I had coffee with my friend, Desiree, an OB-GYN and mother of three. After we caught up on all the nonsense and shenanigans our kids are up to, we talked about what every parent is obsessed about: gaining some semblance of control in our lives. We talked about how shocking it is to one’s sense of self to become a parent and for many men and women; the biggest shock comes from losing control. It’s inevitable, but for some parents, unacceptable. Yet we all learn one way or another, the harder we hang on to control, the harder it is to be a good parent. But when we learn to let go and let it flow it all gets easier.
The transition from being yourself to being somebody’s mother requires a big identity shift. Desiree and I talked about how often it seems the parents who struggle the most with that transition wind up having the most anxiety during pregnancy and early parenting. They can’t let go of who they were – highly organized, extremely productive and well rested if also somewhat tightly-wound and controlling - to accept who they are - the parent and personal servant of an entirely new, out of control individual they barely know.
To some extent, up until the moment your pee-stick turns blue, most people consider themselves the captain of their own ship and in charge of what happens in their life. But, then you get pregnant and learn you have no choice about the morning sickness. You don’t get to decide whether you have a boy or girl or whether he/she kicks you in the kidneys or keeps you awake all night doing somersaults.
Even after surrendering your body to your child, many parents still hang on to the belief that they’re in control. They read and plan, dream and decide: When I have my baby, it’s going to be exactly like this. But, then you go into labor and realize it isn’t anything like what you’d planned. It’s harder (OK, once in a while it’s easier, but not often) than you thought it would be. It takes longer. It didn’t start the way you wanted or you didn’t dilate the way it said you would in the book. You wound up with a tear you didn’t plan or a c-section you swore you’d never have. It didn’t go the way you expected. And still, some parents think they’re in control. But then the baby is placed in their arms and reality sinks in. “Oh, it wasn’t a plan…it was a baby.” Most parents learn pretty quickly after this that the secret to successful parenting is all about letting go and letting it flow. It’s almost never about control.
Desiree pointed out at this point that sometimes parenting is a lot like pooping. If you try too hard to control it and refuse to deal with things matter-of-factly, you wind up getting stuck, constipated, bound up, anxious, painful and afraid. I should mention that Desiree had just finished an all-night on-call shift where she’d received several calls between midnight and 6 AM from highly constipated pregnant women. She’d also wrangled three small children through their morning routine and onto the school bus and was celebrating that for once, it all went smoothly.
That’s when we got all philosophical about the parallels between going with the flow and going to the bathroom. Desiree said, “these poor women call me and say, ‘I just don’t know what’s happening to me. I can’t even poop when I want to.’ I tell them, ‘Honey, you’ve lived with your pooper your whole life and you know how to make it go. Just do whatever it takes to move things through. Everybody has a food that makes her poop. Everybody works better if they just push it along with plenty of fiber and water until it comes out the other end. It’s better to start practicing your best poop-moving techniques early in pregnancy and stay on top of it or else you’re going to be crying in the middle of the night to your doctor. Poop happens…let it go. Then, of course, after I’m done with philosophy, I talk about how much fiber they need every day (about 30-40 grams). I tell them to look at labels. If it says three grams of fiber or less – that’s a low fiber food. Five grams is medium and eight grams is high fiber. Pick as many high fiber foods as possible and eventually, you’ll go number two.”
Seriously, it’s good parenting advice: Everybody feels better if they just give up a little control. Do what you can to push through the stinky stuff in life. Don’t hang on to it. Just let it go and let it flow. You’ll be a better parent for it.
Jeanne Faulkner, R.N., lives in Portland, Oregon with her husband and five children. Got a question for Jeanne? E-mail it to firstname.lastname@example.org and it may be answered in a future blog post.
This Fit Pregnancy blog is intended for educational purposes only. It is not intended to replace medical advice from your physician. Before initiating any exercise program, diet or treatment provided by Fit Pregnancy, you should seek medical advice from your primary caregiver.