When I learned I was pregnant with my son, I was also somewhere in the middle of my seventh year of formal study in psychology (third year of graduate school). I knew the effects of a mother’s stress on a developing child. Knowing I’m generally an anxious Type A person, it was important to me that I minimize the risk of anxiety in my child. Neither my husband nor I have any known relatives who have ever been diagnosed with anxiety, so I was just keen on minimizing the risk of him developing even a normal level of anxiety.
In order to keep my cortisol levels as low as possible as much as possible, I needed to completely shift my mindset. During the hardest year of my academic career. I was in the third year of my graduate studies and would be taking my qualifying exams just two months before my baby was due. Stressful was the only word that could come close to describing that third year. But the overall mental health of my baby was the most important thing to me. If I failed a section or more, I would have an opportunity to retake it later in the year, after I had given birth and could finally experience panic again.
I made a simple decision, one I repeated to myself daily. I decided I no longer believed in stress. I wasn’t going to give anything the power to stress me out. If I even felt the mere hint of anxiety fluttering around the edges, I would begin to hum a favorite Celtic tune until I felt completely relaxed. Awesomely enough, it turned out to be the only tune that could and would calm my son during the first year or so of his life! The bond between a mother and child is an incredible thing.
The mental shift wasn’t quite immediate, but it was noticeable in everything I did. I stopped overloading my schedule and started studying more during my lunch breaks as I was often too tired to study when I got home. Instead of socializing with friends and classmates or enjoying a fiction novel, I read textbooks, wrote notes so I wouldn’t forget (that pregnancy brain was the hardest hurdle to overcome!), and started on papers and creating study guides. Instead of procrastinating, I set up schedules where I started on whatever I needed to do weeks in advance. Pregnant and at the height of my organizational life. I suppose, other than growing and giving birth to a beautiful human being, pregnancy had to have its perks.
I’m normally a very punctual person. Almost to a fault. I’ve had many people tell me to calm down and that being late once wouldn’t be catastrophic. Yeah, tell that to an annoyingly punctual person! Even as a child I would become twisted in knots if I was even a minute late. I was so anal about it that everyone around me also had to be punctual. I’m sure I was a fun child to raise. Anyways, I hate driving. I especially hated driving in the snow and ice while pregnant. It was the first time I’d really had to drive under those conditions, and I was a little more than terrified. I had to put my trust into others that the roads would be cared for. I also learned to drive at a snail’s pace and not grow anxious at my slow travel. All I had to do was leave much earlier than I actually needed to, and to hum my favorite tune.
When it came down to it, I had a choice: my baby’s well-being or my needs as a graduate student. I made this choice well before I told anyone I was expecting. I carefully planned everything I did to ensure my actions weren’t noticed. As stressful as careful planning could have been, it made me much calmer. It made it easier to just say goodbye to stress.
When it comes to stress as a mom of one, or even two (or more, but that won’t be me), it’s harder to say goodbye. But the practices I put into play while pregnant have lingered and I now look at calendars in a different way.
Head on over here for more about my journey into finding magic in motherhood.