As I reach the pointy (stretchy, bumpy, achey) end of my first pregnancy, I am feeling a little bit reflective. It has been one big journey both physically and mentally. When talking to friends who are in the earlier stages of gestation, I realise that I have come a long way. It feels like only yesterday I too was overwhelmed and felt entirely clueless about the whole situation and now I am doling out advice (hopefully the useful and welcome kind) and trying to reassure others about the process – not that I’m some big ol’ expert know it all or anything. I guess I’ve just learnt a lot along the way.
Now, during and after childbirth? That’s a whole other matter!! Stay tuned!!!
Here are some reflections on some of the feelings and symptoms I’ve experienced so far.
I was trying to play it cool. My pill prescription was due for a refill and I was going to head to the pharmacy for it when my husband said, “Are you sure you need to do that? That’s a whole four months more of the pill. Maybe we could start trying for a baby. It might take a while for your body to adjust so why not just leave it?”
Eek! I couldn’t believe we were having this conversation! I mean, we had always talked about it in an abstract kind of way and we knew we both dreamed of a family of our own, but this was REAL! Holy crap! I looked at him with wide eyes, he looked back at me and I felt a dangerous thrill.
I bought a couple of books online (OK so about four) for us to read. A couple for dads-to-be and a couple about pregnancy itself. I started having an excited browse of them, but soon realised I didn’t want to read far ahead because it was too overwhelming and I needed to stay cool. Conception might take a while and I didn’t want to pressure myself or become crazy about baby making. I wanted to be relaxed and peaceful about the process, not impatient or anxious.
I had occasions where I would have a “moment” and would need reassurance from my husband. I knew people (including my own parents) who had struggled with different fertility and pregnancy issues and while I tried to tell myself that it’s more common than people realise and that I was just being realistic, I realised just how important the dream of falling pregnant really was to me. Being adopted made me feel like I needed someone who comes from me. From my biological family tree. That is hard to admit because so much of my life is about knowing that love is thicker than water, not blood or genetics.
I stopped reading the books completely and the hubby and I booked a Contiki tour of Europe (something to look forward to if things weren’t happening on the baby front), which took the pressure off. Turns out we never went on that tour!
Pic Oh crap! What now?!
I was nervous from the moment we found out we were expecting. The first trimester is when you’re at the highest risk of miscarriage and I was scared that I would have one. Reading statistics about 1 in 5 pregnancies failing doesn’t help! I almost expected that my first pregnancy would fail just because it was my first pregnancy (don’t ask me how that logic works). I just hoped that a second attempt would be successful (luckily this was not to be an issue).
I felt tired and overwhelmed. Suddenly I had a tiny being (or bean) on board. I’d heard the heartbeat early on (about 7 weeks in) and seen a scan of something that looked like a jelly bean attached to another jelly bean (the embryo and its little sac), but it still didn’t feel entirely real. I was excited but I didn’t want to let myself get carried away. I had a few weeks before I would feel safe to tell the world.
I was googling everything I felt. I was reading about all the foods I suddenly had to avoid (if you followed every tiny bit of written advice there is out there you wouldn’t be able to eat anything). I lost my appetite and I was losing a bit of (admittedly excess) weight. I felt so…dumb!
I started reading Up the Duff and What to Expect When You’re Expecting but nothing really sank in. I wasn’t quite ready for it all. Later these books would become my bibles (I highly recommend you keep them for when you’re ready to take their advice).
We told immediate family almost straight away. We figured we’d have support from them if things went wrong but everyone was sworn to secrecy. Their lives would not be worth living if they told even a soul!!!
We had a scare at 12 weeks (right before our ultrasound was due), with a bleed in the middle of the night. I had been stressed and that moment was confusing and scary. It was a long night for us as we waited to have an appointment with our doctor the next morning (it seemed a better option than sitting in ED with the drunk casualties at the hospital on a weekend night). We got our scan booking moved a few days early as we were quite anxious. We were so relieved when there was our little foetus looking more baby shaped, the technician telling us there was no bad reason for my bleeding (perhaps it was the placenta implanting nice and strong in my uterine wall) and that everything was looking great. There appeared to be no abnormalities and there was no likeliness of Down Syndrome too. We were in shock, but this time it was the happy kind. It was a wake up call for me to avoid lots of stress and for my husband to help out with that rather than hyping me up when I felt a bit overwhelmed. It was a big adjustment for the both of us.
I told a couple of very close friends earlier in the piece but it was hard. I never knew how to announce it! It felt embarrassing and weird! Eventually my mum told me it was getting a bit crazy (I started showing at 10 weeks) and that I really just needed to be brave and share the news. I realised she was right. Bottling it up and keeping things secret has never been my style and I just wanted to feel real and honest with those I care about.
It felt like such a relief and I felt ready to embrace the experience.
