What's it like to be in the first trimester? Read on to experience the roller coaster of emotions and symptoms.
The first trimester is over, THANK GOODNESS! After 14 weeks of this dramatic life change (i.e., pregnancy), I finally have the energy and appetite to celebrate the life changes that are quickly occurring. The many highs and lows of the first trimester was unfortunately something that I couldn’t share publicly in real time because I chose to share my big news with only a select few family members and friends. But now that my secret is out, I promise to provide more information than you ever wanted to know on my journey to childbirth and beyond. In lieu of a live reveal, here is a summary of the first trimester.
I sensed that I was pregnant before the test confirmed it, but I was terrified to admit it to myself. It almost seemed like too great of a coincidence that the pregnancy symptoms started on my own day of birth. All week, I assumed that my need to sleep 9 hours each night was because I was commuting to and from a TIMBO training in Framingham.
Yet when I woke up on my birthday – 5 days after my missed period – I couldn’t deny that something had shifted. I went for a run with Carolyn that morning and admitted what I was feeling: not really cramps, but a feeling of tenderness and warmth where period cramps might be. “I’m not sure, but I think I might be pregnant,” I told her.
A few hours later, I had forgotten about the conversation. After teaching yoga, I walked to Broadsheet to write over a long-awaited lavender latte. I had been missing my coffee fix all week, and was fantasizing about sipping my favorite drink. The drink was delicious. But an hour or so after consuming it, I was feeling decidedly off. My heart was fluttering far too fast, and I felt like I was bouncing off the walls on my caffeine high. Was it possible that my body had already de-acclimated from coffee consumption in less than a week?
Finally, that night, I served a French style-quiche alongside red wine for Daniel and me. The wine tasted objectively delicious, but something about it repulsed me. Daniel glanced at my ¾ full glass of wine suspiciously before we walked up the street to dance salsa. At that point, he knew my period was late.
The next day, Daniel and I went shopping for a winter coat. I nonchalantly mentioned the symptom of warmth in my uterus, and he started to panic. “I think it’s time to get a pregnancy test,” he stammered.
Later that evening, we watched Modern Love over our favorite pizza (goat’s cheese, arugula, balsamic vinegar, half tofu/half chicken from All Star Pizza Bar – I highly recommend it). The episode that we stumbled upon was about a New Yorker who becomes pregnant while looking for love and finds a father figure in her apartment’s doorman. Daniel continued freaking out through the duration of the episode and teared up when we reached the end.
“Come on, it wasn’t that good,” I laughed.
“But… all these signs are lining up. Just buy that test soon, okay?”
Navigating insurance policies
The first person I told about my pregnancy (besides Daniel) was an operator for Tufts health insurance. His slightly bored, monotone speech suddenly shifted when he heard the genuine vulnerability in my voice. “Oh… congratulations, Ms. Gibson.”
It felt awkward to be congratulated when my stunned shock about the pregnancy had not yet morphed into joy. “Uh… thanks?” I replied. The operator transferred me to a financial representative, who guaranteed that every part of prenatal care would be covered – with a fine print few exceptions.
Unfortunately, covered was not the terminology I should have asked about, as I learned after my first prenatal appointment. After the doctors ordered a cystic fibrosis carrier test – a test that the doctors said was strongly recommended for all pregnancies and would surely be covered by insurance – I received an $800 bill for the test. Being covered for pregnancy-related healthcare does not mean that I won’t be charged as part of my deductible. Sadly, it's not a great time to shop around for new health insurance because pregnancy can be considered a pre-existing medical condition.
While I’ve been wrestling through the weeds of health insurance policies, Daniel had to deal with car insurance crises. The night after I took the test, Daniel totaled his electric car. The crash was caused by another driver, but I still wonder – would he have been able to avoid it if he hadn’t had so much on his mind?
Daniel had been drooling over Teslas for several months, and the wreck (along the payout from the insurance company for the wrecked car) provided him the opportunity to take the leap to purchase one. On the surface, this move looks incredibly financially irresponsible, I know. We find out we’re going to become parents, so we invest in a luxury vehicle. Okay, but it’s now or never, right? May as well make the leap before real adulthood hits.
Daniel has a much sounder argument on investing in the environmental benefits of electric cars, but I’ll leave that to him to explain. All I know is that I plan to support his pie-in-the-sky goals as long as he continues to support my equally outrageous dreams (think owning an apartment in Paris and vineyards in the South of France).
The coffee conundrum
My physical reaction to coffee was among the first signals of my pregnancy, and it was one of the most challenging symptoms to deal with during the first trimester. My true definition of happiness is writing in a coffeeshop over a latte. Since my pregnancy didn’t slow down the pace of my freelance writing and consulting, I had to find a replacement for my lovely lattes, and FAST. The problem? Non-caffeinated drinks simply did not satisfy me or propel me to work.
