Well here’s a little life update: we’re having a baby!
We were living with this secret for a couple of months, and it’s so fun to have it out in the open now! There are so many things I didn’t know before being (and trying to be) pregnant, and my experience has varied widely from things I’ve read on the internet (mostly in a good way). So I thought sharing my experience could be useful, or at the very least interesting. I like reading these sorts of things, anyway.
But first things first: let’s talk about birth control.
I’ve found that contraception isn’t a common topic of conversation unless it comes up in connection with legislation of some kind. So many young women are left alone to try to figure out birth control on their own. It was a much more taboo subject when many of our moms were growing up, and the options have come a long way in the past 30 years. As such, it’s something I’ve been intentional to talk about with female friends so we can all be a little less alone in the process.
When I first started taking hormonal birth control pills in my early twenties, I got every symptom in the book: nausea, acne, weight gain, dry skin (well, dry everything). I tried several different kinds of pills, and after a year, my lovely gynecologist in Chapel Hill recommended that I consider an IUD (intrauterine device). Specifically she recommended the single-hormone Mirena IUD. I did what any good Millennial would do and searched the internet. Over and over again, I read horror stories.
I decided to go forward with it on the strong, educated recommendation of my doctor. My experience, while not perfect, was 100% better than anything I’d read online. I did faint shortly after the insertion. It was a vasovagal response–basically the blood rushed away from my head toward my uterus, which caused me to faint. I have low blood pressure and a history of fainting, so this wasn’t a huge surprise. Other than that, I had some period-like cramps and a few weeks of spotting. After five years, I got that one removed and a second one inserted. In the nearly eight years I had an IUD, I didn’t have a period (which is totally fine and normal) and didn’t really have any other symptoms. As a side note, I am incredibly fortunate that my pre-Obamacare health insurance (aka my parents’ insurance) covered 80% of the cost of my first IUD, and my second one was completely covered, even on a high deductible plan.
The Mirena IUD is considered 99.7% effective, which does mean 3 people out of 1000 get pregnant. I was willing to take my chances, especially because there is little-to-no human error involved with an IUD (unlike remembering to take your birth control pills daily). I’m not saying it’s perfect birth control, but is was the best option for me. I’m glad I went through with it in spite of the terrible things I read on the internet. That’s not to say I want to invalidate other people’s experiences, but I think people who have extreme situations (read: extremely bad) are the ones most likely to post online. So I wanted to add my experience to the collection of voices chiming in on Mirena. And one last thing–of course regulating your cycle with artificial hormones has its downsides. But I can tell you that after I got my IUD removed and my hormones were on their own again, I had never been more grateful for the stability that came with Mirena. I did not miss curling into a ball with excruciating period cramps. Now, onto pregnancy…
Trying to Conceive (or TTC in internet lingo)
From pretty early in our marriage, Nick and I agreed that we would most likely wait until I turned 30 to start trying to have kids. Deciding to have children wasn’t an emotional, spur-of-the-moment decision for us, nor one we took lightly. We’ve always seen ourselves as a family of two, not needing children (or a dog!) to qualify us as a “family.” We also saw marriage and children as totally distinct things. Just because we were ready to get married at a very young age did not mean that we were ready to have children. We wanted time and space to pay off student loans, to travel, and to explore our careers (mine a meandering path, Nick’s a steady grind). I once asked a friend how she and her husband knew they were ready to have a child, and she responded that they didn’t feel like they had a void to fill, but rather that they had space for a child. I love that perspective. Nearing the start of 2019, Nick and I decided we had space to open ourselves up to the process of trying to have a child.
The day I got my IUD removed, I googled “how long does it take to get your period back after Mirena,” and once again, I read horror stories. Three months, six months, never… (Clearly I should stay away from Dr. Google.) I was very relieved that my cycle started back less than a month later (again, it seems that no one is posting the non-traumatic experiences on the internet). I then went through two more cycles before conceiving. So from IUD removal to conception was about three months. In the grand scheme of things, that’s pretty quick. But I didn’t anticipate how excruciatingly long the weeks would feel each month you’re waiting and not knowing. I truly have so much compassion for women who go through that month after month after month, and the privilege of conceiving quickly is not lost on me.
I started tracking my cycle on the Flo app so I wouldn’t forget when my periods were, both to keep track of how regular my cycle was and because that’s how your due date is initially determined. (Side note: Nick is *very* annoyed that pregnancy is counted from the start of your last period, rather than when you actually conceive.) The app has some handy other features like a guesstimate of when you should ovulate, and places to keep track of how much water you’re drinking, your activity level and steps, your symptoms, and so on. It’s a pretty good app regardless of whether or not you’re trying to get pregnant. I decided to forego any other calculations, like basal body temperature, cervical mucus, or ovulation predictor kits (“OPKs”). I didn’t want to put too much pressure on the process in the beginning. What to track and how intense you want to be about the process is an individual decision to make, and I chose a path that I thought would be the least stressful and most mentally healthy for me.
