5 things no one ever tells you about being pregnant
I knew I was pregnant from week one. My body kept failing on me, a reason to think about the unexpected. Well, we’ve been trying for a month, but who succeeds from the first try? I started feeling sick, cramped, miserable, but I had to wait until buying a pregnancy test because week one is irrelevant when it comes to accurate results. Also, it was November, so I shoved all the feelings and sensations in the flu basket. Luckily, Clearblue has a 4 days early pregnancy test, and who knew it (I did), the screen showed Pregnant 1+. Having a scientific background, I had to repeat the test for at least 5 times in different days, just to eliminate any deviations of the observed samples (geeky much?). Lo and behold, I was carrying a baby. I cried of happiness and the next second, the euphoria transformed in panic and stress, proof that hormones were settling just fine.
My first trimester was a disaster. I couldn’t stand the smell or the thought of meat, and I found out about my new preferences right around the winter holidays, while cooking meatball soup, steak and a lot of appetisers which were based on meat. My new diet included a lot of salads, dairy, veggies and plenty of water. In terms of cravings, I couldn’t have gone to more extremes: green apples and chocolate cakes. I didn’t like either of them before, but throughout my pregnancy I woke up many nights in the kitchen, looking for an apple or some sweets. This post is not about what you all knew regarding pregnancy, it’s what no one ever tells you before choosing this marvellous path in your life. It might help you prepare better in advance, at least mentally. You might also be lucky and go throughout pregnancy like you’re on holiday, and I wish you just that. But for some women, it can be hell.
1. Chronic constipation/colon issues
The first couple of months I felt really bloated, constipated for days, and whenever I went to the toilet, the pain on my left side was excruciating. It is not glamorous, and so not in line with my happy happy-joy joy posts, but this is the harsh reality I went through, and if at least one of you relates to my story, I didn’t spend a few hours writing this piece for nothing. It is also a really personal post, so if you’re not pregnant, or don’t want to know about this subject, I am getting ready a piece on a nice restaurant I’ve been to, so wait for that one instead.
Coming back to my early days, I was terrified, really. I used to break in cold sweats until my clothes were wet and started dripping from head to toe, faint from the pain, and all of this happening on the toilet seat. It went like this a few times, but I still remember that fatidical day when after 5 days of chronic constipation, I fainted literally on the toilet, after a seizure as described above. My sister-in-law had to call the ambulance, and they did absolutely nothing. Everyone thought I was just about to loose the baby, but I knew the baby was just fine, it was my body shutting down to all the hormones messing with my organs. I spent a few hours in the hospital, where they took my heart rate every 5 minutes, and no one checked my colon or my stomach. Instead, they prescribed something for heartburn. I had that as well, but it was manageable. Fainting on the toilet was not. It happened a few times after the hospital, but I didn’t call anyone anymore.
What I am describing is a form of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) caused by hormones who affect the oestrogen receptors in the stomach and small intestine. Prenatal vitamins contain a lot of iron, which can make constipation worse, so you might want to replace the ferrous gluconate with ferrous sulphate, or take a mild stool softener, such as Lactulose. As treatment I would recommend dietary changes, staying away from dairy, increase the fibre supplements, drink plenty of water, and do a lot of exercises. I must admit, I didn’t know what was happening with me and what will trigger this syndrome, and for some women, with all the healthy lifestyle, it can still happen. But if there is something you can do before going through what I did, I strongly suggest following some of the guidelines I mentioned.
As for me, I just prayed for better days. And then the second trimester came. Towards the end of it, my colon issues appeared once again, with another trip to the hospital with the ambulance, in excruciating pain, trapped gas, bloating, and I remember asking the nurse if I can just die already. They couldn’t do any IV after poking all my veins, so they just sent me home in the same condition. Talking about why I chose to give birth in Romania, but this is another story.
2. Iron deficiency/thalassemia
The phone call. It is the worst moment of your pregnancy life, when someone from the hospital gives you a call, asking you to come down and have a chat in regards to some of your blood tests. You always think it’s never going to happen to you, statistics include random people, never yourself. Well, that morning when I got the call in regards to thalassemia (I had to Google it to see what it means) the whole sky fell on me. Thalassemia is a form of inherited blood disorder characterised by the abnormal formation of haemoglobin. This results in mild anaemia, or death, depending on the severity of the disease. You can imagine the worse scenarios that were going through my head and I was blaming myself for not doing a genetic test before getting pregnant. Apparently, thalassemia is much more common among Mediterranean, African and South Asian people, this is why I’ve done the test knowing for sure I will test negative. The doctor assured me I have the mildest gene, called Alpha so they needed to test my husband and depending on the results, we could reach a conclusion. Gabi tested negative, so Emma can end up having a mild anaemia at worst, thank God. It didn’t do any good that for a week until receiving the results I browsed the Internet and read all the catastrophes that could happen to my baby. Better to avoid it and trust your doctor, he knows best.
