This is Part 4 of a 12 column series. If you’re just joining in, start at the beginning!
If you’ve been following along, you know how badly I wanted to be pregnant and how hard I worked to get pregnant. I thought this meant that actually being pregnant would be pure bliss. Oops.
A lot of this journey for me has been about letting go of expectations, letting go of any semblance of control. This is probably one of the things I’m going to need to be learning for the rest of my life, but damn if the first trimester wasn’t a good teacher. Look how much my baby is teaching me already, and s/he’s not even here yet!
One of the many messed up things about IVF is that you feel like you’re in the first trimester before you actually are, as the hormones precede the embryo transfer and any possible pregnancy. They also tend to give you more hormones, and for longer, than you really need for safety, so it’s like going through a seriously jacked up version of first trimester. Yippeee!! If you thought shoving large amounts of progesterone into your body through a giant needle sounded bad enough, wait until you hear about the side effects.
Progesterone made me TIRED. Unfathomably tired. Because I’d been through IVF before, I was a little more ready for it this time, and I filled our freezer with easy meals and said no to pretty much anything I possibly could. (Sorry, friends, for those twelve weeks I was a total hermit! Now you know why.) I was so thankful I worked for myself because I could, and did, nap whenever I needed to. So much sleep.
In addition to growing a still very tiny baby, my body was also creating a new organ: the miraculous placenta!! How incredibly cool is that?! It also created blood vessels to support the placenta, and increased my blood volume, too, while my kidneys filtered all that blood even faster than usual. Hormones are powerful stuff, whoa. The uterus also expands and the combination of all these things together is directly responsible for another lovely first trimester symptom, peeing ALL THE TIME. Turns out the sleepless nights, for many of us, begin long before baby even gets here.
I started waking up multiple times in the middle of the night to pee, and I just decided to roll with it. I read 3 to 4 books a week during those 12 weeks. I grew to love it even — look at all the reading I could get done! It made me feel like maybe waking up with a baby every few hours to breastfeed wouldn’t be so terrible after all, as long as I just surrendered to it. (Not the same thing, I know, but just let me have this one, okay?)
Sometimes, though, I woke up terribly nauseous. I once made and consumed an entire pot of oatmeal at 2am before I could fall back asleep. Food aversions combined with nausea were a particular kind of hell. Nothing would sound appealing to eat, but the hungrier I got the more nauseous I got, which meant the less I wanted to eat, which meant the worse I felt… I started setting my alarm for every two hours to remind myself to preemptively just eat something. Lots of yogurt and toast, the lowest sugar granola bars I could find, and tons of citrus. I shoved handfuls of lettuce into smoothies to make sure I was getting enough greens.
Simone was delighted I was nauseous. It was a good sign for a strong and healthy pregnancy! She proudly marched through the door loaded down with bags filled with every assortment of snack I thought I could stomach and all the ginger candies our local co-op stocked. “I really feel like I have a pregnant wife now!” she beamed.
I was happy about it, too, at least for a while. I cried tears of joy the first (and luckily only) time I vomited. I was really truly pregnant, raging hormones and all. I would wake up in the morning and smile at my nausea, glad it was still with me, gradually much less glad five or six hours later.
And if I thought eating at home was hard, eating out was harder. I’d find myself wandering around an unfamiliar neighborhood before a work meeting desperately searching for something I thought was not only baby safe but baby nourishing. I landed on a hippie-ish coffee shop, thinking their hummus sandwich with veggies was a safe and healthy bet, no non-organic meat or anything weird, but when the sandwich came out it had sprouts on it. Weren’t sprouts one of those things that often had food-borne illnesses? I wouldn’t risk it.
At least there was a side of fruit. I could eat that. Shit, weren’t grapes on the dirty dozen list? There was no way these grapes were organic. Should I ask? I was too embarrassed to ask. Was it better to eat something covered in pesticides or nothing at all? I agonized over these decisions, wanting so badly to protect this vulnerable little being I couldn’t even be sure was still growing inside me.
That’s one weird part about the first trimester, the fact that the work my body was doing and the baby her/himself were both so invisible. I couldn’t feel any movement, my belly wasn’t expanding yet, and symptoms ebbed and flowed. Was there really a baby growing? I was scared a lot of the time. More than I wanted to be. Especially when I bled, which I did several times throughout the first trimester.
Bleeding in pregnancy, and in the first trimester especially, is fairly common, but that doesn’t make it any less scary. Having had a miscarriage, I knew what was at stake, I knew how precarious this pregnancy still was. More than that, I knew what it felt like to lose a baby, how unbearable it had been. I knew that loving someone that much, especially someone who wasn’t even yet really a someone, was the most dangerous thing I could do with my heart.
It was overwhelming. I consider myself a very rational person, calm in a crisis, not easily overtaken by anxiety. I was untethered from that ease, that sense of who I was, during those early months. I was so happy in the very earliest weeks when we first found out, but as the weeks went on, as the bleeding cropped up every once in a while, that happiness was often interrupted by near panic.
Every week there was more at stake as this baby and I grew more attached, both literally/physically and emotionally. I couldn’t quite believe that odds were good I would end up with a baby this time, and I also couldn’t stand the thought of the alternative. Simone held me as I cried many nights, assuring me that though she could not promise me that our baby would be okay, she could promise me that I would be. She promised me that she would be by my side, loving me, holding me up for as long as I needed, no matter the outcome. I am so grateful for her love.
That love, and journaling, and mindfulness, and every coping mechanism I could grasp, and a lot of support from my brilliant therapist, got me through those weeks. At 10 weeks and 3 days, a few hours after seeing a decidedly baby-looking baby bop around on the ultrasound and just after a very affirming therapy session, I decided I was tired of speaking in conditionals. I was going to pretend this pregnancy was real. It didn’t matter what I thought or that I didn’t believe. I was going to just pretend, as an experiment, that there would really be a baby at the end of this.
Fake it ’til you make it works, y’all. I knew at that point that I couldn’t really protect my heart by not having hope, so I let something go that day. I allowed myself to begin to enjoy the pregnancy again. To begin, even, to have fleeting glimpses of that future baby, something I’d been so scared to even imagine. The next day, Simone and I picked out a cute onesie at our local secondhand kid’s store. A week later, I joined our neighborhood parenting listserv (albeit with a new/fake email address) to keep an eye out for used gear.
I started settling in, day by day, as I finally rounded the corner into that hallowed second trimester.
If you haven’t yet, watch the video to hear me talk more about all those wacky first trimester symptoms. Oh and also to see me cry, again. One of these days I’ll make an episode where I don’t cry, I promise… And please share your first trimester experiences in the comments, it’s important for folks to hear about how different it is for everyone. And, as always, ask me questions. I’ll answer them here or in my next video! Until next time.