In the age of delayed pregnancy, IVF and fertility drugs, my husband and I expected it would take a year to get pregnant if we were lucky and more if we were not. While, at the ages of 29 and 33, we were young by Manhattan standards, we were both multiple years above the national average for a first pregnancy. Our ages, combined with the fact that I’d been on birth control for a decade and had a genetic thyroid condition linked to infertility, sobered us that the road to parenting could be long and heartbreaking. In reality, nine days after I went off of birth control, we were expecting.
We’d anticipated such a long path of “trying” that the gift of an immediate pregnancy hadn’t occurred to us. Were we really ready? What if I accidentally ate forbidden foods during pregnancy? What if my stress levels unknowingly put tension on my baby? Or, worst of all, what if something went so wrong in the pregnancy that we lost the baby all together?
And, indeed some of these fears actualized throughout the pregnancy. In my first trimester, I unknowingly ate a Caesar salad with raw egg in the dressing. In my second trimester, I saw concerning results on a number of medical tests. In my third trimester, while walking around the West Village, I stepped into a pothole and fell hard to the cement ground. Thankfully, each of these scenarios worked out okay but the fear never fully subsided; there was always another “what if” looming in the distance.
The truth is: I’m still on the journey of pregnancy but as I approach the last couple of weeks of gestation, I’ve accepted that the fear will never completely go away. Delivery, parenthood and everything that lies ahead is still terrifying but I know I will do my best to figure it out and learn throughout the process, just as I have learned a lot of big things (pregnancy is really ten months!) and small things (It takes 2-4 weeks for the baby’s umbilical stump to fall off) throughout pregnancy.
I recognize that there is still so much I have yet to learn but here are ten things I did learn during my pregnancy. I hope they can bring other women hope, peace of mind and, perhaps even, a smile.
1. 10 Months Is a Long Time
Regardless of your income, relationship status and city of residence, it’s enough time to get at least some semblance of a plan in place. It’s also enough time to change your mind about said-plan multiple, maybe even dozens of, times. For my husband and me, this meant negotiating putting up a wall in our existing downtown Manhattan apartment, having our building accept and then weeks later, reject this plan. It meant locating an alternate apartment building to rent a two-bedroom in only to ultimately sign a lease for a two-bedroom in our current building. I also created countless Pinterest boards and to-do lists and rethought our childcare plans only a hundred or more times. The point is: 10 months is a long time and the next chapter: parenthood, is eternal so there’s a lifetime ahead of you to revise and reset your current plan, or lack of plan – that’s fine too.
2. It’s Okay to Be Scared
For me, the scariest time of the pregnancy was definitely the first trimester. The initial shock was still tangible and I didn’t want to allow myself to be excited or share the pregnancy until I knew it would last. This meant roughly 8 consecutive weeks of every time I went to the restroom, fearing I’d see blood. After the first trimester, there was a second trimester filled with a slew of tests – some of which I failed or had concerning results. Of course, I often found out the results of these anxiety-inducing tests at the most inopportune times – picking up a phone call at my open floor plan desk or somewhere in transit where service was near-null. The third trimester brought some relief (you made it to fetal viability!) but also anxiety about the final stage of pregnancy: labor and delivery – that’s right, the hardest part is still ahead…
3. No One is Happier for You than Your Parents
Throughout your pregnancy, many people will congratulate you and tell you they are happy for you. The spectrum and volume of celebratory remarks will surprise you so much it may even restore your faith in humanity or at least your acceptance that kind strangers do exist in New York City. Cab drivers will applaud you, waiters will bless you, crossing guards will tell you to slow down – and you won’t even have to tell them the news! All of these people mean well but no one will be happier for you than your parents. Parents love seeing their kids get married or land a new job but my husband and I have never seen our parents happier than when we told them we were following their footsteps in becoming parents ourselves and making them grandparents. This joy provides an amazing support line as well as a practical resource for questions and fears (Did THIS happen to you when you were pregnant?! Will THAT happen to me during labor?!) They may not have all of the answers but they will listen and try to provide at least some sense of solace.
