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2020-04-28

The truth about pregnancy

Surviving the 1st trimester

Morning sickness:

At the time of writing this, I am 38 weeks pregnant. I wanted to make sure to write about my experience before the baby comes, because it seems to me moms forget all about how tough, yet special, pregnancy is once the baby arrives. I have to say, I am looking forward to that moment and totally get it. But in the meantime….

I fell pregnant the very first month my husband and I “tried”, in fact, we were the opposite of “trying” because I had just started a new job and I wanted to settle in before falling pregnant. We also felt it might be good for my body to adjust after removing birth-control. Anyways, we obviously failed at least once because I am very much pregnant. Needless to say, it came as a bit of a shock, I was already 34 years old at the time and I am also well aware that falling pregnant these days is not so easy, so we though it would be about a 3 month wait, at the very least. Thankfully not. I did not feel mentally prepared and neither did my husband. We both looked at the pregnancy test with big eyes and forced smiles. We were not ready yet. I was about 5 weeks pregnant at the time we found out. As it sunk in, we gradually became more excited. We didn’t do the 12 week thing either, where you wait to tell people, we called everyone back home in South-Africa and also told our friends and acquaintances here in the Netherlands.

Then, came week 7. Oh, the dreaded week 7. On my pregnancy app it said: “If you haven’t experienced morning sickness yet, it’s very likely to start now.” Do you know what I find so funny (also read irritating) about the pregnancy apps, as well as mid-wives and gynaecologists? They phrase things so lightly, as if it’s really nothing. For pain they use words like “discomfort.” If you vomit your lungs out, they use phrases like “slight nausea”.  I experienced it quite intense. I felt like I couldn’t operate at all. My daily 2 hour walks with my doggy changed into 20 minutes of dragging my feet and vomiting along the way. For the rest of the day I just laid on the couch. I often slept 5 hours extra a day. I didn’t cook, I didn’t clean. Taking a shower was such a chore. Even moving around made it worse.
I also blame other women who had been pregnant before. Why the hell don’t you guys call a spade a spade? Huh? What’s up with the: “oh, yes you do feel crappy, but it passes soon.” Soon? It didn’t pass for 10 more weeks. Let me break that down.

10 weeks = 70 days, SEVENTY!!!!
70 days = 1680 hours (yes folks, more than a THOUSAND!)
1680 hours = 100 800 minutes

One hundred thousand, eight hundred minutes of either feeling nauseous, vomiting and being fatigued. And I know you are thinking: “Come on, it’s not that bad, it goes by so fast”. Yes, it is. No, it doesn’t. Stop it (mommies who’ve already had their babies, I am talking to you). And yes, even when you sleep you are nauseous. Sure, I know not everyone experiences “morning sickness” (a.k.a “all-day-every-single-day sickness”), but most woman do and I don’t think anyone ever makes a fuss about it and if they do, it’s all so positive and happy. And that’s why I am making a fuss about it now. Because I feel like women should support each other and tell each other the truth and women shouldn’t feel like they have to pretend it’s not so bad because having a baby is so precious. 

If you’ve ever been pregnant (with or with our all-day-every-single-day-sickness) you are a hero and should be celebrated as such. Woman get way too little credit for ensuring the survival of our species. What if we all decide we don’t want to do it anymore, huh? What will humanity do then? But somehow, fellow women, men and children don’t make a big deal out of it. And mommies are just okay with it. I’m not (anymore), since being pregnant myself, I feel like moms and wives should be respected on another level and be revered for being the incubators for the whole of humanity’s survival. If you agree, be sure to share this with other women. 

To all the mommies out there (especially mine):
From my heart to yours. You are a hero(in). Thank you for being an incubator.
Whether you are 20 or 90 years old, 1 child or 10. You have done something great.
If you don’t do anything else ever again with your life, you are a success.
I revere you, I celebrate you. You are awesome.

Oh! Before I forget, to women who haven’t had or will never be pregnant: I mean absolutely no disrespect to you. Of course, you are also all the wonderful things words can say, you are a woman. This is just where I am in my life now and feel the need to express my passion about it.

