When we first decided to have a baby, I knew that I wanted it to be different — that it HAD to be different — from my other three. As a young twenty-something having babies, I still ate like a college kid, didn’t understand exercise even though I did attempt it at times, and never really *got* the connection between what I ate and how it affected me. I didn’t care about HEALTH. I cared about my weight, always struggling to get the number on the scale right. Healthy for me was diet coke, instead of regular. When I became pregnant, I always switched to CAFFEINE-FREE diet coke. That makes me cringe now. I didn’t know how important protein was and barely got any. I hated vegetables. I lived on simple carbs. Each successive pregnancy, as I got older and wiser, I improved a little bit, but not much. Until now!
Are my children all fine? So far so good, for the most part. One has ADHD, one has borderline asthma and the other outgrew her borderline asthma after 6 years. I lost one pregnancy at 23 weeks, a little girl, that I will never know if it was my fault.
I don’t know how what I ate will affect them down the road, and I’m pretty sure that for the most part, my body protected them from the chemical storm I ingested each day. But the differences in how *I* felt during these pregnancies is ASTOUNDING. If only I knew back then how difficult I was making it all on myself.
Here is a comparison of my healthiest (this one!) vs. my unhealthiest (my first full-term, when I was 22 years old, of my now 15 year old son).
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Pregnancy 1: I was a preschool teacher at the time, very newly married and so, so young. I was 21 most of my pregnancy, 22 when I had him. My (ex) husband and I were dirt poor and just had no idea how to function in life yet – married at 20, barely out of my parent’s house. I was married to my ex for about 10 years and we had three children before splitting when my youngest was a baby.
Pregnancy 4: My husband and I had been married about a year (together 3) when we decided to start trying for a baby of our own. He has always been an incredible bonus-daddy to my three and came into this marriage thinking they would be his only children. I was 36 when I became pregnant, and 37 now that I am about to deliver. We have established careers, both work from home, a solid marriage. Our lives revolve around health and fitness, my husband is a personal trainer and very successful fitness/health blogger, and I’m now a certified nutrition coach and fitness addict.
Pregnancy 1: Meals were sporadic. Most of the time, I was so exhausted from working 12 hour days that I just grabbed fast food. Vegetables were non-existent in my diet, I hated them, and justified not eating them by taking my prenatal vitamins. I drank caffeine-free soda, no water (also hated it). I craved root-beer floats and popsicles all the time and justified indulging in them as “eating for two”. When I did cook, it was something from a box – hamburger helper or other processed, convenience food.
Pregnancy 4: I began my pregnancy at the healthiest I’ve ever been in my life. Although the first trimester was rough with morning sickness, 90% of this pregnancy has been fueled by a high-vegetable high-protein diet, no processed or refined foods, chemicals, food dyes, etc. I eat 4-5 servings of veggies per day, 2 of those being leafy greens and one of those is always spinach (read here why spinach is so important during pregnancy). I eat a minimum of 90g of lean, high quality protein per day but usually end up around 120g. I eat fruit for snacks and also get plenty of healthy fats. I drink 3.5-4L of water per day and haven’t had a soda in years. When I want to indulge, I make desserts from scratch and use all clean ingredients. I supplement with an organic, all-natural made-from- real-food prenatal and take cod liver oil daily.
Pregnancy 1: Exercise was non-existent. I walked around the mall a few times at the end of my pregnancy just to get labor started, but my job involved me sitting in a rocking chair all day long and when I was home, I parked it on the couch. I was too scared to exercise as I had lost a pregnancy at 23 weeks just months before my son was conceived. I was under the impression that exercise during pregnancy was bad, that it would harm my baby. I lifted nothing. I wouldn’t even reach overhead to get something off the shelf.
Pregnancy 4: I have exercised in some form or fashion every day since my second trimester. My first trimester was spent on crutches, although when I felt any relief from morning sickness, I would at least do a short workout on one leg, around my boot. I have done everything from hiking mountains in Colorado and Yosemite, to HIIT workouts, running, traditional weightlifting, circuit training, jump rope and non-contact kickboxing, and just walking here at the end.
Pregnancy 1: I started this pregnancy out the same size and weight as my current pregnancy (although with way less muscle). By the time of birth, I had gained over 60 pounds. I gained the weight so quickly and dramatically that I got stretch marks all over my stomach, breasts, hips, and upper thighs.
Pregnancy 4: So far (I’m 40 weeks in 2 days), I have gained 30ish pounds (I am not a fan of scales so don’t really know my starting weight). I still have the muscle tone in my arms that I started with, and I can even still see my obliques, sort of 🙂 I put on some fat in my legs and rear end, which I totally freaked out about at first, but have come to realize that this is just what my body does to prepare for my baby.
My Pregnancy Symptoms
Pregnancy 1: You name the symptom, I had it. From heartburn, leg cramps, wild cravings, constipation, swelling, sore and achey joints, back pain, insomnia, depression, stretch marks, dizziness, and fatigue. It was a miserable nine months, especially the last two. I spent the last 4 weeks sleeping upright because I couldn’t breathe under my own weight.
Pregnancy 4: I still sit here, nine months pregnant, amazed at how good I feel. I do not feel nine months pregnant. I may be a little slower and have some pressure just from the weight of the baby and the water, but I still feel like me. The only cravings I have had were in the first trimester when I craved soup, and recently I craved pumpkin and butternut squash. I have only had a few symptoms and most have gone away within a few days. Some swelling, some achiness (that I finally realized was from continuing to jump in my workouts well into the third trimester), a few bouts of insomnia; but I feel really great, even days before my due date.
Delivery and Recovery
I have yet to see how I will do in these areas this time around, but for my first pregnancy, they were traumatic to say the least. I’m confident, given my health and body differences, that this one will be completely different.
With Pregnancy 1, I labored for 27 hours. I was so weak and unhealthy, had no endurance, and absolutely felt like I would die. My body progressed slowly, my baby’s heartbeat dropped to dangerous levels, and I was this close to a c-section. My recovery was also just as slow. I lost only 20 of the 60 pounds I gained in the year that followed. I also struggled with severe post-partum depression.
Update – Athough I didn’t realize it at the time, I was in labor when I wrote this article! I was able to have a natural, midwife assisted birth with a 12 hour labor, very manageable until transition – you can read the story here. I was also back in shape by 5 months post-partum, read that update here.
While I may never know how my differing choices in my pregnancies affected my babies, it is very clear how they affected me. I was imprisoned by my own body when I was unhealthy, feeling awful at the time but totally unaware that it was by my own doing. This time, with the daily decision to make the healthiest choices, I was able to feel great the entire 9 months. I still felt like ME. And if I felt this great, I imagine my baby is feeling pretty great in there too.