hair, skin, and other elements of physical appearance, mental health, motherhood

What Pregnancy Has Taught Me About Listening to My Body

So far in life, I have more or less thought of myself as a floating head. I am a nebulous collection of thoughts and feelings drifting around this life as a cloud of synapses. I often completely forget that I am trapped in a meat cage.

This is the byproduct of a few things. First, I am only able to have this mindset because I have gone through my life thus far with a ton of able-bodied privilege and thin privilege. My body looks and works the way it’s “supposed” to, so I’ve never been forced to pay attention to it. If I used a mobility aid, like a cane, or if I were overweight, I would almost definitely be acutely aware of my body and how it did or did not meet others’ standards.

The second reason I’m so detached from my body is a long history with dissociation. I experience very mild dissociation, but even mild dissociation, when experienced consistently over two decades, can leave a lasting impact on a person’s psyche and their relationship with their body. For those who don’t experience dissociation, or haven’t heard the term before, it is a spectrum of experiences that are defined by feeling disconnected from your body or from reality. My entire life, I have spent much of my time mildly dissociated from my body and from reality around me. I lived in a fuzzy world of daydreams in my head. One of the best ways I’ve found to describe it is like there’s thick aquarium glass between me and the world.

So these factors have come together throughout my lifetime to make me deeply unaware of my own body. It just sort of…exists, separate from the real “me.” But of course, that’s a fallacy. Human beings are inherently physical beings, we’re born and we die not because of our psyches, but because of our bodies.

Struggling to Trust My Perception of My Pregnant Body

Nothing has taught me this lesson more clearly than pregnancy. The doctors are constantly asking me about my body, and I have no clue how to answer them. To be honest, at first I just lied. I just said whatever they clearly wanted to hear. “Yes, of course I’ve felt the baby kick.” Lie. I was nearly 20 weeks before I felt the baby do anything, but if I had to guess, it wasn’t because my baby wasn’t moving, it was because I wasn’t paying attention. To be fair, this is relatively normal for new moms because you’ve never had a little alien inside you before, you have no idea how that’s going to feel and so it can be difficult to detect at first. But because I’ve never felt connected to my body, I didn’t feel comfortable being honest with the doctor. I didn’t feel like I could say I hadn’t felt the baby kick, because I didn’t trust my perception of things. I mean, I was 20 weeks, I had probably felt the baby and just didn’t realize it, right? I didn’t want to say I hadn’t felt the baby and get everyone all freaked out when the problem was probably me.

This is a huge pattern for me, a pattern of self-doubt and self-dismissal. I often consider my experience the least important and least reliable source of information. I’ve always known this is a problem for me, but being pregnant has made it painfully obvious. Unfortunately I’m pretty stuck in my ways, and still find myself telling the doctors little white lies to tell them what they want to hear, but I’m working on it. Because what if something really was wrong, and the doctors couldn’t find out because I wasn’t being truthful? It’s confusing, being honest about my experience when I’m not even sure what my experience is, but I’m trying.

Listening to My Pregnant Body’s Needs

Pregnancy is teaching me how to be honest about my experiences, but it’s also teaching me to accept my body’s limitations. Throughout this pregnancy, my body has needed a lot of different things: so much more water than I usually drink, endless bowls of Shredded Wheat, and a massive amount of sleep, for instance.

In the past, I would beat myself up for needing these things, especially the naps. I would see it as me just being lazy or deficient in some way. But being pregnant has given me a bit of a pass. I’m building another human being, of course I’m exhausted. Being pregnant has given me a sliver of permission to actually listen to my body and trust it when it tells me what it needs, even if part of me thinks those needs are ridiculous. Now, I nap when I’m exhausted, I eat when I’m hungry, and I try to respect my needs, whatever they may be. I’m allowed to have needs, and I’m allowed to actively try to fulfill those needs.

Being pregnant has been weird. Until recently, it mostly just felt like being normal me, except I had to pay more attention to my body. Now it definitely feels different, what with the baby rolling around constantly and my body looking so incredibly different. I’m not sure I’m one of those people who loves being pregnant, but so far I definitely haven’t minded it, and the experience has actually been a really powerful way for me to connect more to my own body. Now I’m just anxiously awaiting baby’s arrival (though hopefully not for a few more weeks…he’s only 3 pounds or so at the moment, after all).

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