Around the peak of my nausea, I attended a talk at Harvard with Michael Pollan. My favorite ethnobotanical writer was talking about his latest project – an audio book on coffee. He said to fully appreciate the gifts that coffee contributes to his life, he had to go through a period of abstinence from coffee. I could absolutely relate to each word of agony that he used to describe his dry months. The warmth of peppermint tea sadly does not compare to the sea of espresso buzz that you see freelancers swimming in as they type away in coffee shops. I simply couldn’t keep up with the current of novels, dissertations, and other important documents I saw others typing away as my first trimester fatigue urged me to fall asleep atop my laptop.
In truth, my love affair with coffee was short-lived. For most of my life, I’ve been too much of a lightweight or too anxious to stomach coffee. I thought that yoga and a nourishing diet had finally mended my caffeine intolerance, but my pregnancy pushed me straight back to my days of heightened sensitivity. That is, until I discovered that most of my favorite coffee shops could make single-shot lattes. Phew, problem solved for good, I hope.
One of the first things that most women learn when they become pregnant is that morning sickness is not restricted to the morning. Morning sickness occurred any time of day when I was hungry, full, hot, thinking of food, or surrounded by smells – so basically, all the time. For me, nausea didn’t hit until around week 7. From there on out, I experienced 2-3 weeks of intense all-day nausea, which, thankfully, had started to settle by the time Thanksgiving rolled around. Until then, I had to play an awful guessing game with myself to determine which foods I could possibly tolerate.
My cravings have been random and unpredictable, but they are often related to foods I liked as a child. Unfortunately, few of these foods are healthy. In truth, I had high hopes for eating a nourishing, well-balanced diet when I found out that I was pregnant. However, I found the never-ending list of do’s, don’ts, and maybe’s that pregnant women are supposed to memorize to be totally overwhelming and triggering for my old restrictive eating habits.
Thankfully, when nausea struck, none of these guidelines mattered anymore. I could literally only listen to my body, or I would vomit. So if a diet of mac and cheese, chocolate chip cookies, strawberry Nutri-grain bars, frozen cherries, cookie dough ice cream, and strawberry popsicles was all I could stomach, so be it. Since I was slightly underweight pre-pregnancy, I knew that NOT eating posed a higher risk for miscarriage than eating all junk. I needed to keep something down for my snowpea.
My cravings have been mostly for dairy, sweet foods (which Chinese tradition says is a sign that I’m expecting a girl), and frozen foods (which apparently freezes the Vagus nerve to help with nausea). On the other hand, my aversions have included anything pungent (NO thank you to garlic and onions), spicy (sadly, none of my favorite Indian foods), and acidic (light on the lemon unless it’s coated in sugar).
Surprisingly, my body also seemed to reject foods that I thought were my cure-all to nausea. When nausea first hit, I stocked up on Barbara’s multigrain spoonfuls because they were the only thing I was craving. Two days later, the thought of the cereal made me want to vomit, so I still have a few unopened boxes hidden from sight in the kitchen.
Around the same time that my nausea hit, I started to develop superhuman smell, which didn’t seem to help matters. Coffee shops were nearly unbearable for a few weeks because they were hubs of several million scents that I simply couldn’t block out. Taking the T was also torture. Cooking was challenging. Washing the dishes was even worse.
One night, after Daniel and I cooked salmon alfredo pasta (during which I had to return the first bottle of alfredo sauce we bought because I swore it had gone off), Daniel squeezed the kitchen sponge a little too close for comfort, and I think I may have actually cried. Daniel looked at me like I was crazy.
Some smells were more neutral, like a floral-scented lotion that I smelled on 3 women from across the room or down the street in the course of 2 days. And I didn’t necessarily mind the smell of bacon, but I had NEVER smelled so much of it in my life before being pregnant.
In the weeks in which nausea was at its peak, I often opted for working at home instead of at a coffee shop. Unfortunately, on most of these days, I ended up tricking myself into taking several power naps. Despite sleeping like a baby for 9 or so hours each night, I felt like I could barely function most days. My brain and body simply would not fully awaken. I don’t think I had ever been so tired in my life as when my body was developing a placenta. I mean, growing a human and an organ to support it takes a lot of energy, right?
Extra sleep time and a surge of hormones running through my body was a perfect recipe for incredibly vivid dreams. Chinese tradition also says that dream symbols are supposed to be a sign of the sex of the baby. I had none of the symbols, but I did have a remarkable number of dreams about ex-boyfriends and ex-flings. It was as if my subconscious was seeking closure with many of them to rid me of any baggage before the baby is born.
On the whole, my subconscious has been doing a wonderful job, except for the repeated dreams of one particular ex-fling chasing me around in a clown suit, trying to kill my family and me after telling him I was having a baby. It seems my subconscious still has work to do on this one.
