Things No One Tells You About Being Pregnant:
1. You bloat. You bloat like a dead whale during an August heat wave. Every pregnancy website and book you encounter will be chirping, "You don't gain an ounce during your first trimester and hiding the pregnancy will be the easiest thing you've ever done!"; meanwhile, back in reality, the Bloat means that by week eight none of your pants fit and everyone at work is wondering when they can start telling you to lay off the donuts. (Also, you are supposed to gain some weight during your first trimester. The nutritionist yelled at me for only gaining two pounds at the end of mine, which was adding insult to injury given that I was resorting to the fifteen-pounds-ago-pants at the back of the closet by then.)
2. If you think you have seen the most hostile and shaming stuff the internet has to offer, you haven't. I've had cancer; I thought I knew how scary and evil the internet could be. But I knew NOTHING. I was completely unprepared for otherwise normal-seeming and woman-friendly pregnancy sites to suddenly say things like, "some lucky women actually lose weight during their first trimesters if their morning sickness is bad enough," because vomit-related weight loss, at a time when you need to be as strong and healthy as possible, is still weight loss and therefore automatically awesome!! Visit a pregnancy website and get blindsided by pro-bulimia sentiments: do you love being a woman yet?
I was unprepared for the forums on which all participants swear to high heaven that they didn't show until twenty-four weeks and that anyone who does is eating 3,000 calories a day and will have a diabetic obese baby. I AM NOT EVEN EXAGGERATING. This sentiment is ALL OVER the internet. Even setting aside the Bloat, if somehow you have managed to gestate a fetus the size of a cantaloupe but in the process you haven't gained any weight and your uterus hasn't moved above your pelvis (which it does around week 13), I would guess that maybe you are, I dunno, an enormous liar.
It turned out that, despite being an intelligent and realistic person, and despite having watched many of my friends go through pregnancy, I completely bought into the Hollywood myth that a pregnant woman looks exactly as she did before for three months and then gets a tiny, perfect, obviously-baby-related belly. And the internet is full of women reinforcing this myth, aggressively and judgmentally, at each other. At fifteen weeks and absolutely huge, I made the terrible mistake of image-googling "fifteen weeks pregnant", and of course was slammed with pictures of whippet-hipped women who looked like they'd maybe had a large lunch. There were tears. It was awful.
(Every pregnancy website and book will attempt to console you for your tragic weight gain [even if they think it shouldn't arrive until month six or whatever] by pointing out, over and OVER, that you have giant boobs now and are therefore womanly. You will see the phrase "your new womanly curves" approximately 400,000 times in your pregnancy reading. Apparently all these sites and books believe it is impossible for a woman to have already had large boobs, or to have been perfectly womanly without them. My "new womanly curves" consisted of my waist disappearing, so that I looked like a potato. I could never decide which was worse: being told that I shouldn't be gaining any weight or being told that my weight gain should make me feel sexy. Either way, the implication was that I was doing something wrong by feeling dumpy.)
This whole fat-shaming where-is-your-self-control bullshit is especially evil given that it's being directed at women who will be hunched over a toilet dry-heaving if they don't put food in their bodies far more frequently than they used to: having an empty stomach makes the nausea terrible. On very bad days, I had to set my alarm to wake me up every three hours overnight for preemptive eating, rather than be woken by my stomach trying to turn itself inside out. Of course, the internet (and the nutritionist I visited) would have it that even at vomit o'clock a.m. I should be taking care to eat only the most healthful and varied of foods. I went through a five-week period when literally anything other than saltines and egg noodles came immediately back up, and if I so much as looked at lists of "healthy pregnancy snacks", with their raw vegetables and yogurt, I would have to sit very quietly until the urge to vomit passed. When, out of self-loathing, I forced myself to eat raw carrots before I sensed that my body was ready for them, I threw up for the next sixteen hours. What I was finally able to keep down: a grilled cheese sandwich. Diabetic obese baby, here I come!
As if this body-policing and -shaming wasn't enough, I was trying desperately to hide it at work, long past the point at which I was fooling anyone. I was so excited to be pregnant. I was also horribly afraid that something would go wrong, and if on top of something going wrong I had to explain to 200 people, some of whom have Strong Opinions, that I wasn't pregnant anymore... HELL, NO. At one point I decided that if word got out I was pregnant and then I didn't carry to term, I would quit my job and move to Nova Scotia. I'm not kidding; that would be far preferable to hearing, daily, "It's because you walked your dogs," or "It's because you ate that thing I saw you eating the other day". (This plan is still very much in effect, by the way.) So, while the internet was busy telling me that I shouldn't see any difference in my body, I was struggling with the basic fact that when you start out short and with a tiny waist, being four months pregnant is not something you can hide. It made me have flashbacks to high school, when my outfits of choice involved enormous t-shirts because I believed my body was so appalling that the only thing to do with it was swathe it in a tent and pray nobody looked at me.
