What I Didn’t Know About Pregnancy (and Beyond)
Pregnancy is like a mystery world. Before getting pregnant, I only knew general things, what I had seen on TV, and what those on social media chose to share. While I was pregnant, I spent a large amount of time on the internet reading answers to questions I had and taking in information that was suddenly in influx to my inbox from baby-related apps I had signed up for. I felt that it was my responsibility to learn what I could, so I got information from a variety of sources to make sure that I was prepared.
I’m not mad about not knowing everything; in fact, it makes sense given that there’s SO MUCH information to know. If you’re not planning on having children, for instance, there’s no need to fill your brain with all of it. While you can do your own research and learn from your doctor, I wanted to share my own experience with things I didn’t know. The following contains questions I had had beforehand, things I wasn’t expecting, and just information that I think may be helpful, which I hope it is.
I’m going to preface this with the fact that this has been my experience and really no two women experience pregnancy the same. While some of these things are universal, understand that your experience may be different!
Before getting pregnant and early pregnancy
When Neil and I decided to try to have a baby, I went into it knowing what we all know from school and television/movies. We didn’t get pregnant right away (it took about four months), and during that time I realized that getting pregnant can actually be much harder than it’s made out to be and hence why so many couples struggle with conception issues. There are a lot of things that need to happen just perfectly for an egg to be fertilized and then for it to make the journey to the uterus and implant. First there’s the timing for fertilization and THEN there’s waiting to see if the fertilized egg even implants successfully and begins to mature. That’s a lot of variability.
No ultrasound until 8-10 weeks
When I found out I was pregnant, one of my first calls was to the OB. Based on what I had seen in movies and TV, once someone finds out they’re pregnant, they go to the doctor to have it confirmed. Apparently this is not the case and I felt like a serious idiot on the phone as the receptionist told me that they don’t see you until somewhere between 8-10 weeks for your first appointment.
I found out I was pregnant at 4 weeks, so waiting until 10 weeks when I was finally seen was tortuous. I now understand why that makes sense (a baby’s heartbeat can’t be detected until around 5-6 weeks and it also avoids an unnecessary visit in the case of an early miscarriage), but I literally had no idea of the protocol until I called asking to come in and take a blood test.
When it was time for my first appointment, it’s also important to note that I was unaware that the first ultrasound was done transvaginally rather than externally as depicted in the media (apparently I watch a lot of TV). This is because the fetus is too small to be seen with an external machine, so be prepared for them to use an internal one shaped like a wand to find your baby for the first time.
How the due date is measured
Your due date is measured 40 weeks from the start date of your last period. This leads to some variability in exactly when to expect your baby, so take it as a loose estimate.
Honestly, my pregnancy was relatively easy with some minor annoyances towards the end, which is something that not every woman experiences. I never threw up and only felt minor nausea here and there in the beginning. I wasn’t overcome with exhaustion and only started taking more frequent naps in the third trimester.
I actually enjoyed being pregnant because I stopped focusing so much on my outward appearance and concentrated on growing a healthy baby. I would be lying if I said I never felt unattractive or uncomfortable, but 98% of the time, I found the whole process fascinating and fun.
While I had come to expect and look out for morning sickness and fatigue, I was more caught off guard by the issues I developed in my wrists and hands near the end of my pregnancy. Both hands started to develop carpal tunnel syndrome, which is caused by swelling that puts pressure on the median nerve that runs through the wrist. It was more severe in my right hand, with my thumb and first two fingers feeling constantly numb. I slept with a wrist brace, which helped some, but it never really went away.
My left wrist began hurting in the last couple weeks before I gave birth, but differently than the carpal tunnel issues I was having in my right. I developed De Quervain’s tenosynovitis (or mother’s thumb), which is a condition where tendons from the thumb to the wrist become inflamed and rub against the “tunnel” that encloses them, causing sensations from mild discomfort to severe pain on the thumb side of the wrist.
I was lucky in this pregnancy to be able to continue my exercise routine all the way until I gave birth (I worked out the morning my water broke). Obviously I modified moves I could no longer do and took the weights down, but I still made it to the gym 4-5 times a week. I think this likely spoiled me in terms of how I would be able to function post baby, which I’ll talk about a little later.
I never hear people talk about the cost of having a baby, but I knew from working with insurance companies for so many years at the pharmacy that I should probably call mine while I was still pregnant to get some information.
Obviously everyone’s insurance is different, but there were two important things with mine to note: 1) with a prescription from my OB, I was eligible for a free breast pump and 2) I needed to make sure to call them again about a month before I was due to get hospital authorization. If I didn’t do this, they would have charged me a $1000 penalty.