Running while pregnant has been a microcosm of the wild roller coaster of my pregnancy journey thus far, and I’m incredibly grateful that I have it for my emotional sanity. I’ve had to take running day by day, as it’s challenging to predict how my body will feel. Somedays, I’ve felt like I was flying while running 7 miles and simultaneously processing thoughts. Other days, I’ve been barely able to make it 2 miles before stopping to walk because of nausea and side stitches.
My greatest loss of the pregnancy has been my runs with Blue. Pre-pregnancy, I built her up to a 5.5 jog, but I had to let that go immediately because her strength makes running an extremely high-impact ordeal. Despite losing my favorite running buddy, I plan to keep running as long as I can, although winter weather will be a challenge (I’m terrified of falling on ice, so I’ll have to play it safe) and the weight gain will make my snail pace even slower (I’m supposed to gain 1 pound per week during the second trimester).
One of my first thoughts after finding out I was pregnant was thank goodness I took a 25-hour prenatal yoga training last summer. The training provided a wealth of resources for a subject that was previously a complete mystery. More importantly, it led me to be much more confident in knowing how I can safely move my body during the first trimester.
Despite knowing that most of my typical yoga practice was still safe through the first three months, my body seemed to object to most of the “safe” things. I knew I could still lie on my stomach and practice traditional Vinyasas, but as soon as I found out I was pregnant, these things started feeling yucky. Avoiding deep twists and core work wasn’t an issue, since I already don’t love those things. However, letting go of inversions and deep backbends – my two favorite things in my home practice – made yoga much less satisfying.
Sure, backbends should also be fine in the first trimester, but when I tried my typical wheel series around week 6, it felt like I was overstretching my abdominal muscles, so I had to drop it. I continued doing inversions for several weeks of pregnancy, knowing that some women do them until the week before labor. However, since being pregnant, the pressure in my head during inversions started feeling ickier and ickier until I finally phased them out around week 10. Now, in place of deep backbends and strength-building inversions, much of my home practice is creatively modified shoulder-openers and barre-esque strengthening exercises.
Although my own yoga practice is admittedly less satisfying, teaching yoga to others was still doable in the first trimester. I frequently use my words instead of demoing, so this wasn’t an issue. However, I often found myself breathless when instructing, so I had to slow down my speech. Additionally, because of the emotional turmoil and pregnancy brain, I frequently felt distracted when teaching. DOABLE is the keyword – I never said first trimester teaching felt fantastic.
In truth, the nausea and fatigue were nothing compared to the agony of first trimester emotional turmoil. There is so much uncertainty to battle and so many questions to avoid overthinking. Pregnancy made me incredibly aware of what a true miracle life is. From conception to childbirth, there are SO MANY things that can go wrong. It’s a wonder that anyone is born, let alone 7.7 billion of us that have made it to this earth.
The first trimester is especially challenging because the risk of miscarriage is high – some sources I read said that 30% of all pregnancies result in miscarriage in the first trimester (crazy side note: 50-75% of pregnancies end in miscarriage before you are even able to obtain a true positive on a pregnancy test). What’s worse, there’s usually NOTHING you can do to stop a miscarriage if the universe decides the timing isn’t right, as the most common reasons for miscarriage are errors in cell division, chromosomal abnormalities, and other totally unpreventable factors.
How do I plan for pregnancy? For labor? For motherhood? Should I even do so when I can’t predict whether this baby will even be born? How terrifying would it be to miscarry? Will I EVER make it beyond the first trimester? There were so many emotions to swim through, and it would have been impossible to process them if I had not confided my pregnancy with family and friends.
Whether or not I was truly having a baby, I knew that I couldn’t cope with the uncertainty alone. And yet, society often encourages women to keep their pregnancy a total secret during the first trimester because of the risk of miscarriage. But… why?!? You would think that miscarriage would be a time to rely on social support rather than wade it out alone. Why is it socially unacceptable to grieve the death of an unborn life? These were questions I hadn’t even contemplated before becoming pregnant.
Despite the emotional agony of the first trimester, I experienced unparalleled joy when I met my darling snowpea during my first ultrasound. I was surprised by how incredibly nervous I found myself to be as I sat in the imaging waiting room. Yet up to this point (10 weeks), I had no proof that I was actually growing a human being – aside from the pages of symptoms I’ve just described, of course.
When the technician placed the transducer on my belly, my body was literally quivering in fear. Then finally, I heard the magic words through her thick Russian accent: “That’s your baby!”
It was as if I were looking at an optical illusion. “You mean that little thing?” I said, pointing to the head.
“Yes, see? It looks like a gummy bear,” she replied, and my perception of the image shifted to see the full picture of my precious snowpea. Joy, relief, and nervous laughter washed over me.
“That’s your baby!” she repeated as she moved the device to a different angle. I was overcome with awe for the little being that was waving its arms and legs. Everything up to this point and all the remaining first trimester agony to come was worth it for this.