Now that I have a few weeks of this pregnancy palaver under my belt, I’ve been thinking about the various ways in which the reality of pregnancy differs from my pre-pregnancy expectations.
I suspect that I’m no different to most women in that I hadn’t fully considered what it would actually feel like to be pregnant. Given how flipping long it’s taken me to get knocked up, you’d think that I would have had ample time to contemplate it, wouldn’t you? But I was never tempted to read books about pregnancy – it always seemed like it would be akin to tempting fate. So my perceptions of pregnancy were very basic, and could probably be summarised thus:
- First trimester: I’d throw up a lot and feel really knackered
- Second trimester:I’d feel fantastic and have amazing hair, skin and nails
- Third trimester: I’d be enormous
Obviously, I haven’t yet experienced the second and third trimesters, so I can’t possibly comment on my accuracy or lack thereof, but now that I’ve nearly finished the first trimester I feel that I can objectively compare my real pregnancy to the fictional pregnancy I had in my head.
The thing is, my expectations of the first trimester were shaped by the feedback I’d received from the dozens of women I know who have gone through this before me. Typically, when somebody has announced their pregnancy I’ve congratulated them and then asked, “how have you been feeling?” And the response has invariably been one of the following three options:
- “Well, I’ve been throwing up a lot, and I’ve been very tired, but now I feel great!”
- “Well, I’ve had some issues with nausea, but luckily I haven’t actually been sick. And I’ve been very tired. But now I feel great!”
- “I’ve felt quite tired, but otherwise I’ve felt great!”
I’ve now realised that, while these responses are all accurate descriptions of early pregnancy, they tell what can only be described as the extremely sanitised version of events. It’s as if nausea and tiredness have been declared the socially acceptable pregnancy symptoms, and all others have been ruthlessly banished from polite conversation. And for good reason: there are all sorts of strange and unsavoury things that go on when you’re pregnant, and many of them are not really suitable for sharing with friends or colleagues.
For the benefit of anybody I know who has not yet been pregnant and may be one day, here’s some other responses that would be equally accurate, describing symptoms that are very common in early pregnancy. I have experienced some of these; I’ve also thrown in a few red herrings, so you don’t know exactly how weird and gross I’ve become. We pregnant women need to protect our dignity while we still can.
Common first trimester symptoms: what pregnant women don’t say…
“Well, the one thing I’ve noticed is that my boobs have become absolutely massive, seemingly overnight! Seriously, it’s like somebody snuck into my bedroom, sneakily anesthetized me, and gave me comedy breast implants while I was sleeping. I can’t wear roll-neck jumpers without looking vaguely pornographic, and they get in the way when I’m in the shower. I shudder to think how enormous they’re likely to become when I’m breastfeeding. Of course, my husband thinks that they look wonderful, although he’s quickly realised that, as things currently stand, his chances of getting up close and personal verge on infinitesimal.”
“I’ve actually driven myself mad for several weeks, freaking out at every slight cramp and abdominal twinge – I had no idea that an expanding uterus would feel so weird! It’s been enough to send me feverishly scuttling to my computer on a regular basis, frantically googling to reassure myself that this is normal and doesn’t necessarily signal an imminent miscarriage.”
“Actually, the thing that’s really a pain in my bum – no pun intended – is the sodding constipation. Apparently it’s because I’ve got lots of progesterone coursing through my system, which has made my large bowel a little sluggish and unreliable. It’s got so bad that I’ve even bought prunes, although I have an unspecified horror of them and haven’t yet been able to bring myself to eat them.”
“All I can say is this: thank God I have a dog at whom I can glare accusingly as a way of shifting the blame for my constant burping and farting.”
“I’ve become a bit of a nightmare to eat with – I’m either starving, or the thought of food turns my stomach. And even though I will enjoy most food once I start to eat it, I’ve got the mind of goldfish at the moment and seem to constantly forget this, making me very reluctant to eat and forcing my significant other to have to cajole me into nourishing myself. Still, this will be excellent training for when we’ve got a picky toddler in the house!”
“The really weird thing has been my sense of smell – for example, I know that you had red onions is your lunch time salad yesterday. Please go away – you disgust me.”
“I’ve had a splitting headache for three months. Please stop your incessant babbling and leave me alone.”
“To be honest, I’ve been a raving psycho – mood swings like you wouldn’t believe. My husband is just about ready to knock the whole marriage on the heat and run away and join the circus. It’s only the fear of the massive child support payments that are keeping him on board – that, and the hope that my second trimester will bring with it a sunnier disposition and a renewed interest in ‘marital relations’.”