Friday, July 27, 2018

The giant pregnancy post

Soooooo I wrote this just a couple weeks after having Adrian, then kept telling myself I'd come back to it for editing and to split it up into a few easier to read posts about specific aspects of pregnancy. But that isn't happening, and today I realized that it's the one year anniversary of finding out that I was pregnant, so I'm going to just dump it here as is. Otherwise I probably won't get around to posting this until the kid goes to college. Things covered in this post - body image, first trimester misery, (not) exercising while pregnant, discovering I had a defect in the umbilical cord (SUA), dealing with contractions from 28 weeks on.


By the time we decided we were ready to try for a baby, I wasn't all that worried about the actual baby. I'm incredibly lucky because I've been able to spend a lot of time and develop a close relationship with my sister's kids, and even the newborn phase didn't seem too intimidating because I got to stay with them for the first two weeks both times. I wasn't stupid enough to believe that this was the same experience as actually parenting, but at least I knew how to hold a newborn and how to change diapers and that sometimes when the umbilical stump falls off it is really freaking gross but that doesn't necessarily mean that anything is wrong.

But I was pretty anxious about the pregnancy. I was afraid I'd gain a million pounds, or that I'd be incredibly sick the entire time, or that I'd hate the feeling of sharing my body and that my anxiety would spike up. I worried about it a lot. I wanted to have a baby, but I just couldn't imagine myself pregnant.

And then (several months later) I was pregnant and it wasn't bad. None of the things I was worried about happened. Other things happened, things that I wasn't expecting and hadn't bothered to worry about, which is probably some kind of lesson that I should learn except that right now I'm pretty tired from carrying a human around for 41 weeks and so I'm not in the mood.

I'm sharing this not to say that hey, pregnancy is easy and there's no reason to stress! Everyone's experience is so different and there's no way to really anticipate how pregnancy will feel. I'm just sharing to say that maybe it's not worth stressing too much in advance because you can't predict how you're going to feel or what is going to happen. And each pregnancy can be different, so even being pregnant before doesn't necessarily mean you'll know how you'll feel the next time around.

Physically, I had a pretty easy pregnancy, for which I am super grateful. As soon as I got a positive pregnancy test I decided to kick into super healthy gear. I was going to eat protein and vegetables and drink tons of water! I was going to exercise moderately every day! I would be my best self and then I would have the world's healthiest baby!

This lasted for approximately two weeks, at which point morning sickness kicked in, which in my case was more like a 24/7 hangover of epic proportions that dragged on until I was 20 weeks along. I was lucky that I wasn't actively throwing up, but the nausea and lack of energy meant that I spent a lot of evenings lying on the kitchen floor in front of the refrigerator trying to convince myself to open the door and eat something, anything. Even in the moment I was aware of how ridiculously dramatic this was, but I honestly didn't feel up to anything else. I ate a lot of peanut butter for "dinner" during this time. I also had to force myself to drink water, for the first time in my life. And I had this lovely pregnancy symptom where my mouth tasted weird all the time, but especially after eating. That sentence does not adequately communicate how incredibly disgusting and frustrating this was. If anyone else is suffering through weird pregnancy mouth, I can say that I finally figured out that eating protein (mostly cheese sticks, in my case) didn't make it any worse, but any kind of carbs, especially sugar, was a nightmare. Also, chewing minty gum helped a little. I ended up eating zero sugar for two thirds of my pregnancy because of this (so at least I had one healthy habit).

Even once the morning sickness cleared up I had zero desire or energy to exercise. I can count on one hand the number of times I worked out during pregnancy. My only saving grace was that I committed to taking the stairs everywhere I went, even though I park on the fifth floor of the structure everyday at work. I told myself that this sort of counted, but in practice I was basically a land slug. I want to say that if I had another chance I would do it differently but to be honest I'm just not sure I was capable of it.

