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Tuesday, 18 March 2014

My first pregnancy, being healthy, staying SANE

For once I have a good reason for completely neglecting Ohlala for months..  

I’m 14 weeks PREGNANT with our first child! 
(pause for a little celebratory dance)

We found out on the 31st December - in the morning luckily, sparing future baby from being exposed to alarmingly high units of alcohol that night.. -  in the middle of the most wonderful Christmas family holiday in Canada, 10 days after getting engaged. My boyfriend/fiancĂ© proposed on a candle-lit ice rink in good Canadian fashion, and once I said yes he gave me my first ice hockey lesson! 

I’ve been pretty lucky with morning sickness and nausea, and certainly didn’t lose my appetite (I blame people who keep telling me ‘Oh it’s fine, you’re eating for two!’ for all the perhaps-not-completely-justifiable-weight I’ve put on already). We weren't, however, spared all the crazy stressful thoughts that no one warns you are going to creep up, scratch that, more like ERUPT in your mind suddenly with no warning, such as :

‘OH MY GOD, we don’t even have a savings account!’ 

or, because we are different nationalities and have been living and working all other the place

‘Where on earth are we going to give birth/live/move to/find work/get visas for!?!’ 


But in my mother’s infinite words of wisdom - 

Oh whateeeever, it’s a baby, you’ll figure it out!’ 

And of course she’s right.

I’ve searched the web for resources on vegan pregnancy and parenting and have found a few great sites and blogs, but not so many. So, I thought, why not get back to blogging and make Ohlalavegan a space to share the good the bad and the ugly about being pregnant and vegan (although I promise there will be no sight of any potential future bloated feet, cellulite and stretch marks.. so not that kind of ugly).

Vegan, pregnant and healthy..  3 words that go together just fine.

When we told people we wanted a baby or that we are now pregnant we got a lot of: 

‘Ok, so are you going to stay vegan now that your pregnant? What about iron/calcium/B12 etc?’ 

I knew these valid and well meant concerns would be coming our way, and to be honest even though I 100% believed from the start that being vegan, pregnant and perfectly healthy was possible, I wanted to be properly informed, to respond to both other people’s concerns and for my own peace of mind. I’ve read books, blogs, websites, articles etc – some of which are listed at the end of this blog – and here is the conclusion I have reached based on all this:

YES! You can be an animal-loving, tree-hugging, tofu-munching perfectly healthy pregnant woman growing a perfectly healthy human being. Hurray.

I won't bore you with an overload of information, facts and figures about nutritional needs in pregnancy and how these can be met through a vegan diet. What I will say is that if a balanced plant-based diet is not only a healthy and sustainable diet that gives our bodies and minds everything they need in terms of macro and micro nutrients, but also helps prevent and fight off nasty diseases  (check out research by Dr. Neal Barnard, T. Colin Campbell, Dr John MacDougall), then why-oh-why would it suddenly not be right for pregnant women? 

Of course, all pregnant women, whatever their diet, need to pay close attention to their nutritional intake, and iron deficiency in particular is something to watch out. The truth is, you can get everything you need on a vegan diet when pregnant. Yes, you need to put thought and care into what you eat - same as for non-vegans, but no, you won’t need to spend the whole day stuffing your face full of seaweed (thank God) and counting micrograms of everything you eat. 

I recommend Holly Roberts’ ‘Your Vegetarian Pregnancy’ for a useful breakdown of how you can meet these guidelines in pregnancy on a vegan diet.

And most importantly for me, I find it inspiring to be growing a new life without taking life away from any other being in the process.

take a pregnancy supplement (a safety net if you find yourself running to the bathroom every time someone so much as utters the word vegetable), folic acid, and continue to take a daily B12 supplement. I make sure to get omega 3 fatty acids by having ground flax seed everyday in porridge or smoothies and walnut oil in salads. Keep in mind that there are different types of Omega 3 fatty acids, and that these foods contain only ALA fatty acids, which can be transformed by our bodies into EPA and DHA (which are otherwise found almost exclusively in fish) but it is unclear whether our bodies can convert ALA to EPA and DHA in sufficient quantities. EPA and DHA are important for fetus brain and eye development and functioning, so it is safer to take a vegan DHA supplement as well, made from micro-algae. 

And then there’s the big question ... how to deal with other people?!

I have to say I’ve been very fortunate, my family and friends have been nothing but supportive and loving, and apart from the occasional -

‘And you are taking your B12 and folic acid dear?’

I have not had to face any disapproval about my diet, I think mainly because it’s been a few years now since I’ve been vegan and my loved ones know to trust that I take my health and diet seriously. That and the fact that they are down-to-earth open minded people.

I have however faced this in the past, when I first became a vegan. It wasn’t easy, but I tried to remember that if people raised concerns and worried its because they care about me, and in some rarer cases because people feel defensive and protective of their own way of living, and may interpret someone just being vegan as a criticism of that. However difficult this may be, the solutions are pretty simple really, there are 2 things you can do:

1.     Be informed so that you can answer their questions and concerns in a patient and understanding way, which will hopefully reassure them that you have looked into this seriously and know what you are talking about.

