Until the day I found out I was pregnant, almost everything I knew about pregnancy came from soap operas – which, it turns out, are not actually all that accurate: WHO KNEW?
For instance, I’d been led to believe that the first symptom of pregnancy was… fainting. Yup, in Neighbours, if a female character faints, you can guarantee she’s pregnant – to the extent that, if I ever hear of someone fainting in REAL life, I now just immediately assume they’re pregnant. Even if they’re male.
The next symptom, of course, is morning sickness – which, in soap operas, only ever happens once, thus allowing the character to find out about the pregnancy, and then move on to more interesting plotlines. Now, I knew THAT part (the, “it happens once, and then never again,” bit) wasn’t true, and I’d also kind of figured out that some of the other stuff I’d learned about pregnancy from Neighbours probably weren’t all that accurate either. I’m talking about things like:
- The way soap-opera pregnancies only last 3 months, if that. And if you’re thinking that sounds pretty good, don’t, because:
- The baby will be at least 6 months old when it’s born. Like, it will practically walk out of the womb and cut its own cord, seriously.
- Once born, you will not have to see the baby again until it’s old enough to have some interesting plot points. The only exception to this is if the baby is born with a life-threatening disease (which it will be), or manages to swallow poison, or be kidnapped. Which, again, highly likely.
In other words, I was woefully un-prepared for the reality of the 1st trimester: here are some of the things that surprised me…
Fluctuating symptoms, which don’t all arrive at once
I’d always assumed that, when someone got pregnant, all of the “typical” pregnancy symptoms would come crashing down on them at once – probably at the moment of conception – and then wouldn’t let up AT ALL for the next 9 months. I guess the biggest surprise of all, then, was the fact that, when you find out you’re pregnant, you’re already around 4 weeks along (I felt really smug about this until I ALSO realised that pregnancy is more like 10 months long, rather than 9 – d’oh!), and, for the first couple of weeks, I didn’t really feel all that different.
When the symptoms do arrive, meanwhile, they’re not the same for all women, or in all pregnancies, and they’re not necessarily all present, all the time. I spent the first few weeks of the 1st trimester obsessing over the fact that my boobs sometimes felt really painful, and sometimes felt OK – any time I wasn’t in absolute agony, I assumed something had gone horribly wrong, and the fact that the women in my Facebook group all kept talking about how they couldn’t even stand to shower because of the pain made me feel even more of a freak. Gradually, though, I realised that symptoms fluctuate, and not everyone gets them – even the dreaded nausea, which was almost constant during weeks 8 and 9 would go through stages where it would almost disappear, and by the end of the 1st trimester, it was down to maybe once a day (and no more vomiting, thank goodness!): phew!
I’d always assumed that pregnancy cravings were things you wanted to eat ALL the time, but I’ve found that mine change constantly (or, at least, they did in the 1st trimester), and, once I’ve had whatever it is I was craving, the craving disappears. Because of that, I’m not even sure “craving” is the right word for these: I haven’t really had a feeling of, “OMG I MUST HAVE THIS NOW!” but during the 1st trimester, I did sometimes find myself suddenly and inexplicably drawn to certain foods, which I wouldn’t be able to stop thinking about until I finally got whatever it was. So far I’ve “craved”:
- Kraft Mac’n’Cheese – had to be the cheap, boxed stuff: none of your fancy-pants home-made macaroni for this girl!
- Bagels with cream cheese. (This one actually DID last quite a while: for a couple of weeks they were the only thing I really wanted to eat…)
- McDonalds cheeseburgers – the cheap, basic ones, not the Big Mac, or Quarter Pounder or whatever, and not any other brand or variety of burger. Terry did offer to make me a cheeseburger at home, but I was just all, “Why do you hate me? Get me to the drive-through, STAT!”
- Fried rice: and, again, this had to be the kind you get from a Chinese restaurant, not a home-made version.
- Fruit Pastilles: I’m still eating these now, actually, and they’re the only sweet thing I can really stomach these days.
Speaking of sweet things…
Everything suddenly tasting far too sweet
I wouldn’t say I had an excessively sweet tooth before I was pregnant (Given the choice, I’d generally go for savoury over sweet, although I do like both…), but I DID love chocolate, and would have a small amount of it most days, normally after dinner. Now, though, while I don’t have an aversion to chocolate, and will occasionally eat it if it’s right in front of me (and assuming I’m not feeling nauseous at the time!), most of the time, it just doesn’t come into my head, or appeal to me at all. It’s the same with anything else sweet – I’ve even struggled with soft drinks, and have been mostly drinking plain water (Which I normally don’t drink at all – I always have to add something to it to make it a bit more interesting!) because everything else seems sickly sweet to me, even if I used to love it. I’m secretly hoping this continues once the baby’s here, to be honest – I reckon my diet will probably be a whole lot healthier without the sugar!
