Before conceiving, I thought I’d be one of those earth-mother types who would instantly start radiating from the inside out. From what the media (and even more-so social media) depicts about pregnant women, I was under the impression (perhaps delusional?) that this would be me from the get-go too. I had of course heard about the early cliche pregnancy symptoms like morning sickness, etc., however the greater emphasis is usually put on the glorified parts. Maybe for some that radiating actually happens out of the gate. But for most women, the reality of the first trimester looks nothing like this at all. I mean not even a slight resemblance.
Have you ever imagined what it would be like to have the flu for 2 months straight? Probably not, because that would be the WORST THING EVER! Well this was my warm welcome into pregnancy. There were consecutive days when I could barely leave the couch, and pajamas became my standing uniform. I give boatloads of credit to women who work demanding 9-5,6,7? jobs and somehow get their asses to work every day, dressed in appropriate attire, makeup in check. And the real superheros in this universe are women who work these rigid schedules, and already have a kid(s) to take care of at home.
I am fortunate that I am mostly working from home. Between the fatigue, nausea, dizziness, and a whole laundry list of other new sensations, I was lucky to get on some mascara for the early bird special with friends. My first-trimester days consisted of toggling from bed to couch, and while one would think a long winter’s nap would give a boost or recharge, it only had me surrender to the couch even further. I even ate breakfast in bed and sometimes dinner too. I also felt guilty much of the time because after trying to get pregnant for close to a year, this was a time to rejoice, celebrate, and be ecstatic. But it was very difficult to stay upbeat and positive while struggling with how I physically felt. It was a never-ending cycle of exhaustion and nausea, and the end of my first trimester could not come soon enough.
Luckily, the light has come and at 19 weeks, I am feeling great. I have much more energy, the nausea is gone, and now that I’m out of the pregnancy closet, I can be my authentic self. I am feeling way more connected to the life that is growing inside my body, and remain fascinated, in awe. I am starting to celebrate the bump, and feel stronger and empowered by what my body is experiencing. Maybe I’ll even get to embrace my earth-mother side after all.
I wish I had a write-up like this one to read in those early days when I felt like the only person in the world who was struggling. So without further ado, I present you with 10 of the less glorified parts of pregnancy that may be part of your first-trimester reality.
1. Fatigue. Think about the most tired you’ve ever been in your life. Now multiply it by 1,000 and it’s still not even close to how tired you will be in your first trimester. While doctors and friends assure you that this will pass come your second trimester, it doesn’t matter because you’re tired today and there is nothing you can do about it. My recommendations include laying low, keeping plans very loose, accepting that you may need to cancel commitments, and resting as much as you can. You will never regain the time back to nurture your body the way it needs during a pregnancy so take advantage of the moments you have to relax. And don’t feel bad about it either. You are creating human life, and the first trimester is the most critical time for development. Take the time you need.
2. Nausea. Fortunately, I never threw up. But I constantly felt like I could. Low-grade nausea plagued me daily. There were even times when I had to bypass taking my prenatal vitamins because I would gag when I tried. There really isn’t any way around being nauseous in the early days when your hormones are on the rise, but there is one thing that can help: eat. Keeping your stomach full (not overly so) can take the edge off and ensure your blood sugar stays intact. My favorite on-the-go snacks included:
● Cucumber (w/ a little salt)
● Gluten Free Pretzels
● Puffins Gluten Free Cereal
● Kind Healthy Grain Bars
● Lara Bars
3. Dizziness. When pregnant, your cardiovascular system is undergoing traumatic changes. The amount of blood in your body increases by 40-45 percent, and your heart rate goes up, pumping more blood which the majority of goes to the baby. This can slow the return of blood to you. As a result, your blood pressure goes down and there is less flowing to your brain, which causes the dizziness. Sit down if you’re feeling faint and put your head between legs. And if you you are at home, lie down on your left side. This helps move the blood back to your heart. Keep moving to maintain healthy circulation. Low blood sugar could also be another reason for the dizziness, so make sure to eat regularly and bring snacks when on the go. Stay hydrated by carrying around a water bottle (I use this one). Exercise is always important for maintaining healthy circulation.
4. Shortness of Breath. I’m not in good shape, however I don’t usually get out of breath when let’s say, I’m making the bed! Even little activities actually knocked the wind out of me during my first trimester. According to BabyCenter, “ An increase in hormones, particularly progesterone, directly affects your lungs and stimulates the respiratory center in your brain. And while the number of breaths you take per minute actually changes very little during pregnancy, the amount of air you inhale and exhale with each breath increases significantly.” I can’t express how much you need to take it easy (especially if you’re working out) and in the moments where you’re feeling a lack of air – pause and take deep inhales and exhales (inhale – count to 5 – exhale – count to 5). Fill your body up with as much oxygen as possible and take a moment to let it circulate. The shortness of breath only increases into your second trimester while your bump puts more pressure on your diaphragm, so make sure to breathe deep.
