I Wish I Knew: Pregnancy & Birth

This is the second part of my “What I Wish I Knew” posts.

While I covered most of what I wish I had known in the previous post, I wanted to add a few extra thoughts that came up in the past week and continue to highlight some answers I received from other mothers regarding their pregnancy.

What I Wish I Knew

While I detailed how my pregnancy went in this post and highlighted what I wish I knew last week, some additional points I wish I knew or paid closer attention to prior to getting pregnant:

  • Women love to share their horror stories with a first-time, pregnant mother. Some stories are good to know because it raises the necessary awareness of what to expect or advocate for in the delivery room, but many others are completely unhelpful or unnecessary. I did not need to know about a second cousin’s, best friend’s, mother’s aunt getting ripped apart as the baby left her body. This was an extreme scenario that most likely wouldn’t apply to my own labor and delivery.
  • Expect to get bad advice or advice that isn’t applicable to your situation. Every pregnancy is different, so advice is helpful provided it applies to your situation. Old wives’ tales are fun to think about, but may not be helpful for an expectant mother to hear. Girls steal a mother’s beauty during pregnancy? What are you really trying to say to me?
  • We’ve read this one before: being pregnant gives people (acquaintances and strangers alike) the “okay” signal to talk frankly about your body or touch it without your consent. While your body is temporarily no longer your own, as creating a life does take it away from you, it is still yours to decide who comments on or touches it. Feel free to correct people if they take liberties with your body.

Below are some more thoughts other mother’s had to say on the matter.

What Others Have to Say

As a recap: I asked mothers-to-be, mothers, and grandmothers about their experiences with pregnancy and what they wish they knew before getting pregnant. They provided some thoughtful and interesting responses that never came up in my own pregnancy or I had forgotten about.

Below are the questions I asked and their responses.

From what you thought your pregnancy would be like, what was the reality?

As it turned out, giving up the wine was ridiculously easy, all the other stuff has been awful.  I had morning sickness for the first two trimesters (I still can’t eat grapes), I was in the 3rd of women who suffer from heightened asthma symptoms, I never got the bump in energy that we’re told to expect around the 2nd trimester, my thyroid stopped working (expectedly) and was really difficult to regulate, I developed a heart murmur and elevated liver enzymes, and I developed a persistent and antibiotic resistant urinary tract infection, which I’ve had for 8 months now.  It has gotten to the point where the doctors and midwives express sympathy for how hard the pregnancy has been every time I see them.  It hasn’t been enough to make me regret the pregnancy, or not want my baby, but it definitely wasn’t bonbons with my feet up on the couch while the miracle of life develops inside of me.  – Meredyth H.

I was miserable. I was nauseated 24/7 and unable to sleep. I was deeply depressed. Never once did I “glow.” – Anonymous

I didn’t have too many symptoms. I had morning sickness weeks 6-16. I had also fainted when 20 weeks pregnant at a concert, not realizing how much of your body’s resources the baby takes away. Hydration and sustenance are key! – Sarah S.

I had a very easy pregnancy the first time, the second one seemed harder on my body, I was 29 years old the first time, and 35 years old for the second. – Anita M.

I was so tired. All the time. I did have some nausea, but it was very slight. I also got massive leg cramps overnight that would wake me up. (Belly button never did pop out!) – Anonymous

For all three pregnancies, I had no morning sickness. (WOOHOO!!!!). My food craving was actually pretty innocent: spinach. Raw spinach salads. I think I had them for lunch every day of my pregnancy.  I still couldn’t eat it cooked, but raw was no problem. My first pregnancy symptom wasn’t a missed period, it was my breasts getting so tender. The soreness was really surprising, and not something I expected. And the last little unpleasant surprise of my pregnancy: hemorrhoids. And that they keep coming back. – Pam K.

I felt mildly nauseous all of the time. The nausea gave way to the horrible heartburn sometime in the second trimester. In the beginning, the exhaustion in mid afternoons was so overwhelming. I remember reading something about how your body is basically running a marathon everyday without telling you, and that helped me have a lot more patience with myself. – Theresa S.

Reality was that I did not have morning sickness nor did I develop hemorrhoids.  I did not expect the extreme fatigue that I experienced in the first trimester.  I also did not expect the joy that I experienced while being pregnant.  I anticipated hardship and was surprised at the relative ease of the gestation period. I did gain weight (40 lbs) but I did not “look” pregnant nor did I waddle when I walked. – Michelle M.

For the first part of pregnancy I had no interest in food or coffee. For the last part of pregnancy I had a lot of trouble rolling over in bed at night. I invested in a new mattress. – Angela

What is the number one thing you wish someone told you about pregnancy?

That not everyone enjoys it. Not everyone likes it. Honestly, no one had ever told me that. Now I tell everyone. – Anonymous

Breast feeding was difficult and I wish I had someone to advise me. – Anita M.

Either that pregnancy can be lonely because you are going through huge changes that the people around you can sympathize with but can’t actually empathize with, and it’s ok to feel that way, or, that the amount of blood in your body roughly doubles with pregnancy (which is why hydration is so important), so being extra careful when/if you shave is deeply important.  Seriously, it was like a literal blood bath the first couple times- surprising and not exactly pleasant. – Meredyth H.

You really are already taking care of two people (or more!) as soon as you get pregnant so take it easy. You can’t do ALL the things you used to just because you can’t see the baby there yet. – Sarah S.

Gods. How common it is for a pregnancy to not be viable. I lost 2 pregnancies before giving birth, and they were heartbreaking. – Pam K.