This was a wonderful time. I could finally show off my bump and I was starting to gain confidence in what I could eat. My appetite and energy levels came back with a vengeance and although I stupidly started comparing myself to other pregnant people (bad idea) I was feeling excited and happy. I started running around like a madwoman – my version of nesting. I was making the most of my energy boost and I was really enjoying everything I felt in my body. Even the not always awesome symptoms – they meant I was pregnant and that was enough for me!
I was baking up a storm almost daily in the kitchen. I was organising things for people and getting my creative juices flowing. I had started this blog you’re reading right now and I was finally able to read my pregnancy books without freaking out. I made a rule that I would just take it all a week at a time. I would only read about the week of pregnancy I was in and would not dare to flick forwards to those scary parts about labour or breastfeeding! This strategy has been a fantastic one.
Our 20 week ultrasound was very exciting. We paid an extra $15 for a DVD and we delighted in showing our families. We were on top of the world. We now knew we were having a boy! Everyone expected a girl (including me) but it was yet another boy to add to ALL the males on both sides of our families. I was admittedly a teeny tiny bit disappointed but knowing the baby was healthy and he was all ours overshadowed that feeling. I guess the rebel in me had wanted to even up the scoreboard with a bit more oestrogen. Never mind! Maybe next time!
Right after the scan I developed a PUPPP rash. They believe about 1% of women will get this hormonal pregnancy rash. It was unbearable and it started in all the uncomfortable, undignified places you can think of. It itched and it made me crazy. It took 2 weeks to get a diagnosis and I felt so helpless and depressed (I don’t use that term lightly). Until I got a great treatment for it from a dermatologist, I had nothing that worked besides lukewarm baths. Let me tell you, living in the bath sounds like a great idea, but it really gets bad when you can’t cope without it. It would soothe my skin for maybe a couple of hours before I was scratching, crying and having the darkest, most saddest thoughts about my pregnancy (and then feeling more awful that my mind could go there). I wouldn’t wish that time on anyone.
My skin started to scar badly and I felt unattractive, no longer the glowing pregnant lady. I had no clothes to wear (it was winter and leggings or cheap fabrics were out of the question) and I was a shut in for weeks as I was constantly soaked in greasy steroid ointment or had no clothes to wear. Luckily my mum saved the day with a whole bunch of beautiful maxi dresses. Phew. I could leave the house again! Albeit wearing scarves and god knows what else in an attempt to hide my scars.
The itching died down with the ointment and I only needed to use it occasionally. I started living my life again and I felt quite good, although the fear of a flare up was always in the back of my mind.
This is a time where I’d like to point out that I realised there is no perfect pregnancy. I couldn’t control everything and I had to accept that this was my experience. It was OK to have some bad thoughts or experiences. It didn’t make me a bad person or a failure of a pregnant woman. I did feel misunderstood because not many people knew what the condition was, but eventually I was able to re-embrace my pregnancy and focus on the positives with a lot of love and support from family and my husband (who was AMAZING during this time). By being open about my condition, I felt liberated and I hope I educated people on what the condition is about. Even the fact that pregnancies are not always perfect and that’s just the way life is. I became determined to not feel ashamed. The rash was/is not my fault.
Sh*t gets real in this trimester. It’s like my focus went from “being pregnant” to “going to have an actual real live baby”. I finally felt ready to buy baby things and think about the end result of my pregnancy! It had been too overwhelming before but now I started to realise what all of this truly means (well I knew a baby is going to be born but there’s a difference between knowing it and feeling it).
I wasn’t just thinking or reading about pregnancy symptoms. I was finally ready to hear advice about actual babies and labour and all the rest of it!
The nursery slowly filled up with furniture and clothing and goodness knows what other supplies! A pram was purchased (something that had scared the bejeezus out of me a trimester or two earlier – who the hell knows what a baby needs?!) and a cot was assembled! I finally had a handle on what all these baby products are, what features I wanted and what the teeny tiny clothing sizes mean!
I had my glucose tolerance test at 28 weeks. What a downer that was! I had a gut feeling all along that I would test positive for gestational diabetes, despite everyone being optimistic.
“What are the odds? You’ve already been through hell with the rash. I’m sure you’ll be fine.”
They meant well, but I just KNEW.
I got a bit grumpy having to see a dietician and test my blood four times a day. I felt horrible knowing that the condition was genetic (although relieved it wasn’t caused by my behaviour) because now I’ll be one of those people who have to watch out for Type 2 Diabetes for the rest of my damn life. That’s a lot to take in!!! Before this pregnancy I have always been healthy and taken for granted my smooth, tanned skin. Damn, reality can bite!
I felt hard done by. My diet would now be even more limited. I was having a pity party. 1% get the rash. 3-5% get Gestational Diabetes. I lost hope in all statistics. I no longer believe that if there is an extremely low risk of something happening that it means I’ll be right, mate. My body has proved that I can quite easily be in that minority.
