From the babymoon to birthing choices to pregnancy during the COVID-19 pandemic - this article summarizes my second trimester.
Only one third of my pregnancy left. What!? Yes, only three months left until my little snowpea makes her way into the world!
During the first trimester, I fully felt each day that went by. Time seemed to become stagnant as I became paralyzed with fatigue, crippled with nausea, immobilized with a roller coaster of emotions, and speechless with the heavy little secret I was carrying. After the physical anguish of the first trimester faded and the secret became an obvious bump, the second trimester began to fly by.
How ironic it is that everyone begins to ask me how I’m feeling when I finally feel great. Where was everyone when I was struggling to keep my eyes glued open after napping all day in the fall? In truth, physically, mentally, and emotionally, the second trimester felt fantastic. But it was accompanied by a few minor bumps, noticeable baby bumps, and societal meltdowns. Here’s my summary:
The second trimester began with our epic babymoon – a 3-week cross-country holiday road trip in our brand-new Tesla. Between the 6,000 miles of mountains, desserts, plains, and retro kink hotels, Daniel agreed to an important decision: we would flee to Europe if Andrew Yang didn’t become president. Really. Read the recap if you don’t believe me.
Flutters and kicks
Prior to week 18, I still didn’t truly believe that I was pregnant. Yes, all the symptoms, the heartbeat, and the ultrasound images were at my disposal. But I didn’t really feel like there was a little person growing inside of me.
Things suddenly shifted on the first day of week 18, when little snowpea announced her presence to me. At this point, I was starting to show (or as one of my corporate clients told me, “Wow, your belly popped!”). I decided to make the most of my little bump during a networking event by dressing up in business casual that revealed my growing bump.
I had avoided tight clothing all first trimester for fear of looking ambiguously bloated. But when I slipped a form-fitting pink dress over black lacy jeggings that night, for the first time after months of fatigue, I felt pretty; for the first time in my life, I felt curvy. I was undeniably beaming with joy, but was I also glowing?
Phew, but those jeggings really are tight, I realized instantly as I started walking to the T. I did a quick Google search. “I’m pregnant. Can tight pants hurt my baby?” The answers were inconclusive.
Then, the moment I sat down on the T, my snowpea answered my question with a tiny tap. And another. And a third. She was alive! And communicating with me!
Not long after, the flutters became strong enough for Daniel to feel them. One evening during week 19, after feeling a few of her sweet little kicks, I told Daniel to place his hand on my belly. In truth, I thought it would still be too soon for him to feel anything, but her mango-sized body seemed to gravitate to his hand. “Is that your hand or the baby’s?” I asked.
“Shhh, snowpea’s communicating with me,” he whispered.
Suddenly, there was a wave-like sensation of the baby back-flipping to draw her head closer to Daniel – or at least that’s what it felt like. I startled, “Oh, that was definitely the baby!”
The sex reveal
At my 20-week anatomical scan, Daniel and I caught an inside glimpse of our growing baby and found out… it’s a girl! Although I could have guessed this based on my ravenous appetite for chocolate chip cookies and other sweets.
The sex of a baby can’t be scientifically determined based on cravings, I know. But then why did I spend four hours baking a double-layer strawberry buttercream cake after receiving the news? Honestly, it had to be the baby girl in me. Check out the pictures in my recap if you don’t believe me.
Running (and not running) while pregnant
Several years ago, when I was anorexic and running competitively, I wouldn’t have been able to become pregnant let alone maintain a full-term pregnancy. At that point, I barely had enough nourishment to keep myself conscious for the waking hours of each day let alone nourish a growing baby for nine months. After living two-thirds of my first pregnancy, I firmly believe that pregnancy is a state of health. That being said, as a lifelong runner, I define health a little differently than the average person.
For me, I don’t feel fully myself unless I am able to run. And therein lies the challenge of pregnancy after an eating disorder. Early on in my pregnancy, I may have somewhat naïvely envisioned myself being able to casually jog until a month before my due date. During the second trimester, it became clear that this dream would not become reality.
The discomfort in running started in my feet. When I attended an Energy & Subtle Body yoga teacher training in New York at 19 weeks pregnant, I walked a fair amount, ran a few miles each morning, and stood on my feet each day before falling asleep on a 4-hour bus ride home. When I woke up and walked off the bus, I immediately felt my swollen feet upbraiding me for maintaining my pre-pregnancy level of activity. Thereafter, I continued to feel the steadily increasing weight of my body in my feet each time I ran.
Next, I started to feel my runs in my growing belly. There was no pain or discomfort around the bump – just a sense of having a small watermelon strapped to my abdomen. I’d eventually start wearing belly support, I thought. I could live with that.
But the straw that broke my stubborn running streak was my growing breasts. No one tells you that pregnant nipples also grow with pregnant breasts. They become perkier – a perfect target for a newborn baby, I suppose. But terrible for running. I dreaded to think that extreme chafing would also become the new norm. I could live with that, too, I thought. Until it became unbearable.
At 21 weeks, I had tapered my running down to 2-3 miles 4ish times each week. Then, at 22 weeks, I somehow thought it would be a good idea to do a 6-mile day. I felt like a silly novice runner afterwards who pays for her mistakes. There I was with a ravenous appetite, high on endorphins, and with the most painfully chapped nipples that I had ever experienced despite years of marathon training.