This next part is post partum, but the Post Partum Poop. I didn’t have any problems with constipation until after the birth and then I did in a big way. I still remember how painful and awful it was, it has literally made me second guess having a second kid (this doesn’t happen to everyone, but I sure wish I had at least known about it!)! – Anonymous

Learn even before you are pregnant how to be an advocate for yourself and your healthcare.  Don’t depend on the doctors or nurses to know what is best for you.  Only you know what is best for you.  For the medical community it is their profession, their job.  For you, it is about creating your child and you want the best care  and experience possible…[also] It really wasn’t advice but at the time the women I knew were all experiencing 30 hour labors and so I expected the same thing for myself.  Reality for me was 9 hours of labor so I wish someone had prepared me for the possibility of a more rapid labor experience.  – Michelle M.

It’s not pretty. It’s painful and it sucks! But hearing the heartbeat and seeing the ultrasounds make it worth it! – Jamie C.

What was the worst piece of advice you were given?

Let the housework go.  Because I’ve been so tired with this pregnancy, family and friends have definitely suggested that I let the dishes sit in the sink or skip tidying, but if my house is totally cluttered and gross I just feel exhausted AND stressed.  I get the sentiment, but as a housewife, I take a fair amount of pride in having a home that my husband and I feel comfortable and cozy in.  So much of my life has changed with this pregnancy, including a LOT of frustration and sadness about not being able to do all the things that I am normally able to do, so keeping up with my to do lists, and being able to give my husband a welcoming place to come home to means a lot in terms of feeling like I can still be the person who I was before the baby. – Meredyth H.

I guess knowing that I was a physician no one offer me any advise good or bad I could have benefited from experienced Moms. – Anita M.

I recall reading that I should quit working at 20 weeks (which is absurd for a number reasons), but I don’t recall any personal advice. – Anonymous

Just get use to people touching you. No. If you don’t want them to touch your stomach, smack their hand away and tell them! You still have personal space. – Jamie C.

I’m super excited to say I can’t remember, but I had a great hatred for those people who were like “I loved being pregnant.” I mean, sure lucky you, but mostly it sucks. – Theresa S.

All the advice about turning a breach baby. None of it worked. Sometimes the kid just isn’t going to turn. – Angela

“Just look forward to having your baby.” That didn’t erase the horrible experience of my pregnancy. I just felt worse when the baby came because I still wasn’t appropriately happy in my motherhood. – Anonymous

What are your final recommendations for other pregnant women?

Be ready for anything and learn to be ok with it! Good advice for life! – Sarah S.

Eating a tablespoon of yellow mustard before bed. It was as gross as it sounds, and I was dubious at first, but it worked like a charm for the overnight leg cramps. – Anonymous

Registry management: take parents of a toddler with you. They will know what they used and what worked. Birth plans: don’t set your heart on anything. The important thing is having a healthy mom and baby at the end, and to that effect, it isn’t all about you. – Pamela K.

I recommend eating healthy, avoid more than 30 pound weight gain, stay active and during labor keep an open mind don’t get tied into a fixed birth plan. – Anita M.

– A nurse told me not to push before I was ready because exhaustion is a stupid reason to have a c-section and that I would know when it was time. I did.
–  You do not have to lie down when in the hospital. They have monitors that do not plug in. Ask for a mobile monitor to avoid being tied to the bed. I had one labor tied to a bed and one walking the halls. If you want to be moving, make it happen.
– Don’t let anyone scare you into getting an epidural. If you want one, take it, but if you are doing fine and you don’t really think you’ll need it, then trust yourself. I regret chickening out because the nurses made it seem like it was going to be so bad and I had a limited window. (Note second kid no epidural, much better for me).
–  I think everyone should be warned about the large, dark clots that come after birth. Sometimes they aren’t so bad, but they can be scary. Most people don’t talk about the lining coming off after the baby – it can be really emotional.  – Theresa S.

When I knew that I would be in the delivery room when my daughter gave birth, I purchased the book “The Birth Partner” by Penny Simkin.  I found it to be a valuable source of information about the different stages of labor and what to expect. I feel it gave me confidence to be a better advocate for my daughter even though there were other family members (husband, mother-in-law) in the room. – Michelle M.

Amazon and Target are the best places to register! And your birthing plan never goes as expected. – Jamie C.

Get the best pregnancy pillow you can. Try sour candy for nausea. I ate my weight in sour lemon drops. – Anonymous

Talk to your doctors about everything that worries you or you don’t understand.  Don’t feel like a burden on them with the questions-they went to med school for this and you presumably didn’t.  Even if you think you know the answer but are really uncomfortable (like me thinking that Tums was the most I can take for heartburn) ask, there’s always a chance that you’ll get an answer you like more (like, “oh yeah, there are way better things than that we can do for heartburn).  Also, fuck all the (non-medical) advice.  Do what works for you, and what feels right, and try to ignore the people who seem to get off on telling you how much worse it’s gonna be (“just wait…”).  Even if you are more tired after the baby comes, you can be more tired with a glass of wine, and you can start sharing some of those middle of the night wake up calls! – Meredyth H.

I wanted to say thank you again to all the wonderful women who took the time out of their day to respond to my questions and be willing to have their responses posted on my blog.

Mother or know a mother? Interested in sharing your thoughts on raising a newborn or a toddler? I am still collecting responses for my future posts in this series. Follow the links below for a quick survey.

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Featured image credit: Arlene Farms Art 

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