No matter how many pals or sisters who have gone through it before you, nothing can really prepare you for the first trimester of pregnancy.
Venturing into the newly energised second trimester and realising just how off I’ve been for three months, the first third of pregnancy can really throw you for a loop. Even with friends and family with children and more on the way, there were still some elements that I had no idea about until I was the one in the hot seat.
The long two-month wait between your GP visit and your first contact with the hospital, for either a booking appointment or a 12-week scan, can feel like an eternity. And yet, there are so many things you have to deal with during that time without any guidance at all.
Implantation cramps are just like period cramps
My boobs got sore a few days before my period was due, my emotions started to spiral, I got a bit teary. I had the little warning cramps that ramped up to feel like real cramps.
This is what it usually feels like in the lead up to my period. It’s also what it felt like in the lead up to not getting my period. Implantation cramps come at the exact same time as your period typically would and have identical symptoms.
The weekend my period was due, I was having my last wedding dress fitting. I was so sure it was coming that I wore a tampon to the fitting because I thought it’d be just my luck that I’d bleed on the only white piece of clothing I own.
Okay, but am I definitely pregnant?
This was not something I had thought about, but even when you’re hurling your guts up on the regular, you spend two months in purgatory wondering if you are, in fact, pregnant. Yes you got the little line and had it confirmed with your GP, but then you basically have at least two months to wait and speak to no one about it. There were moments, even with all the vomiting that I thought, “yeah but am I actually pregnant?”
My nausea kicked in from week six, went into overdrive at the end of week seven and then completely disappeared in week eight for a few days. And while the puking is miserable, it’s also reassuring that everything is going to plan so its sudden absence had me in a Google tailspin. If I had found an accurate answer to “Can I continue to test for pregnancy into the first trimester?”, I would have bought a dozen more boxes of (obscenely expensive) pregnancy tests just for the reassurance. However, some sites said the line should fade and others said it shouldn’t fade as you move through the first trimester, so I figured that either answer would only add to my worries.
When I finally told my friends the exciting news once I exited the vomiting trimester, one friend, who is a few months ahead of me in the bump game, said she knew. I thought I’d done a rather excellent job of hiding it (thank you, pandemic) but she said, “It was because you were so thirsty”.
Turns out extreme thirst is a symptom of early pregnancy. You need all the extra fluid to help the foetus’ circulation, start creating 50% more blood and the beginnings of a placenta.
And I was absolutely parched, waking up multiple times a night with a mouth so dry it brought me back to my cheap college wine days and I had an attachment to my water bottle that’s usually only reserved for my phone. Because I didn’t know it was a symptom of a wee one on the way, I was telling everyone who’d listen. Thankfully, no one else really knew it was a symptom either and so I got away with it.
However, excessive thirst can be a sign of gestational diabetes, especially later on, so if the extreme thirst continues, flag it with your doctor.
“Can pregnant women eat….”
You Google this a lot. Aside from a quick verbal run-through at my GP of what to avoid – “no alcohol, no soft cheeses” – there was no explanation as to what you can and can’t eat and why. Turns out smoked and cold cured meats aren’t allowed, no paté of any kind, non-alcoholic beer is up for debate, although most places seem to say anything that once had alcohol in it will still have trace amounts and the percentage isn’t accurate to every bottle. So no, but maybe? If I cook goat’s cheese and chorizo on my pizza, can I eat it? Technically if it’s cooked yes, but what is cooked?!
The worst of it all is no runny eggs. DEFINE A RUNNY EGG! Is it soft boiled? Is it where the white is solid but there’s still some mush in the yoke? I really struggle with this one because there is nothing more offensive to me than an overcooked egg (between that statement and the paté mention I sound like such an arsehole).
From all the reading I’ve done, I think you basically shouldn’t put yourself at risk of food poisoning (aside from the alcohol thing) so anything that might be considered “under-cooked” or not pasteurised is a no.
You’re supposed to know your own due date
This sounds nuts I know, but when I got a letter from the hospital at six weeks’ along, telling me to call to book my 12-week scan, the first question she asked me on the phone was, “when’s your due date?”. This completely flummoxed me because aren’t they supposed to tell me that? I wasn’t even 100% convinced that I was growing a human at all, never mind knowing its due date.
There are online calculators, but unless your period is a rock-solid 28 days every month, it’s really hard to pin down an exact due date. Some online calculators just ask for the date of your last period, while others asked for your average period length. Mine is in and around the 24-day mark and that date varied by a week to the first one, so who knows!
You won’t have a visible bump yet but you won’t be able to wear jeans either
Bloating (and the accompanying flatulence) is relatively common in the first trimester, but as someone who does not typically suffer from stomach issues, I really struggled with this. As soon as I put a drop of food in me, my stomach would swell up and I’d feel as full as an egg (an overcooked one).
By week six I couldn’t bear the thought of jeans unless I knew I’d be standing up all the time. By week eight even my stretchy pyjamas were getting too tight that I ended up rocking the Zoom mullet on the regular – business on the top, underwear and a blanket wrapped around my legs at the bottom.
It felt like tempting fate to invest in maternity clothes so early on but had it not been for the pandemic and working from home, I would have really struggled to leave the house.
The crackers are not because you’re hungry
Upon hearing I was expecting, my mum gave me a bumper back of Tuc biscuits, suggesting I leave a pack in every room. I laughed but did as she said, thinking, “I really won’t be hungry in the loo…”
How wrong I was, but just not about the hunger. Morning sickness is not just for mornings. Sure, in the morning as soon as I got up I’d feel a bit yuck and may need to make an immediate dash to the bathroom. But also if I sat up in bed late at night to drink some water (see ‘Surprise Symptoms’) and lay back down, oof, I’d want to hurl. If we were stuck in some stop-start traffic… *Shudder*.
Took me a while to connect the crackers with the sickness, mostly because the absolute last thing you want to do when you’re feeling queasy is eat. I felt like Kristen Wiig in Bridesmaids trying to eat the jordan almond. But lo’ and behold, as soon as it hit my stomach, I did feel better.
I learned that the key is to eat not just when you’re queasy, but any time you get up. Going to pee at 4am (this also becomes a nightly occurrence), shove a Tuc in your mouth. Need some water? Drink it, eat a Tuc and take another slug. Taking a nap on the sofa (also, another early pregnancy symptom), do not put your tummy over your knees until you’ve had a cracker.
Your first scan is terrifying
In all seriousness, the entire first trimester is a wonderful, terrifying experience. About 30% of all pregnancies end in miscarriage, the vast majority of them in the first trimester. Missed miscarriages, when you miscarry without any symptoms at all, are not common but they are a possibility and it dwells in your mind with any ease of your symptoms.
I was a bundle of nerves going into the first scan. Concerned that the pregnancy test had just been wrong or that everything is not well. Thankfully, we came out smiling, clutching our sonogram and wondering who we should tell first (tip: tell the person with the biggest mouth because telling lots of people your news can be very overwhelming). But there are so many who leave the maternity department and remain in even more uncertainty, more waiting, more worry.
The end of my first trimester marked the waning of the morning sickness, the secrecy and some of the anxiety, and for that last one most of all, I am so thankful.
This article was originally published in October 2021.