Elaine Welteroth On embracing her first pregnancy honestly and without "perfection."

By Caroline Tell | Photos by Ashley Barrett

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The award-winning journalist and bestselling author opens up about her first pregnancy, shedding light on the pretty and not-so-pretty aspects of being a mama-to-be. As Elaine moves into her third trimester with symphasis pubis dysfunction (SPD), a condition causing extreme pain in the pelvic region, she’s honoring her truth and sharing it in the hopes of servicing women and ridding us of the “perfect pregnancy stigma” that pervades social media constantly.

To break through the conventional expectations of pregnancy and motherhood, Elaine is launching “MaterniTea: Expecting The Unexpected,” an Instagram Live Series on Sundays at 8pm EST to discuss the realities and unspoken experiences that expecting moms face.

Here we sat down with Elaine to talk through the pregnancy journey – the highs, the lows (the fashion!), and how her own warrior crew of mothers are holding her up.

How’s your pregnancy going?

My pregnancy today is going great but yesterday was hard. I had a hard day physically, emotionally and mentally and today it’s a completely different experience. I’m feeling strong, happy, lighter. And I feel like that captures what pregnancy is like. It’s day to day. It’s a journey that looks and feels different every single day. You have to go through it and be open to whatever the day brings. Some days I wake up and I’m in so much pain and I hardly slept. Other days I wake up and think, it’s a good day!

You took to Instagram to describe your journey with SPD. Why was it so important for you to speak honestly on the negative or painful aspects of pregnancy?

On my babymoon I posted a picture of a really great moment and then put my phone away and the next day was a really hard day. I was in bed crying and I was like, I need a forum and I need to read about other women who experienced this kind of pain and what they did to manage it. I need help. So I’m crying, looking online trying to find a forum for women with SPD and there’s not a whole lot out there. There was one Reddit forum, which helped a lot to read other women experiencing it. The symptoms they wrote about were spot on and is exactly what I’m going through. So it made me feel less alone and made me realize how alone I felt. 

But I had totally forgotten about my post the day before, which felt like a different reality. I saw the picture and saw the comments and it just made me feel like I don’t want to be part of the problem, part of the culture that’s pushing the image of perfection when what I was experiencing in that moment looked very different. If I’m going to share good stuff and happy stuff, I’ve got to share the not so happy stuff.

What have you learned from your pregnancy so far and how do you want to incorporate your experience into your life as a mother?

I’m a journalist and I can’t turn that off. The way that I process life and its new chapters is by investigating them. I’m going deep, I’m researching, talking to people, collecting stories and experiences to understand my own. For me, it’s so valuable to feel connected to something larger than myself when going through hard times. It’s part of the human experience and the emotions that I’m feeling – especially any transition. What helps is remembering that you are part of a larger collective and that your feelings are on the spectrum of the human experience. When you hear from other people, you remember, oh yeah, this is part of humanity. This is what makes me human. This is more than normal, this is literally human. I always forget that.

When I tell people what I’m going through, it’s an instant saving grace. Especially when it comes to motherhood. Man, women are warriors and not just for themselves and their babies. But for each other. I feel so held by the community of mothers who have come before me, who are doing it alongside me, who have wrapped their collective arms around me. I felt different overnight after putting it out there that I was struggling. I felt a massive shift from loneliness and anguish to comfort and hope. It will get better. And it’s miraculous the power of women coming together. It’s so cliche but so true. 

Women are warriors and not just for themselves and their babies. But for each other.

So whether in terms of career or marriage, and now in my pregnancy, I do not want to be a part of perpetuating false ideals or achieving perfection in any area of life. Instagram is a trap in that way. It encourages you to only share your highlight reels. Even in my dream job, at the pinnacle of a magazine career, I was going through a lot. I was navigating office politics and other issues below the surface. I did not feel as a journalist, as a truth teller, that I was telling the whole truth, and it was suffocating. I had to write the book to balance out headlines and highlight reels that made it look perfect. For me, it was blocking me from connecting with others going through what I was going through.

People struggle with pregnancy. It ranges from try to conceive to losing babies, to not having partners to even dream about it. There’s so much to shut you down but if you don’t speak about it, you’re perpetuating the myth. I do see myself going forward both as a coping mechanism and for myself and as a service to the community I’m a part of. I will be telling the truth at every stage of this motherhood thing.

