It’s fair to say that I didn’t really know what to expect with pregnancy. I either have friends without children, friends with much older children or friends with babies who were absolutely, definitely putting a brave face on it and didn’t share the day to day details! I had never really put any thought into what it might be like to be pregnant, or how it might feel. If I’d had to hazard a guess I would have imagined I would be tired all the time, a bit emotional and awkwardly waddling around wondering what had happened to my body (at least those very few guesses would have been correct). I suppose with that in mind, almost everything has been pretty unexpected, but here are some of the things that I didn’t imagine were in store for me! (I should say as well – please do not interpret any of these as ‘complaints’ – as always, I know how lucky I am to be pregnant and going through this experience, which also doesn’t take away from how hard it can be at times).
It’s taught me a lesson in slowing down, and asking for help
I always expected I’d be tired but I wasn’t prepared for the fatigue I’d feel in the first trimester, especially between 8-12 weeks. I would get home from the morning dog walk at about 0730 and not know how I was going to be physically able to get ready, get to work and do a day in the office. The only thing I can compare it to is when you feel like you’re just coming down with a really bad cold or the flu, and your whole body feels utterly and completely exhausted. I had zero energy and everything felt exhausting – to make matters worse I hadn’t told many people I was pregnant so I was feeling like I had no excuse to cancel plans or not keep up with commitments. Whilst I have had my energy back for the last few months (I’m now week 26), it’s fair to say that I’m feeling close to the ‘slump’ again and today I’ve had to manage my own expectations as to what I can achieve from the to-do list. I’ve never been very good at slowing down and I put a lot of pressure on myself to be productive and make the most of my evenings and weekends. When I’m in the house I’m always tidying or sorting things and I never just sit and chill. But I’ve had to become much more in tune with my body now and listen when it’s telling me I’m doing too much. The other day I took the dog for a long walk at 6am, then drove into work and couldn’t get a space so had to lug my laptop in from about a 10-minute walk away, then had several meetings and nipped out on my lunch-break to get some food for dinner – by the time I finished work and walked back to my car I was absolutely exhausted, and the thought of cooking dinner and doing anything that evening just seemed like far too much. I messaged my Mum who kindly suggested that she cook up a big lasagne for us to have for dinners the following week – she and my Dad also came round and fitted shelves and rails in a cupboard in the hall so I could get some clutter put away and feel more relaxed. My natural reaction to people offering to help is to feel like I’m being an inconvenience, but I’m learning to say “Thanks, that would be great” instead. And to not be ashamed of an 8am bedtime!
The beige cravings are real
When people talk about cravings it usually seems to be for odd but somewhat healthy food – gherkins, peanut butter, melon, tomatoes, cold milk, cereal… NOPE! Not for me. Unfortunately for my nutrition levels, all I want to eat is salt and vinegar squares, Dairy Milk and McDonalds. I imagined that throughout my pregnancy I’d be keeping healthy by eating lots of leafy greens and fresh food, but the thought of most meat and veggies turns my stomach, as well as the fact that yet again I simply cannot be bothered to cook. Apparently there are a lot of reasons for this – for a start, our bodies crave ‘safe foods’ that are unlikely to be harbouring secret germs, be past their best or might make us sick (so pre-packaged foods are ideal), as well as the fact that apparently we want comfort food as our dopamine levels are lower, so we want that little hit we get from a slice of cake! I have been feeling really guilty about it and trying hard to at least have one or two healthy things per day (so starting the day with a smoothie so that I know I’ve had something nutritious even if it all goes downhill from there!) I also heard a good tip the other day, which is to try and make swaps to ‘healthier’ pre-packaged food, so I’ve been buying fruit crisps, dark chocolate, fruit roll-ups and yoghurts instead of wotsits, Snickers bars and Five Guys milkshakes so that at least my body (and the baby) are getting something from my snacking habits!
