Nine months ago, when I found out I was pregnant, I was terrified.
Sure, I had a loving fiancé, a stable home and job, and I knew I wanted kids someday. However, this soon in life was not the plan, and I am a person who likes plans. I was anxious and worried about nearly everything involved in pregnancy, from the physical changes in my body to going through labor.
However, there was one thing that wasn’t even on my radar: alcohol.
For many women who are newly pregnant, abstaining from alcohol for 9 or more months can sound daunting, and can even be a disappointing realization. And for those who struggle with substance use disorder, it can seem nearly impossible. But having been sober for 6 years, the fact that I couldn’t drink didn’t even cross my mind right away.
It was only after a few weeks that I realized it was a silver lining to have already been sober when I got pregnant. Being in recovery while navigating this unplanned stage of life has been eye-opening in various ways.
Here are just a few benefits when you’re a woman who is pregnant and in recovery.
1. We already know unplanned parts of life can turn out incredibly.
Recovery has proven that to me time and time again, and I kept reminding myself of that throughout pregnancy. Every time I started to panic about being pregnant, or not being ready, I just reminded myself to think back to the early stages of getting sober. I didn’t plan to get sober, and I certainly didn’t want to. In many ways, I got pushed into it without a choice, like many of us do.
But today, I consider sobriety the greatest blessing in my life. Recovery has given me back the life I was missing and has brought so much good into my life. I knew that if I could get through that darkest period of my life and come out the other side, that I could accomplish anything, including pregnancy and parenting.
2. We don't have to battle our minds each day.
I have no doubt that if I’d still been drinking when I got pregnant, I would have had a hard time giving alcohol up. I know I probably could have stopped drinking, but it would have been a mental battle each and every day. And to be honest, I can’t imagine going through that on top of the normal, draining parts of pregnancy.
During this pregnancy, instead of wishing I could drink and counting down the days until I could again, I was able to focus on other aspects of my pregnancy like staying healthy and active and doing what I could to keep my baby that way as well. Navigating pregnancy is difficult enough without constantly having to battle urges and cravings, and being in a good place when I got pregnant is something I will always be grateful for for that reason.
3. We get to be mentally and physically present through pregnancy.
Being present is perhaps the greatest gift of all as a result of recovery, in every aspect of life. But I’ve found that it’s been particularly rewarding throughout pregnancy. Even though there were hard parts of being pregnant, like first trimester sickness and body image struggles, I never once wished I could check out and not experience those parts. Pregnancy is different for everyone, sure. But for me it’s been amazing to experience both the positives and negatives and be fully aware of my body throughout the past nine months.
4. We don’t have to give ourselves away early on.
This was something I didn’t even think of right away, but the fact that early on in my pregnancy I had been turning down drinks in social settings wasn’t something that made anyone think twice since most everyone in my life knows I am sober. Had I still been a drinker and gotten pregnant, people would have been suspicious right away when I stopped accepting alcohol or made excuses to avoid it.
When you’re a woman of a certain age and go abruptly from drinking to choosing not to, it’s common for people to assume pregnancy is the reason. This may seem like a small benefit in comparison to others, but because turning alcohol down wasn’t an issue for me, I got to hang onto my little secret for as long as I wanted without giving myself away through something silly like a drink refusal.
5. We get to set a positive example for our children right from the start.
I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with drinking in moderation, or with children observing that. But for me personally, I find comfort in knowing that I am setting an example of responsibility and strength from the minute my child is born and onward.
Because I am not a person who can drink in moderation, I find it a benefit to have already been sober when I got pregnant. The idea of trying to get sober for my child’s sake and after they are born is an overwhelming one. The start of recovery is difficult enough without adding a small child to the mix. Being able to be stable and confident in your recovery from the get-go is something you’ll likely be more than grateful for, especially during the long, sleepless early weeks with an infant.
Of course, like with everything pregnancy and recovery-related, there is no one right way to navigate pregnancy during recovery. Most women will likely find benefits to being in such a situation, but for some, like those facing an unplanned pregnancy or an unstable home situation, it could be considered a trigger to want to drink.
As with recovery in general, the important thing during pregnancy is to be constantly aware of your feelings and resulting actions. If you know you are likely to struggle, don’t be above reaching out for help from a woman who has been there. With the right steps, you can navigate this path, too.
Beth Leipholtz is the founder of Life to be Continued, a blog about the realities of getting sober young. She writes about her own experience falling into addiction and how she found her way back out. Beth also works as a graphic designer in Minnesota. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram: @EL9292