It could be a cultural thing, it could be a regional thing, or it could just be me, but here’s the thing: there’s been so much I didn’t expect during pregnancy. Where I grew up, women are reminded daily - if not hourly - that it is our purpose in life to have kids. Forget about how that decision can affect all areas of your life, some of these not very positively. People insist on how lovely it is to have kids, how much of a societal need it is… and they conveniently leave out how harrowing the whole process can be.
So, here I am telling you about my own experience with the matter, trying to be honest about what surprised me and what didn’t. For the courage to do this I have to thank the honesty of other mothers that came before me.
I want to start by saying that I consider myself an educated woman, one who loves reading and entered this situation willingly. That is, my partner and I chose to have a kid. And this is where it starts: choosing to have a baby makes me part of the 36% of people in South America who plan their pregnancy. So apparently, I am at least aware of family planning (thanks, mom and dad!). Yet I was still not very well instructed on how difficult pregnancy can actually be. I knew of cases where people had to stay in bed for 3-6 months, but I mostly thought that only happened in extreme circumstances. I was hoping to have a normal pregnancy, one where I could still do what I needed to do: do lab work, write and publish papers, and do other kinds of work. I was actually able to do some of those, but not all, and not for long, and definitely not for lack of trying. So, here’s a bunch of stuff I expected, and some I didn’t.
I was expecting nausea, as this is fairly common during pregnancy. It happens to around 60% of women so I thought this would be my case too. And boy did it begin soon, during the second week already. It is commonly believed that this only happens during the first trimester, so when the first trimester and nausea ended together I was quite happy with myself. Turns out, it can come back! And it did in the third trimester. Not too happy about that one! Luckily, in my case, it is mostly a morning thing and in the third trimester it has not been as strong as in the first one.
One of the first things I noticed when I suspected we were successful in conceiving was how my nipples changed colours. I had read that it can happen, and it did in my case. What I did not know was that other parts of the body change color, too; that was interesting to see! The most obvious one I noticed was the hair line, the one that goes from in between the breasts all the way down to the navel and ends in the pubic bone. This line darkens during pregnancy, and it can also become a bit hairier (luckily not between the breasts, though).
When my half sister was expecting she was quite swollen. I was hoping that came from her mom’s side of the family, and that maybe I had inherited a luckier set of genes. Nope! It seems my mom also had swollen feet during her pregnancy. Of course I only found this out now, because people ::couhgMOMcough:: for some reason ::coughgrandkidscough:: never discuss how bad their pregnancies were before you are pregnant – so I was not very lucky in this department. Soon I realized this was related to me standing for too long, so of course it meant I had to reduce the amount of time I was standing and therefore no more long lab work time for me. In the last trimester though, I woke up some days and my feet are all swollen and I just have no idea why it happens seemingly randomly.
EXPECTED BUT DID NOT HAPPEN
It is funny that one of the most characteristic anecdotes people have from their pregnancy is how much their cravings affected them and their relationships. It is also funny that this did not really happen to me. During the first trimester I wanted spicy Korean soup -Ramen- more often than not but I was not dying to eat them constantly either and since I do love Korean spicy soups anyway this was not the disgusting combination of food I was told to expect to want to eat. I was expecting some weird craving like olives, mayonnaise, pickled onions and blue cheese – things that I detest – yet this never occurred. Quite the opposite, I hated them even more and as little as smelling or seeing them made me gag.
I was told by many that I at some point I could become quite angry, either at friends or my partner. Curiously enough, this also did not happen. At least until now my husband was saved from being yelled at randomly by me. I do feel more sensitive to some feelings though.
When I first started to feel the fetus move I had some trouble sleeping. However, in time I regained my sleep and it might be related to the fetus having some change in sleeping patterns that allow me to sleep more or just being lucky in this department. There are days when I wake up a bit too early and I do hit the bathroom quite often, as expected, even during early hours of the morning but mostly I can go back to sleep afterwards. I think that something that helped me sleep was that I bought baby pillows that I used to place my belly in a comfortable position at night.
