Pregnancy: The First 90 Days

In the mythology of pregnancy, women who are expecting -- like 19th-century women on a hot day -- glow. And there are actually women like this, women who love being pregnant, who find it energizes them, filling them with optimism and verve.Nothing could be further from my experience. When I got pregnant the first time I started writing a novel about a woman who was pregnant, which was mostly an excuse to detail how I terrible I felt. Ultimately I cut most of the material that was tedious to a nonpregnant reader, even when that nonpregnant reader was me. But this winter I find myself pregnant again, and it all comes back to me: the constant hunger that manifests itself as nausea, and the way the taste of food changes, intensifying and becoming bitter, so that cheese always seems rancid and even water has a flavor I can't tolerate. Worst of all is the fatigue that verges on depression, making me feel incompetent to face the day -- let alone the prospect of a second child. During my first pregnancy I would occasionally call in sick or put my head down on my desk. But now I only work half-time; the other half I'm home with my bouncing, exhausting 2-year-old. Calling in sick is not an option. There is no time to rest.I've been thinking about the women who lived in Wisconsin a hundred years ago -- pioneer women alone on the frontier. The men are out hunting or plowing. The women are cooking, cleaning, baking bread, making soap, sewing clothes, mending, tending the fire, carrying water--and taking care of four or five or six children -- and almost all the time they are doing this, they are pregnant! And nursing too, likely as not. What I think is, I would not have survived it. I would have lain down in the woods and waited for a panther.Only what would have become of the children? For those who want children, the only things worse than the first trimester of pregnancy are ceasing prematurely to be pregnant and not being pregnant at all. (I don't think even labor is worse, since it only lasts a day or two and you can get an epidural.) My first pregnancy ended in a miscarriage after 10 weeks and remains the single hardest thing that has ever happened to me. At that time I didn't know anyone else who'd ever gone through one, or so I thought. But when I told friends what happened, they said, yes, that happened to me, to my sister, to my neighbor. I don't know if I was more comforted or appalled that so many pregnancies (especially, it seemed, first pregnancies) were ending this way. It's tempting to blame pollution, chemicals in the food, video display terminals. And for all I know some of these may be contributing factors. But more probable is that we know we're pregnant so extraordinarily early these days that we're more likely to know when we're miscarrying, whereas our mothers probably misconstrued early miscarriages as late periods-- which in a way they are.The home pregnancy tests are very accurate very early, but what they don't account for is the wishful vision of the test taker. When I was trying to get pregnant I woke my husband early one morning to show him what I believed to be an extremely faint positive line on my test. (The package instructions assured me that any line, however faint, constituted a positive test.) He took one look at the little stick and put it down. "There's no line," he said, and went back to sleep.The next month the line was clearer; I left the test on the bathroom sink, but by the time my husband got up it had faded away to nothing, and it wasn't easy to convince him it had really been there. When my doctor later confirmed my pregnancy in her office she offered me the positive test as a souvenir, but by then I didn't really need a test at all, let alone a souvenir. The constant furry taste in the back of my mouth and my aching, swollen breasts were enough.I know that, reproductively speaking, I'm one of the lucky ones. I conceive easily; I've only had one miscarriage. Still, I wake these winter mornings full of nausea and despair. These are the few small things that help: crackers on the bed table; giving up altogether on cooking and housework; walking; television (to anesthetize me and to occupy my daughter); knowing it will end. And, of course, complaining to other pregnant women. (Even women who have recently had babies are mostly useless, as though the trauma of birth has purged their memories.) So here is my complaint. I know some of you are shaking your heads, thinking this self-pitying and overblown. But I hope it will bring comfort to a few tired, discouraged women to know that somebody else in the world is as utterly, entirely miserable as you.

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