After my recent IG story-rant about the restrictive abortion law passed in Alabama, I realized I never wrote a full post on my first trimester experience. I’ve honestly struggled with how much content to dedicate to pregnancy because I’m fully aware I’m not the first woman on earth to go through this. That being said, I definitely found myself seeking out first-trimester posts from my favorite bloggers during those first weeks. It honestly gave me some comfort to read the struggles that other women had dealt with during this time.
The first trimester is scary. I imagine it’s scarier when it’s your first pregnancy, or when you’ve experienced a previous loss. I talked about it in my announcement post, but I really struggled with focusing on any positive emotions those first 14 weeks. Suddenly, there’s this thing you didn’t even realize you wanted that badly, and there’s really nothing you can do to ensure you’ll get to keep it. Also, I hate to even admit it, but I know there’s a part of me that would have felt guilty had I miscarried. Like, what had I done wrong? Were there changes I should have made? It’s completely irrational and unjustified, but, as soon as you find out you’re pregnant, you feel like you have this job that’s bigger than yourself.
I have to say that the physical symptoms of the first trimester were not as hellish as I’d feared. My life motto tends to be “Hope for the best but plan for the worst.” I had visions of myself going on disability due to hyperemesis gravidarum (aka extreme morning sickness) or falling asleep at my desk during the work day. My job is really physical, and I’m usually one-on-one with kids who can’t be left alone so I was terrified I’d be hiding in corners during sessions throwing up into a garbage can with confused children looking on.
Luckily, none of those things happened. Did I throw up? Yeah, probably 10 times total. It was never fun, but it was almost always right when I woke up. (Except for the time- and stop reading here if you’re squeamish- I projectile vomited while driving down the highway in rush hour traffic. I was stuck in between exits with no available shoulder to pull over on and yes this actually happened.) I quickly learned I could keep the extreme nausea at bay by having something in my stomach, even if the idea of eating itself made me feel nauseous. I relied a lot on saltines those first few weeks, especially when I had back-to-back sessions at work.
When I was actually hungry, the only things I wanted to eat could best be described as heavy, carb-filled, cheesy, and greasy. I ate a lot of pasta and grilled cheeses those first few weeks, and I tried to give myself a break on things I couldn’t tolerate (hello vegetables). It was also the dead of winter so, even though I wanted fruit, it was hard to find any that was in season and satisfying. I was used to eating a pretty low-carb, veggie-filled diet during the week so it was a change, but one of the biggest things I learned during the first trimester was that I just had to give myself a break.
As for the fatigue, it’s definitely real, and I had to be in bed at least 10 hours a night to be functional the next day. My job took so much out of me during the week that a lot of weekends became recovering from the week before while stocking up on sleep for the week ahead. It was also January and February in Chicago so the desire to go out and do anything was low anyway. I definitely found myself couch-bound most weekends.
Mental Health and Pregnancy
If I’m being honest, I think I went through a bit of a depression that first trimester. Getting to tell our families and friends the big news was one of the best things I’ve ever gotten to do it, but the day-to-day realities were hard. I’ve always relied a lot on my weekends to go places I love, spark some creative joy, and give myself an outlet, but I found myself cutting all that out in favor of sleeping and more sleeping. I also have a personality where the less I do, the less I want to do so it became a bit of a vicious cycle. I knew that I was in a funk, but I didn’t have the energy to pull myself out. Honestly, it was a bit of blessing to have a job where I had to get dressed and show up because it gave me some sense of normalcy. Now that I’m out of the first trimester and the sun has reappeared, I’m feeling more like my old self, but it’s made me realize how rough I was feeling in the beginning.
I also had some legitimate scares during the first 3 months which added to the stress. I started spotting during my 4th week, and it continued for about two weeks. I knew that spotting wasn’t uncommon, but it could still be really unsettling. At one point, it seemed to be increasing, and I became pretty convinced that a miscarriage was imminent. It was an awful feeling, and that’s when I really found myself clinging to the stories of other bloggers who experienced the same and went on to have healthy babies. Of course, I called my doctor, too, but the truth is there’s nothing they can really do. Luckily, I spoke with a great nurse who put me at ease, and the spotting stopped by my sixth week.
