Pregnancy is, in addition to so many things both good and bad, a long moment of insanity for your body. At least, that’s how I felt. There will never be a time when your body changes more dramatically, and in such a short span of time. Naturally, it can be difficult to keep up with all the differences between the body you’ve known your whole life and the seemingly totally different body you’re dealing with now. And then there’s the perpetual guessing game about what’s normal and what isn’t… it’s fun! Ugh. No, but really, it’s a beautiful time. (Help.)
There were things about my first pregnancy that made me freak out, that sent me running to my midwife in a mild panic (or at least deep confusion). She always assured me that everything I was experiencing was completely normal, and that me being concerned about whether or not it was normal was normal, and that basically I was an insane person but that, too, was totally normal. (Side note: Isn't it funny how we spend most of our lives trying to be unique and different, except when we're at any doctor, at which point all we want to hear is how completely boring and unremarkable we are?)
So when my second pregnancy hit, I thought I had it in the bag. But of course, I soon encountered a whole bunch of new things going on with my pregnant body that totally freaked me out, and the midwife had to calm me down again. It turns out that no matter how many times you’ve been pregnant, your body is going to react in at least a handful of new and surprising ways each time, and no pregnant woman is immune to panic (or at least worry). In fact, if there’s anything more alarming than seeing your body respond to pregnancy for the first time, it’s thinking you know how your body “normally” responds to pregnancy—and then seeing it do something else entirely.
What truly amazed me, during both pregnancies, was how many bizarre things were completely normal for a woman to experience during those nine months. I mean, frequent urination over a long period of time at any other point in your life? Constant heartburn? All signs of trouble for non-knocked-up people. Oh wait, you’re pregnant? Suck it up. This is your new normal, for another 8 months (at least).
Here are a few things that tend to raise red flags for pregnant women but are usually no big deal. Bodies are just weird and pregnancy is intense. (But if you’re worried, irrationally or not, call your doctor or midwife! They’re getting paid to talk you down as much as deliver you a healthy baby!)
These are basically contractions that feel and act like labor contractions but… aren’t. Fun, right? All the discomfort, none of the cute baby at the end? Yeah, they suck. These puppies feel different for everyone, and they change throughout the pregnancy, getting stronger toward the end of the nine months. Mine weren’t painful in my first pregnancy, at least not until near the end. The second time, though? They would stop me in my tracks from my second trimester on. They are 100% normal and they range for mildly annoying to downright painful. But they are completely different in sensation from actual labor.
Having Enough Outfits For The Baby
This is such an unreasonable worry that I went through both times I was pregnant. Do I have enough clothes for this kid? What about a cute going home/first day outfit? She totally needs a little dress! Nope. Nope. Do you want to know what you’ll need for the first few weeks? A week’s worth of onesies and a week’s worth of sleepers. That’s it. Everything else is a bonus. You will be doing laundry a lot, but when you have a million outfits, they will only get worn once or twice, and that just ends up being a sad, giant waste. Ask any parent! This is so true.
Sorry, I hate that word as much as you do, but that’s exactly what’s going on. It’s called leukorrhea and it is totally normal, according to the experts. It’s the vagina’s way of protecting the birth canal. The second time I was pregnant, I had more of this discharge than the first time, to the point that one of my midwives (one who didn’t see me regularly) actually got concerned. But everything tested as normal, and I had a completely normal birth and healthy baby.
I feel like no future parent really has any solid clue of just how insane the sleep deprivation can get when you have a newborn. Sorry, I’m not here to tell you not to worry about your future lack of sleep; it's inevitable and it will pretty much suck in every way. But if you’re worried about being able to complete basic, life-sustaining tasks like breathing oxygen, feeding your baby, and consuming sweet, sweet processed carbs, I can tell you that you will be OK for that much. You may not want to schedule writing your dissertation for the first 6 months to a year after your baby is born, but I think everyone surprises themselves at how much they are able to accomplish on so little sleep, especially over such a for a long period of time.
Your Baby's Sleep
With approximately ten thousand books on the subject of infant sleep, you might be worried about how to implement a routine, when to implement a routine, if you should implement a routine, whether you should let your baby cry it out, make them sleep in a crib by themselves, or have them in the room with you. The answer to all of these questions is a resounding YES—and also a resounding NO. It's really a resounding "do whatever works gets your baby to sleep."
Baby sleep is one of an infinitely number of problems to which everyone who's ever had a baby (or ever seen a baby, or heard of a baby) thinks they have the answer. With my two kids, I let them dictate what they needed, not the pushy, conflicting advice that was swirling around me from books, the People Of The Internet, and friends and family. There are no concrete rules when it comes to how and when your kids sleep, and no real way of predicting what their habits or needs will be. My kids turned out to be the exact opposite, so you just never know.
Feeling dizzy is generally due to low blood pressure, which is a very normal thing, especially in early pregnancy, according to experts. I experienced crazy low blood pressure—the kind that makes people’s jaws drop when they hear your numbers—when I was pregnant, and it led to me almost passing out multiple times on subway rides. The good news? It’s way better than having high blood pressure! (OK, I’m reaching for a silver lining here; fainting is no fun. But feeling dizzy during pregnancy really isn’t usually the biggest deal in the world. Still tell your doctor when it happens, just to be sure.)
