I had just discovered I was pregnant with my first child. Most women in my shoes would be making lists of names, mentally designing the nursery or simply immersing themselves in baby bliss. I was reveling because I could finally eat whatever the hell I wanted. For me, finding out I had a bun in the oven was to be taken literally: my bun was at Cinnabon and going directly from the oven into my mouth.
In all seriousness, my husband and I had been trying to conceive for a year and from the moment I saw that blue stripe on the EPT stick, I was euphoric knowing I was finally going to be a mother. I'd be lying however, if I didn't admit to being almost equally ecstatic about the plethora of foods I was free to eat with reckless abandon now that I had the dietary equivalent of a license to speed. After years of having to be conscious of my waistline, I was seriously looking forward to not giving a crap. I dreamed of indulging in hot fudge sundaes with mounds of whipped cream; downing salty, pencil-thin French fries lathered in Ranch dressing, and swimming in buckets of movie theatre popcorn doused with plenty of butter and salt.
I was cured of these hedonistic (and incredibly naive) pregnancy fantasies at my first OBGYN appointment. First, my doctor enlightened me that my daily caloric intake could only increase by a few hundred calories (the exact amount differs from woman to woman based on height and weight). He also said in no uncertain terms that consumption of caffeine, alcohol (obviously), produce grown with pesticides, and raw fish (no sushi for 9 months?!) was forbidden. I was instructed to seriously limit my intake of sweets, trans-fatty foods, and all of those white flour comfort foods like pasta, which most pregnant women dream of abusing happily on a daily basis.
Adding insult to injury, my husband, the person I had banked on being the Clyde to my Bonnie in a nine month culinary crime spree, did his own research and deemed that shellfish and a variety of other items be added to my ever-growing list of eating no-no's. He also declared that he didn't see why both of us need suffer and would happily be partaking in all the food and drink I couldn't (Judas). I would have left him, but being newly divorced and pregnant didn't seem like a winning combination to me.
After a few more days of wallowing in my selfish attitude, it finally set in that I had a totally dependent being inside me and it was my job to nurture the both of us. Instead of the 1500 calorie ice cream parfaits I couldn't have, I focused on the extra 300-500 nutrient-packed calories I could enjoy. I'm talking two cups of Greek yogurt, three ounces of trail mix, or a small piece of wild salmon with a side salad, and doing my best to eat organic as often as possible. In addition to taking daily prenatal vitamins and supplemental Omega-3's, I made sure I was consuming plenty of protein (which thankfully eases morning sickness) and foods rich in calcium, folic acid and iron.
Once I focused on the lasting impact of my food choices, the disappointment of not getting to eat Ben & Jerry's for breakfast everyday was replaced with the greatest of joys: knowing that I was helping my baby boy's brain develop, strengthening his cardiovascular and immune system, powering us both up for labor and improving my odds against having postpartum depression.
Also, I quickly found that the more nutritious the foods were that I ate, the better I actually felt. I had less constipation (oh yes, I could go on about that topic but I'll spare you), heartburn, muscle cramps, morning sickness, and cravings for high fat/sugary foods. I made a commitment to breastfeed which, aside from it's innumerable benefits, would allow me to shed baby weight more easily and more importantly, help keep me mentally happy. The healthier I stayed, the more optimistic I was.
Was mine the pregnancy most women dream about? It depends on how you look at it. It sure wasn't the foolish vision I once had of myself lounging on the couch all day watching Oprah and shoveling Reese's Peanut Butter Cups guilt-free into my mouth, but two kids and five years after that initial experience of being pregnant, watching the two mentally, emotionally and physically fit bodies tearing through my house, I have to say it should be.
Women making the choice to eat healthy during pregnancy is one of the greatest gifts we can give our children, and there's no better day to start than today.