This article was originally published by Forbes.
It’s a surreal experience to be a feminist inside a pregnant woman’s body.
The first words that were said to me Thursday morning weren’t, “Hi,” or “Good morning.” Instead, a stranger across the post office parking lot shouted, “You’re having a boy?” The declarative question left me rather disoriented, so I responded, “Umm, yes…” as I walked into the building. By way of explanation, she yelled after me, “You’re carrying really low.”
Exchanges like this, which happen on a near daily basis, make me feel like I’m not a business owner buying stamps or even another human worth greeting normally. Instead, I’m a pregnant person – a vehicle for a baby...who is a boy and is carrying low. My body and this tiny human seem to be the focus of every interaction. Everything about it is exhausting.
To compensate, I’ve been overextending myself professionally, as though going into hyperdrive in my Badass Feminist Business Owner identity would offset my frustrations outside of work. It turns out, that’s not sustainable either. Who knew?
Here’s what I’ve learned from my brilliant support network about pacing myself in pregnancy.
1. Recognize identity conflict.
Prior to finding out I was pregnant, I’d invested in an intensive three-day conference in Denver, CO. In addition to two full days of travel, the conference would require me to absorb 10-12 hours of daily content and do some deep introspection on my business.
Two days before the event, I was miserable – well into my daily first trimester routine of nausea and severe fatigue. I had a breakdown/breakthrough in which I finally accepted that I was pregnant.
I shared this with my coach Tim Kershenstine, who noted that this seemed to be my first time experiencing the identity conflict of Soon-To-Be Parent and Badass Feminist Business Owner.
I laughed out loud when I realized that my mindset had been “I’m a Badass Feminist Business Owner (and I also happen to be pregnant, which should in no way affect anything at all).”
As I talked (and cried) with Kershenstine, I realized the extent to which I had been pushing myself was unsustainable. While I could have gone to the conference, I would have been completely depleted and likely experienced even greater identity conflict and self-doubt.
I cancelled my trip with candor about what was going on, and the conference hosts were generous and accommodating.
Instead of spending the next day in airports, I drove myself to the local beach for a much-needed day-long vacation. I journaled, read, and reflected about embracing both my new Soon-To-Be Parent identity and my Badass Feminist Business Owner identity.
I tried to accept that just because I’m not performing an identity in the way I used to doesn’t mean it’s not still part of who I am and it can’t become more present in the future.
2. Work for shorter stretches, or “follow the koala.”
I’ve heard pregnant women say they felt more tired than usual. “More tired” woefully underestimates my experience. Try “paralyzing exhaustion in which I’m nearly incapacitated”. Each bout of severe fatigue would prompt a feedback loop of frustration and self-doubt that I wasn’t more productive. “Surely other pregnant women are more effective,” I told myself.
Rebecca Aced-Molina, another coach I have the pleasure of working with, provided invaluable affirmation and support after I reached out at a point of complete and total depletion.
“I have so much compassion for you,” she said, “Your body doesn’t care what kind of work you need to get done, it just wants to make a baby and rest and nest. You’re fighting against a very powerful biological force – your pregnant body has a mind of its own.”
Still, she acknowledged that I can’t just completely surrender to my body’s will. She suggested I work in shorter increments and then take more breaks. “Let yourself have a totally different pace and approach than you did before.”
My dear friend Clare Bresnahan English used a different way to describe a similar approach. She explained that koalas have a biological imperative to sleep a lot. No one is judging them for being lazy or inefficient. “Follow the koala,” she told me.
Whenever I felt profoundly frustrated by my exhaustion, “follow the koala” became a helpful mantra. Rather than berating myself for being so darn sleepy all the time, I strive to work for shorter stretches, drink the occasional cup of coffee and – when possible – take more naps. I took on fewer evening responsibilities, and I shortened my Badass Feminist Happy Hours by thirty minutes. No one seemed to notice, and the sky didn’t fall.
3. Decide what you can let go.
When I decided to postpone one of my career fulfillment programs until 2019, I was initially devastated.
A month earlier, Aced-Molina had encouraged me to ask myself, “What do I actually have to get done, and what can I let go?” Nevertheless, I found myself diving into this new project with gusto. I was energized and focused, ecstatic to bring this endeavor to fruition.
Then I realized the irony.
One of the central themes of my program was the ability to adapt to your context as it changes. My pregnancy gave me an opportunity to live into that practice. After a challenging weekend, it became clear to me that I didn’t have the time or capacity to execute on the program as well as I wanted.
For participants, I felt confident that this timing would work beautifully, as the holidays will be behind us and they’d be ready to take action and build community in 2019. For me personally, I knew I would be able to deliver a better product with less stress if I waited.
My very wise friend Marta Hanson told me, “You’re not saying no to this program. You’re saying yes in a few months.”
Finally, since my business centers on supporting women in navigating and negotiating their careers, I’ve recognized that sharing my authentic experience can actually be a way to support the women I serve.
Hanson reminded me, “You’re navigating a really frickin hard part of your career right now.” As I align my own identities as an entrepreneur, as a pregnant person, and a person who practices self-compassion, she reminded me, “This is the work.”