I already knew sleepless nights, high fevers and stomach flu, as well as bee stings, stitches and tantrums. What I didn't know was how a 5'6" frame with 100 pounds would accommodate an 8 pounder, and just how different a body can be without the aid of bionic technology. What I learned is motherhood has many phases and faces, and giving birth of course is not how I became a mother, but it was a new flavor. And going through the physical experience changed not only my body but my attitude and heart as well.
As I write this, I am about to celebrate my last baby's 10th birthday, and looking towards my 52nd birthday. I cannot believe this even as I type the words. I am what may be kindly be referred to as a "veteran" mother. I have 7 children, as well as two teen stepkids. My oldest 4 were adopted, only one as a newborn. After adopting, and nearing my 30th birthday I thought, "Well, if I'm ever going to give birth to a child, I guess I may as well give it a shot now. I'm not getting any younger." And that was the beginning of a whole new journey in parenting. But some of the biggest changes I encountered were completely physical and internal.
15 Feeling Completely Plastered
As I said, I was nearing 30 and decided it was time to try, despite having a full house, including special needs kids. ( I know; what was I thinking??) I was still feeling a bit ambivalent about the whole thing, going back and forth over if it was the best time, was I prepared and so on. But the first month, the stick turned pink and that was that. I was pregnant. One of the biggest pregnancy symptoms that hit me like a double semi-truck was fatigue. Not just "I'm a little tired." I mean I felt a special gravitational pull that plastered me to the couch. I ran my busy household from a couch surrounded by throw pillows. To go up and down stairs required a near emergency. I hoped it would last a few weeks. It lasted 12. Twelve weeks of complete and utter exhaustion. Or was it udder exhaustion?
14 The Girls Becoming Obese
At the time I was 5'6" and weighed about 100 pounds. When I got pregnant, I could have easily purchased my bras in the little girls section of the department store. Enough said. Before the pregnancy test was even taken, I was aware of all kinds of odd sensations - burning, pulsing and aching through my breasts. I remember sitting at a traffic light and suddenly clutching my tiny bosom and crying out, "Da--!" Let's say I uttered, "Ouch!" I wondered, does this mean I'm pregnant? After all, I got very tender breasts as part of my PMS each month, but this was like I was trying to grow a third one or something. It was never as bad with the other pregnancies, but I knew the difference in sensation in those future pregnancies. The girls became obese women by the time my first child was born. I never knew what it was like to need - actually require the support of a bra. I didn't like it as much as I expected, honestly. While it was fun to have a fuller figure, they did eventually recede almost back to normal.
13 Just Getting Bigger And Bigger
With the first pregnancy, I was all baby. And I lost most of the weight after giving birth - eventually. I kept a few pounds, and frankly, I needed it so it was OK. With each baby, I did add a few pounds and I liked my new more womanly figure. I had some curves, some thicker hips and my bras were not from the Little Angels collection anymore. With the last baby, the one born as I neared my 42nd birthday, I became a normal weight woman. I felt good about that. I did walk a great deal in the latter pregnancies, especially the last. I never took the elevator, always opting for the stairs. I didn't take the closest parking spot unless I was dreadfully late to an appointment. I didn't get any horrid stretch marks, but a few light small ones that only the closest people in the world ever see despite bikini wearing. I did try very hard to eat healthy, which required adding protein to my vegetarian, super picky, diet.
12 Complete And Utter Loss Of Emotional Control
I know this doesn't sound like a body change of pregnancy, but in my case moods are very much directly related to hormones. I suffered horrendous PMS since high school, to the point I was diagnosed with PMDD or premenstrual dysphoric disorder. In a sentence, that means instead of merely emotional outbursts or general crabbiness, I experienced full blown depression for at least a few days every month. While pregnant, this was the greatest relief in the world. I felt balanced throughout the pregnancy. I felt emotionally whole and didn't go through soul crushing days each and every cycle, where I would feel hopeless and unlovable.
Unfortunately, I learned there was a price for my relief. It's called postpartum depression. Those with PMDD are much more likely to experience PPD. I wish I would have known and prepared for it. I went through years of hell from not understanding it was a hormonally related, chemical depression that I could not cheer myself out of. Medicine, short term usually, would bring relief. I suffered needlessly, and due to that I generally felt like crap for months after baby arrived, physically too.
11 From Amazing Lucious Hair To Nothing
People often talk about the way pregnancy affects their skin and hair. Mine was exceptional change. At age 26, I was diagnosed with a rare autoimmune disorder that was in a particularly rare form. I had alopecia areata, where I experienced small circular bald patches, which would eventually fill in with platinum blonde hair, and then another patch would develop somewhere else on my head. Often it was easy enough to hide with a part change, or a different style. But it was a pain and sometimes an embarrassment.
