What’s the one thing I could have really used during my first pregnancy? A crystal ball. Pregnancy is one of those life events for which no one can adequately prepare you. No matter how many stories you hear, how much information you read or how much advice you receive, you won’t know how your pregnancy will play out until you’re, well, pregnant.
When I was pregnant with my first child four years ago, I was equal parts ecstatic and terrified. Motherhood is an experience I had wanted for a long time, but there were so many unknowns. For a control freak like me, it was sometimes hard to balance my excitement and anxiety. There were so many random, ridiculous and rational things to worry about during pregnancy. Could I get an epidural with a back tattoo? Would people always offer me their seats on the bus? Would wearing the wrong bra affect my milk production? Yes. No. Maybe. But what are some of the other things I wished I knew going into mommyhood or was surprised to learn? Let’s take a look.
1. You won’t look as pregnant as you feel.
When I peed on my first three pregnancy tests and confirmed the phenomenon with bloodwork at my doctor’s office, I felt different immediately and thought everyone else could see my glow. I bashfully covered my belly when wearing form-fitting clothing and dramatically draped scarves and cardigans around my body in an effort to hide the secret that I wanted to scream out loud. I had no clue how I was going to conceal this life-changing event for a whole trimester and was sure someone would sniff out my pregnancy before I was ready to reveal it.
But the truth is, no one suspected a thing. Generally, it takes time to actually show in your first pregnancy, so while you may feel totally different inside, you probably won’t look it on the outside—at least not right away. And if you do, you can always blame lunch.
2. You don’t have to spend a ton of money on expensive maternity clothes.
I was excited to peruse the goods at a few local maternity stores until I saw their prices. With nightmares over diapers and daycare costs dancing in my head every night, the last thing I wanted to do was spend a ton of money on clothes that I wasn’t going to wear for very long, but I still needed clothes that fit.
Your body shape and the time of year you get pregnant will determine how creative you can get with your clothing, but looking good without breaking the bank is possible. Seek out the maternity sections of cost-effective retail chains and online fast-fashion boutiques, or play around with different shapes and sizes in the non-maternity clothing you usually buy. I was able to score affordable maternity wear at H&M and Old Navy and online at Boohoo and managed to wear my regular pants a bit longer with the help of belly bands and the good old elastic trick. I also learned to try on things that I might not normally wear. Some things may not look great on the hanger, but add a baby bump and—bam!—instant style.
3. Cravings aren’t the only food-related changes during pregnancy.
I’ve always been a relatively healthy eater, but pregnancy put a real spotlight on all my dietary choices. I wanted to be sure that I was eating enough of the right things at the right times and not too much of the wrong things, but I quickly learned that other factors would derail my best intentions. Morning sickness and cravings (hello, endless nachos!) were a couple of them, but I didn’t expect other changes to take place.
Pregnancy does a lot to your body, and your shifting chemistry can affect what you eat. I developed a real sensitivity to lactose that took my morning yogurt and granola snack from delightful to disastrous. Conversely, about a decade ago, I realized that, sadly, chocolate is one of my migraine triggers, but I discovered that I could enjoy all the chocolate I wanted without agony during pregnancy.
What can I say? Pregnancy is a real mixed bag of tricks, so pay attention to your body and be prepared for some trial and error.
4. Technology isn’t always 100 percent correct.
In my first pregnancy, I had a huge scare. After a couple of normal ultrasounds, a subsequent ultrasound showed that my baby’s heartbeat was extremely slow—I’ll never forget reading the words “Patient to return in a week for follow-up to see if pregnancy is viable” on the report.
I was an emotional wreck until my husband and I went to the follow-up. The ultrasound technician tried to be friendly and upbeat, but all I could think about was if my baby was OK. As soon as the scan was done, we headed back to my doctor’s office to await the faxed report. Once I saw my doctor walk into the room holding the report triumphantly over his head, I knew that all was well: My baby’s heartbeat was strong, and everything looked good.
“Technology is amazing, but it isn’t always right,” said my doctor. It helped me put things in perspective to know that technological advancements are incredible, but they aren’t always the final say. I’m sure my friends—who were told that they were having a boy at the anatomical ultrasound but delivered a healthy girl—would agree with that sentiment.
5. Labour doesn’t look like it does in the movies.
Understandably, the most anxiety-ridden part of pregnancy for me was labour and delivery. Everyone said, “Your body is made for this,” but I had no clue what “this” would be like and I was scared. Would my water break dramatically while I was grocery shopping? How painful would it be? How long would the whole ordeal last? What if I couldn’t cope or if my delivery plans changed at the last minute?
Nothing about my labour played out like what I’ve seen in the movies and on TV. I was in labour before I realized, had to have my water broken at the hospital and learned that, for me, the worst way to deliver is to lie on your back and scream. Screaming zapped my energy and lying on my back created a battle with gravity, so I learned to manage my labour pains by resting on all fours or straddling an exercise ball while trying to conserve my energy until it was that magical time to push.
Whether you have no idea what to expect (like me) or have a very specific plan of how you hope things will go (like the woman in my doctor’s waiting room who planned a totally silent, pain-meds-free birth), remember that labour and delivery is a partnership between you and your baby. Do your research, ask your healthcare professionals if you have any questions and always be open to the fact that things may change.
6. The next time might be totally different from the first.
Having one pregnancy under my belt, I thought I knew exactly what to expect with my second pregnancy. Wrong! One body can process subsequent pregnancies in very different ways, so while it may minimize some worry when you’ve already gone through one pregnancy, you never know what the next one will bring. My second pregnancy was very different from my first. From differences in morning sickness to cravings to labour and delivery, my second time nearly made me feel like I hadn’t been pregnant before. At one point, I simply resigned myself to the fact that this time was going to be very different and decided to enjoy the journey. And, really, what better way is there to describe a pregnancy than as a journey? Worry is normal—and, some may say, healthy—but try not to let it get in the way of enjoying the ride.