Self-care moments or rituals?

I’ll be honest. In the first trimester, my self-care practices went out the window. I was just trying to survive. But I think I’m turning a corner now. In the second trimester, I’m getting back to feeling like a human again, getting back into the swing with work. I became pre-pregnancy Elaine throughout the second trimester. I was on the grind. Everyday I’d be working, forgetting to eat, falling back into the same old bad habits around self-care. Prioritizing work and forgetting about what my body needs. But during pregnancy, your body will humble you. It demands it gets what it needs. It forces you into self-care. Now, I need to eat every three hours. I need to sleep when I’m tired. Pregnancy has introduced me to the idea of a committed self care practice. 

In terms of rituals, everyday Jonathan and I have a sweet little moment in the morning where he rubs my belly with shea butter or coconut oil. It’s become our little thing. It makes him feel part of it and has been really about mindfulness and centering ourselves around what’s happening. It’s about making the time at the end of the night to lie in bed, put down my phone and hold my belly and feel movement and kicks and connect with the spirit.

Lately we speak to the baby and it’s been super emotional. We broke down crying. It’s a very surreal singular experience that compares to nothing. It feels awkward at first, talking to something that’s not there, like do you even hear me? But we’re finding our way, finding our love language in speaking to our baby. 

And in terms of reminding myself to put makeup on – a little bit of makeup goes a long way when you feel like shit. I forgot about the transformative power of a beauty product. I rediscovered it on our babymoon. I feel like a whole different person when my eyebrows are on, or have a little concealer going. Some eyebrows and concealer goes a long way. I can’t do workouts, the SPD is kind of debilitating. Oh but I love some big breakfasts. I eat a massive championship style breakfast.

Plans for maternity leave?

Based on my research talking to all the mamas I know, everyone has said, take at least three months. Heeding that advice, my plan is to take three months, but you make plans and god laughs. I’ve loosened my grip on any semblance of planning for anything since the pandemic, but I’ve set that intention and that’s important. But if I feel like, wow, an opportunity has come up, I’ll do it from home. If something feels good, and taking it on will make me feel like myself then I will, but for the first time, my entire career will be really offline. If at the end of three months, I need more time, then I’ll take it. I feel really blessed to have gotten to a place in my career where I have that option. That’s what comes with working for yourself. After a certain amount of time, I’ve set myself up a bit.

I don’t want to be part of the problem, part of the culture that’s pushing the image of perfection.

What’s motivating you professionally these days?

Telling the truth, and doing things that feel aligned with my values. Right now I’m working on adapting my book into a scripted show, so what keeps me motivated is growing, wanting to continue to stretch myself and expand into new spaces. Not feel confined to one lane or one space. I do think purpose can be expressed through many different realms and I’ve always wanted to write for TV. I wrote the pilot last year and felt like it was not exactly what I wanted, so I just hired a vice president of development and we’re taking another stab at it so that. I’m going back into the same mode I was in with writing my book where I shut out the world and put my head down and create. Literally, I felt quarantined before the world was. With writing my book, I’ve learned how to making space and say no. But with this new project, I feel like i’m pregnant on a number of levels. It’s exciting.

Pregnancy style?

Covid-19 has saved me from having any sense of style during pregnancy. The truth is, I mostly wear sweats now. But that also comes with a move to LA. I’m either all the way dressed up or all the way dressed down. It’s also a function of work. I’m either out and about and on, or I’m in and very off. My style reflects that. I’m lucky to have a stylist and a glam team when I’m on camera. They’ve helped with that transition.

Right now I’m heading to a work event and I was in my closet trying on a bunch of things. It really is a different thing dressing a new body and figuring it out. I threw on an old Prabal Gurung dress that feels very “Editor Elaine.” That’s why I didn’t reach for it at first. That’s not me now. But new body plus old clothes equals new look. It comes to my shin, it’s very tight and I’m wearing it with Pyer Moss sneakers from the Reebok collaboration. So it’s all comfortable but gives you fashion. It’s architectural and interesting and sporty. I’ve also turned my sneaker game all the way up. Particularly with dresses, it gives it a new dimension. There’s a new cool factor. Flowy dresses. Slip dresses. All paired with sneakers.