After such a long break from writing, I thought it would be apt to mention a concept many of us women struggle with – thinking about you. It may seem a funny thing to say with a new little being to think about now, but these early months are the perfect time to start prioritising yourself.
In their book ‘What do Women Want?’ Luise Eichenbaum and Susie Orbach discuss how little girls are often brought up to consider other people’s needs, to the detriment of their own. For many women, this can lead to feeling drained and uncared for. During the first few weeks of pregnancy, feeling the most exhausted you’ve ever felt, trying to keep this up is a surefire recipe for burnout. Of course, it’s difficult to gain people’s understanding when they don’t yet know you’re pregnant. You may also have mixed feelings about changing your lifestyle and giving way to the new identities and roles this may signify. But as your body expands to accommodate someone else, maybe it’s time to stop accommodating everyone else?
For men and women, having a child can put us right back in touch with the ‘child’ part of ourselves. Becoming pregnant can lead us to reflect on who we want to be as mothers – and how we experienced being parented too. Immediately, we begin to think about how best to care for the child developing within us, changing things as fundamental as our eating, sleeping, social and even toilet habits! As you pour energy into looking after your growing baby, it’s worth keeping some of it back to pay some attention to the part of you who might also need a bit of love and affection.
The problem is, when you’re not used to having your needs met, it can feel very difficult to start thinking about what they might be. So, feeling a little heavier, a little tired-er and a little grumpier, it’s tempting to say ‘I’m fine’ and soldier on regardless. “Oh sure I’ll come out for a drink (even though I have no inclination to elbow my way through a bar with this precious thing inside me)”… “No really it’s fine for you to pop over, I’ll just make a little extra for dinner (better change out of my pyjamas and make something better than cheese on toast)”…. “Yes of course I can do that project, I don’t mind working late (if you can just hang on while I run to the bathroom)”… “Don’t worry about blowing that cigarette smoke on me, I’ll just hold my breath!”
Often swallowing your needs in this way can lead to feeling increasingly resentful, and these feelings can pop out when you least expect it – snapping at your partner, swearing at that particularly slow tourist on the Tube, bursting into tears at a dropped cup (ok, that could be the hormones too). To complicate matters, rather than thinking about what this might be telling us, instead most women feel guilty about not controlling themselves and work even harder to make up for it.
When you’ve been so used to being the one to look after everyone else, it can be really hard to think of yourself. A good start is learning to say no. Try practising on things that don’t feel that important, so that it starts to feel more habitual. And of course there are many ways you can say no without needing to say it. If you find yourself blurting out agreements then kicking yourself afterwards, buy yourself a bit of time by saying ‘that sounds great, can I get back to you on that?’ And don’t feel you need to give a reason to decline something, just saying ‘I’m so sorry, I’m busy that day’ is all the information you need to give. No-one needs to know that ‘busy’ means a Mad Men marathon and letting your belly hang out.