5. Headaches. Some women experience what I call a “pregnancy headache,” likely caused by the changing hormones and increase in bloodflow. Although most doctors say Tylenol is fine (contact yours first before taking anything), I steered clear of medication because of the excess I had to take during my IVF process. If you are not taking medication and you get a pregnancy headache, lay down, close your eyes and go to bed! Drink a ton of water, and if the pain is that great, put an ice-pack or bag of frozen peas on your head. A massage/tickle from your partner doesn’t hurt either. It helps the release of endorphins which causes euphoria and pleasure, and can help you relax. Another key thing to stay aware of is what you are eating because food/caffeine can trigger headaches too. Keeping a food diary will help track potential causes. Check out The Mayo Clinic, which has a bunch of recommendations for avoiding headaches all together.
6. Emotional/Depression/Anxiety. This past year was full of ups and downs for me, especially since the process of conceiving included fertility treatments. When I finally found out I was pregnant, I thought for sure I’d be over the moon and all of my sadness, frustration and defeat would disappear. WRONG! Pregnancy takes your hormones on a roller coaster ride and if you’re an already sensitive person (like me), expect it to be supersonic. Especially in your first trimester. It also doesn’t help when you perpetually don’t feel well, and that could depress anyone. Being pregnant is also scary! The plan to have a baby and the reality of being pregnant are two completely different things. It can bring up tons of emotions which lead to anxious and/or depressing thoughts and this is all very normal. Know that you are not alone, and like I mentioned, continue to remind yourself that everything you are feeling is natural. Unfortunately, 33% of women do face clinical depression/anxiety during pregnancy, and if you think this may be you, there are ways to seek help. Parents Magazine has a great article that will give you further information on symptoms and treatment.
7. Hunger. If there was a theme song playing throughout my first trimester, it would be “Hungry Like the Wolf”, because that is exactly how I felt. I pretty much had to eat every 1-2 hours and if I didn’t get something in my stomach before that window of time, I’d start to feel faint, nauseous and dizzy. Before getting pregnant, I imagined my diet to consist of tons of veggies and fruits, lean meats, and fish (per recommended amount), but you can throw that all out the window in your first trimester. I ate what I craved, and that’s it — tons of carbs, minimal veggies, a little more sugar than I had hoped, ginger ale (regular, not diet), surprisingly red meat, and (luckily) oranges. I recommend keeping food handy. Pack snacks in your bag and always have something to nibble on in case you are not home and reach the witching hour before sh*t hits the fan.
8. Thirst. Parched as if you’ve been stuck in the sahara for a week, yes, that is how thirsty you will be in your first trimester. Staying hydrated is obviously important, so keep a water bottle handy so you can constantly quench your thirst. While water is not very exciting when you’re pregnant and craving anything from macaroni and cheese to pizza (or maybe that’s just me), I add lemon to my water for flavor. And club soda is a solid alternative too.
9. Sense of Smell. A heightened sense of smell could possibly have been one of the worst symptoms I faced, caused by the increase in estrogen. Before I got pregnant, I started to make my own cocoa body butter, and ordered so much cocoa/shea butter and oils that it now takes up an entire bottom row of a cabinet in the kitchen. I hooked my wife Dina onto it too. Cocoa butter has a very distinct smell, especially if you don’t buy it with chemicals or fragrance. And this is the smell that came back to haunt me once I conceived. Not only did I smell it constantly because Dina wore it, but I smell it every time I open the kitchen cabinet. I now have over $150 worth of ingredients to lotion up a small army, yet I cannot deal with even the slightest whiff. Unfortunately, it is difficult to escape smells, and no matter where you go or what you do, you will be faced with breathing in something that will make you want to run for the toilet to vomit. What to Expect While Expecting has some coping mechanisms for how to deal, and something I read (which I didn’t do, but is genius) is carrying around a lemon so that in the event that you smell something that turns your stomach, you can whip it out and sniff it as a distraction.
10. It’s Already about Baby. If you think you’re going to spend the next 9.5 months getting your sleep, having dinner with friends and filling up your social calendar before your baby is born, you are sorely mistaken. From the moment the sperm meets the egg, and your magical being is conceived, your baby will be the main priority in your life. That means lots of sleep, downtime, an adjusted diet, no booze, minimum caffeine and a whole lot of energy spent nurturing the little one inside. Things change from the moment the seed is planted.