Hello, dear Mean Maureen readers. If you didn’t know already, let me excitedly announce that my husband and I are expecting a little Mean to join us in January of 2016. Yay and huzzah and all traditional happy pregnancy excitement noises! I am sincerely super, super happy.
I feel like I have been lied to by, I don’t know, pop culture, the world at large, etc., about what it’s actually like to be pregnant, particularly in the first trimester, which I have (THANKS BE TO ALL OF THE GODS, OLD AND NEW) just recently left behind me. Certain very common symptoms were either completely unknown to me or presented with an insane amount of wrong information. I would love to perform the public service announcement of letting future preggos in on a little secret called THE TRUTH ABOUT THE FIRST TRIMESTER.
*lighting crashes, thunder rolls, a terrified horse whinnies in the distance*
Please let there be one Young Frankenstein fan reading this.
Okay, it might be slightly less dramatic than all of that. But let me start with the first thing I felt betrayed by, a very well known symptom known as “morning sickness.” I’m sure you’ve all heard of it. But why so betrayed, Mean Maureen? Well, I’ll tell you.
The Term “Morning Sickness” Is A GOD DAMNED LIE.
Let me preface this by saying that some women, some very lucky women, who I definitely don’t hate with a fiery, jealous rage, do not have morning sickness at all. And good for them! (She said, summoning all of her maturity and self control.) But about 75% of women do have some degree of morning sickness and it’s important that, if you are one of those women, you understand that the name “morning sickness” is a damnable lie. What’s what, Mean Maureen? Yeah, uh, it does not occur only in the morning. In fact, if you google the term morning sickness, every source will immediately say some variation of the following:
“Morning sickness is a term for nausea during pregnancy. The name is a misnomer because the nausea can strike any time, day or night.”
Huh, interesting. Quick question though – THEN WHY THE FUCK IS IT CALLED MORNING SICKNESS? That’s like calling something a throat infection and then, upon googling, finding a clarification that says, “while we CALL it a throat infection in every single definition and instance of pop culture, it’s actually a roving infection that can strike at any body part, at will!” THAT WOULD BE INSANE. NO ONE WOULD DO THAT. But because pregnancy is a “woman’s trouble” I guess doctors thought they could call it whatever the hell minimizing name they wanted and let poor, unsuspecting women find out the truth once they had no choice but to suffer through it.
So that’s fun. For me, morning sickness started promptly on the first day of my sixth week of pregnancy, and lasted approximately ONE MILLION EARTH YEARS. Okay, it actually lasted between six and seven weeks. Which doesn’t sound like that long of a time, until you imagine hey, what would it be like to have the stomach flu for NEARLY TWO MONTHS? It would be terrible. It would be so, so terrible. And, unlike with the stomach flu, it doesn’t get better if you puke, you can’t stay at home hiding under the blankets and watching 30 Rock reruns until you feel better, you just have to, you know, live your life, and go to work and take care of any kids or pets or people you already have in your life as responsibilities. It is, in a word, awful. I’m not saying this to scare anyone, necessarily, but I would have definitely preferred going into this situation prepared for 6-7 weeks of all day, non stop nausea, rather than assume, like I knew from movies and THE LITERAL TERM OF MORNING SICKNESS, that I’d puke a couple times in the morning and then feel like a normal human being the rest of the day. INCORRECT.
What else is incorrect about pregnancy in the first trimester? Or at least has been in my experience?
Food Cravings – Not What You Think!
Even in the second trimester, this photo still puts me at 9 out of 10 on the nausea scale.
I don’t think there’s anything more well known in pop culture about pregnancy (other than “morning sickness”) than pregnancy food cravings. Everyone knows when you’re pregnant you’re starving and you want weird things, like dill pickles on top of chocolate chip ice cream or whatever the hell. But what I had never heard of is that a.) with “morning sickness” (yes I’m going to put that in god damn quotes every god damn time) you likely won’t have an appetite at all and b.) what is way more prevalent in the first trimester is not food cravings, but food aversions.
I had briefly heard of people being grossed out by various things while pregnant, like meat or certain types of food, but I had no idea how powerful food aversions could be. During the height of my nausea, food became a constant source of stress. My OBGYN suggested eating every 2-3 hours to minimize my nausea, but I was so grossed out (to the point of gagging) by ALL food, it was a horrible panic every time I realized feedin’ time had come around and there was nothing that I could tolerate eating.
My best bet was to go to a grocery store and walk around in a panic, nausea rising, while I tried to think of something, anything that didn’t sound vomit inducing. I ended up with some very strange meals, but you could not call them “cravings” as they called to me with no particular siren song, and eating them brought me no joy, other than, I suppose, the relative joy of not feeling bile or vomit rising in the back of my throat. I had “meals” of lettuce, just lettuce, in a lake of ranch dressing. (I normally hate ranch dressing.) I had a can of artichoke hearts. (Okay, cans, plural.) I had one glorious period of 4 days in a row where I could have avocado rolls for lunch, which I actually normally like in non-pregnant world. And that was amazing… until the horrible 5th day, when suddenly, as if a switch had been flipped, the same lunch that had worked for the entire week beforehand nearly made me puke in my car at first bite and I had to throw the entire sushi container away.
