Week 7: I was Warned about this Week

Congratulations, you’re over half way through the first trimester. This is 1/6 of your pregnancy already! Astounding isn’t it? You possibly aren’t feeling very miraculous at this point but what is happening in your body is truly amazing. You’re doing great!

I was warned about this week. Among our relatives at least, this is the week when those pregnancy signs move it up a notch. Everything is feeling more intense; the aches and pains, the indigestion and that nausea. For a lot of women in our families it was around about now that (if it hadn’t already) morning sickness started to kick in. As baby is going through a growth spurt inside you, it’s not surprising that you are feeling everything more strongly.

Morning Sickness
I was unaware until I started researching that the term morning sickness does not just refer to being physically sick. It covers the whole range from nausea to vomiting. It’s also such a misleading term as it isn’t just in the morning, it can be constant throughout the day or even just occur at night! When vomiting in pregnancy becomes particularly severe, when you can’t keep anything down or even water is making you sick, this is termed hyperemesis gravidarum (or amongst my acquaintances at least; ‘That thing Kate Middleton had’) and medical assistance is necessary (NHS Choices, 2018).

Morning sickness is often associated with the first trimester but (at least from the experience of close family friends) hyperemesis gravidarum can also develop later on. The nausea often comes in waves, sending chills and dizziness right through you, making you unsure as to whether to sit down or rush to the bathroom.

Digestion… and Its Issues
There are other pregnancy signs that may be sending you to the bathroom (or keeping you out of it). As your body is searching for extra nutrients for the developing embryo, your digestive system is slowed down, which can dramatically alter the consistency of your stools. It is very common to experience diarrhea, constipation (or both) throughout pregnancy.

If you have made changes to your diet to assist with getting the right nutrition, these effects will be a natural result. If you haven’t made any changes it is possible that these effects are still diet related as your body becomes more sensitive to certain foods. It is probable that you will have already experienced cravings or food aversions in the weeks leading up to this point. Your sense of smell may also be increasingly sensitive at this time, not assisting with food aversions or that morning sickness!

The rapid growth of baby at this time might not be having any visual, external effects on your body yet, but already your uterus has doubled in size (TodaysParent.com, 2017). As your uterus is positioned above your bladder, it is already applying additional pressure, another cause of more frequent bathroom trips!

Along with the morning sickness and bowel complaints, indigestion and heartburn are other aspects of being a mother-to-be. This has been one of the most constant complaints my body has had (thus far) during pregnancy. It is coinciding with an increasing appetite. More food and digestive issues are not usually a happy pair, but with baby’s growth spurt, it is not surprising that mothers-to-be are getting the urge to take on more nutrients and that the slowed-down process required for delivering this nutrients to the womb is resulting this this discomfort.

I have found a few ways of relieving this discomfort:

  1. Staying hydrated is always a good place to start, along with eating plainer foods or blending ingredients to form soups. As soup contains a large amount of water it is retained in the stomach for longer, assisting with the decreased pace of digestion and the absorption of nutrients.
  2. Another trick that can assist with digestion is chewing your food more thoroughly. As with soups, this technique is borrowed from weight loss advisers, but as it helps kick start digestion by getting the enzymes working away before the food has even left your mouth, it again assists with the slower digestion process experienced during pregnancy.
  3. Grazing is also advised in pregnancy (and labour) as it reduces the amount you consume in one go. By eating little and often you are getting the calories and nutrients your body and baby need without over-loading you system. You are probably aware that the notion of ‘eating for two’ is no longer encouraged, so rather than having additional portions, graze through a few additional healthy snacks throughout the day. It can also help relieve mild nausea.
  4. I have found that the gas produced from the bloating and indigestion is frequently getting trapped and built up under my ribs. We discovered that if my husband rubs my back, as you will with your newborn or your birth partner might during labour, it is very effective at relieving the discomfort.

