A restless emotion took hold over me, and as if enchanted, I slept-walked to the pharmacy down the road. Then back home again, to the bathroom, my mind blank. I was still focusing on aiming when a plus sign showed up without a split-second notice. I grew stiller still. I ghosted to the living room, wrote: “And I know you’ll be to our baby” on a card that said “You’re one in a million,” and called G. His eyes reading, gleaming, growing; he hugged me. And I awoke from my daze. Pregnant.
For as long as I can remember, I could only think of reasons not to have children. Mostly, I worried I was emotionally immature for parenthood and that I might repeat some of my parents’ mistakes. I also feared my career would halt and most household responsibilities to fall on me. And that I’d lose the life I appreciated so much, filled with days of learning, reading, and travel. One by one, though, my concerns waned.
I put a lot of effort into softening my core and taming my roughest edges over the years. Nowadays, I’m less angry, less self-sabotaging, and more mature. My friendships are calmer, and so is my relationship with my parents.
Likewise, G and I’ve always worked hard on our relationship. We’re both open to learning and don’t shy away from tackling topics that matter, like sex, finances, or the distribution of household chores. When I discovered the comic You Should’ve Asked by Emma, it helped me better explain my concern around household responsibilities to G, and our home dynamics improved further.
Becoming friends with my parents allowed me to see their childrearing mistakes in a softer light. I also learned to see my path as separate from theirs and trust that I could have a different parenting style, just like I had crafted a career, relationship, and life distinct from theirs.
Finally, when Covid took hold of the world, G and I began longing for a life in nature, away from the concrete jungle. We also wanted to be closer to our parents and decided to move back to Europe. That’s, too, when we opened up to the idea of starting a family and realized that after a decade of chasing our dreams and traveling, we were ready.
Some reads that influenced my decision over the years (both to have and not to have kids):
- Selfish, Shallow, and Self-Absorbed: Sixteen Writers on the Decision Not to Have Kids – Meghan Daum
- “Parenting as Practice” from Wherever You Go There You Are: Mindfulness Meditation in Everyday Life – Jon Kabat-Zinn
- Having Kids – Paul Graham
- “Every Body” from The Defining Decade: Why Your Twenties Matter and How to Make the Most of Them Now – Meg Jay
At five months pregnant, I was still surfing. Had I been close to an ocean longer, I would’ve kept going in. I also moved around my entire pregnancy, dividing my time between Sarajevo, Ericeira, and Amsterdam. A week before giving birth, I cycled to my hairdresser across town in Dutch weather.
I experienced morning sickness only for two days. Meat and organs repulsed me for about a week, and I had no cravings except for an increased appetite for fruits. I remember one nosebleed. And during my third trimester, I had pelvic pains and trouble sleeping through the night and was generally more tired. But that was it.
Each week, I expected all the nasty symptoms that I read or heard about to appear (like hemorrhoids, heartburn, bleeding gums, and itchy skin), but they never did. My pregnancy was super smooth. I might’ve just been lucky, but I’m more inclined to attribute my fortune to my primarily fish-and-meat-based diet and some dairy, eggs, seasonal fruits, and honey.
Sidenote: Most of the insights below are realizations from after giving birth. Regardless, it’s knowledge I wish I had acted on during pregnancy, and that’s why you’re finding this info here.
What I Wish I Had Done
1. Watched an uncensored natural birth video of a firstborn
I would’ve preferred to have known the exact workings of the “ring of fire.” Like, that it lasts for a surge or two.
2. Followed The Postpartum Pack by The Positive Birth Company
I prepared pretty well for giving birth but not for the postpartum phase, and I wish I had.
3. Read The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding and had a lactation expert on speed dial
Breastfeeding is natural, but it doesn’t necessarily come naturally. It took Dylan and me about seven weeks to be comfortable together. Before, though, I was plenty insecure and frustrated. I also had cracked nipples which resulted in breast inflammation. Reading The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding gave me back my self-confidence, and so did the lactation expert. The latter also showed me better latching techniques, making the subsequent breastfeeding sessions pain-free.
4. Had sex a few more times
Since it takes at least six weeks before one can after giving birth and being too tired actually becomes a valid excuse.
5. Bought an armchair
My mom told me to get a nice armchair for nursing sessions, which was advice that I ignored. I realized she was right when staying in hotels on our first road trip. A good fauteuil really does make breastfeeding much more comfortable. Even better if it comes with a footrest. Add a side table and a dimmable lamp (we have an older version of this one), and you’re golden.
6. Purchased a nursing bra
I ended up wanting a nursing bra so that I wouldn’t have to hand-hold my Elvie Pump (for nursing, I’ve found braless life best.) Shopping, though, especially for myself, seemed unthinkable in the first weeks after giving birth. I resorted to buying a few different bras online and trying them at home, which wasn’t ideal.
7. Got a few extra baby clothes
I kept shopping to a minimum, thinking I could pop into a store a few streets down if I needed something. This was before I realized that what I had read was true: I wouldn’t be getting out of the house much for the first days after giving birth. Of course, online shopping remained an option, but I found it headspace and time-consuming, and more error-prone because I couldn’t touch the fabrics.