Then, the night before I hit 12 weeks, I went to the bathroom and started gushing blood. The panic was immediate, and Denny and I got in the car and drove directly to the ER. It was one of the longest car rides of my life, and I couldn’t hold back the tears while we drove through the city streets. We waited a long time in the ER before seeing a doctor, and I was dreading hearing the phrase “There’s no heartbeat.” Except there was. It was an older ultrasound machine than we’d seen at our doctor’s, but the little flutter on the monitor was undeniable. We opted for a second ultrasound just for our own mental sanity before heading home, and the bleeding stopped by the time I crawled into bed at 2am, my head still spinning. It was an awful night that I wouldn’t wish on anyone, but it was another moment that proved how much we wanted this little guy.
Genetic Testing and Gender Reveal
The doctor couldn’t say with certainty what had triggered the bleeding, but it was likely just irritation to my cervix from all the changes happening. The most important thing is that it didn’t happen again, and I made my way into the final few weeks of my first trimester. That brought us to the biggest decision of the first trimester- genetic testing and finding out the gender. Honestly, I’ve known the answer to both of those questions for years. Yes, I want to know whether I’m having a boy or girl, and, yes, I want to know if my baby has any genetic abnormalities.
These are both extremely personal decisions, and I understand why people would make the opposite decision of what we did. (Well, kind of- how do you not find out the gender?! I’m truly impressed. I’m way too impatient.) Without getting into a bigger conversation regarding choice (that would require and deserve its own post), Denny and I had serious conversations about what we would do if genetic testing revealed fetal abnormalities. In the end, we were both in total agreement about what we were capable of handling, and it solidified our decision to undergo the testing. Plus, you can also opt for carrier testing which reveals if you and your partner are both carriers of certain disorders. Even if this baby ended up being healthy, we knew it would impact our decision to have a second if we were both carriers of something devastating, like Huntington’s disease.
It was obviously a relief to get our results back indicating no major issues, but I think just having those conversations was helpful for us. It was a conversation we had again shortly before the 20-week anatomy scan, and it gave us both a clearer picture of how we envisioned parenthood and what mattered to both of us. The reality is that I work with the special needs population, and I’ve seen every childhood disorder that these tests are screening for. The daily realities can be extremely challenging for even the strongest couples. Even if a diagnosis didn’t change our decision to have the baby, we both felt like having the information and giving ourselves time to prepare would be invaluable.
The more fun part? We got to find out we’re having a boy! I mentioned it in my first post, but I was 100000% convinced it was a girl. And, if I’m being honest? It took me a day or two to feel okay about not having a little girl as our firstborn. I always joked that I wanted all boys because they seem easier to raise in the long-term, but I also grew up hearing my mom talk about the first few years when it was “just us.” I was her little best friend and mini-me before my brothers came along, and I felt some sadness that I wouldn’t have that same experience with my little girl. I also come from a family where my grandma, mom, and every single aunt had a daughter first, and that’s just kind of the family structure I know. I’d love to have a daughter of my own someday, and it just would have made it easier knowing I was getting one right out of the gate.
That being said, I’m now ecstatic about having a little boy. I spent a few years nannying in my early 20s, and my heart was captured by the 3 little boys I got to watch. Their smiles, their little personalities, their baby overalls- ah, I just can’t wait! Finding out he was a boy made me feel so much more connected to my pregnancy, and I loved being able to put a pronoun in- “He’s kicking right now” or “He’s awake right now.” It finally felt like I was talking about a little person and not some ambiguous thing. Again, I know a lot of women don’t need this, but I think it made a huge difference for me in the bonding process.
Oh- and how did Denny and I go about our gender reveal? Well, we requested the results via email so when that thing hit my inbox at 5:20pm on a Tuesday I made a frantic call that he come pick me up from work. (I couldn’t possibly spare the 10 minutes it would have taken to me to walk home.) So, there we were, sitting outside my work in the car, and we just…opened it. I may like frills on some things, but I didn’t have time for that when there were gender-specific baby clothes to buy!
Whew, this has been a long one, but it’s one that I’ve been meaning to write for awhile. I think that pregnancy is such a common thing, and, yet, when it happens to you, it feels like you’re creating some new language and invention all your own. Everyone’s experience is different, but it always helped me to find some commonality and realize that my symptoms didn’t mean the worst was coming. Of course, sometimes the worst does happen, and I have friends who have found solace in each other in those moments. I still don’t know why I’ve been lucky enough to get pregnant and stay pregnant, but I’m determined as hell to make it count and be the best mom to this little guy that I can be.