Surprisingly, I didn't gain a million pounds, and I actually ended up really feeling okay with my body during pregnancy. I was shocked by this. I've struggled with mild to moderate body image issues for most of my life and they tend to flare up when I'm stressed or dealing with major life events. At the time I got pregnant I was already at the heavier end of my personal weight spectrum and I thought that adding on extra pounds would raise a lot of issues. But I think I ended up being so busy and distracted that I didn't really think about it much (postpartum body image is turning out to be a whooooole other thing that I'm still in the early stages of figuring out). Once I got over the morning sickness I expected my appetite to rebound like crazy but instead it just went back to normal. I never felt overly hungry while pregnant and I think I mostly continued to eat like normal, although I did make an effort to keep healthier stuff stocked, so I snacked on a lot of nuts and yogurt. I wasn't perfect and I was pretty stressed at work, so I admit that I sometimes had a pretty sporadic daytime meal schedule. I would start out well (I ate the unsweetened Trader Joe's instant oatmeal with a sliced banana for breakfast every single week day of my pregnancy, because it was easy and I could do it at work) but then I was trying to cram so much work into my day that I'd realize I'd been sitting at my desk for hours and hadn't gotten up to go to the bathroom or eat. I vividly remember sitting in the grocery store parking lot one afternoon after work crying because I'd waited too long to eat and I already felt like a bad parent and this kid wasn't even born yet and what was wrong with me and why couldn't I get it together? Turns out that there are a lot of dramatic pregnancy moments that feel either hilarious or embarrassing in retrospect but are dead serious in the moment. Anyways, long story short, I thought I was going to be dealing with massive body image issues while pregnant, but instead I gained a totally normal amount of weight and felt surprisingly good about my body the whole time. I do credit part of this to switching over to maternity clothes pretty early. It's hard for me to feel good about myself if I have buttons or zippers digging into my midsection. Over the belly pregnancy jeans are basically leggings that look work appropriate. I'm honestly not sure why we don't all wear them all the time. I also found that I wore tighter clothes during pregnancy than in my normal life. I tried the beautiful hipster tunic-y or drapey maternity clothes and I looked like a house. I figured out quickly that I felt my best if I was wearing form fitting clothing that made it clear I was housing an actual baby and not just an extra large burrito, so I stuck with that. I mostly lived in maternity jeans and a few long sleeved maternity tops. Since I was pregnant during holiday season, I also bought a couple festive maternity dresses (I got a few pieces from both Pink Blush and Asos and found that at both places the quality is super mixed. The holiday dresses I got from Pink Blush look cute but they are seriously the cheapest feeling things. D asked if I was flammable after he felt the fabric on the dress I wore to his holiday party BUT multiple people commented on how amazing the dress looked, so it served its purpose and I just made sure to stay away from candles. On the other hand, the maternity workout leggings I got from Pink Blush are ah-mazing, and I wore them non-stop for six months - they don't seem to have the same exact pair anymore but they were similar to these. So I would say just order stuff and then return anything that feels cheap once you try it on.)

The parts of pregnancy I didn't anticipate were the hardest. At our 20 week anatomy scan we were so excited to finally confirm the sex of the baby, and instead we found out that I had an umbilical defect. Most umbilical cords have two arteries and one vein, but I had a condition called single umbilical artery (SUA). Five minutes of googling later and I was totally freaked out. An SUA can be isolated, meaning that it is just an anomaly and not associated with any other issues, or it can be associated with chromosomal abnormalities or heart or kidney defects. We found out on a Saturday and I was crushed and panicked. Everyone I talked to told me to get off the internet right away, and I tried to follow that advice and made it a full 48 hours. Then I talked to a friend and my therapist and they both told me that it was perfectly understandable to want to learn more about it and they reminded me that I had to advocate both for the baby and for myself. I understand why people tell you not to start googling, but how else are you supposed to know what questions to ask? I already spend a good chunk of time reading and discussing scientific articles for work, and so I went straight to the source and looked up every peer reviewed journal article I could find on SUA. At first it was pretty disheartening. Even if an SUA is isolated and not associated with any other issues, it can still lead to a higher chance of restricted fetal growth or late term miscarriage or stillbirth, presumably because the cord is more fragile and prone to damage. Dustin and I spent a pretty depressing night sitting up in our bed, surrounded by my stacks of highlighted articles. But after going through everything I felt confident that our doctor was following the best course of action. Given that the anatomy scan showed a healthy heart and kidneys, and that the prenatal screening and anatomy scan didn't show any signs of chromosomal issues, there was every indication that we had an isolated SUA and the only action indicated was closer monitoring during the third trimester. I'm not going to say that I was able to immediately let it go and stop worrying, but I did my best. The last month of pregnancy I was increasingly worried but the extra monitoring (two non-stress tests per week starting at 32 weeks, plus growth scans every 2 - 3 weeks) helped reassure me that she was growing just fine. And she was just fine, as it turned out! I did end up having an unplanned c-section, and the SUA factored into our decision on that. Her heart wasn't handling the contractions well but the doctor might have let me try to labor a little longer if they weren't concerned about the SUA already putting her at higher risk. I 100% do not regret that decision, even though the c-section was stressful and the recovery kind of sucked. I just feel so lucky that she arrived healthy and happy, after all that concern.

