The female body is insane.
What began as a deep fascination blew into a mind-blowing love affair. My personal intrigue regarding the human body has held my captivated attention for decades - the way it works, fixes itself, adapts and the unity between the mind and physical body.
I could go on for days. And, as my family can attest, I often do.
Being pregnant heightened my appreciation for the unadulterated power of the body. Even when my pregnancy was rough going.
...Especially when it was rough going.
The reality of pregnancy is that each one is its own story. As hard as one may try, there is no magical level that you can reach from study, talk or observation that will prepare you for the ensuing transformation. Once that understanding is established, you are able to forge ahead, calm your pretty little head and go day-by-day.
As with any experience, there is an opportunity to learn and space to grow. (Literally, of course. You don't think there's any space left to "grow" under your ribs until your baby tries to wedge his little head up there.) There were several things I experienced during my pregnancy and, seemingly everything I experienced post-pregnancy, that I had either never heard about or felt confused and blind-sided by. I wanted to share some of the nerdy snippets I learned along the way and add little excerpts from my personal adventure.
Over time, I will backtrack to my Preparing to Host a Baby period and finish with my Battles of Breastfeeding. Today, trimester 1.
Before we dive into what turns out to be a happy and healthy outcome, I want to share some thoughts from one of my best friend’s experience and insights regarding the conversation surrounding pregnancy. Because words matter.
Pregnancy spurs so many emotions. As much as the initial inclination of pregnancy news is one of joy, infant loss is a common outcome of pregnancy. One in four pregnancies does not reach full-term. The relationships surrounding each pregnancy are unique and need to be addressed as such. However, I feel that it is important to mention the following:
A. A loss is a loss.
B. Loss is shitty. C. Parents experiencing a loss need and deserve recognition, support and love regardless of how far along in a pregnancy they may have been. D. Parents can do everything right and experience infant loss or do everything medically advised against and carry a healthy baby full-term.
I felt it is timely to mention here because the first trimester is both the time a pregnancy is traditionally kept hush-hush and a pregnancy is at its highest risk for miscarriage.
Snapshot Story: First Trimester
First trimester: Over-the-moon yet emotionally cautious.
I did my best to not get too ahead of myself. However, I felt like I was the keeper of a great secret.
I’m an awkward liar so I’m sure it was all over my face.
I also felt like hell. Absolute dire hell.
I’m sure that was all over my face, too.
I thought I might be pregnant but I played it casual. I had the occasional glass of wine during weeks 1-3 trying to psych-out the universe. Smart, right? (Note: I had stopped drinking wine with dinner six months earlier.) I continued life as normal – work and play.
I went SUPing with my girlfriends. While we were playing yoga, I bow posed on the board and I could feel something ball-like in my lower abdomen (as though I was laying on a tennis ball). It was neat and it completely weirded me out. A good friend of mine said she realized she was pregnant when she noticed a restriction during her Pranayama practice. Neato-mosquito stuff when you check in with your body, right?
Lucky for me, my friend Kim (unbeknownst to her) captured this exact moment.
Around this time, I reached out to a nutritionist girlfriend. I cut it all out - anything that was ever not-recommended (science be damned). Honey and anything unpasteurized, soft cheeses, most seafood, deli meats, caffeine, fish oil, shiraz. Concurrently, several of my nearest and dearest were also pregnant. Some cut out everything. Some barely adjusted their food habits. All said babies were born happy and healthy.
My hips started to move. Well, "move" sounds controlled. My hips became an entity onto themselves. It makes a bit more sense around week 24 but, in short, I was all too aware of my hormonal surges throughout my entire pregnancy. My hips would get locked out and inhibit movement completely or get locked out on a nerve shooting pain down my body.
Week 8-12 – Ugh.
Morning sickness insinuates that the sickness isn’t lurking in the afternoon, evening or night. LIES. ALL LIES. I didn’t vomit once but I did feel like I was on the verge of it every minute of every day. I was forcefeeding myself about 800 calories a day. If it was white, plain and completely void of nutrients, it had a chance of getting into my body. I had one warm-up nausea day and I wondered if I ate something off (naively singing to myself, "Maybe this is morning sickness"). Nope. BAM. I dropped 7lbs of lean mass that month without throwing up once. As a reference: My weight had not varied more than 2-3 pounds over the previous 8 years.