To my delight, when I got pregnant with my oldest (birth) child, my daughter Danika, the bald patches filled in and didn't return. Not during the first trimester. Not the second. Not after birth. I nursed her for a good year, and within a month of weaning, the alopecia returned. The same thing happened with my son, Keillor, and my youngest, Najilah. I used to joke that I'd have to pump breastmilk until they were in college so I could hold off the bald spots.
10 The Atypical Pregnancy
After Danika, I decided to give it a go once more, despite a busy, and at times, overwhelming household. She was a toddler at the time. I got a positive test result, and waited for the tata tingling and pains, the extreme fatigue and so on. I waited and waited some more. I went to my doctor's appointment and they'd ask how I was feeling, and I'd say "I feel great." In fact, I feel like I'm not pregnant. The nurses would say to count my blessings, and not all pregnancies are the same. But after a couple missed attempts to find a heartbeat, it was finally determined it was time to do an ultrasound to check for this baby's heartbeat.
And that was when what I felt my deepest fears came true; there was no heartbeat. I had experienced a blighted ovum, and all the development I had experienced was only an empty gestational sac. I was 12 weeks pregnant, at the magical point where I thought I was out of the woods for a miscarriage. I waited another week for the hard cramps, bleeding and finally the dispelling of the empty sac. It was heartbreaking. But I always listened to my inner voice on something being wrong from then on.
9 Diet Of Chips And More Chips
I don't remember ever throwing up with any of my 4 pregnancies. But morning sickness, or nausea...yep, I definitely had that. It would end (with the exception of the miscarried pregnancy) at 12 weeks exactly. For the first baby, Danika, I worried so much since I started out underweight. Everyone doubted I could carry a baby with my frail seeming frame. I panicked when I couldn't stand to eat almost anything and began to lose weight. A wise older nurse who worked at the Country Health Department advised me to stop fretting. "Eat whatever you can stand to swallow. If it's chips right now, eat chips. In a bit you'll feel better and you can focus on a healthy diet. But right now, eat whatever you can stomach."
It was perfect advice. So for the first few months, I ate chips, nuts and some baked potatoes or french toast. Plenty of crackers and sips of juice, or ice water. After week 12, I would work to have a healthy, balanced diet. But weeks 4-11 were not the most nutritionally sound! Later I learned peppermint works wonders for nausea, though!
8 Four Different Bumps
I remember foolishly wearing maternity clothing in my first pregnancy well before it was necessary, because I didn't want people to think I was suddenly getting sloppy. When Keillor came along, I didn't need an excuse; I had an instant tummy. I learned with the second and later babies that they make themselves known far earlier. The cool part? They also can be felt sooner, so those flutters and tickles of the baby's earliest movements can be relished earlier in pregnancy. It's almost a fair trade off - almost! When I was pregnant with Najilah, I looked like I did with my first daughter at delivery, but only at 6 months. I felt 15 months pregnant! Ironically, Danika and Keillor were 8 pounders; Jilah only 5.5 pounds. While I lost my pregnancy weight with each baby, it took longer with the last child. Also, it was harder to get my tummy reasonably flat with each successive baby.
7 Changes In Skin Can Be Anywhere
I know plenty of women who love the blessing of pregnancy for one reason (beyond baby) because the hormones help their acne to clear up. My skin is typically clear, so pregnancy hormones can make me break out a little bit, until I adjust. But there are other skin changes that can come with pregnancy. One I did get during Keillor's pregnancy was a skin tag. It was small and almost under my armpit, but it annoyed me all the same. I got it removed when it remained after I gave birth to my son. I didn't get bad stretch marks but any stretch marks at all aren't great. I saw them especially during my second and third pregnancies, but not on my belly. Instead, there were pinkish lines along the side of my breast. Not both breasts, mind you, just the one that grew the most. Unfortunately, this was also the one that had always been a little larger than the other.
6 Bookend Headaches
For some reason, probably a combination of factors, many women struggle with headaches at different points in their pregnancies. I was no different. I seemed to have bad headaches in those first several weeks of pregnancy, and then they would lift for a time. They'd return, it seemed, during the last several weeks of pregnancy - sort of bookends of pregnancy. I tried hard to deal with them without any medication, even though my physician told me I could safely take Tylenol or acetaminophen. I'd use heat, ice packs and total quiet and darkness. I'd do neck stretches or put a heating pad on my neck. I'd beg for neck and shoulder rubs from family members. Eventually, I'd give in and take the acetaminophen if the pain worsened or didn't respond to my other remedies within an hour or so.