I also needed to pre-register with the hospital, which allowed me to have all my information on file for when I did go into labor. This way I wouldn’t have to sit at a triage desk and give them my info and insurance card while in active labor.
Again, everyone’s insurance is different and I’m still waiting for all the claims to go through, but the cost of having a baby is not cheap and can range anywhere from $5000 – $10000 (we are on the lower end of that range at the moment). Make sure to plan not only for baby-related costs (clothes, supplies, etc.), but also the cost of physically having the baby.
Birth experiences vary so much that I can’t say I really expected any particular outcome. You can read about my fear of having a baby (totally normal but not talked about nearly enough) here and my actual experience here.
One thing I will note is that I never had any intention of having a natural childbirth and didn’t really understand people who did (no judgement, it just terrified me). After taking a pregnancy course with Ella Goldberg, however, I came to understand why someone might. I learned a lot of valuable information, including why inducing can increase your risk of needing a c-section (heyo!) and she is seriously the most helpful and involved person — texting me tons of resources and help before, during, and after baby. I can’t recommend her enough. She’s not offering the course at this instant, but at least follow her on Instagram for valuable information and to see when she does!
I think the part of pregnancy that I was least prepared for was the part when I actually had a human to take care of. This is often called the fourth trimester, or the three months following birth.
As you know, I had an emergency c-section, so I can’t speak to recovery from a vaginal delivery, but some of the other things here are applicable to both. I’m also only a month postpartum, so I’m sure in time I will have more to add and expand on.
C-section physical recovery
I mainly rested in the hospital, with checks from the nurses on how I was doing and to give me scheduled medication. Even though I didn’t have a vaginal delivery, I was instructed to use a water bottle to rinse myself after using the bathroom. I also had to measure the amount of urine each time I went for about a day to ensure that I was making enough and there were no internal complications. (The toilet had a divider that caught the urine and I read the measurement marked on the side). I was still bleeding and was told that I would continue to for 6-8 weeks postpartum. My bleeding stopped at around 3.5 weeks, but may be longer for those who deliver vaginally.
As I mentioned in Miles’ birth story, I wasn’t able to shower until they removed the bandage from my incision. I was then able to see that it had been closed with staples, which were removed on my last day in the hospital. Although this scared me, I didn’t feel it at all because apparently nerves are severed when you get a c-section, which meant the whole area around the incision felt numb when I touched it. Internally, I was closed with dissolvable stitches and externally the skin was closed with staples, all of which I had no idea about until getting ready to be discharged.
I recovered pretty quickly from the surgery and was walking to the NICU to see him a day later. I had to take my time walking, but each day it got a little easier, which is something I attribute to being in good shape throughout my whole pregnancy. At my two week follow up, I had driving and lifting restrictions removed and was cleared for light exercise. This surprised me, as I still didn’t feel ready for that even given my quick recovery. This is something that made me realize why I’ve seen so many women postpartum return to the gym so quickly — likely because they either don’t know how to differentiate appropriate levels of exercise or simply because they don’t want to and can justify returning because they were “cleared to do so.”
At that appointment I was also instructed to begin massaging the incision scar to help break up scar tissue. In addition to the area feeling numb, it also felt like there was a thick rope underneath it, which was scar tissue that needed to be broken up to facilitate healing. I’ve been using Bio Oil after I shower to help the scar fade (I used it all throughout my pregnancy too to ward off stretch marks) and massaging it to help break up the tissue, which I feel like I will be doing for awhile.
A few days ago I ran a bunch of errands which involved me taking his car seat in and out of the car and carrying him around. The next day the area around my incision felt sore and was more painful than it had been in awhile. It was frustrating to realize that something I considered easy in the past was now taking a bigger toll on my body. While most doctors clear you for exercise at 6 weeks, I feel like it will take longer than that for me to get back to it, especially at the level I was previously doing.
I’m looking into pelvic floor therapists and planning to see a postpartum exercise specialist on Friday to assess where my body is in terms of recovery. I will share more about it as I figure things out, but I’m being forced to slow WAY down and take time to intelligently rebuild my body after having a baby.
Other physical recovery
It’s been a month and four days since I had Miles, and I’m still having headaches on a daily basis. While sometimes this can be cause for concern (postpartum preeclampsia, or high blood pressure, is a thing), mine are not related to that and are simply a result of sleep interruptions, hormones, and likely dehydration. I’ve been working on increasing my water intake, but Advil has been a lifesaver when they last all day and really start to annoy me.
For the first couple weeks, I was experiencing night sweats, which were a result of shifting hormones and my body ridding itself of all the fluids I had retained and taken in through various IVs. These have stopped for the most part, which is great.