“Does this look normal?” I asked Daniel casually that night.
His face of genuine terror answered for me. “What’s this lump?” he asked, pointing to the asymmetrical, inflamed raised surface of one of my chapped nipples.
“I don’t know, they’ve been getting irritated. A cyst?” I said, becoming concerned.
“You need to get that thing checked out,” he replied, still trying to hide his fear.
Since it was past 10 pm, I couldn’t call my OB/GYN. Instead, I went against my better judgement and consulted Google, who kindly led me to the self-diagnosis of a rare nipple cancer.
By the time I got squeezed into my OB/GYN’s schedule a week later, I was on the edge of a nervous breakdown. The nurse had to re-take my uncharacteristically high blood pressure after I self-soothed my pounding heart to its calm natural rhythm. “I didn’t think that first reading was right – not for you. I didn’t want to have to diagnose you with preeclampsia and give you more problems to deal with,” the nurse said to me.
My heart started pounding again as my OB/GYN started the breast exam. “I can feel your heart with my hands,” she chuckled. “Where is the bump?”
“It’s hard to see now. I took a week off of running, and the inflammation at chafing went down a lot,” I said as I directed her to the little swelling that remained.
“Oh, I expected much worse than this from what you described. Any fluid coming out of it?”
“Not that spot directly, but I read somewhere (also Google) that self-massaging the breasts might help with tenderness, and a little bit of fluid came out from both sides.”
“Was it clear?”
“Clear, then yellow.”
“That’s just colostrum. That’s normal,” she said. Of course, I had already learned this from Google, but her verification was reassuring. I had been terrified that my self-diagnosed cancer would mean I wouldn’t be able to breastfeed, when in reality, the bump might have been a sign of my milk production – possibly a clogged milk duct – rather than a death sentence.
“I think the bump may have something to do with running because I took a week off and the inflammation and chafing got dramatically better,” I admitted.
“That sounds like a logical conclusion to make. Maybe your body was trying to tell you something. Use your intuition if you think it’s time to switch to a different activity.”
Shifting my morning runs to long walks with Blue has kept me sane, but it didn’t ward off the inevitable signs of running withdrawal. For about a week, I was jittery, on edge, and too restless to sleep. I had heard that sleep becomes near impossible toward the end of the third trimester, but was I destined to have insomnia for the rest of my pregnancy?
Thankfully, my body found its new normal within this crazy state of pregnancy, and I could sleep through the night again – minus a few minor interruptions from calf cramps, 3 am hunger attacks, vivid dreams, and kicks from snowpea.
Since running went out the window, my yoga practice has become even more important in settling my anxious mind. During the second trimester, I had the perfect opportunity to deep-dive into prenatal yoga by taking an 85-hour Prenatal Yoga Teacher Training with Rooted Boston. More so than other styles of yoga, prenatal yoga encourages participants to learn to listen to their bodies and minds. This skill is particularly important for prenatal yogis because, let’s face it, we are forced into a patriarchal medical model of birthing. Much more on that later, but in short, this awareness is what led me to the birth center.
The Birth Center
Despite the many life-threatening conditions that my growing amygdala (and Google) have led me to diagnose myself with, my OB/GYN told me that I’m a “low-risk” case. And when I brought up the Birth Center, she told me I would be a good candidate. So, at 25 weeks, I transferred my prenatal care to the hands of the midwives.
The CHA Birth Center is nestled into a house next door to CHA hospital. From the inside, it looks like a cross between a Montessori preschool, a private art studio, and a grandmother’s home. As the midwife explained to me, the center was built upon the premise that women have been birthing for millennia and know intuitively how to do so today. By placing birth in the hands of the mother, the Birth Center seeks to reduce unnecessary medical interventions that are often standard protocol only because of the litigious society we live in. Each unnecessary procedure puts both the mother and the baby at risk of serious side effects.
So yes, natural childbirth is the norm at the Birth Center, and yes, it involves intense sensation, but this sensation is understood as a rite of passage into motherhood. And in the case that medical interventions are truly needed, the hospital is just a few short steps away.
It sounded almost too good to be true. Maybe because it was.
Pregnancy during the COVID-19 pandemic
At 27 weeks – just a few days into COVID-19 isolation – I received a message from my midwife. She informed me that the dominoes of disaster had fallen: All of local childbirth classes had been canceled; half of my third-trimester appointments had been canceled; and finally, in order to fully staff labor and delivery at CHA, the birth center would not be an option for birthing for the foreseeable future.
My jaw dropped and my heart sank to my baby’s home in my belly. Then I remembered that we were quarantined at home for infinity. To be honest, this was just a drop in the bucket of distress. At this point, I had already told Daniel to start Googling how to birth a baby at home - just in case.
As devastating as COVID-19 social distancing initially was, I do see a few silver linings. Not teaching group classes during the third trimester may be a blessing in disguise, as is riding the learning curve of creating virtual yoga classes. If for nothing else, Snowpea’s entrance into an era of isolation and economic disaster will be quite a story to tell her when she arrives in a few short months.
To be continued.