I did not know at that time that acetaminophen would be reportedly linked to the development of ADHD in unborn children. My last pregnancy I had the most headaches, took the Tylenol more, and yes, my daughter does have primarily inattentive ADHD. Coincidence? I cannot say, but I'd have tried harder to avoid the OTC treatment had I known it may be a risk factor for my daughter's attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder.
5 A Symptom I'd Never Even Read About
When first pregnant, like in the earliest days, there was a tenderness, and a bit of a twinge of pain at times in my pelvic region. This discomfort didn't last long in those initial days, but it seemed a little different than the sudden streak of pain around ovulation, or the achy pain of impending menstrual cramps. Later in pregnancy, around the final 6 weeks or so, I'd have more pelvic pain. Sometimes it was just felt low on my abdomen. But another related pain during this time was a sensation of unbearable fullness in my "crotchall area," basically in the labia. I'd feel so much tenderness and pressure, I'd want to walk around just holding up my crotch. But I didn't! Instead I'd try to find a seat after walking with the pain for a few minutes, for sitting would alleviate the discomfort. This symptom was one I'd never read about on any website or in any book.
4 Constant Running To The Bathroom
For some pregnant women, running to the bathroom in pregnancy may mean bowing to the throne, a euphemism for vomiting in the toilet. However, for me it meant that incessant call of the bladder. This was irritating, for sure, especially as someone who had bladder surgery as an infant and had spent the rest of her life being the last to interrupt the family road trip with a demand for the roadside rest. I could go for many hours without needing to pee. However, very early in pregnancy, and again in the last trimester, I seemed to need to tour every single bathroom in every building I entered. Hormones. You can always blame the hormones, and with a demanding bladder that is true as well. Besides the hormones, as pregnancy progresses, the uterus with its growing load, presses more and more on the bladder, making it necessary to run to the bathroom frequently.
3 And More Running To The Bathroom
During my first pregnancy, I landed in the hospital for a couple days to be put on IV treatment and also so doctors could run a few tests and observe me. The reason was most unexpected. While a lot of women end up in the hospital while pregnant for IV nutrition, it's almost always due to hyperemesis gravidum, or severe morning sickness. In my case it was sort of the opposite. I was running to the restroom due to a strange case of continuing diarrhea. It wasn't accompanied by stomach cramps or nausea; I would have a very short notice of needing to run to the restroom and that was it. Since I wasn't ill otherwise, and it continued for over a week, my doctor insisted I needed to be in the hospital to find out what the cause was and get it under control.
The second day of my hospitalization, the test results were in: yeast in my system. Like everyone, I've had a yeast infection before, the itchy vaginal fungus/infection that creates a lovely cottage cheese discharge. But yeast was in my intestines, not my urinary or reproductive tracts. I had to go on probiotics and was encouraged to eat live culture yogurt to correct my system balance. It worked!
2 Incredibly Intense Sense Of Smell
This is one of the weirder pregnancy symptoms that you rarely hear about in any depth. For some odd reason that is one of the earliest symptoms of pregnancy, having an intense sense of smell. Maybe in early humans this was a type of survival skill? Whatever the reason, this symptom may even predate your knowing you are pregnant. And it's closely tied to bouts of morning sickness. To combat it, I avoided those smells I knew would make me queasy; fish, tuna, and cooked eggs, for starters. I instead focused on having good smells around me to fight off smell-induced nausea.
My favorites were cinnamon, peppermint and lemon. Tasting peppermint was one of the best anti-nausea treatments I found for me, so I'd keep a supply of peppermint hard candies near my bed. I'd slip on into my mouth before rising from bed, along with a saltine cracker. This would help me avoid feeling green around the gills. After baby arrived, the heightened sense of smell would disappear.
1 Enhanced Pain Management
This sounds professional, but what I really mean is I just got tougher physically, and mentally, after pregnancy and childbirth and it increased with each pregnancy and delivery. I found myself able to breathe through blood tests, cervix checks and contractions, as well as a cervix that in labor rapidly dilates - causing an intense transition phase of labor. I learned to face pain as something I knew I could overcome and just had to relax my body, breathe in slow, controlled ways and distract myself with positive imagery. I've used those skills countless times since giving birth three times, and enduring a miscarriage. I can admit; before birthing my daughter, Danika, I was a real wimp. I would become so anxious before anything invasive or with a needle, that I'd get physically ill. Now there are very few things that I ever initially think, "I can't handle this!" I know I can handle whatever I must, and just have to prepare mentally. Moms are tough, and that's one side effect of pregnancy and labor that lasts, thankfully!
Sources: What To Expect