8. Researched health insurance options before deciding to make a baby
All turned out well but not after a lot of paperwork and worries.
9. Have a baby in a country with equal paternity and maternity leave
In Spain, both the mother and father get 16 weeks of paid leave compared to 16 weeks and 6 weeks in Portugal. Knowing how demanding and precious the first months of a baby’s life are, Spain would’ve been the better choice since we were planning to move anyway (and G is Spanish).
What I’m Glad I Did
1. Told G’s and my parents that I was pregnant as soon as we found out ourselves
I found sharing a secret with both sides of the family super cute.
2. Told a handful of friends about my pregnancy very early on
I wanted to have a support system if I were to have a miscarriage or other complications.
3. Read up and followed a course on positive birthing
Thanks to this course, I felt confident about my wish and decision for a home birth. Nonetheless, I also learned a lot about complications in labor, which resulted in G and I keeping an open mind and preparing for a hospital birth and cesarean, aside from a home birth.
4. Rejected most checkups and tests
I went for a first-trimester ultrasound (to confirm pregnancy and estimate embryo age), did the NIPT test (to rule out genetic abnormalities), did the 13-week and 21-week prenatal screening (to rule out structural abnormalities), and had an ultrasound at 37 weeks (to confirm baby’s position). That was it. Part of this outcome was by design: I knew I was healthy thanks to my diet and numerous blood tests from previous years, and I didn’t want to ruin a smooth pregnancy with needless worrying. But since I also spent my pregnancy in different places, I didn’t have a regular doctor or midwife following along.
5. Kept moving around as usual
I loved spending my pregnancy between Ericeira, Sarajevo, and Amsterdam.
6. Spent a week with my friends on a self-organized retreat
Since I’m not too confident this will be possible again soon.
7. Figured out separate sleeping and nursing spaces for the night
After G’s first two weeks of paternity leave, we moved Dylan’s crib to the living room. We also set up a temporary diaper-changing station on our dinner table each night. This way, G could try to get more sleep while I breastfed Dylan at night. Likewise, G would put Dylan to sleep before the night routine and play with him first thing in the morning so that I could catch up on my sleep. We made this arrangement in our tiny one-bedroom apartment in Amsterdam, where the areas are barely separate, but it did help.
8. Kept maternity and baby shopping down to a minimum
I made an effort not to get drawn in by the relentless new-parent marketing strategies and only buy what I thought necessary. It helped that we didn’t arrive in our nest until I was 37 weeks pregnant, so I didn’t have much time for shopping. And, I also discovered Tiny Library, a company renting baby gear, and got our co-sleeper and stroller from them.
📖 Expecting Better by Emily Oster
The first and most helpful book I read on pregnancy. I ignored Oster’s advice regarding not eating raw meat, fish, and unpasteurized dairy but gladly incorporated her research on wine.
😵💫 The Hypnobirthing Pack by The Positive Birth Company
The Hypnobirthing Pack is an online course on positive birthing. It taught me about all the birthing options (and complications) and made me confident about giving birth. Siobhan Miller, the course creator, also published a book with the same content, in case reading is your preferred style of taking in information (Also a good book for your partner to read).
Sidenote: I also got the Freya app which I mostly used for the guided breathing feature while doing yoga. It was also Siobhan’s voice counting 1, 2, 3, 4 – 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8 that I replayed in my mind during labor.
⚫️ Gymnastics ball
First, I used the ball as a welcome change from lingering on the couch in the evenings. Then I worked and wrote from it. And finally, during labor, I bounced on it, catching surges. (Mine is a 55 cm one from Energetics, and I got it at Intersport–nothing fancy.)
🧘🏻♀️ Yoga mat
Throughout my pregnancy, I did daily mini yoga sessions. I’d set the timer to 5 minutes but continue for as long as I pleased, which was typically not much more than 12+ minutes. My routine consisted of a forward bend, half lift, cat-cow, downward dog, child’s pose, and malasana squat. In Ericeira and Sarajevo, I used a mat that I bought at my yoga studio in Singapore. For Amsterdam, I ordered the Love Generation 6mm.
📷 Nixplay Smart Photo Frame
Since G and I changed places quite a bit during my pregnancy, having our pictures with us made every spot feel a bit like home. As we moved, I also kept uploading new photos and loved adding Peanut’s first (ultrasound) images.
🐓 La Millou’s Velvet Grandma Dana’s Hen feeding pillow
I first used the pillow to relieve pelvic pain during the last few weeks of my pregnancy by popping it between my knees when sleeping. Then, the hen also served as a neck, back, and laptop cushion before taking up its intended role as a feeding pillow.
🏋🏽♀️ Elvie Trainer
The Elvie Trainer is a smart Kegel trainer for strengthening your pelvic floor. The exercises helped me lessen pelvic pains during my last weeks of pregnancy. Plus, continuing the exercises after childbirth makes me hopeful about my sex life and ability not to pee myself spontaneously.