tldr; Have you ever thought of you as a mammal ? Personally not, ever. But then, I got pregnant.
My activities are mainly “mind-oriented”: I work as a developer, I read, watch videos, meditate (not so much but still!)… You see the picture :) I’ve never really thought of myself as a physical living being. I do exercise, within the limits of what is comfortable. It feels convenient not thinking of how vulnerable we are. The only time I felt being “flesh and bones” was when walking on the road to Santiago de Compostela. Still it remains more a spiritual adventure than physical.
As it may sound like an ordinary experience, pregnancy was a real life-changing one for me. Not giving birth, but being pregnant.
It was the first time that my daily challenges were more physical than intellectual. I was more driven by hormones and instinct than ever. I’d never thought of pregnancy being so physical. Experiencing it deconstructed all my beliefs about it!
I realised the strength and courage of pregnant women. As they continue to live their life as normal with a whole different body and all of the complications that may come with it. Working and shopping feeling sick, with breathlessness and pains, eating a special diet to avoid toxoplasmosis and listeriosis…
The pregnancy equation: a physical challenge.
I had this image of pregnancy as a moment of beauty and bloom in life. I used to see it as
pregnancy = oneself + big belly
I was wrong! The big belly is just the tip of the iceberg. There’s way more to the equation.
pregnancy = oneself + hormones * (estrogen + progesterone) + nausea / vomiting + pains * (back + sciatica + breasts) + breathlessness + fatigueˆinsomnia + acid reflux + contractions + carrying life + big belly
Pregnancy is so physical (I do understand now why pregnant women have priority lines.)
The body, this wonderful mammalian machine
Well, the body organises itself to create life. More primitive qualities start developing to make all this happen.
- The sense of smell overdevelops (it really felt like gaining superpowers)
- The relaxin hormone relaxes the ligaments and joints in the pelvis to prepare the delivery
- The cardiac flow (allowed by estrogen) and the respiratory volume increase to provide for both the mom and the baby. - That’s why we get to be more breathless
- The organs move to leave space for the foetus. - That’s why we have many kinds of pains
- The body stores fat for the good progress of pregnancy and breastfeeding.
- The uterus trains contracting for the delivery.
- And more…
Each pregnancy is unique, we may experience it differently. But we share this primal process. In fact, we share it with all mammals.
The ordinary in the extraordinary
As I was experiencing (undergoing?) this extraordinary event, I could not help thinking about how ordinary this has been for our own species for millions of years. And still is. More than humans, the mammals. We experience reproduction the same way. It is also true with milk production.
With pregnancy, breastfeeding has also been a revealing moment. Having the “power” to provide for the needs of a little human being with nothing else than our own body was a miracle to me. It sounds obvious. But living it is another thing.
Breastfeeding is physical. It implies milk flow, wounds, again hormones (prolactin) and constant presence to the baby. I thought breastfeeding was easy. It is not. The whole body organises for survival, I was certainly not used to it.
It felt weird thinking we experience the same thing than some animals like cats, dogs, horses…
And then, the little creature
The “primal” experience was not limited to my body. I was amazed to see how babies are driven by primitive instincts: how they need their parents to feel secure and protected.
They have primitive reflexes.
- The sucking reflex so they can feed
- The grasping reflex inherited from monkeys to grasp their mother as she moves
- They find the nipples with their color and temperature
- As their sight is underdeveloped, they recognize their mother by the smell -that they know from amniotic liquid
They haven’t learned, they just know. It’s absolutely amazing!
I am not even talking about the postpartum recovery. Estrogen and progesterone levels drop dramatically (contributing to “baby blues” or postpartum depression). The body once again realises miracles to get back to normal. In some cases, it needs to recover from a surgery (C-section or episiotomy). Uterus contracts to its original size. There’s much more to cover: lochia, perineum… We could write a entire article about this.
Well, this whole adventure was a real slap. I learned a lot about me, about us. We are designed to survive. And it is important to take time to be grateful to our body, and not only to our brain, for what it can achieve.