I'd heard other stories, but had never given much thought to what I would be like as a working pregnant woman until I became one. There were the tales of women who vomited in trash cans moments before going live on a webinar. I read articles about women running their own companies and working up until the day before they gave birth. I'd sat in plenty of meetings with pregnant women where it seemed as if nothing changed about how they showed up, other than their growing baby bump. I glamorized their drive.
I'm currently halfway through my first pregnancy, and my first trimester was difficult to say the least. Not only did I experience extreme fatigue, anemia, and vomiting, but pregnancy induced a flare-up with a separate health challenge I've battled mostly successfully for years.
How I created a toxic culture within my own company.
"How are so many women able to work while being pregnant?"
That was the thought that ran through my head over and over again. As I talked to others about their pregnancies, and how they survived their symptoms while commuting and working full-time, everyone pretty much gave the same answer. "You just do what you have to do."
I tried my best to do the same. Now I was the one vomiting in the bathroom moments before being the featured guest on a social media chat. I was also a keynote speaker at two conferences early on in my pregnancy, and remember praying I'd be able to muster enough energy to complete my talks without having to run off the stage midway through them to make a beeline for the restroom. Thankfully, I was able to complete both sessions without issue.
Like those other women, I was "doing what I had to do" despite how awful I felt. I did not feel glamorous or anywhere near powerful. I mostly felt shame.
I felt shame when at the end of the first day of one of the conferences I spoke at, I woke up in the back of the auditorium when I heard myself snoring. Like many days before, I just couldn't hold my eyes open. I felt shame for only being able to work two to four hours a day. I felt shame for having to bail on multiple opportunities to connect with other entrepreneurs over dinner and other social events because I felt so terrible.
I felt inadequate as I struggled to power through my symptoms each day, not at all like the superwomen who seemed to sail through pregnancy without missing a beat at work. Intellectually I knew that everybody is different and it was unfair of me to compare my experience with pregnancy to that of anyone else's.
But my shame and feelings of inadequacy caused me to create a culture in my own company that prevented me from giving myself and asking for the grace I needed, so I could get out from under my unrealistic expectations about what I should be able to accomplish during that stage of my pregnancy.
Eventually, I acknowledged that I was not the same as I was in my pre-pregnancy days. My body was different, and was changing daily. Science backs this up as well. One study showed pregnancy requires the same amount of energy as do ultra-endurance sports such as marathons, and triathlons.
What I most needed in these moments was self-care, so I could properly care for the baby growing inside of me. Once I came to that realization, I finally gave myself grace, which gave me permission to seek it out from others professionally. Grace was granted immediately.
Self-care doesn't make you any less of a superhero
As a leader, I'd unconsciously set myself up for failure, because I'd let what I saw others doing set my own standard for excellence. I know I'm not alone. There are plenty of other leaders who power through difficult circumstances while maintaining the same workload.
The challenge is, the quest to maintain the superhero cape often prevents us from giving ourselves the self-care we so desperately need.
Self-care is essential, whether you are pregnant, dealing with an illness, difficult life circumstances, and even when all is going well and you are in great health.
The reality is, if we want to perform at our best, we have to care for ourselves. And it starts by accepting our current state and abilities, and not putting unrealistic expectations on ourselves of what we "should" be able to do, especially when it is based upon an incomplete picture of what we see others doing.
Find the courage to give yourself enough grace to give your body the proper care it needs. It is what will allow you to thrive over the long-term. Make it a priority.