Diet and exercise during the 1st trimester:

I can sum this up. What diet? What exercise? Feel free to skip this section if you find the details boring, because it basically comes down to that.

Once I fell pregnant, I really wanted to know what I can optimally do to feed myself and baby in the best way. We usually follow a Paleo template diet for the most part, so lots of fruits, veggies, meat and dairy. Through my (bias) reading, I also found this to be a good option during pregnancy. Basically, the most important thing was to avoid processed crap and nutrient poor foods as much as possible, which we had already been doing for years. I wasn’t too worried. At the time I was eating more bread than usual (meaning 1 or 2 slices a couple of times a week) so I thought this is one thing I can do better, eat less bread, but other than that I thought I had it down.

But then, the dreaded week 7. I never knew I could feel so so bad, horrible, crappy, fatigued and messed up all at once. In addition to the nausea and vomiting, I was also experiencing hunger to the point where I literally felt like I was starving. My blood sugar was all over the show. Sometimes I felt so low on energy I couldn’t even type a message lying down. I remember one particularly bad day, I had already vomited like 10 times and felt terrible. When my husband arrived to find me (yet again) lying on the couch with my doggy, he quickly figured my blood sugar was low and gave me some milk with (lots of) honey in it. I felt better in a couple of minutes. Later that night I started vomiting again and we watched a youtube video, this specific lady was sick for her entire pregnancy (so was my sister who had twins and lost 16kg during her pregnancy…eeek!). She mentioned that blood sugar control is vital. You need to eat some carbs (my enemy!) with some fat. She also mentioned that you must avoid getting hungry, which is so counter-intuitive because I had NO appetite, but I did have this weird extreme hunger. I just wanted to feel better, so I did it. This really seemed to help a lot with at least managing the vomiting. I was still consistently useless and nauseous but at least I wasn’t vomiting all day anymore.

Yeah, so, diet…from that point on my 1st trimester diet basically consisted of oatmeal with butter and honey or bread and cheese or crackers or some sort of carbohydrate which is processed. Sometimes I ate every 1-2 hours to avoid vomiting. So much for my Paleo diet. I didn’t want to see fruit, veg or meat. One evening my husband was cooking meat and just the smell of it made me vomit. Lesson learned. Sometimes I tried eating an Apple just to vomit it out a couple of minutes later. Cake and sweets! It really helped. I promise. I’m not a cake person, but during this phase…cake was my friend. More processed crap. Great, I was failing according to all the recommendations for eating while pregnant. 

In addition to that, I wasn’t exercising at all. I usually did 3-4 sessions of intense exercise (running, plyometrics, cycling & weight training) per week and I walked my dog every single day at least 7.5km – 12km per day @ a 7km/h pace. So I used to be very active, but during my 1st trimester my body just didn’t want to do anything. It wanted to eat processed crap and lie down all the time. Everything I read about what to do said to do the complete opposite. As if I was in control. I really, honestly felt I wasn’t. I wanted to eat fruit and veggies (with my mind) but my body didn’t want it. I wanted to run and exercise and keep up my normal routine, but physically it was just impossible. 

And then for a brief time I fell into the “how much weight should I gain” trap. At the end of my 1st trimester I had already gained 6kg - 7kg (more guilt, more failure). Thankfully I live in the Netherlands, I feel here they have a much healthier outlook on a woman’s body and weight gain during pregnancy. My mid-wife didn’t once mention my weight. She also wasn’t too worried about weighing me, except at 20 and 30 weeks to make sure there were no signs of gestational diabetes. The times I did weigh myself she didn’t comment or say that I should not have gained so much/so little. It really helped. My husband’s mindset was also very healthy. He didn’t seem to care how much I gained, just that I feel good. Gradually, I changed my mindset from a set of rules to be followed to doing the best I was capable of at the time. I was careful to observe myself and be honest about if this is something I am choosing or something my body is pushing me to do. 

