hard!
Enter survival mode and drastically lower your expectations.
Yep, I’m telling you to do only what is absolutely necessary for survival. Quit caring about doing things right and make peace with the bare minimum. (Yeah, this is really hard for us A students, but as a teacher I can appreciate that there is a time and a place for a D-.) Eat, sleep, shower, go to work, make sure your bills are paid and your kids/pets are fed and clean… but only put in as much effort as will get the job done, and ignore pretty much anything not on the “survival” list.
Your house won’t collapse around you if you don’t clean it every single day. Child services won’t take your kids from you for asking someone else to drive them to karate, or even for feeding them peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for dinner (if you can stomach the smell of peanut butter, that is!). Who cares if Martha Stewart would faint from horror if she dropped by your house? Once you’re feeling better, you can impress her all you want, but for now, the bare minimum will suffice while you reserve your limited supply of energy.
Drop commitments left and right.
Really evaluate every commitment you have. Anything that’s not necessary in some way goes. (And remember, “necessary” is very subjective – that prenatal yoga class just might be necessary for your sanity, so stay it should.) If you can live without it temporarily, do it. That gardening class, that 6 hour trip to your sister-in-law’s, even blogging (ahem) can often be put on hold. Committees, clubs, and events will probably still go on with or without your immediate presence. Don’t bother with anything that isn’t necessary or immensely important to you. And don’t take on any new commitments unless you are absolutely sure you will feel up to honoring it.
Promise to return once you feel better (if you want to) but realize that you could be talking about anywhere from a few weeks to a few months, or, if you’re particularly unlucky (like yours truly), you could be talking about an entire year or more (taking into consideration things like a full 9 months of HG and recurrent dehydration, mandatory bed rest, debilitating symphysis pubis disorder, plus many months of postpartum thyroiditis or recurring cases of shingles to deal with after the baby arrives… Did I mention I’m unlucky when it comes to pregnancy-related nuisances? But I digress…). The point is to take a break from obligations for a while and to re-evaluate their importance when you do feel better. Just don’t be surprised if by then your priorities have changed and you don’t want to re-commit. It happens!
Delegate, delegate, delegate.
Enlist the help of family and friends. Can your husband wash dishes or do laundry? (Fortunately, mine can! He does the majority of both even when I’m not pregnant! I did get lucky in the husband department, at least.) Can your kids help with the yard work? Can your friend drop by the post office for you? Can someone else in the office run up that flight of stairs to make copies when the photocopier is down? Ask nicely, but be prepared to pull the guilt card if necessary.
Don’t be afraid of seeming weak or lazy. You are neither, as you will prove once the baby comes and you impress everyone with how you can simultaneously juggle dishes, laundry, gardening, and broken copy machines one-handed, all while nursing the baby, and on only 3 hours of sleep. (You only think I’m joking…) Let people think what they will for now, as long as you’re taking care good care of yourself and not overdoing things.
Don’t beat yourself up for vacuuming half as often or ditching PTA meetings or making your family chip in more or talking your way out of an extra project at work. Remind yourself that you need to be as healthy as possible for both your sake and the baby’s sake – and part of that means staying well-rested and relaxed.
Don’t give a second thought to things that might feel like indulgences, but are really more like necessities – such as insisting on sleeping in when possible, and enjoying a relaxing day hanging out with a friend when you’re feeling up to it, and just vegetating on the couch on those days when that’s all it’s physically possible to do. There will be days when you’ll get absolutely nothing done because you’re too sick and tired and weak to move, but remember that resting really is productive during pregnancy!
Know that there IS an end in sight.
The end might be weeks, or months, or even a year away, but the fatigue and sickness won’t last forever. Things will eventually return to normal and you can pick back up where you left off or start off in a new direction.
If you’re struggling with anxiety and depression related to extreme symptoms (been there, too), it’s especially important to remind yourself that things will return to normal eventually. It’s so hard to believe when you’re dealing with the awfulness of it, but knowing that others have survived can make it easier. I promise that there is an end. I can guarantee I wouldn’t have signed back up for this after the first time if there wasn’t.
Feed your soul.
It’s so important to take care of your emotional and spiritual health, especially when you’re feeling crappy for an extended period of time. Figure out what relaxes and nourishes you – and do it. If you just don’t have the energy to do things that usually lift you up, experiment with things like meditation and yoga or simple crafts. At the very least, arrange for some alone time to just soak up some peace and quiet so you can relax and connect with that precious baby who is so worth all of this.