How we found out
I knew that I was supposed to either start my period or find out I was pregnant during my 30th birthday trip to Paris and London in March. I gave myself a pep talk about not letting a period ruin our trip, and I packed both tampons and a pregnancy test. I truly did not worry about a thing during our time in Paris. I ate all the gooey French cheeses, indulgently ate raw fish, and drank champagne and cider. Our first morning in London, I knew that my period was a couple of days late. I woke up at the crack of dawn and had to go to the bathroom, so I took the test with me. It very quickly read “pregnant” and I had one of the most surreal moments on my life (while sitting on a heated toilet seat, no less). Because it was so early, I let Nick sleep another hour before waking him up with the news. His first response was “what do you mean?” but I’ll give him a pass because he was barely awake 🙂
We started processing the news while we got up and got ready (somewhere along the lines of “holy sh*t, this is happening!”). Then we had the whole day to ourselves, and it happened to be a rare, gloriously sunny day in London. We strolled through Regent’s Park, Notting Hill, and Hyde Park, which were all in full spring bloom. It was a bit of a dream.
Had it been any other Monday, Nick would’ve had to go to the office and we would’ve had to go on with our days like nothing happened. Instead, we got the incredible gift of being in one of our favorite cities on vacation. London is the international city we’ve visited together the most and it’s where Nick studied abroad just before we met. Now it will always have the most special place in our hearts.
The first 6 weeks
I didn’t really have any symptoms leading up to my positive pregnancy test (or “BFP” for “big fat positive” on the message boards… these pregnancy acronyms are out of control.) The only thing was really, really sore breasts. I’m pretty sure that they got sore the day the egg implanted (like 10 days before my missed period). It hurt to walk down the stairs or ride an elliptical at the gym. SO. SORE.
In retrospect, I also realized that I had been a little extra tired on our trip from pregnancy, not just travel fatigue. I almost fell asleep at dinner one night in Paris! And the cigarette smoke in Europe was particularly offensive to my nose because my sense of smell had already amped up. That being said, I felt pretty good through 6 weeks.
Weeks 6 to 13
At 6 weeks, the nausea hit hard. I was very fortunate to never throw up, but I felt like I could at any point during the day. Dehydration and low blood sugar both contribute to pregnancy nausea. Those were things that made me pretty queasy pre-pregnancy, so I was lucky (I guess?) that I already knew how to handle or avoid those situations.
I was already in the habit of eating a lot of small meals throughout the day, so that wasn’t a big change. One of my New Year’s resolutions was to drink more water, so I’d already formed a good habit of that, too. The nausea was at its absolute worst from weeks 6 to 9, which is probably because that’s when all of the baby’s major organs are forming. I spent a lot of mornings laying on a lambskin rug in the bathroom while Nick got ready for work so I could be with him. I just kept reminding myself that nausea is usually a good sign of a healthy pregnancy and chanting “I wanted this!”
The depth of fatigue that comes with pregnancy is no joke. I’d heard friends talk about it before, but I did not understand until I got here. I am usually NOT a napper, but I’ve been forced into becoming one. My other major symptom has been terrible headaches. Between it being full-on pollen season and pregnancy increasing my blood volume (which can cause swollen sinuses), my head pounds a lot. I also haven’t slept well, and I’m afraid that’s not going to change for years to come…
I was very lucky that I didn’t need to make many lifestyle changes when I became pregnant. I was already active; I didn’t smoke; I didn’t drink much (and I really haven’t missed it because I essentially felt hungover for weeks); I didn’t drink coffee; I already prioritized organic, locally sourced, and minimally-processed food; and I already used mostly “clean” beauty and cleaning products. I didn’t feel well enough for most of my first trimester to engage in my normal routine of barre classes and power yoga. I did still drag myself to the gym a couple times per week to walk on an incline treadmill, ride an elliptical slowly, or do some light weight lifting. Again, I’m very grateful for the privilege to be healthy and able to afford a healthy lifestyle before and during pregnancy.
I didn’t have a magical day around week 12 or 13 when I woke up and felt like a new woman, like I’ve heard some friends say. My symptoms started to fade by week 11, but it was more of a gradual process. By my 12 week appointment, I was feeling relatively better and my body still just felt bloated but not pregnant.
Cravings + what I ate
First of all, let me say that I really miss sushi and prosciutto. But in general, the nausea of first trimester really took the joy out of eating for me. As a person who loves to cook, eat, and share about food, this knocked the wind out of my sails. There was no thought of filling out my weekly meal planning board, and my instagram has been pretty silent as it relates to food. I also realized with agony that I follow a LOT of food media.
