I remember when I was pregnant with my first. I was working full time as an ESL teacher, but during my time off? I could put my feet up, take a nap when I was tired, make whatever food I was craving (or not make food at all if my stomach was off), go for a walk or do yoga when I was sore, put off the (minimal) cleaning in our teensy apartment... basically, whatever I needed to do.
My second pregnancy was a shock compared to the first, as I now had a busy 2 year old to care for, a larger apartment with more frequent cleaning, not to mention a 12 mth and 18 mth old that I cared for several days a week. The 3rd was that much busier, and this 4th time around, my home just buzzes with a 2 year old, 4 year old, 6 year old, constant meals and snacks, eternal cleaning and laundry piles, homestay students, homeschooling, and a business to run.
Pregnancy is a blessing. Each and every time. No matter what challenging situations or circumstances we find ourselves in.
That said, it isn't always easy and some days it is downright hard. It's hard to cook for a family when the thought of opening the fridge makes you want to run to the bathroom. It's hard to mop up the third spill of the morning when you've already cleaned the bathroom and run loads of laundry, despite barely being able to keep your eyes open and your legs moving. So how do we do it?
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Survival Strategies for Pregnant Moms of Little Ones
Every situation and home is unique, but these are a few of the techniques that have been particularly effective and helpful for me during my 3rd and 4th pregnancies.
Lower your expectations
This has to be said immediately, because it's crucial. If you expect yourself to carry on with life as usual, you're in for a disappointment. The meals will not be up to par, the house will not be as clean as usual, the laundry will not be kept up with as well as you'd like. None of us are superwomen and I think the first and most important thing to do is to let go of unrealistic expectations of ourselves.
I know that in my first trimester, we will rely to some degree on certain compromise or semi-convenient foods. We will pull clean laundry out of baskets. I stick to the bare minimum cleaning, mostly on an "as-needed" basis.
And that's fine, because I have learned over the years that I simply can't do it all. Nor do I need to. It's a season and when we put it in perspective, it's a relatively short season at that. So give yourself grace, mama, and only do what you can do.
Make meals easier
Although we still try our best to eat real and unprocessed food while I am feeling sick, there are compromises that we willingly make, knowing that it is only a few months of less-than-ideal eating.
- Instead of baking, I buy things like organic sprouted grain breads and tortillas.
- I stop making my own condiments and purchase decent versions of ketchup, mayonnaise, salad dressing, etc. from the health food store.
- I buy less fresh produce (because realistically I know I won't use it all up when I'm not cooking great meals), and put some of that money towards buying easier meats, like chicken breasts and nitrate-free sausages or hot dogs.
- The produce I do buy is stuff like organic salad mixes, veggies that can be quickly chopped and eaten raw, fruit that is easy to snack on.
- We break down and buy a few true convenience foods for those days when I simply can't handle cooking anything else or I need to ask my husband to do it for me. This time around, we had a case of Annie's noodles and cheese, organic tomato sauces with pasta, perogies which we ate with sausages and sauerkraut (my hubby's request), and white rice and gyozas (Chinese dumplings) to satisfy our Taiwanese homestay students.
- Keep it simple. No one will die if you eat meals like eggs and toast, smoothies, yogurt fruit parfaits, sandwiches, taco salad and that sort of thing.
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Rally the troops
Our families truly do want to help, and although busy husbands and young children can't necessarily keep up with all that mama usually does, sometimes we just need to get creative and be willing to ask for what we need.
Even though she still needs supervision with a lot of chores, I did ask my 6 year old to do certain things (like vacuum or basic bathroom wipedowns) knowing they wouldn't be perfect but it would be better than nothing. We also gave her the option to earn a little bit of extra money if she wanted to do more chores than usual.
I also just tried to really explain to my 4 and 6 year old that mommy wasn't feeling well because she was working hard to grow a new baby brother or sister, and so I needed them to be my best helpers. They liked feeling needed and I think they understood that I really needed their help. Realistically, a 4 and 6 year old can't do that much, but they could help clear the dishes after meals, sweep or wipe up small messes, help with laundry, put out a very simple snack to share, etc. Every little bit helped on my worst days.
If your husband is able, you can also discuss with them some ways to share some of the responsibilities, such as cooking, dishes, cleaning or whatever needs to be done. My husband works pretty long hours most days running his own business, but whenever possible he would put the kids to bed by himself, help me with the kitchen after dinner, encourage the kids to help him tidy the house on a Saturday morning, or simply bring home something for dinner on those really bad nights.
Get creative with your cleaning
Cleaning happened for me in two main ways over the past couple of months:
1. In 5-15 minute spurts. I love the technique of setting a timer for as much time as you think you can work for. Work hard during that time to get as much done as you can, then just rest again for as long as you need to until you have the energy to get up and do some more work again.
2. As I saw the need for it, in whatever little moments I had. If I walked past something that was really dirty, I would clean just that thing. If one bathroom was in dire need, but the other two were livable, I gave that one bathroom a quick clean. These little efforts added up to help keep things from getting out of control.
Take rests when you can get them
By 10 or 11 am each morning, I often hit a wall of exhaustion. On those days when I just could not keep going, I would put the toddler down for her nap a little earlier than usual (knowing that she might not nap in the afternoon), and stick a movie on for my older two. I laid down some safety related rules and then let them watch while I laid down on the couch to sleep. Being able to do this totally depends on your kids and whether you feel like you can trust them on their own. I am also a light sleeper who wakes easily, and they know that they can always wake me up if there is a problem or if they need me.
Is it my ideal solution? No. But it allowed me to get through the day with slightly more energy and a better disposition and helped keep the sickness more at bay because I was better rested.
Drop everything unecessary
I become a bit of a homebody during these early months of pregnancy. I try to avoid scheduling play dates, going on outings, hosting events. I re-scheduled the dates I taught Sunday school, took on a few guest posts on the blog, and brought my work hours down to the very bare minimum necessary to keep my site running.
It doesn't mean that life has to stop entirely. We still had two homestay students (planned for before we knew I was pregnant), I still babysat a few times for friends and family who needed a hand, and I couldn't really skip strawberry and raspberry preserving season.
The goal was to keep my schedule and obligations as uncluttered as possible, so that I could focus my minimal energy on what most needed to be done.
Take care of yourself and keep your priorities in order
This one is so hard for me, but it's so important. If we're not caring for ourselves, ensuring that we get the food, water, sleep, rest and everything else that we need, then our job of caring for the rest of our family because that much more difficult.
I also noticed that because I was trying to grab extra sleep in the mornings, I was missing out on my regular quiet time with the Lord. Did I need the sleep? Yes. But the lack of time in the Word and in prayer was evident to me on many days. In hindsight, it would have been better for me to work at getting to sleep earlier so that I could still wake up with at least some time for devotions before the mornings got going.
When it comes down to it, what matters most is our relationships, both with God and with others. When we keep that perspective, it all goes so much better.