I expected my carpal tunnel to go away after birth, but my hand has only returned to normal in the last week or so. My left thumb/wrist that exhibited more painful “mommy’s thumb” is the same if not worse due to increased use in caring for Miles. This condition is apparently more common than I thought as I was told by a number of women at various doctor’s appointments that they had suffered from the same thing. I made an appointment next week to have it checked out and may need a cortisone shot to help alleviate the pain, but we will see.
I shared about this in an Instagram post, but as of now he is getting a mix of formula and breast milk, with a larger ratio of formula to breast milk. The combination of having a c-section and having to pump right after birth for several days caused a delay in my milk coming in. When it did, I had a low supply, so I began supplementing with formula which made such a difference. So now we do some of both, which initially made me a little sad, but I got over it pretty quickly and he’s doing wonderfully.
This section could take up a whole post and just like birth can have so many different outcomes for women. I was fortunate in that Miles had a great latch and no real issues feeding, he just wasn’t getting enough. No matter how you feed your baby, don’t let anyone make you feel like you’re not doing it right. Fed is always best.
Further Q & A
I asked on Instagram if anyone had questions for this post, and here are some of the ones I received. If you have any questions that I didn’t address in this marathon of a post, please don’t hesitate to send me a message on Instagram or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org!
How did having a baby affect your relationship with Neil and how do you keep things fair?
Neil was really helpful after I had Miles and took care of a lot of things around the house since I was prohibited from doing them due to having major surgery. I think it’s been fine since he is still so small, but as he gets older we may have to find ways to make sure that we have time together as a couple and don’t forget about maintaining our relationship.
Neil’s work is pretty flexible and he can work from home a lot, so he actually started easing back into it after about two weeks. We had some communication issues early on because we hadn’t set boundaries around when he was working and when he wasn’t, so I would ask for help when he couldn’t help me which led to me feeling annoyed. Once we got on the same page about his schedule, it was easier for me to know when he was available.
I get up with Miles in the night because my schedule is even more flexible than his, being that I work for myself. That being said, it really hasn’t been that bad because I’m able to nap during the day if I need to. I’m pretty much on baby and house duty, although Neil will always help out when I need him to.
What has been the biggest curveball?
I think feeding him formula so quickly was a big one, but I didn’t have a ton of expectations because I had never raised a baby before, so I’ve just been taking things as they come.
What has been the hardest thing?
I think the hardest thing has just been realizing that he now calls the shots. I can’t work and ignore a crying baby, so if he needs to be fed or entertained or held, I have to stop what I’m doing and tend to that first. I certainly don’t mind it, but it’s been an adjustment to not be able to plan quite as well.
What did you think would be hard but is easy?
Mainly everything about having him. I was really worried that I would have trouble attaching given my history with depression and the likelihood of suffering from it postpartum (so far no issues with it), but it’s been fine. I enjoy watching him grow each day and nothing has come up that I’ve felt is insurmountable. I’m sure this will change as he becomes more complicated than a newborn, but for right now it’s great.
Was giving birth, now reflecting, a trauma for you?
I’m still not sure. I’m great at compartmentalizing things and while objectively it seems like a crazy birth, I feel ok about it. I’ve only had two main times where I felt overwhelmed thinking about it: when I was delayed in being discharged from the hospital and I started crying because I wanted to go home and when I went to see Avengers a couple days following his birth (ha). I cried that entire movie which was likely due to hormones, but I also thought about everything that I had gone through to have him and it helped to cry it out in a movie theater. 🙂
Do you have free time?
Since I’m slowly working on figuring out a schedule with writing (I’m currently on hiatus from training people), I do have a good amount of free time. He’s still only a month old, so there’s a lot of eating and sleeping. I’m able to put him in the stroller or car or Ergo baby and leave the house as long as I plan ahead and have things in his diaper bag for extended trips.
Is he on a schedule yet?
Not yet. That won’t happen until a couple months and for now I’m just following his lead of when he wants to eat and sleep. He is sleeping a little longer throughout the night and the past two nights I’ve only had to get up once or twice to feed him which has been great. The only attempt at a schedule he has right now is that prior to bed I will make sure to change him, swaddle him, and feed him to get him ready for when we go to bed.
How much do you sleep?
At night after going to bed I will sleep 3-4 hours before he wakes up (this is recent; he used to wake up every 2 hours or so). I used to be up for an hour or two after feeding him trying to get him to go back to sleep, but after about two weeks of that I started feeding him and then holding him in the bed because he would fall asleep almost immediately. That’s not the plan forever, but it’s working for us right now and saves us all a lot of sleep.