Going off coffee
If anyone had told me I’d ever go off coffee before I got pregnant, I’d have laughed in their face. I was a complete coffee addict: in fact, it was the one thing I was really worried about having to give up if I did get pregnant, because I just didn’t think I’d be able to do it – I mean, I’m the kind of person who normally can’t even get out of bed in the morning until she’s onto her second cup, so how on earth would I survive on just ONE, which is all the health experts recommend during pregnancy? I was actually so worried about this, that I actually started drinking decaf a few months ago, to prepare myself, and so I could at least still have the TASTE of coffee, if not the caffeine hit of it. Wouldn’t you know it, though, from pretty much the moment I found out I was pregnant, I haven’t even wanted that, so I haven’t had a drop of coffee in over two months now, and I haven’t missed it at all – which I really, REALLY didn’t expect!
A change in the constitution
One of the ironies of my health anxiety is that despite perpetually thinking that I’m dying, I’m actually one of the healthiest people I know, and I rarely suffer from a lot of the things other people seem to get. (My midwife appointment was actually quicker than it would usually have been, because when she started going through my medical history, I was able to say, “Well, I’m complete basket case, so there’s THAT, but I’m not allergic to anything, I’m not on any medication and I don’t have any health conditions: can I leave now?”) Until I got pregnant, I’d hear people say things like, “Oh, I can’t eat that: it gives me heartburn/indigestion/whatever,” and I honestly didn’t really have much of a concept of what those things even felt like, because, for the most part, I eat things, my body processes them, the end.
Well, I KNOW NOW, is all I’m saying, because from almost the second I found out I was pregnant, my body completely freaked out and forgot everything it ever knew. So now I eat something – anything, really – and my body’s just like, “WHOA, there! I have NO IDEA what I’m supposed to do with this!” So I spend around 90% of my time in a lot of discomfort, and the other 10% grudgingly eating things that I know will cause me a lot of discomfort later. So I guess if I were to sum up the first trimester, I would probably say, “A LOT OF DISCOMFORT. Also: NAUSEA.” I’ve basically spent the last two months trying unsuccessfully to digest my food. That’s my life now. So, if someone asks me to do something now, I have to say, “Sorry, I can’t, I’ll be digesting my dinner that day: and the next, actually.”
This one was fairly short-lived – in fact, I’d actually forgotten about it until after this post was published, and am just coming back now to add it in – but from about weeks 7- 9 I had some really incapacitating headaches: to the extent that all I could do was lie in bed trying to block out the light, and feeling really sorry for myself. I do suffer from migraines (although, now I come to think of it, I can’t remember the last time I had one…), but these were totally different (I actually mostly get visual disturbances with my migraines, with the headaches that follow them being not too bad), and, because it was a symptom I hadn’t read about, they really frightened me, and I assumed I must have a brain tumour. (THANKS, HEALTH ANXIETY!) As I said, luckily they were fairly short-lived, which I’m really grateful about, because headaches + nausea was no joke!
I used to hear people talk about 1st trimester exhaustion a lot, so I wasn’t totally unprepared for this, but, then again, I also frequently see pregnant women training for marathons, raising toddlers and generally going about business as usual, so I kinda thought, well, how bad can it really BE?
Guys, it can be BAD: as in, I don’t even remember the last time I sat through a full TV show without falling asleep, and that’s SO unlike me. I’ve never been the type to nap on the couch, or during the day, and I’m rarely in bed by midnight… until now, when I need a quick nap both before and after my morning shower (which is actually more like an afternoon shower), and it’s taken me about three days to finish this blog post, which I’d normally have pretty much been able to write in my sleep. Now, though, I’m having to write it BETWEEN sleeps, which is a whole new experience for me: I keep hearing about this miraculous surge of energy you’re supposed to get once the 1st trimester is over, but so far I’m still waiting. And hoping. And, well, sleeping, really. Speaking of exhaustion…
Sleeping like the dead, and having dreams like movies
I’m normally a fairly restless sleeper, and will generally wake up at least a couple of times in the night. Not any more, though – I assumed that pregnancy anxiety would keep me awake aaaaalll night long, but ever since I found out, I’ve been asleep pretty much the second my head touches the pillow, and I basically don’t move until morning. My dreams, meanwhile, have been INSANE: knew vivid dreams were one of the pregnancy symptoms a lot of people report, but it’s been like a movie playing in my head every night: normally a really, really strange one…
I was particularly surprised by the sleep thing, because I’d been led to believe by pretty much everything I’d read that I’d be waking up at least a dozen times every night to use the bathroom. Nuh-uh: my nausea made it really hard for me to stay hydrated, so this was one symptom that totally passed me by. Instead, I got to be tortured by the feeling of being constantly thirsty, but too nauseous to actually drink anything – aaaarrrgh!