Welcome to boot camp! Er, I mean, your first trimester. First of all, congratulations! This is a building time—a season in which your hard efforts will lay the foundation of your pregnancy experience.
You will encounter some mothers who will remember (and be honest enough to talk about) the tough days of morning sickness and profound fatigue. You will also encounter those who swear they sailed through pregnancy without so much as an extra hiccup.
Some of these women are trying to gloss over their troubles because they want to sound like Supermom. Others simply forget what they went through. Still others are influenced by cultures that train women to project a “no big deal” attitude about pregnancy, which downplays the vital and sacrificial role of motherhood and undermines the respect that mothers ought to be given. Or perhaps they truly didn’t have as tough a case of nausea and tiredness that others go through. But whatever their story, their bodies literally rearranged the location of organs to make room for the new human life growing within them. Their bodies changed in indelible ways and their thoughts and emotions became preoccupied with someone other than themselves. They had to juggle their schedules and routines to accommodate doctor visits, prenatals and new plans.
In other words, no matter what impression they may give, or how much they might forget or consciously downplay their efforts…
Every woman who has gone through pregnancy is heroic.
The definition of a hero: a person who in the face of adversity shows bravery and self-sacrifice for a greater good.
Ever wished you could be a hero? You are one now. Check it off the list.
So, we’ve officially established that pregnancy is heroic and that every trimester is filled with noble sacrifice. We’ve determined that every mother is deeply affected, whether she ever admits it to you. Knowing that, let’s talk about the first trimester.
The sea of hormones churning within you and helping strengthen your baby’s new life is the same mix that causes that morning (or every-time-of-day) sickness.
And it is completely normal to feel exhausted to your bones.
The pregnancy hormone relaxin can kick in at any point in the first trimester. Its important job is to relax the intrauterine ligaments. But sometimes you may rise too quickly from your chair and feel a pulling sensation or a sharp jabbing, and for this unpleasant sensation you can thank (or blame) relaxin. You may start noticing occasional pullings and even mild to moderate cramp-like sensations that indicate your uterus is starting to grow. It’s a little after that time you’ll start to notice the modest beginnings of a baby bump.
There’s another component to the first trimester that doesn’t get as much attention as it should: worry.
The first trimester is an anxious time. We are frequently reminded that miscarriage risk is greatest during these months, so we worry about the twinges of discomfort and mild cramps, and we keep tabs on whether we’re spotting.
These days, many expectant mothers are offered blood tests to investigate the health of genes and chromosomes. Then they have to wait up to two weeks for the results, wondering all the while whether the results will be normal. Mothers are offered sonograms examining levels of nuchal translucency fluid and examining the chambers of the heart and the parts of the brain and spine. They either refuse these tests and wonder and worry and hope and pray… or they receive these tests, and wonder and worry and hope and pray, holding their breath while the sonographer analyzes the precious life within them with a detached air of objectivity.
In this age of information, we are inundated with knowledge our foremothers didn’t have. In a time that’s already fraught with worry, it can make us question every morsel of food. Is the cheese at this restaurant pasteurized? We cut out alcohol, sushi, deli meats, hamburgers, raw vegetables (to avoid the risk of salmonella), pineapple (to avoid contractions), make sure we’re not getting too much vitamin A but extra folic acid and calcium… and on and on. It’s all for the good, but it can be exhausting.
So how do we hold on to hope during a first trimester that is a grab bag of nausea, vomiting, fatigue, mood swings, ligament pain and anxiety? For many of us, spiritual practices are key: prayer, meditation, contemplation, journaling our emotions and finding inspirational reading material. Friends and family members who offer love and support are a wonderful resource. Funny, brainless movies that make us laugh take the edge off anxiety. Lots of extra sleep and warm cups of caffeine-free tea are great. Perhaps the best way to hold on to hope is to remember what it’s all for: your child. My grandmother, who had six children, told me to enjoy pregnancy because, she said,
“Someday, you’ll know the person your child grows up to be and you will realize what a privilege it was to have once held that person inside you.”
I taught a seminar recently and chose to announce my pregnancy to my all-female class, despite the fact that it was during my first trimester. “There are two people standing before you right now,” I said, and it was fun to watch their eyes widen and smiles broaden as they solved the riddle. Despite the inconveniences, the discomfort, even the pain, my child will never be physically closer to me than he or she is now.
Pregnancy is a unique time of safeguarding the bodies and souls of our children, holding them within us like a nesting doll.
As we carry them, we carry our grandchildren, too… the eventual lives that would not be possible without our sacrifice. And we have a heightened awareness of those who came before us, and hope our children will have the best of their virtues.
What could we ever do that is more important than carrying all of that within our very bodies?
I think it’s that truth that makes mothers wax romantic about their pregnancies years later. I believe it is that quality that makes them reminisce about pregnancy and remember it fondly. It’s knowing that the children they now know as filled with loving warmth, humor, intelligence and quirky wonder uniquely theirs were once folded within them, joined in an unbreakable bond that only grows more sacred as years pass and wisdom grows.
So hang in there. Think about meeting that child, seeing her face, watching her grow. Think of how proud you’ll be.
And now be proud of yourself for making it all possible.
Annabelle Moseley is an award-winning writer and poet, a mother and a contributor to Motherly on meaning and motherhood.