I am currently in my 22nd week of my first pregnancy. So far it has been a fairly easy and joyful experience. I certainly don’t have much room for complaint. But now that I am safely and securely in the middle of my second trimester, I thought I would share a few first trimester insights. If you are newly pregnant, or planning to get pregnant, I hope this post will bring you some comfort and a little guidance as you transition to life as a person with another person growing inside of you.
It is important to note that this post is based on my own pregnancy experience and what I write here may not be true for every pregnant woman. Every pregnancy is different, with distinct aches, pains, anxieties and desires. No one can tell you exactly what your pregnancy will be like. It can be a really fun shared experience when you are pregnant alongside your friends, but it is also a wholly unique experience and you shouldn’t waste any emotional energy on comparing yourself to other pregnant women. We are snowflakes, ladies. From a distance we all look like the same round-bellied waddling baby-growers, but viewed up close, we couldn’t be more different for a group of people who are all going through the same physical process.
Congratulations to any and all pregnant readers of this post, and best wishes to anyone out there who is trying to get pregnant.
You may instantly regret your decision or feel completely terrified, and that’s okay.
I did not get pregnant on a whim. I have been married for the better part of a decade and am in my thirties. My husband and I had countless conversations over the course of several years about if and when we wanted to start a family. The timing of when we started trying to conceive was chosen with very specific scheduling concerns in mind. This was very much a planned pregnancy. And yet, when I got that positive test result, I immediately thought, “oh god, what have we done.” I later learned from talking with several friends that this is a fairly common experience. No matter how planned, or desperately desired a pregnancy is, it’s pretty natural to have an oh crap moment.
I think it took me until about week 17 to be fully on board with being pregnant. To go from not pregnant to pregnant feels like such a sudden, momentous shift that you shouldn’t be surprised if you find your head spinning for a while. Even if you were beyond ready to have a baby, it’s hard not to fixate on all the ways your life will change, the big and little things you’ll be missing out on, all the stuff you don’t know and need to prepare for, and all the stuff you don’t know for which there is no preparation and you just have to wait for it, live it, and hope you make the right choices.
Allow yourself some space and time to feel frightened, rattled, or even disappointed. It’s okay to grieve the part of your self and your life that will be lost through pregnancy and childrearing. It’s okay to be scared about what the future brings and whether or not you’ll be able to welcome all those changes with an open heart and mind.
I wanted to be overwhelmed with happiness and excitement at being pregnant, but I found that my emotions were much more mixed. I was excited, but anxious, confused and a little bit sad at moments. I really could have beaten myself up for feeling this way (I am very good at beating myself up for having less than perfect emotional reactions), but I decided early on that because I had never been pregnant before, I couldn’t possibly know what kind of reaction was the “right” reaction for that moment. I needed to let myself feel whatever emotions came up, and just accept that, like the rest of me, those feelings would likely change a lot throughout the course of my pregnancy. Flexibility and a nonjudgemental approach are positive parenting qualities, so you might as well start practicing them now on yourself.
It can be helpful to tell a few trusted friends early on.
How and when you decide to tell people that you are pregnant is a very personal decision. Some people like to get the word out right away, and others choose to wait until the end of the first trimester, or even longer to start spreading the news. You have to do what feels right for you. I had originally planned to tell my sister a couple of days after getting a positive test, but ended up waiting several weeks before letting her know. The moment just didn’t feel right before that. We ending up telling most of our close friends and family sometime between week 7 and 12, but that’s mostly because I found that trying to hide it or keeping it secret felt too stressful, and I just said the hell with it and let people know what was up, especially if we saw them in person.
Week 7 is a pretty early reveal for most people, but I actually told a few people even before that. Because I was feeling such a wide and confusing range of emotions, I found it really comforting to tell a couple of friends who had either recently been pregnant, or were currently pregnant. The first trimester can feel very isolating, and kind of lonely. You probably don’t feel your best, you may be worried that your pregnancy will end before it even has a chance to really get started, and your mind is racing trying to figure out what you’re supposed to do next, what things you should be avoiding, and if you’re making the right decisions. It helped me to have a couple people I could turn to and say, “what did you do about x, y, z; when do I need to decide about the following things; is this a normal feeling or something I should call the doctor about?”
I found it calmed my nerves to have people I could turn to who had recently been in my situation and could advise, celebrate, and commiserate about what I was going through.
Everyone will tell you what you should or shouldn’t do.
Pregnancy is a global experience. I don’t mean that women all over the world get pregnant (though, of course, they do), but that you’ll likely find that everyone you encounter will feel like they have a role to play in your pregnancy (this includes strangers that stand behind you in line at the grocery store). This happens a lot more once you are further along and visibly pregnant, but just know that once you start telling people that you are with child, everyone will have a story to tell you and advice to offer. In a lot of ways this is very sweet, and it’s nice to hear other people’s stories and, you know, some advice is good advice and I’m thankful to hear it. But for the most part, this gets tedious really fast and you need to quickly perfect your polite smile and nod, because you are in for a long 40 weeks of hearing about what other people think you should do while pregnant.