People have lots of advice and it’s hard not to feel judged
My first experience of the pregnancy ‘shame’ came when a few weeks in I mentioned that I’d had a Lemsip because of an incessant cold, and I’d received a message on instagram saying I shouldn’t be having it whilst pregnant. I’d been really careful about checking the labels of almost everything, so the fact that it didn’t say it wasn’t safe for pregnant people meant I’d been having the odd one when I felt flu-ey. I was told by – to be fair, someone well meaning – that the decongestant in it wasn’t safe for pregnancy, and I wasn’t to take it any more. I felt so ashamed and embarrassed, and of course anxious that I may have harmed the baby (which of course one or two sachets of Lemsip would not do). Since then I’ve been told not to do breaststroke, not to use a particular soap or bubble bath, not to buy a particular mattress, not to pick up dog poop, not to use the seat warmer in the car, not to have my bath above 35 degrees, not to eat pineapple, not to sleep on my right side … and all sorts of other unsolicited advice. I’ve been reading Expecting Better by Emily Oster and following a lot of her advice (which she bases on scientific studies) which really helps reassure me that I’m making the right choices for me. All you can do is trust your gut and try not to stress about things – my belief is that the most harmful thing for the baby is to be constantly anxious that you’re making the wrong choices, which is why I try and thank people for their advice and move on, rather than getting stressed about it (which is incredibly difficult when you feel you’re being judged for the choices you’re making).
Your body does weird things and looks different, and sometimes that’s hard
I can’t tell you the amount of times I’ve tried on everything in my wardrobe before work or a social event, only to have a little cry at the fact that nothing fits, or I don’t look the same as I did six months ago. Of course I knew that my body would end up looking and feeling completely different, but I didn’t expect to feel so disheartened at looking ‘bigger’ and not being able to look in the mirror and feel confident in the clothes I was wearing. I constantly feel as if my hair looks flat, I have so many more lines on my face and even the areas of my body that don’t have a human growing in them (my thighs, bum, upper arms) are so much bigger. As terrible as it sounds, sometimes I feel like I’m counting down the days until I have my body back and can go to the gym again (as if that will be the first thing on my mind) – but I know what I really need is a mindset shift to appreciate the amazing-ness of the fact that my body is growing a human (!) and to be kind and appreciative of it, rather than wondering why I don’t look like the women on Love Island.
Along with the fact that I’ve been worrying about my weight, my body feels like a stranger anyway because of the strange symptoms I’ve experienced over the last few months. Here are some that I did not know were typical of pregnancy…
- My boobs are so sore and itchy all of the time and I’ve tried almost every cream and oil to combat this but to no avail. I’ve also gone up two bra sizes and they seem to still be growing (for some people this would be great, but I was already a 32F!)
- The leg cramps and restless leg syndrome at night are real, as well as the fact that I’m awake from 2am to 4am almost every night, and cannot seem to ever be properly comfortable.
- I’ve been put on tablets by the Doctor to stop the heartburn, indigestion and acid reflux (having any kind of fried food or takeaway leaves me dry heaving over the sink, damn you mozzarella sticks!)
- I have the strongest sense of smell all of a sudden (one night I was awake all night because I could smell the bath mat drying on the radiator, and on another occasion I knew Liam had knocked over the bin downstairs in the kitchen even though I was in the bedroom).
- I’m out of breath nearly all of the time and I can’t walk upstairs without needing a rest – sometimes the baby feels like it’s pressing against my lungs, and sitting for long periods means it’s difficult to breathe (the Doctor told me this is totally normal).
- Getting up six or seven times during the evening to go for a wee. The need to go all of the time is… kind of inconvenient (especially on long car journeys).
- I’ve had a blocked nose/cold for about two months now, guess that’s not going away then!
Of course I wouldn’t change any of it for the world – especially as the first four months were so traumatic. It is all certainly taking some getting used to, and it’s all a good lesson in going with the flow, asking for help and trusting your gut as to what’s normal.