I adjusted my diet over a week or so and finally feel confident in what I can eat or not eat. The hardest thing has been people in my life not understanding the limitations on my diet. Eating out can be difficult and people think that as long as I don’t eat cookies, cake or lollies then I’m fine. There is much more to it than that. I have to watch my carbs, the hidden sugars in almost everything we buy off supermarket shelves, even the natural sugars in fruit. All the condiments, sauces, salt content, proportioning of a meal, the timing of when I eat etc can have an effect on my blood sugar and at times I felt like I was repeating myself over and over and over. I don’t expect people to cater for me (I eat at home first or just watch them eat cake) but it did get frustrating trying to explain. I know everyone means well and I truly don’t blame them for not having the information (after all it’s not their problem). I think I just reached a level of annoyance about having the condition in the first place. Everything was getting to me. I withdrew socially for a few weeks so I could regroup and toughen up a bit. Perhaps, had I not had the rash, I might have handled it better psychologically.
This trimester we went to ante-natal class. I felt so much more relaxed afterwards. I now know more about the process at the hospital and about birth itself. How it all works, what the midwives are likely to do and different birthing positions and stories about natural births and C-sections. Taking some of the unknown out of the whole labour experience proved oddly reassuring, even though I’m sure to be in a whole world of pain and unexpected events when the time comes! The class made me realise I’m so ready for this baby.
One thing that really cheered me up socially was my baby shower! It was the first time I would see my friends in maybe a month. I was nervous about entertaining so many people at my house (I was getting to the really tired phase of pregnancy) but it was fantastic. There was SO much love in my house that day and I was on a high for days afterwards. The gifts were all gorgeous and useful. People were raving about the dessert buffet by Finn + Evie (which was planned before I found out I had diabetes) for days and I felt so spoilt. I felt overwhelmed by love and all warm and fuzzy that our baby is going to know this love soon!
Now I’m in the 36th week of pregnancy and my rash is trying to come back with a vengeance. It really loves my legs and my newly acquired stretch marks (please don’t give me advice on my skin unless you’ve had the condition – I know you mean really well and I love you for it but I can’t just whack on some bio oil or paw paw ointment yet – it’s going to be a long process and my skin is very sensitive at the moment – it’s not always that straight forward). This is difficult as I am already finding it hard to sleep. I thank my lucky stars I have my ointment this time. The weather isn’t helping at 94% humidity!!
I still have to pack my hospital bag (and one for the baby and one for the husband) but I feel ready. Once I know our little one is fully cooked, I can’t wait to get him out of me and into my arms! I want to meet him and love him and nurture him and show him off, but admittedly I am also SO over being pregnant! I want to eat what I like, wear high heels (or even nice wedges will do) and stop itching!
My Two Cents Worth
I’ve had a big reality check with my first pregnancy. Life isn’t always smooth sailing and pregnancy is no different! I don’t want to scare any newly pregnant people with my tales of woe! It really is a lovely experience despite everything else. I just don’t believe in sugar coating it or making others feel inadequate by not being honest about my feelings and experiences. One thing that hasn’t changed through this whole process is my love for our baby. Love really can conquer all. I would tell anyone who is newly expecting that if you go with the flow and know it’s OK to not be in control, you’ll be able to get through anything. You might have dark thoughts, scary moments or feel particularly frumpy or spotty or clueless, but I promise you that you’re not alone. It’s a scary time as much as it is exciting. You just never know what will get thrown at you along the way! Just don’t beat yourself up if it’s not perfect or your thoughts aren’t all unicorns and rainbows. Everyone’s experiences are different. That woman you feel daunted by because she’s one of those seemingly perfect pregnant ladies might be hiding a multitude of conditions. She may have suffered miscarriages previously, she may be dressing so nicely to hide scars from a rash, she may not be able to eat what she likes (that might be why she seems so perfectly slim everywhere but the bump). She might just be paralysed by anxiety when she goes home at night. She might be able to keep up her paid day job forever while you feel like you can’t cope, but she may be throwing herself into work to avoid the inevitable list of baby related preparations that are seriously freaking her out.
You just don’t know, so don’t compare yourself. You’re good enough and you’ll be amazing even if there are some (big or small) bumps in the road.
I truly believe that if we’re all honest and we don’t buy into the bullsh*t that pregnancy is all glowy and blissful 100% of the time for everyone, if we take the time to listen to someone who is feeling confused or scared (or itchy!), then perhaps it won’t be so difficult and some of us might not feel so alone. Unconditional love and support has been what has got me through darker days/nights. We need to let people know they don’t have to be perfect just because it makes us feel better.
And, hey. If you have a terrifically blissful 9 months – good for you! I cannot express enough how much I am happy for you! You’re so lucky and so is your baby
Wish me luck for the next few weeks, lovely readers – we’re approaching crunch time!!