I've never trusted myself in life until now. Let me explain.
I'm 28 years old, the oldest child to immigrant parents, and I have had an awesome career thus far. I'm in a loving, long-term relationship with my best friend in the universe. I've traveled, moved, and taken care of myself and others. Still, up until now, I've never fully trusted myself with my decisions or happiness. It took a lot for me to admit that—especially in writing—but it's a realization that has made me proud of myself in my newest life phase as a soon-to-be mom.
I found out I was pregnant in late 2022, which, at the time, hit me like a ton of bricks. The holiday season; end-of-year commitments; and the shocking, life-altering view of a positive pregnancy test staring me in the eyes hit me hard. Morning sickness, fatigue, and loss of appetite also came down on me like an avalanche.
I've always dreamed of a family, and my partner and I would fantasize about what that day would look like when it came. We've had our baby names picked out for years and always joked about which of us would be the buttoned-up parent versus the jokester. Still, nothing could prepare us for the day that the thought we'd stored away in our memory boxes was becoming a reality. I always thought the day I learned I was pregnant would open a dumpster fire of second-guessing and self-doubt. Yes, I've experienced those questionable thoughts since finding out, but they haven't plagued me and consumed my life and brain as anticipated.
As a natural overthinker and people pleaser, I thought I'd be in for a mentally miserable, guilt-ridden pregnancy, fearful of all the possibilities and opinions. Instead, I’ve experienced an extreme sense of calm, and having honest conversations with myself has put me in the best mental state I've been in for a long time. I've looked in the mirror a few times and thought: What is wrong with me? As though this new chapter wouldn't be valid unless it was met with extreme angst.
"A woman may feel calm or nervous during pregnancy for several psychological reasons, including hormonal and circumstantial factors," says licensed psychologist Carolyn Rubenstein, PhD. "Aside from hormones, factors such as a woman's support system, financial situation, and overall health can also affect how a woman feels during pregnancy."
Pregnancy is challenging and looks different for everyone. Still, honoring a few truths of my own have helped me process this significant life change in a valuable way, making the good days great and the bad days feel more manageable. It's shown me the true meaning of giving myself grace and practicing gratitude, and I'm a better person because of it.
Ahead, find the three life-changing lessons I've learned so far that have gotten me the closest to feeling real self-love for the first time in—dare I say—ever?
Meet the Expert
- Carolyn Rubenstein, Ph.D., is a licensed psychologist and wellness consultant based in Boca Raton, Florida.
Transition Is Consistent, and Change Is Temporary
One of the first things I felt when finding out I was pregnant was the incoming of a huge life transition. Everyone tells you how much your life will change, but few people talk about these changes positively and optimistically. I was initially scared, but that changed when a close friend reminded me that most things in life—pregnancy included—are temporary. Bringing a life into the world is a huge deal, met with many emotions, but it isn't the only life transition you'll experience.
I had fears of my body changing, fears of my home being different, and fears of learning new things. Reminding myself that these phases will evolve has helped me work through them. "When faced with major life changes like pregnancy, it's common to feel overwhelmed and anxious about unknowns," Rubenstein says. "However, there are ways to shift your mindset and approach these changes with a more positive outlook." Rubenstein says reframing your thinking to focus on opportunities and growth is a great way to cope with change, which I've found valuable at the most uncertain times thus far.
The positive outweighs my fears when I think of how I've grown as a person in the past few months. I've used moments of uncertainty to better inform and educate my decisions. I've found a voice to advocate for myself in situations where I'd usually retreat, one of the significant self-improvement indicators in my book. This has taught me that I am a work in progress and will continue to be beyond pregnancy and motherhood.
Self-Care Is Critical
In addition to reframing your thoughts, Rubenstein says practicing mindfulness and self-care—whatever that means to you—can help you better navigate significant life transitions. "Prioritizing self-care, such as rest, mindful eating, fitness, and participating in activities that bring you joy, can help you stay grounded and centered during this time," she says.
I've found this step critical in evolving during these past months. One year before getting pregnant, I was diagnosed with PCOS. I was physically and mentally burned out, and my self-esteem and comfort in my body were at an all-time low. Desperate to feel at home in my skin and manage my symptoms, I embarked on a journey to find my "thing" in the wellness world.
I discovered the healing powers of therapy, acupuncture, and movement tapping as a release. What started as a mission to balance my hormones turned into finding a source of joy where I could be with myself and feel happier for it.
Waking up in the morning and dedicating time to my body taught me the power of movement and the value of carving out time to be alone each day to feel more centered. Taking time each day for myself helped me feel less stressed and more connected and attuned to my mental health.
Having a new family member in our household will mean less solo time for the foreseeable future. Still, acknowledging the impact intentional solo time had on me motivates me to make it a nonnegotiable part of my routine instead of one that feels jeopardized when our baby is earthside. I want to show my daughter that her mom knows the importance of resetting and caring for herself so that she can show up for others.
Rubenstein says movement is beneficial, but you aren't limited to just working out. "Take time for yourself and do things you enjoy. This could be reading a book, taking a relaxing bath, or getting a prenatal massage," she says. Pregnancy has reminded me to relish in the moments of "nothing", including a midday nap, my favorite snack, or a weekend spent repotting plants—all things I may have deprived myself of before.
Connecting with myself in these moments that may otherwise feel mundane has increased my feelings of peace and happiness, showing me that comfort lies within when you allow yourself to feel it. Plus, there's nothing like extreme fatigue and nausea to remind you to slow the f down and smell the roses.
Embrace the Positive
I've often wondered if my positivity could be considered toxic or naive, but it's neither. "During pregnancy, the body undergoes significant hormonal changes, including increased levels of estrogen and progesterone, which can impact brain function and emotional regulation," Rubenstein says. "Hormonal changes during pregnancy can cause alterations in brain regions involved in emotional processing, social cognition, and memory. For example, some pregnant women have increased activity in the amygdala, a brain region associated with emotional processing and stress response."
I, by no means, have a perfect life, but practicing gratitude has helped me feel fortunate during this time. I'm grateful to my body for allowing me to be healthy enough to have made it this far. I'm also thankful for my small but mighty support system of friends and family, who are always around to talk or listen as I navigate this new chapter. I realize this is a huge privilege I do not take for granted.
Society has conditioned many of us, especially Black women, to embrace struggle and hustle, but doing so has only made me regularly feel stressed out, unhappy, and physically unwell. Talking myself out of this negative rut has been the ultimate radical act of self-love and one I fully intend to teach my daughter.
Creating life has taught me that, ultimately, life will throw you challenges, but it's genuinely up to us not to let them define who we are. This is a huge realization for me, since I'm someone who would typically let even the slightest mistake send me into a spiral of self-loathing and doubt. Instead, my priorities have shifted to making sure that I am mentally well before anything else, which has improved my life in all areas. Call me crazy or toxically optimistic, but basking in moments of gratitude and appreciating everything going well has put a lot into perspective.
Before this current chapter in my life, self-reassurance was something I lacked. I questioned my outfit choices, looked to others to validate career moves, and didn't think to make a significant (or minor) life choice without fearing the opinions of my peers and family.
Pregnancy has taught me the most beautiful lesson that I am in control of nothing but myself. I can't control the outcomes of every transition in life, but I can control how I work through them and what I take from each process. I've learned to trust my instincts, listen to my body, and prioritize my mental health in a way that doesn't feel forced because it's the "cool" thing to do.
Instead, it's taught me to relinquish doubt and embrace control by loving myself. It's unlocked a new sense of optimism that will allow me to show up as my best for myself and my family; I'm forever grateful for that transition.