I have noticed this mostly in people telling you what you can and can’t eat, especially as caffeine and alcohol are concerned. I have run out of fingers for counting the number of times someone has said to me (or more often about me, to the group), “well Claire can’t have a drink,” when discussing general evening plans, or what everyone would like to drink to accompany their dinner. My dirty little secret is that I’ve had an occasional drink throughout my pregnancy, pretty much exclusively in the second trimester. For the most part, I’ve only done so around male friends, who either don’t know much about the big bad faux pas of pregnancy behavior, or just don’t care. I read up a lot on the topic, did my due diligence in terms of research, and made the decision that a small glass of wine once or twice a month is something I am comfortable with. Now whenever someone mentions how I’m not allowed to have anything to drink, I just smile and nod and make a mental note not to have my monthly glass of red when I am around them.
You will get so many opinions and so much advice that eventually it all turns into white noise. My recommendation is to pick 2-3 people whose advice you trust and go to them with questions, and just let everyone else become background buzz. There are so many “rules” to pregnancy, and very little consensus on which ones are the most important to follow. It’s impossible to do everything exactly right, because you have to live your life and that means that sometimes you need to pick up a quick meal on the go and are not consuming enough fresh produce for the day. Or you need to lift something a little heavier than is preferred from time to time, or you have a long day, or a restless night of sleep and you need a caffeine boost to make it through. You have to decide for yourself which rules matter most to you and which ones you don’t think are as important, or are simply not realistic for your life. Everyone has an opinion on how you should behave when pregnant, but the only opinion that really matters is your own. Feeling anxious and stressed out about every little choice you make is not any better for your health than avoiding all caffeine, never having a sip of alcohol, or cutting out certain foods entirely because of a small risk of food borne illness.
If you don’t know where to start when making these decisions, talking to your doctor is a good first step, but most docs will give you advice that carries the absolute smallest amount of risk or liability for them (which is to mostly avoid all things that could be considered slightly dangerous during pregnancy, or have never been tested and the risk is therefore unknown). I recommend checking out Emily Oster’s book Expecting Better: Why The Conventional Pregnancy Wisdom Is Wrong–and What You Really Need to Know. I found it to be extremely useful in helping me feel more empowered to make my own decisions and cut out the excess noise of everyone’s advice.
Take it easy on yourself.
I went into my first trimester thinking I was going to continue full steam ahead with my fitness and exercise plan. My hope was that I could use those first few months to get into really great shape for the six months to come when my growing belly would inevitably slow me down. This did not turn out to be the case even a little bit.
I was lucky in that I didn’t feel too sick during my first trimester. I had some mild nausea that I could mostly manage by eating something small every couple of hours (string cheese, kiwis, and dried fruit and nuts worked pretty well for me), or munching on a piece of candied ginger whenever I started to feel especially queasy. I did suffer from pretty extreme fatigue, though. I blame this in part on being newly pregnant in ridiculous hot and humid weather, so that pregnancy fatigued combined with miserable Baltimore summer fatigue. Either way, I was ready to drop into a deep sleep within about two hours of waking up each morning, and by the end of the day, it took every ounce of will and resilience to keep myself standing upright, which was not so great given that my job is physical and requires a lot of time on my feet.
My dreams for a supercharged first trimester were dashed pretty quickly. I did find that sticking with some amount of exercise kept me slightly more energized and helped me fight my nausea a bit, but I only managed about 20-30 minutes each day and none of it was especially rigorous. (In a future post I will share some of the online videos that I found useful for first trimester workouts on the days when I was feeling my worst.)
Most women experience some degree of illness and/or fatigue during the first trimester. It’s okay to take it easy and give yourself some extra rest and respite. Whether that means cutting back on the intensity of workouts, trying to reduce your work hours, making space to accommodate a midday nap, or going to bed much earlier than you ever have before, you need to do what feels right for your body in those first few months. It takes a lot to grow a baby and a placenta. Your body is working overtime, and dealing with significant changes in blood volume and oxygen needs. You may find that you get dizzy or feel out of breath more easily. Be gentle with yourself. While some women continue to struggle into their second trimester, I found that my energy returned by week 13 and I felt much more capable of doing longer and higher intensity workouts, and could make it through my standard workday without worrying that I’d fall asleep in the middle of massaging someone.
My one recommendation would be that if you have access to a swimming pool during your pregnancy, use it. I swam laps a couple of times a week during the first trimester and I definitely felt my best when I was in the water.
It’s important to celebrate.
I’m not super into baby clothes or the little stuff that most people find so adorable about tiny humans (should I be having a baby?), so I didn’t feel the need to run out and buy up a bunch of cute onesies during my first trimester. But if you do feel that need, go for it. Fill your house with baby books, or go out and purchase some nice maternity clothes even if you don’t need them yet. Do something that makes you feel like you are recognizing and celebrating this momentous occasion in your life. Other people might not know that you are pregnant yet, but you do and you have right to celebrate and make a big deal out of it. My husband and I went out for dinner to celebrate very early after finding out, and it was really nice to be out at one of our favorite restaurants that we had been to countless times, but to feel like this time it was different. Pregnancy can feel scary and overwhelming, but it can also be really great and it deserves to be celebrated in whatever way feels right for you.