January 10, 2023

Third Trimester Routine

 People often tell me that I’m very calm. In reality, it’s just that I do with panic and fear what I do with all my emotions: I turn them inward. When we came back home in the new year after holiday travels, I became very anxious about the prospect of childbirth in a couple months. All of the sudden it felt imminent. I’ve been told by people, both by people who haven’t had babies and those who’ve had, that I don’t need to prepare for labor. “There’s not much you need to do.” “Why are you watching videos? Just go with the flow.” 

Among the many things I’ve found unique about pregnancy is the confidence of people that their singular experience will apply to someone else’s singular experience. People seem to rationally know how very different the process is for each woman, yet they offer so much anecdotal advice. I don’t mind hearing this in terms of, “This is what worked for me.” But more often it is presented as “You should do this because this is what happened to me or to my friend.”  As the recipient of a lot of skepticism and negative feedback, my personal preference is not to hear things like “Oh, wow, good luck,” or “That’s what my friend thought but then this (insert terrible event) happened.”  If I could craft the best response in hearing someone’s birth plan, it would be: “That sounds great, and I hope you have a really positive birth experience. If you want to hear about what worked for me as someone who (insert self description, such as “doesn’t mind medical intervention,” “likes to prepare,” etc), let me know.”

I’ve also been told by many people that they weren’t told anything about what to expect with labor. I am all for each person having a life approach and philosophy that works for them. Personally, as anyone who knows me knows, I counter anxiety with preparation and planning.  I get a lot of satisfaction from a disciplined routine, and it’s much easier for me to relax and let things happen if I know I’ve done what I can within my control. I find it hard to believe that with an experience as unique as childbirth, going in without any knowledge and preparation works best even for those who are generally spontaneous and “go with the flow,” but I won’t judge someone who chooses to go that route.  

I think though that if someone has fears around childbirth, knowledge is definitely the best means of engaging with that fear. I had a lot of fear about whether I’d be able to birth our baby without an epidural (which is a preference, not a plan, as I know many things may change the course of my vision). So I read a lot about how to mentally and physically prepare for labor, and have structured my daily routine around incorporating these strategies. It’s overwhelming how many daily tasks are recommended to pregnant women, and I find it easier if I have a routine. Even if all this ultimately does nothing for labor itself, I’m feeling the best I have in pregnancy, and I’m learning things that are helpful to me in other parts of my life. 

We wake up at 6 AM, and G has made it easier for me to get out of bed on time during the dark winter by getting up with me. I make a cup of nettle tea, which is supposed to contain antioxidants and nutrients (there’s thought too that it can stimulate the uterus so you should only use it later in pregnancy), that I drink during our morning workout. I’m not one to take vitamins and supplements normally, but I figure it can’t hurt and it gets me to hydrate which I’m normally bad at. I also brew a couple cups of raspberry leaf tea and put that in a big bottle to drink throughout the day. This is supposed to help with uterine contractions, and you’re supposed to start in the latter part of the third trimester to build it up in your system. I also prep chia seed pudding (basically just chia seeds in some non-dairy milk for protein and a sweet snack for my sweet tooth while I’m trying to avoid processed sugar) with a couple dates in it (more on that in a bit), as well as a smoothie (basically non-dairy milk, a couple more dates, and protein powder). These are to help me to boost my protein content, both for the baby and for me to maintain muscle through this weird time of fitness in my life. I have the smoothie after our workout and the chia pudding sometime during the day or after dinner when I want dessert. Apparently, small studies have shown that pregnant women who eat 6 dates a day starting at 36 weeks have a shorter first phase of labor, softer cervix, and less need for pitocin. Again, one of those things that aren’t harmful and can only help.  

This all takes about 15 minutes, by which time G has fed his sourdough starter and woken up a little, and we do a prenatal workout together which he does because he knows it is easier and more fun for me to do if he does it too (best papa to be ever). I love being able to still feel strong, and feel strength in a different way than I did previously - knowing that I can exercise with an extra 30 pounds on me, and in a way that is safe and good for our baby, is very empowering. And it gives me a lot of confidence for labor. Even if there’s no way to exercise your uterus to prepare it for the marathon of labor, I feel more intimately familiar with my body despite all these changes, and I think that’s important for the physical experience of childbirth. On Tuesday evenings we go to the gym to climb with our friends and on weekends we still climb outside and take long walks, and the sense of community in movement has also been important for my feeling more equipped for all the changes that are going to happen to my body.

On my way to and from work, I listen to a positive birth story. I’ve been told about so many traumatic, negative experiences giving labor. I’m not sure why people think it’s a good idea to share these with someone about to go into it, without first checking if this would be useful. I can understand that you may be the type of person whose anxiety is relieved by hearing worst-case-scenarios, but I am not that type of person and I think it’s good to check in with someone about what they want to hear. And I’m not just listening to stories about the type of labor I envision for myself - I like hearing about any version where the woman feels positive, whether it’s dealing with unexpected complications, or getting an epidural when she previously thought she wouldn’t get one. In most of the stories, no matter how much she prepared, the woman finds that much of the experience isn’t as she expected, but still finds the experience positive. So as rigid as my routine feels right now, I’m not expecting that it will make my dream birth happen. It  just gives me the sense of well-being and confidence to then hopefully take on the unexpected in a positive way.

At work, I sit on a birthing ball instead of a chair, which helps me maintain better posture. I can intermittently, mindlessly, do exercises to help with baby position and pelvic alignment. My pelvis started feeling very strange and loose in the second trimester, but with specific stretches and the ball, I’ve felt really good despite gaining more weight.

In the evenings, after work and dinner, I take a shower. Previously I was more of a every-few-days shower person, and now I take one every day to help me wind down. I love using a nice soap and brushing my teeth in the shower. I also use it as a time to do a perineal massage, which has been shown to prevent vaginal tears, and which I’m not as motivated to do when I’m not in the shower. Afterwards I put on face lotion, chapstick, and a belly balm a friend gifted me early on in pregnancy, and I don’t know if it works but I like how it feels and I haven’t gotten stretch marks yet. I love doing all this well before I actually go to bed, so that I have time to let everything absorb and I enjoy the after warming effects of the water.

Then I light a candle and do stretches with the birthing ball and on the mat, while listening to a childbirth affirmation. I’ve found one I like and I listen to the same one every day. It basically tells me that my mind and body can do this, and to stay open to the pain that means I’m birthing. Then I listen to a few of the same hypnobirthing audio tracks, which condition you to quickly relax upon counting down from 10 and to quickly visualize calming environments. By this time the cats have settled into our bed, or Monty likes to sit next to me on the mat as I get hypnotized. 

I know how wu-wu this all sounds, but I absolutely believe in the power of positive thinking and meditation to get through difficult experiences. Even if I end up having complications and getting a C-section, these practices have made me really calm and happy during my third trimester, which is definitely not how I felt during the other two thirds of pregnancy. 

Having a strong purpose for this routine has also helped me achieve resolutions I’ve previously made but found difficult to keep, like daily meditation and checking my phone less. Keeping to my schedule means that I don’t reach immediately for my phone in the morning, and have little desire to check it at night after I’ve put so much energy into relaxing, so I’m able to stick to my goal of checking my phone only three times a day (once in the morning after my routine, at lunch, and at the end of the work day).  

Most importantly, these calming and nurturing practices have made me excited and curious about childbirth, instead of anxious and scared.

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