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My Pregnancy Taught Me How to Stand Up for Myself

“Bad drink…?” my 3-year-old asked.

My son was a mini Sherlock Holmes — or Steve from Blues Clues. He was a master at reading the signs and detecting the slightest shift in my facial expressions. Of course, he was right. The drink I’d just sipped was bad, but only because it was wrong. It wasn’t what I’d ordered. So, standing in the crowded coffee shop, I was faced with a dilemma: using my words to stand up for my drink order and myself or swallowing my pride (along with gulps of this awful concoction) and letting it slide. Which version of myself would show up today?

I’m sure to some, a predicament such as this seems like no biggie. For many people, returning wrong drinks, sending back incorrect food orders, or saying that word that starts with an “n” and ends with an “o” is second nature. For me, however, only recently has speaking my truth become an obvious option. Once upon a time, I was known as a “human doormat.” That nickname might seem extreme, but I didn’t even come up with it — my BFF did. Her reasons were fairly obvious: I let not-so-best friends, acquaintances, and the occasional coworker walk all over me.

Fear of conflict or being too focused on others’ needs while pushing my own aside kept me from being authentic. I buried my own wants down deep and figured I’d get to them later — but later never really showed up. Over time, I became more comfortable saying yes, and that two-letter word that might’ve helped me stand up for myself became an uncomfortable thing forgotten in my everyday vocabulary. I’m pretty sure this tendency would’ve continued except for the huge event that popped up (or out) and changed it all: I got pregnant.

Staring at my pregnancy test, the double lines appeared at lightning speed. I was pregnant. I guess the pee stick wand cast some sort of magic spell over me because I couldn’t move. I wondered how long I could keep this news to myself. My answer came as quickly as the double lines had appeared: not long. My excitement moved me down the hall and I immediately told my husband. Then my practical side took over and I vowed I wouldn’t tell anyone else. I’d wait until the end of my first trimester to share this secret. That felt like the safest time to let friends and family know.

Of course, that vow didn’t happen. Not having mastered the art of saying that tiny two-letter word, I totally slipped when I was on the phone with my mother later that night. My mom’s intuition knew something was up and she blurted out, “Are you pregnant?” An automatic “yes” flew from my lips. I’d failed my first motherly test in standing my ground. After I hung up the phone, I felt defeated because years of habit answered for me. I didn’t want to fail again. I wanted to make choices that would support me and the growing baby in my belly, but I wasn’t sure how.

Just like my baby bump was slow to reveal itself, so was my inner determination. At first, my newfound assertiveness simply came out of deep preggo needs — like needing to pee. While waiting in line for the bathroom, I heard myself say, “Excuse me, I was next,” to the woman who tried to sneak ahead of me in line. Shocked that I’d said anything, I almost apologized. But I really needed to go and I didn’t want to accidentally pee on myself or anyone else. The woman gave me a hard look and moved to the back, but the weird part was… I felt good. That was new. Was this what it felt like to stand up for yourself? Was I finally learning how to say no and feel good about it?

At first, my newfound assertiveness simply came out of deep preggo needs — like needing to pee.

“I don’t know how to say no to them,” I whispered to the growing baby in my belly.

When the call came that my in-laws wanted to host a “Congratulations You’re Pregnant Party” while my husband and I were visiting, I lost my words again. I was only a little over 4-months in and the thought of a gathering so early in my pregnancy left me feeling overwhelmed and nauseated. The excitement in their voices stopped me from saying out loud that the mere thought of this party made me reach for many boxes of Saltines. I could feel my resolve crumbling.

For weeks, I thought about how backing out would hurt their feelings and dampen their spirits. When it came down to it, though, the baby in my belly gave me that extra boost of self-confidence I needed to say “yes” to myself. Finally, I explained as lovingly as I could why I’d like to skip the early baby party.

When it was all over, I breathed easier — and not because my little one had stopped sitting on my diaphragm. Staying true to myself had benefits I never knew. I felt valued and energized each time I focused on what I needed to take care of my pregnant self. I’d found an unknown inner strength and I could definitely do with more of these liberating feelings. I wondered if this new version of me would stick around after I gave birth.

Standing in the crowded coffee shop, I said politely, “Excuse me, this is the wrong drink.”

My 3-year-old watched as I exchanged my coffee. I grabbed the new cup, took a sip, and smiled. The drink was right this time, but that wasn’t what made me smile. My little guy was such a huge part of my transformation from doormat to dauntless, and he’ll never even know.

Standing up for myself has empowered me in ways I didn’t expect while expecting. I had no idea the sense of self-worth I’d feel by putting my wants and needs back into the equation in all my relationships. When I became pregnant, more than my waist size changed, because I figured out the balance between saying “yes” to myself and “no” to others when it mattered most.

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