Socially expected feelings
The narrative is that, when pregnant, a woman is inundated with overwhelming joy and love. A kind of love never before experienced. I have been suspicious of this narrative for a while, especially after reading about some mothers that felt nothing like that, which caused them to feel very discouraged and guilty. They would blame themselves for being such horrible people for not feeling these things that apparently everyone else does. I felt that these were traditional ideas of womanhood being imposed socially, and that there may not be any truth to them. Perhaps women have felt the need to say it out loud to be socially accepted. However, once a friend that is not a very traditional or religious person confided in me that she did feel that when expecting - I believed her because she mentioned this in private, with no one around to prove anything to. This led me to reading a bit more about it and concluding that some may feel this love and some may not. And that is fine. At around the same time, something else made me curious: reading in a blog of another very unconventional woman that she only started developing a relationship with her baby once the baby was born and realizing that meeting the baby was like meeting any other new person in her life. So I read more about different experiences and concluded that this too is a possibility, and that this is fine and I am in no position to judge how a person feels about their pregnancy. I have to thank all these brave women that I was lucky enough to meet and that were honest about their feelings regarding their children, however taboo the topic might be. They helped me and now I do not feel bad at all for not feeling the “overwhelming love” that I am supposed to feel. I am content with my pregnancy, but I do not feel this fairytale type of love and I welcome openly any form of feeling that happens onwards, however the delivery goes and whatever I feel when I look at my child once they are born.
Of course the fetus moves inside me, but I was not expecting the baby to have hiccups. It was quite obvious that was happening because of the rhythm. I immediately read that it’s normal, and also asked the nurse and doctor and they reassured me it is fine, I have nothing to worry about if the fetus is having hiccups. It is just that I was not expecting it.
Pain during baby movements
Normally when people talk about baby movement there is this aura of awe and happiness about it, and people love to mention how magical it is to feel the human-to-be move and such. I was waiting to feel it, and it happened a bit earlier than expected for a first timer. However, as the baby grows and runs out of space, these movements become amazingly uncomfortable. By the time they are more visible, the pain is quite strong and hard to ignore. This makes writing very difficult, if not impossible. It does feel like the baby is either doing yoga or karate inside and it is not fun or enjoyable in any way. “Can you feel the baby move? Awwwwww” It’s more like “yes, and ouch”.
My vulva hurts!
As the baby grows and the belly becomes heavier, I’m starting to feel an increasing pain in my vulva. I asked and checked and it is apparently normal and related to the weight of the belly and having my vulva endure all that weight. Although it sounds quite logical, I was never told this could happen and never heard a woman complain about this before. Needless to say, I was not prepared for this. Something that can help with this is getting a pack (kylmä/lämpöpakkaus) from the pharmacy, freezing it and placing it in your private area, it can be quite relaxing!
Although a part of me knew I would be tired I did not expect it to be this level of tired. I find it harder and harder to walk, move, or even sit as the pregnancy advances. I am more comfortable laying down but at the same time my head will not be convinced that I should be like this the whole day. I try to go for walks at least but doing all the yoga, exercises and things that are supposed to be helping my body get ready for delivery seem like a daunting effort I am not going to be able to make. I am sure some pregnant people can even run during pregnancy -or play and win tennis matches- yet each pregnancy is different, and I think that one has to be realistic about one’s limitations and try to avoid comparisons.
Feeling bad about my body
The status quo is feeling uncomfortable about one’s body. Very rarely do I find a person – in particular a female identified person – who feels happy with their body. I am more or less at a stage in my life that I learned to accept how my body is even when I tend from time to time to look at older pictures and wish for “that body” rather than the present body I now have. Pregnancy made the awkwardness worse. I am aware of the fact that luckily, I do not need a “perfect” body for my line of work. I am not a model or actress, or singer and I do believe women and other people of different genders have no need whatsoever to comply with current and unrealistic standards of beauty. I am also aware that being beautiful itself is no indication of worth and there is no need to make any effort to be beautiful. A person is worthy regardless of their physical aspect.
This does not mean that I am impervious to the media’s push to have a particular type of body, in particular when trying to find something that could fit me while my belly is growing. I am a Latina and with a good-sized butt – and proud of it, mind you – so I was horribly frustrated trying to find pants that could fit me even at the mommy section of shops that for some reason was now full of skinny jeans. I just could not fit in those things and could not understand who could possibly want to be made even more uncomfortable than what one already is at this particular moment in life.
Finding clothes during pregnancy is hard, in particular if one is not very much into what is considered feminine. Too much of the pregnant people clothes tend to be too “sweet” and “pure” and have a kind of “virginal air” and this is not at all my style and I did not feel comfortable with it at all. I am aware that this stage is short lived and that mostly my body will change once the baby is born, however I can’t help from having these feelings, so I rather acknowledge them and share these experiences than pretend they are not happening.
Every pregnancy is different. Some people will have it easier than others, so this is just what happened to me. A positive thing in my case was that I am mentally in a better state than before and hope to continue being so, despite the difficulties that may rise once the baby is here. Even regarding the detail about the painful baby movements, I can say I quite enjoy my partner’s reaction when the baby kicks and he feels them. It is really cute in a way even if the kicks can be super strong.
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