I was able and willing to eat meat all throughout my first trimester, which was helpful for sustaining my blood sugar. I also ate a lot of dairy, but nuts and legumes didn’t sound great. Fortunately that still left me with a number of options for protein.
I put ginger in everything during the worst of my nausea: I made ginger broth with rice noodles and ginger stir fries, I drank ginger tea, and I ate ginger chews.
Fruit almost always seemed appealing. Tropical fruits like mangos, bananas, and pineapples really hit the spot, and toward the end of the trimester, local berries and peaches were divine. I often would pair fruit with a full-fat cottage cheese or greek yogurt in the morning for breakfast to balance the sugar with healthy fats.
I had two distinct cravings (they’re so random and weird): ham and romaine lettuce. I’m not talking about deli meat. I’m talking center-cut ham or spiral sliced ham. I discovered this craving when I spotted ham on the hot bar at Whole Foods one day, then we had a Honey Baked ham at Easter dinner and I ate the leftovers every day for a week. I really have no idea where that craving came from.
The lettuce craving was pretty random, too, and also involved spotting it in the grocery store. Something about the thick, crunchy stems of romaine hearts just spoke to me. Unfortunately, romaine lettuce gets contaminated like all. the. time. My doctor even mentioned that I should avoid it without even knowing that I’d been craving it. Fortunately, I’ve found some locally grown, organic romaine at our local farmers markets! The “know your farmer, know your food” thing has never been more important to me.
More so than cravings, I had food aversions. I’ve never liked peanut butter (I know, I know), but it all of a sudden became the most abhorrent smell to me. I suddenly had no interest in eating nuts of any kind for that matter. Garlic lost its appeal (which is quite sad because I cooked with a lot of it before). Fortunately my ever-patient husband graciously ate whatever I was able to tolerate for dinner. We had some pretty weird meals, like pancakes and roasted carrots as a whole dinner. He was already used to me being pretty darn moody about food though.
Parting thoughts on first trimester
One of the biggest things I didn’t anticipate about pregnancy was the fear. What if I can’t get pregnant? What if I have a miscarriage and have to start all over again? What if I have a late miscarriage after I’ve already told people? What if there’s something wrong with the baby? The list goes on… And all of that is fear that comes even with a planned pregnancy, a supportive partner, good maternal health, and supportive family/community.
As a planner, I’ve had to remind myself that I’m just opening myself up to a journey. I’m not really planning this one.
Speaking of journeys, Nick and I have both experienced parental loss, which makes this whole process bittersweet. Mother’s Day has been difficult the last couple of years since we Nick’s mom, Penny, to cancer. Fortunately the news of new life (and the first grandchild in Nick’s family!) made it a much happier day this year. Right after we got home from London, we went to the columbarium where Penny’s ashes are interred and told her the news. We know she must be shouting and dancing in heaven.
My dad has lived with Alzheimer’s Disease for more than a decade now, and a few weeks ago before the end of my first trimester, he was hospitalized with pneumonia after choking on his food. Even though my dad as I knew him has been mostly gone for a long time, the thought of him physically dying is a difficult one to grapple with. My family had to make decisions about his end of life care, which is even more emotional when you pile it on top of pregnancy. Nick and I were able to visit him and tell him we are having a baby, but we also had to say a final goodbye in case another bout of pneumonia popped up again (it did… more on that in my second trimester update).
The thought of not having Nick’s mom and my dad here to be grandparents is truly one of the most difficult parts of my pregnancy. I’ve cried about it a lot. And then I apologize to the baby for having to live in a sad body. It’s terrible. But the gift of new life takes a tiny bit of the sting off of the grief. Our baby wouldn’t be here without our parents.
More than anything, I’ve been struck with all the ways I am so incredibly privileged. I don’t say that to brag, but to humbly acknowledge how good I have things relative to so many people. I have a loving and supportive partner, a healthy body, a great medical team, health insurance, a home with plenty of space for a baby, a safe neighborhood, a reliable car, agency to take care of myself, a supportive community, and the list goes on… I am so, so grateful. And I hope I will forever be more compassionate and generous to those who aren’t as lucky.
A few notes
Pregnancy details: we’re due at the end of November, and it’s a boy!
My prenatal vitamins: Garden of Life – Organic Gummy Vitamins
The app I use to track my cycle (and now my pregnancy): Flo
The other app I use to track my pregnancy: The Bump
What I’m planning: a babymoon to Carmel Valley, California
What I’m looking forward to next trimester: feeling the baby move!
Bumpdate from baby’s soon-to-be nursery: