I’m just trying to survive. That’s always been my mantra during the first trimester of pregnancy which has always been fairly rough for me. This one has been particularly rough as I try to adequately feed, nurture, referee, and entertain two rambunctious toddler boys. I pretty much always feel like curling up in bed and sleeping away what’s essentially a perpetual hangover.
But here’s the problem with surviving: What happens when the first trimester afflictions stick with you all nine months (as they do for an unlucky few)? What will those nine months look like in your memory? Do you want such a big chunk of time to be mere survival?
I learned with my Crohn’s disease that I had to get out of the survival mentality. I had to stop waiting on everything to get better. I had to start living my life as it was. If Crohn’s was to be a part of me, I’d have to learn to live with Crohn’s. Sure, one weekend hospital trip doesn’t seem like a waste if I spend it wasting away. But months? Years? I didn’t want to just survive. I wanted to thrive.
But how do you thrive when every little thing that should be simple or easy is difficult? How do you thrive when you feel like you’re constantly falling behind, failing, missing something? How do you thrive when everything hurts?
Any life coach will tell you that getting the most out of life requires a combination of gratitude and healthy expectations. Personally, I haven’t found that tasks like “listing the things I’m thankful for” help me that much. I know the good things in my life, and I think I appreciate them for the most part. My bigger problem is the expectations. I have a tendency to cling to what I think I should have or how I think my life should be or what I think I should be able to do. It’s difficult to let go of expectations. But constantly redefining our expectations is the only way we can really be content with our lives as they are.
So, when I’m suffering, I have to accept that whatever I was able to do or have yesterday I can’t necessarily do or have now. I have to erase those things from my line of focus. I have to start from scratch and go back to the bare essentials.
About a week ago I was feeling particularly overwhelmed and in survival mode. I knew it had to stop. So I greatly decreased my peripheral commitments (social stuff, outreach, house projects, etc.) What matters most right now: Am I keeping up my essential relationships? And am I finding joy and peace in my daily life? Nothing else matters.
I have almost no memories of my first trimester of my first pregnancy. I felt so miserable and the whole thing seems like a blur. But the one memory I do have is of falling asleep at 8PM on the couch while my husband sat beside me reading and listening to music. Something about that stuck with me. Like I had surrendered entirely to the suffering, embraced it, and finally found a space of peace and joy in just being there, totally incapacitated, but next to him. I decided this pregnancy that I wanted to have more of those memories.
I want to remember more times falling asleep on the couch. I want to remember watching movies with my son because I was too tired to do anything else. I want to remember listening to my husband play with the kids as I rested in the other room. I want to remember sitting on the floor and letting the baby crawl all over me, laughing, because I didn’t have the energy to entertain him any other way. I want to remember just closing my eyes and listening to the birds sing or feeling the sunshine. I want to remember the coziness of binge watching period dramas with my husband. I want to remember this evening– when I considered how, even though food was really unappetizing, maybe I could eat this salad super slowly and inspect and explore every little bite– the crunch of the lettuce, the crispness of the cucumber, the tang of the orange– being so present with the salad that I might forget the sick feeling– and how I did forget it. I want to remember how suffering makes me pause. How suffering makes me see things differently. How suffering can make me thrive.
My mom has struggled with many health issues throughout her life. Apparently one time when I was little she was sick and I told her, “Mama, I like how when you’re sick you’re a lot slower.” What I meant was that we had no to-do list when she was sick. We just sat around watching movies and relaxing. That has since stuck with me. If I can be anything while I’m sick or suffering to my loved ones, I hope I slow down. I hope I don’t spend it stressed and bitter and frazzled, just trying to survive.
I’m not saying we shouldn’t hope for relief. I’m definitely still counting down the days until my second trimester. But I need to make sure I actually live in the meantime. A good gauge for me– how often am I choosing a book or movie over mindlessly browsing my phone? Am I praying? Am I smiling? Am I laughing? Am I resting? Am I making memories? Life will be full of periods of suffering. It’s worth making the most of them.
Brenda Steele says
Elizabeth, I have read and then reread this piece. It resonates so much and makes me wonder if I should have “slowed down” more while raising my daughters, whether suffering or not. While so sorry for your first trimester misery, I applaud your determination to find joy in the small things that ultimately are the big things in life. And, congratulations on being an expectant mother again!
Elizabeth Hanna Pham says
You are so kind! I’m glad that the article resonated with you. I so often need the reminder to slow down, especially when I’m feeling my best!