My Lessons Learned: First Trimester
1. Do what you can. Listen to your needs.
For some moms, the first trimester is the most difficult chapter. Take time off work if necessary. I had not realized this was even an option but it makes sense as this trimester can be a physical and psychological bummer. Be good to yourself.
To be honest, I am stubborn when it comes to work and pushing-through so I probably wouldn’t have taken time off anyway but this was unnecessary ego stuff.
Several of the lessons I learned during pregnancy had very little to do with being pregnant. Thanks, Universe. The lesson of being "stubbornly attached to select ideals and expectations" continues to show up so I'm obviously still working on that one.
2. Avoid jumping around (and falling off horses).
The first trimester is the most vulnerable time for your uterus. You are building a placenta, developing an amniotic sac, and the embryo needs to implant itself in the uterine wall (cue: nausea due to building hormones). Most of the conversation around fitness and activity for pregnant women concerns after a woman is showing and the obvious implications of carrying additional weight and joint safety (hormones....hormones...). “Luckily”, I felt so sick I could barely get off the couch. In truth, I could barely sit up on the couch. Nature has a subtle way of guiding us, right?
3. “Morning" sickness.
Little tips for navigating through nausea that might help some people but, truthfully, didn’t help me at all.
1. Eat slower-digesting foods (i.e. fats, proteins, complex carbohydrates).
The thought of most foods (as in an image of food flashing in my mind) created heightened waves of nausea in me. I had to accept that simply getting food in was going to have to be okay. See Lesson #1.
2. Avoid an empty stomach.
As per above, this was pretty useless for me. However, if you have windows of time when you do not feel nauseous, I reckon it would be a great idea to load up on aforementioned fats and proteins. Slowly.
3. Keep food beside your bed to curve the rush of nausea from sitting up and starting your day.
4. Prescriptions are available through your doctor.
As a lifestyle choice, I take very very (very) little medication in general (although I'm very very pro-vaccination btw because I'm very anti-polio, anti-measles, anti-avoidable death). However, drugs to ease symptoms are available and safe.
4. Relaxin, estrogen et al.
Hormones have a clear purpose during joint mobility during pregnancy but I had erroneously assumed it would be a bigger player late in the game. I was wrong. You have four relaxin surges during your pregnancy and the first one occurs at approximately 8 weeks. I began to experience debilitating pelvic pain around my sacrum exactly at this time. Anytime my pelvis shifted slightly towards a posterior tilt, I would be rendered immobile.
*I'm not anti-posterior tilt - THE BODY IS MEANT TO DO ALLLL THE THINGS - but in my specific case during my specific pregnancies, this position wasn't the best.
I toughed it out (re: was an idiot) and did not see a physiotherapist until I was 4 months pregnant. If you experience joint laxity (which was news to me as apparently my muscle had been “overpowering” my loose ligaments for the past 20 years), go see a physiotherapist. She guided me through a few movements to safely get myself back into position (e.g. glutes bridges, butterfly stretch, standing knee-to-chest) and recommended an SI support belt.
As a general (personal) rule, I tend to avoid belts, bands and straps that perform the job your muscles and joints could be performing but I think pregnancy is its own set of circumstances. I ended up wearing the belt to bed some nights to avoid waking up from pain whenever I rolled over.
Lesson within the lesson: Start building a team of professionals you trust and jive with early.
5. Immune System Shift.
It's not immune suppression exactly. The belief that pregnancy causes immune system suppression is out there. However, research indicates that a pregnant woman is not more susceptible to infectious disease as much as that the immune system responds differently. Personally, I could not remember the last time I had had a cold beyond a cough but I did get a week long cold-cold that rendered me homebound during my first trimester.
I'm not referring to the very real occurrence of forgetting things you know you know (...that may happen later in your pregnancy. Fun.) Your cardiovascular and nervous system are going through some significant adaptations during pregnancy and sometimes they are a little slow to the party. During my first trimester, I became dangerously light-headed about five times (i.e. having to immediately lay down on the floor to avoid passing out or falling over).
7. Relax. You've got this.
Share the news with those you are closest. Whether you feel terrible, overjoyed or experience a loss, support, self-care and compassion will help you navigate these early months.
For some more thoughts on movement and fitness, check out: Why There is No Getting Back To Your Pre-Baby Body (It's uplifting. Just stay with me a minute.)
I'd love to hear advice and lessons learned from other MOMS, DADS & PROFESSIONALS out there! Let me know what you learned along the way and I'll add it (and you!) to PART II!