Pregnancy Fatigue
This is really getting me this week! I’m having increased nausea and feeling faint a fair bit, which is quite a new sensation for me, but whilst these are unpleasant I can either work through them or they reduce after a little extra rest. Pregnancy fatigue, on the other hand, is not something which you can just power on through.  One of my colleagues recently shared that during her pregnancy she found herself asleep with her head on the top of the cooker! She had been out for three hours.

For me, personally, we are still in the process of renovating our house and the awaited new arrival has hastened the deadline. This has had many positives, for instance, it has persuaded my husband to have carpets in the rooms upstairs, but with reduced energy, I am not being as much help as I would like.

This is the pregnancy sign I am struggling with most, I think because I wasn’t really aware of it. I expected to feel tired and low in energy much later on, when the baby is bigger, I will be heavier and my mobility would be reduced. That I feel so tired, so early on, has taken me by surprise and whilst I had prepared myself to feel nauseous and uncomfortable, I hadn’t strategised for feeling drained.

It does pass though.

You have probably heard about the energy boost you will receive when the second trimester begins. If you are anything like me then you are looking towards it longingly, hoping that the stories are true and you really will resemble your past energetic self. But you don’t have to wait a further 5 weeks to get some relief. A bit like the nausea, pregnancy fatigue can come in waves. For me, it lasts a few days at the time where I am having to nap once or twice a day, and then I get a little of my old energy back and don’t feel as limited.

Napping really is the best thing to do to get relief from pregnancy fatigue. If you are like me and this state does not come naturally to you, or dozing off for a few hours usually makes you feel worse, give it a go anyway. This is not a regular form of tiredness and a quick nap might be what you need to recover and push through. I’m making no promises, but it worked for me. Sometimes (and this is something I struggle with) you really do have to find the time to rest. It is important for you and your pregnancy.

So Many Emotions…
The fatigue is not assisting with the other common early pregnancy sign, mood swings. Again, these will have been noticeable for a few weeks now, but the emotional side of things has really heated up this week. Sadly, this is very literal in my case as one of my biggest flaws is a quick temper and it has definitely been quicker this week.  I have also gone from being a little bit teary to full on weeping.

At the beginning of this pregnancy, in fact before I even had any concrete notion that I was even pregnant, I had been getting moist eyes at a number of church events. One of them was Mother’s Day, so perhaps this one could be expected, but I am not a particularly emotional person and talks rarely move me to tears. This has drastically changed in the past month and a half.

Last night I broke down into noisy sobs for reasons that I am still not certain of. But I most certainly felt better for having a good cry and am embracing this surprise occurrence as a necessary release of hormones and a natural part of pregnancy that I am just going to have to ride out.

The hormone we can thank for our emotional outpourings (or outbursts) is HCG. This is the common abbreviation of Human Chorionic Gonadotropin. It is this hormone that is detected by home pregnancy tests, usually by Week 5. Even though we were trying to conceive, at Week 4 when my expected period did not appear and I took a pregnancy test, it came back as negative. There simply wasn’t enough HCG in my system at that time.

Breast Tenderness
This is often presented to be the most common and, frequently, the first sign of pregnancy. Not for me. It was actually one of the reasons why I assumed I wasn’t pregnant when I took the initial test. It was actually my husband who twigged I was pregnant because the fatigue kicked in really early. From Week 4 onwards I have not been able to be awake beyond 9pm and I even slept last night with my watch still on my wrist.

This week, however, WOW. The tingling and tenderness is definitely there. Personally though, I would describe this as a dragging. My breasts are fuller, heavier, denser and hanging a lot lower. Gravity is not always kind.

Again, I was taken by surprise with the level of discomfort I was getting from this common sign of pregnancy. It is often just reeled off as one of the things that will happen. Of course, it is inevitable and like everything else it has its own specific purpose as your body gets ready for baby. Without a doubt, breasts are (biologically) a big part of your body’s baby survival kit. Even if you decide, or already know, that you are not going to use them to feed baby (absolutely no judgement from over here, Mama, you are growing a human), they are still going through that process.

