“Oh my days, I am so excited, aghhh we are having a baby”, “Oh my days, what.have.we.done?” Sound familiar? Second pregnancy, same roller coaster of elation and sheer desperation. For me, the woes of the first trimester seem to extend to around the halfway point of the much awaited second trimester. What. A. Joy! This is my second pregnancy and they have both had exhausted filled, nausea ridden days all the way through to 18 weeks. This isn’t the case for everyone though. I have friends who literally felt that first trimester fog lift on the day they turned 12 weeks and others who have suffered right up until 30 weeks, can you imagine? There are of course the lucky few who skip right through those first weeks without so much as a dodgy tummy and then those at the other end of the scale who are literally bed ridden thanks to that lovely old side effect, hyperemesis gravidarum. I guess what we need to say from the outset is that every single pregnancy is different, but I do have some tried and tested techniques that will help alleviate the most common afflictions.
So how does early pregnancy treat me? Well, both times I have found out I was expecting around the 4/5 week mark which is pretty early on and at this stage, my one and only symptom is a missed period. Finding out so early means that I get to enjoy a couple of blissful weeks in a little pregnancy bubble with my hubby before the symptoms come crashing in around week 7/8. For the next 10 weeks or so, pregnancy is most certainly not my friend. I am fortunate in that early pregnancy doesn’t make me physically sick, for some I know that would be a total game changer, but what I do have is the most horrendous and never ending nausea. From the moment I wake to the moment I drift off to sleep I feel horribly sick. The only thing I can relate it to is being on a very choppy boat ride, it’s very similar to travel or motion sickness. On top of the nausea I am excruciatingly tired; not the kind of tired like “oh I really need a wee nap”, no, this tiredness is like someone has just injected me with a tranquilliser and it is painful to even try and move a limb or keep my head upright. I can fall asleep at the drop of a hat, in fact, when I was pregnant with Susanna I fell asleep at traffic lights on my afternoon commute from work, total nightmare! The sickness and tiredness are by far my most prominent symptoms, but there are a few lovely extras; a constant horrible taste in my mouth, regular and persistent headaches, extremely low mood and a hiatus in any of my motivation. I know I’m not really selling this pregnancy gig to any of you who have yet to experience it, but hey, at least you know what may be in store for you!
My Top Tips for Survival
I almost said “to thrive” but who am I kidding, nobody really thrives during early pregnancy. So these are my top tips for survival;
- Eat little and often – I found that my nausea was always at its worst when I allowed myself to get too hungry. Now, I will say, it is very hard to eat when you constantly feel sick but eating plain foods in small amounts pretty much all day does help to ease those waves. My go-to snacks are toast, crackers, breadsticks, salty crisps, apples and bananas. I kept a box of crackers on my bedside to nibble as soon as I woke and it really did help. I know my list is far from healthy but your priority really is survival so nibble little bits of whatever you can stomach. Some friends swear by ginger snaps (these are not for me) so maybe stock up on a supply to keep handy.
- Rest, rest and more rest – I had two completely different experiences with my pregnancies. First time round I was working a 9-5 office job which was exhausting and second time round I was a stay at home mum, which was…exhausting! Both exhausting but worlds apart in terms of opportunity to rest. In the office I would take a shorter time to eat lunch allowing me a crucial half hour to close my eyes. Most days that was in my car, other days I nipped home for a quick nap and then of course there were days when it just wasn’t possible to get any shut eye. That quick nap gave me a much needed boost to get through the afternoon. I would then go home and pretty much sleep from 7pm right through to 7am the next morning. This time round as a SAHM I stole lots more opportunities to nap. My toddler still napped mid-morning, so would I! As soon as my hubby had a free hour, I would nap. Once she went to bed, I would also go to bed. However, gone were the days of sleeping until 7am (bliss), my tiny alarm clock wakes me around 5.30am and so it really was crucial that I caught up at little points throughout the day. I am incredibly fortunate in that Mark works from home and pretty much saved my sanity in those first weeks as I battled severe exhaustion whilst entertaining our two year old. Parenthood and pregnancy is not for the faint hearted, Sleep to Survive!!
- Delegate The To-Do List – it’s very hard to get help during the first trimester since you are most likely keeping your happy news to yourself for a few weeks but in reality it is those times that we need the most help. Again, I have to give SO much credit to my husband here because he kept our household and our family together while I battled early pregnancy. Normally I would feel incredibly guilty about this; leaving laundry, cooking, cleaning and a lot of parenting just to him but what I will say is that you cannot do it all yourself in those first weeks, for your own sake but also for the sake of your little bundle. Delegate tasks where you can, accept any help that is offered, don’t feel guilty about bundling your kids off to Grandparents when they offer, take every little bit of help you possibly can, this is not a drill!
- What is that smell? Probably nothing out of the ordinary but it is no myth that a pregnant lady’s sense of smell goes through the roof. Opening my dishwasher after a cleaning cycle made me gag, as did opening the fridge, any scent of food cooking, the smell of the supermarket and heaven forbid someone be wearing perfume or aftershave. Every smell was “off”. My only way of battling this was to always keep a tissue dabbed in olbas oil in my pocket at all times, at the ready to sniff when needed. It sounds ridiculous but it relieved that smell-induced nausea at many a grim moment.
- Let the tears roll – you will more than likely cry at everything and I really mean everything. Susanna’s sweet smile, her epic tantrums, a soppy advert or a particular tone in my poor husbands voice; there I go blubbering again. There is pretty much nothing we can do about this, or certainly no life hack that I have come across. My advice? Just let the tears roll, it’s cathartic.
- Keep up the exercise – I know everything I have said to this point completely contradicts this notion but during my first pregnancy I did zero exercise, whereas in this one I only missed one class and the difference was epic! Midwives advise not to take up any new exercises but to keep up with your pre-pregnancy routine where possible. I can without a doubt say that my two gym classes each week saved my sanity. I felt like a completely different person after my classes. Obviously you need to be careful, let your instructor know that you are pregnant so as they can keep an eye on you and you probably need to adjust some exercises but for the most part, if your body is used to it, you will feel the benefit of exercise. There was only one class where I needed to step aside for a moment when a wave of nausea hit, other than that it was like a miracle, for one hour, twice a week I was relieved of all first trimester symptoms.
In the midst of the early pregnancy fog, try to remember that “this too shall pass”. I felt incredibly happy and grateful for the little life I had been blessed with from the moment I saw a positive on the pregnancy test but that doesn’t mean I didn’t have moments, days even, where I just felt incredibly sorry for myself. It’s a really tough few weeks, not least because of the worry that the tiny little life that you are housing is most vulnerable in the early weeks. There is a constant and very real battle between feeling elated, painfully worried and just generally horrendous but there is a day when you realise you didn’t feel “just as bad” and then another day when you actually felt pretty good and then those wonderful days where you feel baby kicking and you know all is well. Before you know it, the sickness has passed, the exhaustion subsides and you actually feel happily pregnant. Do what you have to do to survive, don’t push yourself in anything and take all the help you can get! If you are pregnant, hugest congratulations to you! You and your little one are now your first priority; please don’t feel guilty for that at any point.