What is a time of joy for many women was my darkest hour.
Before I got knocked up last winter, I always wondered if I would “just know” when it happened. Would I continue about my business, oblivious to the new life inside me until the day I missed my period? Or would there be SIGNS?
The answer is yes. Yes, there were all sorts of signs, starting about 7 days after conception. And yes, I nevertheless managed to bumble along until week 4 with no idea I was pregnant, because the symptoms of pregnancy can be so much weirder and more diverse than they tell you in sex ed classes and on TV.
Here’s what happened to me right away: the aurora borealis. On my boobs. I took off my pajama top one morning to discover they were covered in neon blue veins that hadn’t been there before. My nipples had also turned brown, as if they’d snuck away to L.A. Tan in the middle of the night.
I’ll admit, I spent a lot of time staring at my boobs in the mirror, Double Rainbow-style (“What does it MEAN?”). But since I hadn’t been trying to get pregnant, the right answer just didn’t dawn on me.
Around the same time -- again, about a week after conception -- I got a toothache. I bit into a caramel, and the flood of sugar caused such agonizing pain in one of my teeth that I booked a dental appointment, certain I had a cavity.
I didn’t. By the time I made it to the dentist, I had discovered I was pregnant, and my dentist told me that sensitive teeth are a common pregnancy symptom. So are bleeding gums when you floss. Who knew?!
And then there was my voice. I started telling people I was pregnant around week 10, because I’m terrible about sitting on news like this. When I told one of my clients the news over the phone, she responded, “Of course! You already have the pregnancy voice!”
The pregnancy voice? Yep, it’s a thing, attested to by dozens of women on pregnancy message boards. Thanks to a combination of persistent indigestion and rhinitis of pregnancy -- coldlike symptoms caused by estrogen-inflamed mucous membranes all over the nose and chest -- I and many other preggos spend our days sounding like hung-over airline pilots, all sniffles and vocal fry.
The surprises didn’t stop there. Five months along now, I’ve also enjoyed the following surprisingly common yet little-known side effects:
1. Waking up one morning covered in an itchy rash, convinced I had somehow rubbed a cat or macadamia nuts all over myself, because I am allergic to both of those things. Nope! Pregnancy symptom.
2. Nightly, psychedelic nightmares about bleeding to death and elaborate, borderline-erotic daytime fantasies about chocolate-frosted birthday cake. Vivid nightmares and daydreams: also common.
3. Peeing a little every time I sneeze. On an unfortunately related note: horrible chub rub.
4. A sense of smell so supercharged that even a little BO, emitted from a distance of 40-50 feet, hits my nostrils like a 40-part Renaissance motet of disgusting.
My list of symptoms is long and colorful. But here are two things it doesn’t include: morning sickness and weird cravings, both of which I’d internalized as requisite to the experience. I’m one of the lucky 1 in 4 women who breezes through her first trimester with nary a dry heave, and although my love for all things Pillsbury has dramatically intensified in these past few months, my sweet tooth has been with me for decades.
Every woman experiences pregnancy differently, but at least among my friends, the overarching theme has been one of surprise. Pregnancy has been *so* different than the impression we had when we were footloose and fetus-free, and the effects on our bodies so much more varied and strange.
My 28-year old friend Lara* tells me that for most of her third trimester, she was able to manipulate her grossly swollen ankles like Play-Doh. (They actually held their sculpted shape for a few seconds!) Then she developed Carpal Tunnel Syndrome, which apparently a lot of pregnant women do. WTF?
But it wasn't all bad. After living her whole life with ADD, Lara was pleased to discover in her second trimester that she got a rush of energy and focus, “like I was actually experiencing life without ADD.” This is similar to something my non-ADD mom also rhapsodized about, telling me that in her second trimester she felt the healthiest and most energetic she had ever been in her life.
Lara says her euphoria went away in her third trimester. I’m jealous she got to experience it at all. My energy levels and ADD symptoms have gotten much, much worse -- thanks in part to not being able to take my meds. Most nights, I’m still so exhausted that I have to be in bed by 9pm. But Lara isn’t exceptional in what she experienced -- many women do feel a wave of euphoria around weeks 12-14.
Meanwhile, 30-year-old Erin, another friend of mine, spent much of her second trimester dizzy and/or fainting. The list of symptoms she Gmailed to me included “food aversions” (with four emoticon frowny faces) and also “sudden enjoyment of mediocre rom-coms,” which apparently didn’t go away until she stopped breastfeeding. She also says she was a “full on digestive disaster” and experienced cramps and contractions throughout pregnancy -- something I've had as well, much to my alarm in the early weeks.
Twenty-eight-year-old Gloria, a former coworker in her last trimester, hasn’t had as many surprises as the rest of us. She reports that she feels like a whale, escaped morning sickness, and has to pee pretty much constantly these days, but “all those are pretty typical symptoms.”
Nevertheless, she recently attended a childbirth class, and that development was a BIG surprise. “I’m not usually squeamish about medical stuff at all, but Jesus, it was intense! They passed around some of the instruments they use to speed up labor and went step by step through EVERY scenario of delivering a human. Luckily, I didn’t pass out….I only cried for about 20 minutes or so afterward.”
In unrelated news, I am becoming more and more confident every day in my decision to have the druggiest drug-assisted birth modern medicine has to offer. GO DRUGS!
Distilling these friends’ experiences and my own, what I’ve learned is that pregnancy is one of those things pop culture gets very, very wrong. (“It’s nothing compared to how ridiculously wrong it gets childbirth,” Erin chimes in, but I can’t speak to that yet -- eep.)
Sure, most women gain weight like it’s Monopoly money (although some don’t), and most women vomit at least once (although some don’t). But there are tons of other incredibly bizarre symptoms that you’ll never hear about unless you buy a ticket to the funhouse.
Knowing this in advance would have saved me a lot of needless worry, since due to the Internet being what it is, you can’t Google a single pregnancy symptom without reading some random message board post about how it’s 100% definitely a sign of miscarriage.
Consider yourself warned.
*Names have been changed