And food aversions are crazy powerful. I can’t imagine a craving as strong as this instinctual, physical, impossible to ignore repulsion. I thought it was all in my head, at some point, and I, trying to be economical, forced myself to eat a granola bar that I had leftover instead of buying something new. I told myself it’s just mind over matter, as I chomped down the first bite, swallowed it, and found it promptly regurgitated, accompanied by a delightful chorus of gagging. So uh, you can’t fight it. It’s like Chinatown or city hall or the popularity of the Bachelor.
And not only are you powerless to fight it, it doesn’t even make sense! I mean, you would think that like, okay, you’re pregnant and need lots of vitamins and calcium and iron, so you’d think you’d have aversions to junk food or non healthy things. NOPE. I haven’t been able to eat many green vegetables (that I normally LOVE) in weeks. I haven’t been able to eat meat for a month. The thought of chicken, like just the concept of chicken, in any form, even now, in the second trimester and mostly nausea free, is the most horrific thing I can imagine eating. Like, I could imagine eating food directly out of a garbage dumpster and it is less disgusting to me than the idea of any type of chicken. I have never really been in love with chicken, but not grossed out by it to this point. But steak? I freaking love steak. Normally, I could have steak every day, if I no longer cared about dying from a heart attack or my budget or excessive meat consumption. But now the idea of steak is in the same ballpark as chicken. And that is SO WEIRD TO ME. Which brings me to my next point:
Say Goodbye to the Things You Love
The hands down weirdest part of pregnancy to me is how it has temporarily put me off of things that I have loved for YEARS. Before my sweet little parasite joined me, there was nothing I loved more than the smell of garlic, or garlic and onions simmering on the stove top. It just signified the joy of cooking, deliciousness, being home and surrounded by love – it was just a very comforting smell. Now? The smell of garlic is like torture. My husband brought home a piece of pizza that came with garlic bread and the smell of it was so disgusting I couldn’t eat my salad. I couldn’t eat anything the entire night. I looked at him with a look of betrayal and sadness like, how COULD you? HOW COULD YOU BRING A SMELL THAT I HAVE ALWAYS LOVED INTO THIS APARTMENT, YOU MONSTER.
But you might think oh, that’s probably related to a food aversion, same ballpark, same deal. Oh really? Then why did I have to switch my deodorant? I have never eaten deodorant (because I’m not insane) and it has nothing to do with my appetite, but for some reason, a few weeks into my pregnancy, the same deodorant that I have worn for the last five or so years, smelled to me, worse than a decomposing body. I tried ignoring my revulsion for a few days until I found myself plugging my nose while resting at night, trying to block out the smell of MYSELF. So I caved and bought a new, unscented deodorant and have been fine ever since. But that was just SO odd. And, speaking of odd, that brings me to the hands down weirdest pregnancy symptom that I have never heard anyone talk about…
Yes, you beautiful… robot? Model? Model/robot? That is EXACTLY how I look when my mouth tastes terrible. Like looking into a mirror!
Anyway, let’s talk dysgeusia! Wait, let’s talk, what? Freaking EXACTLY. I have never, ever heard anyone mention this, but once I started lurking on pregnancy message boards I saw people mentioning it all the time by its common name or this following question – why does my mouth taste so freaking gross all the time??? Yes, dysgeusia, or “the bad taste” problem is a surprisingly common condition that no one talks about for some reason, where you get a bad taste in your mouth after eating. The fun part about it is that is has nothing to do with dental hygiene and there’s really nothing you can do about it. Oh, sorry, that wasn’t fun, but it’s true! In fact, they’re not even sure what causes it, other than the fact it’s “likely caused by pregnancy hormones” (hint – this is what everyone says about everything during pregnancy and I am pretty convinced that no one actually knows what causes anything anymore) and again, not much you can do, other than chew gum all the time, brush your teeth constantly and, I don’t know, create and start worshipping a God of Good Breath or something.
But honestly, as bad or annoying or full of lies as all of these things has been so far, there is nothing compared to the last thing I wish I had known…
Miscarriage is Common, Frightening and You’ll Be Thinking About it All The Time
When googling some images for this section, all of which I decided not to use, I came across a family that had a locket made to remember a miscarriage, and on it was engraved a section from that e.e. cummings poem where it says “I carry your heart with me. (I carry it my heart.) And anyway after seeing that, I full on SOBBED for several minutes (very much frightening my dog.) So, what you can glean from this is that a.) pregnancy hormones ARE REAL, MAN, but also b.) miscarriage is terrible and frightening and once you are pregnant there are few things that can make you more emotional and terrified than thinking about it.
