The pregnant pause

Pregnancy is without a doubt a time of exciting anticipation. You and your loved ones are awaiting the arrival of a new little person, a person you’re so looking forward to meeting, someone you’ve been thinking about since the moment you first discovered you were expecting. As a culture, we tend to be very future oriented, and our perceptions of pregnancy are no exception.

Even the term “expecting” carries with it the implication that something has not yet happened, that we are waiting for something in the future. A multimillion-dollar industry is banking on the expectations of couples, who make use of the nine months of waiting to purchase nursery furniture, clothing, baby-name books, car seats, strollers, and everything else to prepare for the birth of their bundle of joy. This nesting process is a necessary and fun part of becoming parents, however by focusing so intensely on the future we can sometimes lose sight of the beauty and miraculousness of the present moment. Being “with child” is one of the most amazing and powerful of human experiences, and it’s important to savor these months as much as possible.

So many of us are stressed; we rush from one commitment to the next, multitasking as we eat, drive, and talk on the phone, trying to fit more and more into each day. And many expectant parents find that this is a time when even more is added to their plates—all the responsibilities of preparing for a baby can create a very long new to-do list.

As we all know, stress can have a strong impact on our physiological and psychological well-being, but some very recent studies suggest that it is also harmful to your unborn baby. Just a few weeks ago researchers from the University of Konstanz in Germany announced findings from their study that suggest that when a pregnant woman was exposed to stress, her baby’s stress-hormone level also increased. It brings to mind some advice that our friend’s Italian grandmother gave her when she was pregnant with her first child. Nana advised her against going to a funeral, warning “the sadness isn’t good for the baby.” We laughed a little when our friend told us the story, but it turns out that this old wives’ tale has some scientific backing.

Her grandmother also said, “Have a glass of wine to help you relax. It’s good for the baby.” Now, while we certainly aren’t suggesting prenatal alcohol consumption, we do feel that there is some ancient wisdom to be found behind those words. Yes, stress may be bad for your baby, but on the positive side, relaxing is good for your baby—very, very good.

The popularity of prenatal yoga classes suggests that many pregnant women are aware that their well-being influences that of their babies. But if “go to Prenatal Yoga Class” is one more item to be added to the already chock-full pregnancy to-do list, it almost defeats the purpose, don’t you think?

Let’s put that list aside for a moment and think of some ways that you can truly relax. Yes, you are entitled as a pregnant woman to take time for yourself and your baby. It’s your right and even your duty! Pregnancy is one of those rare times in life where you can claim that you are doing something very important when you are just sitting still.

If you just sit in a comfortable place and breathe, you’re doing the most important thing of all, nurturing and caring for your baby. As you take each deep breath in, be aware that you’re also breathing for your baby. She’s taking in that life-giving oxygen and it’s nourishing her and helping her to grow. Now, be aware of the rhythm of your heart beating. Each beat brings invigorating blood to your baby, making her stronger every moment. And when you add your soothing voice to the mix, reading a calming rhythmic story, you have the formula for perfect relaxation for both mother and child.

The poetic rhythm that most closely mimics your heartbeat is iambic pentameter, or five sets of two syllables with the stress on each second syllable. Iambic pentameter was the form used most often by William Shakespeare in his sonnets, and you might like to try reading these love poems to the baby in your womb. Perhaps the most well known is Sonnet 18:

Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?
Thou art more lovely and more temperate:
Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May,
And summer’s lease hath all too short a date:
Sometime too hot the eye of heaven shines
And often is his gold complexion dimmed;
And every fair from fair sometimes declines,
By chance or nature’s changing course untrimmed;
But thy eternal summer shall not fade
Nor lose possession of that fair thou owest;
Nor shall death brag thou wander in his shade,
When in eternal lines to time thou growest:
So long as men can breathe, or eyes can see,
So long lives this, and this gives life to thee.

As you read you’ll find yourself feeling more calm as your heartbeat and breathing slow down. This relaxation will immediately pass to your baby; you’ll both feel connected, soothed, and peaceful, and you’ll know that you’re accomplishing the most valuable task of all. Cherish this time when your baby is so close to you, when you share everything, every place and every experience. Together you are an incredible symbiotic organism, working in perfect synchrony.

Yes, there is so much to look forward to as an expectant parent, and your baby will arrive soon enough. But you have every reason to push the pause button and stop that fast-forward movement toward your baby’s birth. All you need is ten or fifteen minutes a day set aside to savor those precious moments with your baby . . . breathing, reading, and just being together.

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