4. Everyone is Afraid of Pregnant Women
That means your spin instructor, your waiter, your doorman – and yes, even, maybe especially — your doctors. Five months into my pregnancy, I attended a spin class and told the instructor I was pregnant so needed to modify certain moves. His answer? “Have you seen a doctor yet?!” No. I’m five months pregnant and you, said-instructor are the first person I’m telling! What a resounding relief. OF COURSE, I’D SEEN A DOCTOR. Now, I just wish I’d seen to the front desk to freeze my gym membership as well. I shared my pregnancy with over a dozen different instructors in the same format and was met with a variety of equally embarrassing and alienating responses: “You’re having a baby?! But you look like a baby.” “Pregnancy isn’t an injury!” “Have you taken my class before? Now, really isn’t the time to start.” Oh, and even worse was that time I decided not to tell the instructor and she came, turned up the resistance on my bike and barked at me to peddle until I was breathless — to which I then, with the very little breath I had remaining yelled back, “I’M PREGNANT!!” So much for modesty…And it’s not just fitness professionals who fear The Bump, doctors too show trepidation too. About six months into my pregnancy, I developed what’s commonly known as a “pregnancy tumor”. It took two OBGYNS and two dermatologists to diagnose it and when they finally did, it meant taking a biopsy of what was essentially a raised vein, then cauterizing it. Given the blood and intensity of the wound, this would normally require local anesthesia but my dermatologist said she could not numb me while pregnant so instead I endured every little slice of the excruciating procedure. When I saw my OBGYN next, she was mortified that the dermatologist didn’t give me anything for the pain. She ultimately laughed gently and said, “Even doctors are afraid of pregnant women.”
5. Your Partner Is Pregnant Too
If you’re lucky enough to be in a loving relationship, your partner is pregnant too. I don’t mean that your husband is having hot flashes and gaining thirty pounds as well but rather, in the ideal circumstance, this experience is happening to him too. When possible, he should (and ideally will want to) accompany you to doctors appointments, choose baby registry items and mull over names with you. If you don’t have a romantic partner, I hope you have a friend, family member or even an amazing doctor – just someone who can support you in this journey.
6. Don’t Expect People to Know or Acknowledge that You Are Pregnant
This goes back to number four a little: people are afraid of you remember and that includes offending you. Certainly, you will have the relative or friend who before you’ve even had your pregnancy confirmed by a doctor will notice and say something to you but most self-aware individuals (especially those who have been pregnant or had a pregnant partner) proceed with trepidation. Perhaps my situation is more extreme than others but I have never, in my pregnancy, had someone offer me his or her seat on the subway. Au contraire, at eight and a half months, I’ve been physically elbowed out of the way to a seat.
7. Socializing Your Pregnancy Can Be Really Awkward
Some people may be more confident in this area but I was extremely uncomfortable sharing my pregnancy with everyone, especially coworkers. I worried it conjured images of sex and my changing body and all sorts of things you aren’t really supposed to talk about in the workplace. The good news is: once people know, they know and they are generally extremely gracious. I’m hoping having more confidence in this area is something I can improve upon if I am fortunate enough to get pregnant again. Beyond the workplace, I felt nervous and even guilty about sharing my news with friends, particularly if I knew they were trying to conceive as well. “I know; it’s not fair. I’m sorry.” I wanted to say but instead I just told them directly and then quickly shifted topics. There’s also a miscellaneous sub-set of people who, upon learning of your pregnancy, aren’t happy for you. For some, this is family, ex-boyfriends or even friends who you never knew wanted to have children. It doesn’t make them bad people, just remember not to internalize the negativity.
8. You Do Need to Slow Down
At some point, the extreme workouts, the late nights (whether working or playing), the running to make the crosswalk — need to end. Listen to your body; hit snooze; let the person speed walking behind you, pass you. You’re growing a human inside of you and sometimes that’s enough for the day!
9. Strangers Will Feel the Need to Jump In
So, this is basically the opposite of number six but there are a subset of people, many of whom you have never met before and will never see again, who feel the need to touch your belly, ask you if you plan to breastfeed or all sorts of questions. They’ll tell you the ONE THING YOU ABSOLUTELY MUST DO and the FOUR THINGS YOU ABSOLUTELY MUST AVOID. They generally mean well but your mere existence on the sidewalk next to them was not an invitation for them to share their Pregnancy Philosophy 101 so smile, nod and keep walking. Or, you can use the telephone solicitor strategy of “Thank you. I’m not interested.”
10. The Most Important Part – Being a Parent – Is Still Ahead of You
I acknowledge that I know nothing about this area, that as much as I’ve learned in my pregnancy, there is still so much, SO MUCH I just don’t know. I’ve read the books, watched the videos, taken the classes and absorbed as much as I possibly can but I know nothing will adequately prepare me for the challenges ahead. This goes back to number three and number five but hopefully you have a network of people who will share the terrifying, exhilarating and exhausting journey of parenthood with you.