I always thought being skinny means you can indulge in as much chocolate as you want. I didn’t really have a sweet tooth before getting pregnant, but my body was craving energy so I was eating cakes and chocolate much more than usual during my pregnancy. I was quite amazed when my urine samples came back with a high glucose level after every midwife appointment because I thought I should be quite fat to get these results. Well, the diabetes cases in my family didn’t help as well, so I was scheduled for a glucose test. Fasting for 12 hours is bad enough (mandatory before the test), but doing it twice because the lab wasn’t able to store my blood sample properly, was torture for a pregnant woman. The results came back and I got the call. I was borderline: the limit was 7.8 and obviously since everything happens to me, I was 7.8. They decided to treat me like I was having gestational diabetes, which happens to women developing high blood sugar levels during pregnancy. It can cause increased risks of pre-eclampsia, depression, the baby can be too large, having low blood sugar after birth, and the risk of developing type 2 diabetes. Gestational diabetes can happen to skinny women as well because insulin is not processed properly due to hormonal changes. My midwife advised on testing my glucose before and after two meals per day (poking my finger with a needle for fun), diet, and exercise. I was able to do all of that for two weeks, but my fingers were getting really tender, food had no taste, and I was really cranky and craving all the chocolate in the world. I gained 15 kg extra in my 38 week, and even though my diabetes doctor in Romania said I am fat (say what? I know women who got between 25 to 45 kg during pregnancy), I still eat ice-cream, lots of watermelon, and some pastries. Diet is not for gourmands, but I am not making culinary excesses.
4. Pelvic girdle pain
In my 5th month of pregnancy, I started developing pain in the front of my pelvis when I was walking, and it became harder for me to be mobile. Things became better for a while, but when I was 7th months pregnant I could barely walk, and the pain moved to my back at the sacroiliac joints. I was having excruciating pain when walking, climbing the stairs, turning over in bed, or standing for that matter. I have discovered this condition is called Pelvic girdle pain (PGP) and it affects 1 in 5 pregnant women. During pregnancy, your body produces a hormone called relaxin. Relaxin softens your ligaments, the tough tissues that connect your joints. This means that the joints in your pelvis can be more mobile during pregnancy. It happens for a good reason. Having lax ligaments helps your baby to pass through your pelvis during birth. Your body should adapt and compensate for the greater flexibility in your joints, but my body is more stubborn. I was literally crying every time I had to walk and it affected the quality of my life extremely. I started doing some exercises found on Youtube, ordered a special belt on Amazon which didn’t do any good, and stopped going out as often. At that time, my husband busted his knee while playing football, so I had to take care of him too. Just imagine two invalids walking on the street, straight from a bad comedy show. The pain subsided after one month, even though I’ve heard it can last up to when you’re giving birth.
Normal plan of treatment is a lot of physiotherapy, keeping active but getting plenty of rest, changing position frequently. Also, trying to keep your legs together when getting in and out of the car. It seems extreme, but it helps a lot! Lying on the less painful side while sleeping, keeping your knees together when turning over in bed, and using a special pillow under your bump and between your legs for support in bed. Make sure to get help as soon as you develop PGP because it can affect your life quite bad, I suffered a lot and this is the worse pain I had to endure for a long time. I do have issues with my back now, 2 weeks before getting birth, and it is normal at this stage, but nothing as major as in the past.
5. Numb hands/Oedema
I knew about swollen feet, all pregnant women complain about this and after moving to Romania on a hot summer day, I honestly looked and felt like an elephant. I could only wear one pair of Birkenstock and some lace-up flats, so imagine my indignation. I am such a shoe person and had bought a lot of beautiful pairs to wear this summer, which are now collecting dust and tears. I have always loved my ankles in particular, I know, pretty lame, but this was the only part of my body I admired. Now, all of a sudden, I was covered in fat, with no visible ankles and everyone looked puzzled at my feet; they actually couldn’t believe their eyes how swollen they were. They are still the same today, and it’s been 2 months. All in all, I was pretty much expecting this development in my pregnancy.
What I didn’t expect was not being able to use my hands due to numbness, swollen, and pain. My righty in particular. What I have discovered was that if you have tingling, numb and painful hands during pregnancy, it’s likely to be caused by carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS). CTS is common in pregnancy and I had no idea. It happens when there is a build-up of fluid (oedema) in the tissues in your wrist. This swelling squeezes a nerve, called the median nerve, that runs down to your hand and fingers, causing tingling and numbness. You may also find your grip is weaker and it’s harder to move your fingers. I remember trying to open a bottle of water and couldn’t, and the pain gets worse during night. Sleep became more difficult because I had to wake up every 10 minutes to massage my hand. Also, in the morning the pain is extended because your hands have been curled up at night.I tried a diuretic tea and drank lots of water to decrease the oedema, and also put my feet up, but I have only seen a small improvement. Only two more weeks, I repeat to myself.
Whoever said pregnancy is easy, must be a man. I joke all the time saying I have developed all the exceptions in the pregnancy books, and should have started with those when I was reading about having a baby. I honestly thought this pregnancy would be great and easy because my sister had a really uneventful pregnancy, but it’s not genetic I presume. No pregnancy is similar to another because women are unique, so we need to treat each symptom with care, but never forget the outcome and that every pain is worth it in the end. I would go through everything once again, but I think I would have preferred to be more prepared, keep a diet, do more exercises and take it each day with optimism. What are some issues you’ve dealt with during your pregnancy?