Please don’t get me wrong: I am not saying eating carbs, cake and sweets is a good pregnancy diet. All I am saying is, I really know I did the best I could with how I felt and what I was capable of at the time. I don’t compare myself now to the recommendations and feel guilty or like I failed. I don’t feel like a wasn’t doing the best for my growing baby. I was able (with some effort and time) to change my mindset to be about me, not a set of recommendations and statistics.

Ladies, in retrospect, I wish I didn’t make such a big fuss about it. I was already guilt tripping myself for being a bad mommy and my baby wasn’t even classified as an embryo yet. There’s something wrong with that picture. Isn’t life in itself more important that what we eat or drink (I stole that from Jesus by the way, Matthew 6). So….

To all the nauseous pregnant ladies out there:
Don’t compare what you are feeling, eating or doing to recommendations or statistics.
Observe yourself, be honest with yourself and choose the best for you.
Do the best you can, knowing you are enough and doing enough.
You are a whole person, not just a stomach & muscles.

Oh, before I forget: I am NOT recommending that you stuff yourself with all sorts of crap or that it’s a good choice. I am even not saying that recommendations and statistics aren’t a good thing or a good guideline. I am only saying that you are unique and it’s okay to do the best you can. I am assuming every woman reading this wants to do the best they can. If you have an eating disorder, addiction/problem with substances or something similar, get help from a professional, specifically a professional who doesn’t judge. That would be the best you can do.

Hormonal changes and depression:

In addition to what I wrote about above, I also experienced some form of depression during my 1st trimester. Surely the vomiting, nausea and guilt feelings played a role, but this was very new to me. I brand myself as a holistic wellness coach (body positive coach in the making) and MLNP therapist, which means I have all the tools in my box to fight off long term negative feelings. During this period though nothing worked. I was just sad and negative. I missed my family in South-Africa. I felt lonely. There was no one to come to my house and take care of me or talk to me or hold my hand while I was lying on the couch feeling sorry for myself (with good reason).

My husband worked full days from 7h00 – 18h00 and every day during this time I was alone. Up to that point I had only made one friend and she was working as well. It was really tough for me, I felt so very, very sad and lonely. And even if I saw other people, it wasn’t really the point, I wanted to see MY people. People I felt comfortable with, people I could vomit in front of, people who didn’t care if our house wasn’t cleaned. People who would just do what needed to be done without me having to ask. I wanted my mom. My sisters. My granny. My long time friends. But they are all far away in S.A and so I was/felt alone. My husband was an absolute super start. He really pulled out all the tricks in the book to make me feel better. He also forced me to go out for dinner and movies from time to time, which is really a good idea, because isolation is probably the worst thing you can do when you feel depressed and sad. But despite his best efforts I was really just sad and cried a lot. I put this down to the hormones. Not that I didn’t have valid reason, but it was like nothing could make me feel better and nothing did. I felt like everything in my life was wrong, although it really wasn’t. It also passed again after the 1st trimester, so I guess it’s because of the pregnancy I felt so low that I wasn’t even really able to find joy in expecting a little baby (more guilt). So…

To all the depressed pregnant ladies out there:
It’s okay to feel this way during one of the happiest times of your life.
You’re not a bad person or a bad mom or a bad anything.
You’re going through something very, very hard and your body is responding.
Take it one minute at a time, it will get better. I promise.

Oh, before I forget. Depression is a very real and serious condition. If you are someone who were depressed, sad or struggled to deal with your emotions even before you fell pregnant, get professional help. It’s not wrong that pregnancy didn’t fix your depression or sadness. Talk to someone who will not judge you. You are still awesome; you just need a little help.

This was my story of woe about the first trimester of pregnancy. I left out so much detail and emotions otherwise it might turn into a book. I would LOVE to hear your comments below. How did you cope with the first trimester? Was it what you expected? Do you feel like you need to say more about it to other women? Do you feel like you are celebrated for carrying the baby (even if it’s only the 1st trimester)? Let me know below!

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