Finishing The Nursery
OK, I didn’t have this “problem” when I was pregnant because our place was too small for us to have a separate room for the new baby. That said, while you may feel more complete when the nursery is finished, your baby won’t mind if the walls are missing a few pieces of art, or you haven’t found the perfect rug. And there’s a pretty high chance that baby won’t be spending a ton of time in the nursery right at the beginning, anyway. And I feel like babies are born with fairly low interior decorating expectations, so you probably shouldn’t sweat this one too hard.
Your Career And What Will Happen To It When The Baby Comes
Maybe it’s finding the time to finish all your projects before you go on maternity leave, or maybe it’s adequately training your replacement so that things stay afloat while you’re gone—or maybe you have a job that doesn’t offer maternity leave, and you’re worried about being able to take time off at all, and/or having a job to come back to. It always feels like a race to the finish though, doesn’t it? Personally, I found myself working crazy hours in order to feel like I was proving my worth, so that my workplace wouldn’t forget me while I was gone. (Spoiler: They didn’t forget me, but they also managed without me, so take a breather if you can, and try not to stress too much.)
The Actual Birth
I am one of those women who spent my entire pregnancy terrified of the pain that labor would bring. I read books, I practiced some meditations, and visualized the shit out of my labor. And you know what? With my first, I had back labor. You know, the kind everyone dreads. But my labor only lasted 5 hours, I didn’t experience “transition” (aka, the part of labor when you’re around 8-9cm dilated, widely regarded to be the most painful, intense time), and all the things I thought I would use to help myself through? I wanted to throw each and every one out the window, when the time came. The moral of my story: There’s really no point in panicking over the unknown, because one way or another, that baby is coming out, and you can’t predict what will get them out until you’re in the middle of. And whatever it is, you can do it.
I admit it: I called my midwife several times during my third trimester because I was having trouble breathing. She talked me down each time, always offering to come for a house call if I really felt like it was an emergency, which it never was. It just felt gross. Turns out, I carried really high, and my son was basically leaning on my diaphragm...for three months. Not unusual, and nothing to worry about. (But also NOT COOL, child. Not cool at all.)
The Damn Hospital Bag
Oh. My. God. Why does every pregnancy book start mentioning the overnight hospital bag—what to put in it, what not to put in it, how to feel guilty and anxious every day that passes without your packing it—at the beginning of the third trimester?? I swear it’s something that every woman obsesses over for very little reason. I remember during my first labor, we almost left for the hospital without it. It just faded into the background because it had been finished for so long. And I didn’t use most of what I packed. What did I use? A change of clothes for me, an outfit for the baby, a receiving blanket. The rest is gravy.
Spotting After Sex
It’s not a reason to stop having sex! Many women spot after having sex, or after cervical checks by their doctor, when they’re pregnant. All that extra blood pumping through you, and especially your cervix, means you’ve likely just broken some blood vessels. As long as you aren’t experiencing any cramping, things are more than likely completely fine. (More than spotting, get it checked out. Duh.)
What if the baby doesn’t latch? What if it hurts? What if I don’t produce enough milk? I had all those fears. Breastfeeding can have a ton of challenges associated with it, and when you’re pregnant, it’s all too easy to imagine that every single one of them will plague your attempts to choose this route for feeding your baby. It turned out, I did have massive challenges breastfeeding both of my babies, but even then, we just dealt with it and powered through. Which isn’t to say that if that doesn’t end up being your breastfeeding outcome, you’ve “failed” (ugh, I definitely don’t mean that) but I’m just saying, there’s no point in stressing about possible breastfeeding difficulties because even if they happen, you can get past them. Or you can decide not to breastfeed. Whatever. Don’t lose sleep over it (says the woman who lost a lot of sleep over it). You really can’t predict what your breastfeeding experience will be like, so arm yourself with knowledge and surround yourself with supportive people.
Having Sex After The Baby Comes
Stop right there. Just stop. Do not worry about getting freaky right after you have the baby. It’ll happen when it happens. I think with my first, it happened around 12 weeks postpartum, and it was fine and almost enjoyable once I relaxed. Some people get back to ~business~ a lot sooner. Some wait a lot longer. It’s all fine. Be easy on yourself when it comes to sex after birth—there’s no right or wrong way to feel about it, nor is there a right or wrong timeframe within which is needs to start happening again.
Pooping During Labor
I actually don’t know a single woman who did not poop when they were pushing the baby out. I also don’t know a single woman gave a rat’s patootie while it was happening. You will have bigger fish to fry than worrying about poop. Trust.
Damp Underwear In Your 3rd Trimester
Ugh, I said "discharge" and now "damp." I'm really sorry, guys. Anyway: What. The. Hell. This was the last 8 weeks of my second pregnancy. I was absolutely positive at a certain point that my amniotic sac had a tear and I was just leaking amniotic fluid for days. I finally went in for tests, and they told me it absolutely was not amniotic fluid. I gather it was just urine that was occasionally leaking out, because my massive baby was putting so much pressure on my bladder. Isn’t that awesome?
Images: NBC; Giphy(15); Universal Pictures