And then there were the contractions. At 28 weeks I had a particularly hard week at work and also felt terrible physically and then finally figured out that I was having contractions every five minutes. I spent two separate nights in L & D that week, but it became clear that the contractions weren't causing my cervix to dilate, so they told me to try to rest more and warned me that this might just be my baseline for the rest of the pregnancy. Ugh. I did what I could to modify my schedule, splitting up my work day between the office and home as often as possible. I found that I couldn't stop the contractions but with tons of hydration and lots of rest I could keep them to a manageable level. They weren't painful, just uncomfortable, so once I knew they weren't an indication of pre-term labor I was able to mostly relax and ignore them. Every single time I would go in for non-stress tests the tech would look startled and ask if I knew I was having contractions. YES. I KNOW. I was worried I wouldn't know when they transitioned into actual labor and that I'd have the baby on our bathroom floor. SPOILER - as uncomfortable as they are, those early contractions feel NOTHING like actual labor. I woke up with a contraction the morning I went into labor and immediately knew that this was the real thing. I can't even really describe how it was different, but I could tell it was. In the early stages the contractions feel similar, but with real labor they started getting painful and increasing in strength pretty quickly.

So that's a whole bunch of pregnancy stuff crammed into one post. Long story short, there is really no way to predict how a pregnancy will go, so my recommendation is to try not to stress (or build up big expectations!) ahead of time and then just roll with it as best you can when it happens. I know, I know. Easier said than done. I'm sorry! I guess my only real advice is to get into maternity clothes ASAP.


  1. I can't even begin to tell you how helpful and reassuring this post was for me, Rachel. As my husband and I consider becoming parents in the near future, this was exactly the kind of thing I needed someone who's been there before to share with me. THANK YOU. <3

  2. I’ve so been enjoying following you during your pregnancy and new infant stage as I’d found out I was pregnant on July 18 of last year...we had our baby boy March 16! +1 for maternity clothes...I’m still using my belly bands as none of my pants fit. I had the same exact experience as you as far as body changes go...didn’t overgain and I felt so great right after delivering (“I’m SKINNY!” (I wasn’t skinny)). But 10lb are sure hanging on and it’s not my favorite. And I’m eating way more now with breastfeeding than I ever did while pregnant. It’s nice to hear your perspective, thanks for sharing so openly!

    1. Congratulations!!! Postpartum body is so weird. I finally gave in and last week I went out and bought the highest rise jeans I could find (10" rise at Madewell) in a size that fits me comfortably right now and I have to say that it feels amazing and I think I might be okay packing up my maternity jeans.

  3. I still wear some of my maternity clothes! I simply love the fact that they are kind of high waisted, even though they start to fall of... but I love them anyway :D I love reading your Mum-themed posts and congratulations on the baby :) (Mine is 4 weeks old tomorrow)

    1. Congratulations on your little one! And when you're ready, I've found that super high waisted jeans are feeling pretty good these days and helping me transition out of maternity wear, finally


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