What was surprising to me, or what I was simply unprepared for, was the discomfort and even pain I felt from my breasts when I was trying to sleep. Sure I could doze off with my watch pressing into my face, but I have to be very careful about positioning so that gravity doesn’t have too great an effect. What makes the difference for me is which breast is bigger and the exact angle I’m at.

Being lopsided isn’t helping. It is not uncommon for women to have one breast that is bigger than the other, but currently, it feels like the left one is working overtime and that the right just really isn’t bothered!

Cramping in Early Pregnancy
Throughout the earliest weeks of this pregnancy I was experiencing a lot of cramping. This is one of the most alarming signs of pregnancy because whilst it is perfectly usual, it can be cause for concern. It is one of the signs that should be discussed most and if you are concerned then speak to a professional.

Fortunately for me,  I experienced no spotting during the earlier weeks and by this week the cramping seems to have alleviated (replaced by more continuous and persistent indigestion).

Cramping is particularly common during Week 4 of pregnancy (I still find it odd that the first 2 weeks that are counted are before conception has even occurred). As pregnancy is counted from the first day of your last period, Week 1 is the period itself and Week 2 is your body preparing your uterus in case the egg released at ovulation is fertilised.  This happens in Week 3, and in Week 4 (when you would have your next period if the egg was not fertilised) the small cluster of cells (blastocyst) implants into the lining of the uterus (endometrium).

For me personally, the cramping felt on a level with my period starting, and although it was almost constant, it never felt concentrated in one spot or elevated beyond the pain level of a regular period cramp. I also had no spotting. At one point I had the sensation all women are familiar with when you feel the initial flow of your period. This scared me. I was at a poetry event and had to wait for the act to finish before I could rush across the tiny performance area to the toilets. Fortunately (this time) there was nothing and I am still not sure why I had this feeling.

I am not a medical professional. The paragraph above is in a spirit of solidarity with women who are also experiencing mild cramping during pregnancy. With severe or concentrated cramping, spotting, or anything else that is making you feel concerned, always seek medical advice.

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And So It Begins…

Today, I had a breakthrough. The best thing was that I really wasn’t expecting it and that made me appreciate it more.

I might have been a little overzealous in my post New Year – New Month. At the end of that post I said that my husband and I had transitioned to a vegan diet and were trying to conceive. This is true, but I may have been a little hasty. As I mentioned yesterday, my husband and I had talked and talked about it and finally made a decision (about veganism and babies) and then seemed to get caught up and going sideways rather than forwards.

Just before Christmas, which seems a lot longer than just two months ago (it’s hard to believe it was before I had started blogging!) I became a vegetarian. I’m not sure exactly what prompted the change, or why I hadn’t made it earlier! I think it must have been adopting our dog Lassie that triggered the transition which really had been a long time coming. I knew how unpleasant the meat industry is, even on free range farms, and at the end of the day eating meat means death for the animals we eat.  But I had just been accepting this as inevitable and I am not sure why. I guess I simply hadn’t given it any serious thought.

I really have no excuses. Whilst I knew very little of veganism until I met my brother and sister-in-law, I was raised by vegetarian parents. I myself however did not grow up strictly vegetarian. My mother was (and still is) quite anaemic and as I was a child who hated green vegetables, she thought that a monthly intake of red meat was the way to go. I never actually enjoyed eating it, but it became habit and then convenience. As a student cooking mince was simple and the majority of to-go pasta, salad and sandwich options were either chicken or cheese (which I disliked and was quite violently allergic to growing up). But it was just habit as I prefer vegetarian meals, finding them a lot more colourful and flavoursome than the alternatives containing meat and since becoming vegan I haven’t missed them at all. In fact, I found no longer eating meat and dairy products easier than ceasing to consume alcohol when I became a Mormon.

There’s one other reason I think it took me a while to embrace being vegetarian and that was the false association I made with the diet and one particular story my mother shared of when she was expecting me. One day during her pregnancy, two of her teeth disintegrated. My mother has always hated milk and therefore doesn’t drink it, however she eats a fair bit of cheese so it was not, as I had assumed, that she had cut herself off from calcium. That being said, it is a useful reminder of what can happen if you adopt a diet (of any kind) and fail to keep an eye on nutrition.