2.    If solution number 1 does not work, ignore them, you’re going to be a parent so this is just the beginning of unsolicited advice and concern, we might as well start learning how to not let ourselves be driven crazy by it now!

Support, inspiration & staying sane:  family, friendships and stories shared

I have found inspiration, information and support from my family and friends, especially the women around me.

Whether or not they have kids themselves, the people who love me and know me best are those who can find the right words to remind me how to stay sane through this amazing but also often exhausting, confusing, emotionally and physically draining time. 

I don’t think I realised until I became pregnant how much I would count on their support and presence through this adventure. I am used to being independent, I’ve worked lived and travelled all over the place, and am usually at least two continents away from them, so I was not expecting to feel such a terrifically strong urge to nest, to be home in familiar surroundings, with people I’ve known and loved all of my life. Living in Myanmar (Burma) and not seeing them has been, and continues to be, tough, but I’ve realised being far doesn’t mean to say we can’t be present for each other. 

As for those amazing friends who are already parents, it’s been such an absolute relief to talk to them, to admit to the hard things I wasn’t expecting about pregnancy and to hear them laugh kindly and say 

That is completely normal!’

followed by the comfort of friends sharing their stories, turning what seemed like mountain-sized challenges that I was facing alone into almost friendly-looking hills that so many of us have and will overcome. There are these stories that remind me I am not alone and this is just a temporary challenge, and there are the stories that give me perspective, and remind me how incredibly fortunate I am, like when my Gran wrote to me the other day in response to a long whiny email from me complaining about nausea, saying something along the lines of:

My dear Kate, so sorry to hear that, must be awful for you. Find consolation in the fact that in this day and age you do not have a dragon of a mother in law who is forcing you to wear a corset to hide your bump like I did!’

That made me both laugh and reflect, reflect on the fact that my gran is, like so so many other women around me, resilient as hell, and turns painful experiences into tales of joviality and strength. 

This is exactly what another friend of mine, who has just given birth herself, was trying to say when the other day she sent me a picture of the inside of a kaleidoscope, as a message that by changing the way we look at things, what we see and experience is transformed. In her words:

‘Sending you a kaleidoscope, an imaginative super practical tool to see things, the same things, from different perspectives, as you wish, with just moving thoughts, and looking to the light.’


All of these stories, which are essentially shared between women, have made one thing very clear to me:

Women are incredibly strong, and solidarity and support between us is one of the most incredible, dependable and precious things in our lives.

Overall being pregnant is, I realise now, an opportunity for me to reflect on what is important to me, whether that’s being vegan - as a way of being kinder to myself and the world – or on the bonds we have with others and our shared yet unique experiences as women. 

It has also opened my eyes to what is probably the first and most important lesson I will learn as a future parent: I can’t control everything, GASP, WAVE HANDS FRANTICALLY IN THE AIR, now calm down. Pregnancy has made that quite clear as it has brought its lot of surprises and emotions along, many of them conflicting with my previous expectations and idealisations of what pregnancy should look and feel like (ie me looking like a glowing levitating goddess in lotus position drinking a homemade green smoothie, looking exactly like my pre-pregnancy self but way better, and with what looks like a watermelon neatly tucked under my shirt).

As another friend of mine and mum of two said to me:

 ‘Everything in pregnancy and parenting is a phase, it always passes, and is always replaced by something new’

And isn’t that a beautiful concept. 

An opportunity to let go, relinquish control and know that not only will things always change and evolve, but that if we just trust in ourselves and life, and decide to look at these moments the right way through our mental kaleidoscope, then each of these moments and changes can be full of learning and appreciation.

Note to self: I may come back and violently scratch this last sentence out many many times over the next few months, years, decades when I’m faced with actually getting a baby OUT of me, or with a baby/toddler/teenager who won’t stop screaming its lungs out, but for now I’ll focus on being my positive self and remain blissfully oblivious to all that (just like that idealised version of pregnant me floating in lotus position sipping a green smoothie).

And to be honest I am - perhaps naively - looking forward to every minute of all of it.

For other sources of information and inspiration, there are some great books, blogs and websites out there, here are some of my favorites:  

-       Ina May Gaskin, ‘Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth’ 
a beautiful awesome informative book about natural childbirth, written by an amazing woman and midwife

-         Holly Roberts, ‘My vegetarian Pregnancy’

-       Ashley’s Green Life blog: www.ashleysgreenlife.com 
A great blog about how to be green, including through pregnancy and parenting.

-         Rebecca Woolf at Girl’s Gone Child: www.girlsgonechild.net 
This is a blog about parenting more than pregnancy or veganism, but I find it’s great to get a sense of what might come after these 9 months!

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