Wednesday, 10 March 2010

Pregnancy: The end of the first trimester

A fortnight ago I experienced something I never thought I would: a happy scan, in which my husband, mother and I were able to view the movements of a healthy 13-week old foetus.

I was so nervous going in - more nervous than I'd been for the egg collection, more nervous than for the pregnancy test, more nervous even than I was for the seven-week scan which told us whether there was a heartbeat or not. I think my trepidation was fed by the terrified sense that, having come so far, it would all be taken away from me. I was utterly petrified that there'd be a problem with the baby, or that something might have happened to it weeks before without my knowledge.

In reality the scan couldn't have gone better. The sonographer was able to get amazingly clear pictures, and the baby obliged us by swimming about and even sucking its tiny thumb for long enough to pose for a photo. It looked completely healthy - everything that can be right at this stage was right, with particular highlights including a strong heartbeat and evidence that the stomach and digestive system have started to work.

It was, in short, an amazing experience, and one I thought I'd never have. I couldn't believe how formed, developed and active the baby was even at this early stage. I'm utterly convinced I can feel movements now at neatly 15 weeks, although all the books say this is impossible until at least 20 weeks for first-time mums.

Bah to the books, say I. They are wrong on more than one thing, let me tell you. In fact, I'm here to bust some pregnancy book myths and blatant understatements, in my usual frank and abrupt style.

1. Slight constipation is common in early pregnancy

Try: you will be unable to defecate for days, occasionally creeping into a whole week, at a time. You will be so bunged up with crap that it occasionally hurts to walk. When you go to the toilet to pee, but in the throes of a bad spell of constipation, it will hurt to even twist the amount you need to in order to pull up your pants. You will be perpetually starving and will eat constantly even as you quake with fear that you are adding to the shit storm. Eating brown bread, fibre and lots of fruit doesn't help, as the lying books claim. Fibre and fruit are ALL I eat. Oh, and every time you do manage to go to the toilet, any minor amount of straining will leave you bug-eyed with terror that you have somehow dislodged the baby.

2. There will be some minor aches and pains as your body stretches

Every day will be an adventure of twinges, cramps, weird stabby sensations and bubbling. You will not be able to work out whether these are due to the excessive amount of wind and crap you are storing, or to normal pregnancy pains, or to a problem you should speak to the midwife about. You will quickly establish yourself with said midwife as a nutcase paranoid nuisance who phones up at every ache. Every time you do this you will feel obliged to say "It's an IVF pregnancy" in an effort to justify why you are so obsessive and terrified. The pains you will experience are not just in your abdomen. The best ones are the ones that feel like someone is stabbing a red-hot poker up your vagina and anus simultaneously. This is especially fun when it happens in a meeting at work.

3. Your vaginal discharge may increase

You may need to insert a pillow into your underwear and would be at risk of drowning if you spent long enough in a sealed room. This too will terrify you every time it happens because a) it's completely alien to all previous experience (for me anyway) and b) every time a splat descends you will assume you are bleeding and therefore miscarrying. Sometimes the discharge will be scary-looking and mucousy, prompting you to demand the midwife do a vaginal swab at your booking visit, which her expression indicates she was not expecting. The results will be normal, making you look like a fool. Other times the splat will be so watery that you will first wonder if you wet yourself. When you establish you did not, you will immediately decide your waters must have broken, which will prompt you to drop everything and leap in a taxi to the hospital to demand another scan, for which you will have to wait three hours in a state of pacing horror. I wish I was exaggerating but this happened last Friday.

4. You may feel emotional

You will burst into inconsolable tears when a knitted duck character on the comedy TV programme Harry Hill's TV Burp doesn't get picked because it doesn't have wings. You may also get so upset when your furniture plans for the spare room are out by a couple of millimeters that you give yourself a nosebleed. Again, I wish I was lying.

5. Nausea may be worse in the mornings

You will develop a new morning routine: get out of bed, retch extensively into toilet without bringing anything up. Climb into shower to be immediately struck by urge to retch further, which you do directly into the shower plughole to save you clambering out again. Dry yourself. Retch more. Attempt to brush teeth and discover this worsens the retching desire tenfold. Repeat, daily, for six to eight weeks. (And I'm lucky that my morning sickness stopped at 13 weeks - I know lots of people for whom this wasn't the case!)

That's my top five myths busted, and I'm only up to 15 weeks! However, make no mistake: I'm not complaining. I'm merely shattering myths and illusions in my normal way. But however much it may sound like I'm whining, I love every second of this. It really is the definition of a dream come true, and I think that's why most of my moans relate to being uncertain about symptoms to worry about and those which are normal. Having never been pregnant before, I just don't know what to expect and when something aches, or twinges, or leaks, I immediately assume something has gone wrong.

This is something I need to get over and I plan to ask my (beleaguered) midwife for advice on how, because I can't spend the next 25 weeks panicking about every bubble of wind. I imagine twinges and pains will get a lot worse before the end - I should think my first Braxton Hicks contraction will see me summoning the National Guard - and all the worrying, ironically, isn't good for the baby, despite me wanting to dedicate every second and fibre of my being to doing things that are good for him or her.

It is amazing what the body can do. I cannot believe I have already created and grown this tiny, 9-centimetre long perfect person. There isn't a second of a minute of a waking hour when I don't think about my baby, wonder how and what it's doing and pray it is OK. Neither is there an instant when I'm not overwhelmed with gratitude that we have got this far.

I feel, for the first time in nearly half a decade, that my body is doing what it is designed to do. It really is an awfully big, exciting adventure and I can't wait to see what happens next.