As soon as I had made the decision to become vegetarian, veganism seemed a forgone conclusion. Especially as one of the principle reasons for making the transition was the information which I had recently learnt about the environmental impact of pastoral agriculture. Perhaps it should have been obvious but it wasn’t until recently that I realised the huge amount of greenhouse gasses, land exploitation and food waste that this kind of farming produces (Jenna Bardroff, One Green Planet, 2014).

My immediate thought once I had made my decision was to research, research, research. I knew that in the near future (we are still pre-New Year and blog at this time) my husband and I would be trying to have children and I wanted to ensure that I had made the transition to vegan before that happened, because whilst a vegan diet contains all the nutrition for a very healthy pregnancy, I did expect there to be bumps and pitfalls along the way. I didn’t want to add the strain of growing a person to my body as it adjusted (for the better) to this new diet and I didn’t want any slips to have an impact on that growing person.

I also anticipated that my husband’s commitment to eating meat would pose a huge challenge, especially as he does the majority of the cooking in our household. When we got married this seemed to be a very practical arrangement. At the time of our marriage I worked more and was studying at the same time and he was more passionate about food. I can cook but I don’t get excited about it and it shows in my food. Samuel’s food on the other hand is fantastic. But now I was hoping that he would cut out a lot of his key ingredients when he was cooking at home. I very much consider that what he eats elsewhere is entirely up to him. To try and ease us both into the changes I was suddenly so enthusiastic about, I signed us up to Veganuary.

There was a considerable amount of groaning. Mainly because Samuel really struggles with change. The whole way through he has actually been very enthusiastic, but every time a new ingredient got used up and removed, he would almost panic. This is how anxiety manifests in my husband. It is very different to me. I enjoy change, experimenting and mixing things up, but Samuel can get very concerned even if I suggest changing the orientation of the furniture.

Flash-forward to the end of January. I had just got Samuel on board with plant-based milks (we like coconut and soya, almond is still something we are working on) but was struggling to get him to consider plant-based butter alternatives or cutting out meat long-term. I had joined a couple of vegan pregnancy forums to learn as much as possible about diet and the additional nutritional cares of expectant vegans. One day a number of films such as Cowspiracy, Forks Over Knives and What The Health were being discussed in these groups. I fancied watching them and my husband and I quite often watch something in the evening to relax so I suggested one of these. I really didn’t expect much.

I was in for a huge surprise. I was watching his face throughout the film and saw him react when it referenced the accumulation and concentration of dioxins throughout a diet that is based on meat and dairy and the negative health effects they can have, especially for unborn children. I found his reaction particularly touching and it was clear that he had suddenly made the connection between food and family. When the documentary had finished, he turned to me and said OK.

I was aware that there was a possibility that it might just have been a shock effect. He was bombarded with facts and images and he reacted the way a lot of people do. After writing The Jungle to try and highlight the plight of workers in the United States meat industry in the early Twentieth Century, Upton Sinclair said: ‘I aimed for the Public’s heart, And… hit it in the stomach’. I was wondering which of these What The Health had hit.

It not only hit, but it stuck. So feeling very optimistic at the start of February I struck out and said we were going vegan. But we are both very anti-waste so it was never going to be an overnight transition. We had a pat of butter, ice cream, egg noodles, egg pasta, gravy cubes and jars of sauce to use up. We gave the meat we had in the freezer to friends and relatives but Samuel did seem to be dragging his heels a bit. I wanted to give away as much as possible and start over. Samuel needed time to transition. I had been committed to becoming vegan for almost two months, he had only just made the decision.

Today though, I went through the cupboards to see what we had left to use up and found a few lasagne sheets and one final jar of sauce. So, finally, our transition is complete and so is one of the circular thoughts that I was getting so concerned about yesterday. There are others, but the process of preparing to be expectant parents has definitely begun.