All this resulted in me hating the changes in my body, when I wanted to be excited about them. It was an awful, awful feeling.
3. The Better Mother Than You madness starts with prenatal appointments. There will be tons of women on the internet claiming that they got care weeks before you did, in a "I am taking better care of my baby than you and/or my doctors have agreed that my pregnancy is just the most important one ever" competition. When I called my medical center the same day that I peed on the stick, they said they don't even consider a woman pregnant until eight weeks, so that's when my first appointment would be. Then I went on-line and found women swearing that by week six they'd already had an ultrasound. This is ridiculous and should be ignored. It's only true in cases where the woman was already under medical care when she got pregnant (usually because there were fertility treatments involved) and/or has medical issues which mean the pregnancy is very high-risk.
The less medical intervention required during your pregnancy, the better, but the internet competition to have the most and earliest screenings and appointments is fierce. It's a means of feeling important, like I said: if you are the person in the OB waiting room to whom the most attention is being paid, then you and your fetus are truly special. I fell victim to this at first, being a competitive person, and actually got a little huffy at how casual and cheerful everyone was around my OB appointments. Then, at my first ultrasound (not until twelve weeks, which is perfectly normal) I had to wait half an hour for the doctor to come in because all the other ultrasounds that day were showing problems and he was running way behind. He finally came in, used the words "beautiful" and "perfect", told me to start saving for college, and was gone in ninety seconds, back to some poor woman who had just gotten bad news. I realized then that I was being incredibly stupid.
(It's also worth noting that I live in a state with progressive abortion laws. Women who are not so fortunate need medical information earlier, because they have less time in which to make a decision. In the year 2013, there are women who have to have conversations with their doctors about being sent across state lines should they be among those getting bad news at their ultrasounds or from their tests. In the year 2013. Just saying.)
4. The "pregnancy glow" is a giant myth, unless you were already the kind of woman who hasn't had a visible pore since she was seventeen. A massive overload of hormones is going to do things to your complexion, but they are not going to be kind things. The one mercy the internet offered me was that this is universally agreed upon. It's considered okay to admit to anything that isn't weight gain, and so at least I didn't have to think I was alone in my experience of Zit Fest 2013. This was scant comfort, but I took what I could get.
5. No one agrees on when the second trimester starts. It's held out to you as the holy grail. It's when your risk of miscarriage plummets and you stop feeling sick and you can tell people, but NO ONE agrees on when it starts. Some say week 12; some week 13; some week 14. I got all excited when I thought I'd made it; and then I encountered all these sites saying, "You're in the last week of the first trimester; hang in there!" and I was like, "Oh joy, another week of being convinced I'm going to miscarry any second." (It turns out that the part about your sickness ceasing is also a lie.)
To add to this joy, my first ultrasound was at a place other than my OB's office. The ultrasound estimated that I was six days further along than we'd thought, but my OB's office said that until they did an ultrasound, they would continue counting from my LMP. Between that and the above nonsense, for an ENTIRE MONTH I didn't know which trimester I was in. And I DO NOT DEAL WELL WITH UNCERTAINTY.
6. If you bring a peanut butter sandwich to work for lunch, you will eat it before 10 a.m.
7. They have dropped the "Advanced Maternal Age" designation from the chart of women over 34. I had been warned about that designation, and was ready for it, but instead I was handed a piece of paper with - wait for it - "Elderly Primigravida" written on it, and I made an amazing noise. That's right, ladies: on your 35th birthday you are medically considered "elderly". As a 37-year-old, I'm surprised my chart doesn't just say "Crone" or make references to Sarah and Abraham.
8. There will be a whole 'nother post about this, but visiting your oncologist while pregnant is the most terrifying exercise in "be careful what you wish for" imaginable. All my doctors have been casual and cheerful about the pregnancy. Not a one of them has been either of those things about me, in terms of potential cancer recurrence (except, ironically, the internet, which is sure I'll be fine). But more about that later.
9. Everything about it is surreal. But I'm really, really happy and excited.
10. The current cultural assumption that leggings are pants gets pushed even harder at you. And it's tempting. It's tempting as heck. Will I be able to resist? Watch this space!