I know this is not just me, because I have lurked and participated in enough pregnancy boards at this point to hear similar questions and fears from everyone – is this normal? Should I be worried? At what week am I safe? Miscarriage is the dark cloud that looms over the first trimester. It’s why people don’t traditionally share their pregnancy until they’re in the second trimester, but what I didn’t realize before becoming pregnant is how absolutely terrifying it is, and how common.
There were so many women on the message boards I participated in who ended up posting the same tragic message, though all with different and equally terrifying scenarios. Some women would go in for their first ultrasound and there would be no baby. Or a baby and no heartbeat. Even more terrifying to me, some women would go for a second or third ultrasound and find that the baby that was once there, healthy with a heartbeat, had stopped growing and was no longer alive. Other women, in the most horrible scenario of all, would just start bleeding out of nowhere. Spotting is common in pregnancy, so many women would start a thread saying they were spotting and asking for positive vibes or prayers or what have you, and then update later that the bleeding had gotten worse, sometimes dangerously worse for the mother, and that they had ended up in the hospital where they lost the baby.
It’s awful to read those kinds of stories, but in a way it’s also something that bonds us together as women who are trying to have a baby – because honestly? Trying to bring a child into the world can be a hard, scary, painful road, particularly if you have problems with fertility, miscarriage or complications. I found out a lot of things during my first trimester, while sharing my own experiences and listening to other women in the same situation, that forever changed my perception of pregnancy. Of course the women who had losses, but also women who gritted out terrible morning sickness while doing very physical or otherwise demanding work, or while working two jobs, or while caring for sick relatives or women in otherwise extremely challenging situations. Women who had to end their pregnancies due to chromosomal abnormalities that fell into the category of “incompatible with life.” Women who had painful or frightening complications, such as subchorionic hematomas or hemorrhages, women with hyperemesis gravidarium, which though it sounds like a Harry Potter spell, is considerably less than magical. Reading about all of these things women were enduring while trying to bring a child into the world, and dealing with my own comparitively mild, but still markedly NOT FUN symptoms, both caused my respect for my fellow women to increase, and it also made me sad that so much of this female reproductive experience happens under that shroud of secrecy that cloaks the first trimester.
There is so much determination and hope and just pure grit that is involved in pregnancy, and so much of it happens in the dark. I think it should be talked about more – all of the aspects of reproduction – infertility and miscarriage, rare complications and all of the absolutely normal tough stuff involved. It’s hard work growing a person, and amazingly, especially in this age of oversharing, women just suck it up and do it, mostly in secret. Pregnancy, especially the scary first trimester, is a complicated experience, that I wish was more fully shared in mainstream pop culture, not just women’s blogs or baby boards. If the experience of the first trimester were absorbed into mainstream culture, for example, maybe the term “morning sickness” would finally be replaced by something, I don’t know, accurate! And maybe people would feel better sharing a loss, or a struggle to conceive, or all of the gross, embarrassing or otherwise not often shared experiences of being knocked up. (I have spared you, by the way, the sharing of my gas/fart related struggles, and for this you should be grateful.)
Anyway, in the end, if you’re reading this as a newly pregnant woman or as someone considering pregnancy, I guess it is impossible to explain the feeling of the first trimester. It’s too complicated of a mash up of joy and fear, nausea and lying to everyone you know, while you wait, with bated breath, to make sure everything is okay. It can be a lonely and isolating time, even if you are in a healthy relationship with a wonderful and supportive husband or partner. Because, in the end, you (and the little pre-baby) are the only ones in your body. And you, the mother to be, are the only one who can feel it all with the consciousness required to understand this unique and beautiful and terrible experience of bringing a life into the world, one day at a time, filled with worry and hope and again… all while trying your very hardest not to puke. But there are some things you can know going in – that morning sickness is a lie, that you may worry all the time, that your mouth may taste bad, and you may deal with a whole kaleidoscope of other symptoms (acid reflux! constipation! horrific, room clearing gas!) but just know that there are millions of women going through the same thing, and I for one, am here, and happy to complain and vent alongside you any time.
I hope this has been informative and fun for any newly pregnant or soon to be pregnant ladies out there, and maybe a delightful trip down puke-soaked memory lane for the strong, amazing mamas I know! (And perhaps this has been entertaining ammunition in the See, That’s Why I’m Not Doing This column for my wonderful childfree by choice friends!) There are other things I surely could have ranted about, like how most pregnancy books are terrible (particularly the ones for dads – HOLY SHIT) but I figure you’ve all soldiered on for over 3000 words, let’s give you a break. Besides, I have about 25 weeks left to go, I’m sure I’ll find other times to complain. It is my way, after all.