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Research and pregnancy: My story (Part 1)

Before I became pregnant, I imagined myself as a powerful pregnant woman. I was sure I would simply keep working with the intensity and concentration that I am used to. I was going to be in the gym every day at 6 am to give it my all and start the day right. I definitely was not going to whine, complain, cry, or ask anybody for help. Life only changes when you have a baby, right?

So far for my plans and ideas about pregnancy. My fall semester had a crazy travel schedule, in which I was away from university for almost two months. I did fieldwork, conferences, and an invited lecture in Belgium, the Netherlands, the United States and South Africa. Traveling anywhere from Ecuador is always a long trip. Traveling to South Africa from Ecuador takes three days and includes two red-eye flights. A trip of this length takes a toll on any body, and on my body in early pregnancy, it took quite a toll.

I returned from the conference in South Africa tired, tired, tired. Then came nausea and vomiting. I decided to take it easy for the next weeks and recover from all the traveling I had done. I didn’t reduce my working hours (but my hours were less productive), but I did not work out and spent my evenings on the couch. Everybody said things would get better in the second trimester, so I just hoped for these weeks to pass by quickly. At this point, almost nobody knew about the baby, as we decided to wait until the difficult first trimester would be behind us and the doctor would confirm that the baby is healthy and growing.

During the Christmas holidays, we traveled to the Galapagos Islands. I enjoyed the trip very much, but I was still quite nauseous, and tired. On New Year’s Eve I was sound asleep before midnight. In January, I attended TRB, like every year. My appetite was back a bit, but the extremely cold weather in DC made me sick. One day I left a session at 4pm, and slept until the next day 11 am, only coming out to have a quick dinner.

By now, I had reached the second trimester, and I was hopeful that now I’d be able to work with my full concentration again and to go back to the gym and play more music. By the time the fourth month of pregnancy drew to a close, I started to feel desperate. Where were the tons of energy that everybody promised me for the second trimester? Why was I still needing 9 hours of sleep every night? Is this tiredness never going to end? My mood sank to an all-time low. I had anxiety, worrying about everything that could go wrong at work, during the pregnancy, during birth, when traveling with the baby, and as a new mom. I found myself in bed, dead tired and wanting to sleep, but with my heart racing and my thoughts going in circles.

Gradually, I accepted that my ideal of how I would be during pregnancy was not going to happen. I usually push myself very hard to achieve the goals that I set for myself. I’ve fallen back as a result of being sick, but never longer than two weeks. Falling back over a period of months is not something that had ever happened to me before, and it was difficult to accept at first. I made peace with the understanding that pregnancy is a temporal state. I decided to try and enjoy it was much as I could: taking prenatal yoga classes, using this time in my life to make space for the baby by simply doing less, and embracing my body as it is: with a growing belly, full hair, and the best skin I’ve ever had. I accepted the fact that I am not doing the workouts I love, but instead walking and doing gentle yoga, because that is what I can do now, and it is good as it is.

I waited to tell my colleagues until I was 5 months pregnant (I only started showing towards the end of the sixth month). Somehow, I was worried about the reactions of some of my colleagues. I was worried that my colleagues in Delft would resent the fact that my annual research stay was coinciding with the last months of my pregnancy, which makes me unsuitable for field and laboratory work. I was worried that people would joke about the fact that I got tenure and immediately decide to lean back and have a baby. I was worried about what would happen to my courses, and if I would need a replacement for my maternity leave. Luckily, none of my worries had any ground. I worried that I won’t be able to deliver on the two book projects that I signed for. All of my colleagues have been excited for my husband and I. The publishing companies I signed book contracts with have mentioned that if I need a bit more time as a result of my maternity leave and baby, that they would totally understand.

As I write this post (April 2017 – I am scheduling ahead of time to have posts for you while I’m on maternity leave 🙂 ), I have just started the third trimester. I have taken duties off my plate and made more space in my schedule. I’ve accepted the fact that I am able to do less than usual. The only one who was ever negative about the whole situation was myself – and beating myself up over it only made me more miserable and less productive for the hours that I am working. I’m grateful for the fact that the baby and myself are healthy, which is the most important now. I’ve been lucky as well: besides the nausea and vomiting of the first trimester (and quite some weight loss then), and the fact that I am tired a lot, I have not had much difficulties. A painful knee or back once in a blue moon, but other than that, I have no complaints. I’m planning to write another post towards the end of the third trimester, to finalize this story.

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