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Healthy Pregnancy Series: What I Wish I’d Known

admin January 12, 2011

If you’re expecting your first baby or hoping to soon, there’s probably a lot you don’t know yet.  We’ve all felt that way our first time!  So today I’m featuring several experienced moms [those who have had at least one baby] who will be telling you what they wish they’d known!

Before you got pregnant for the first time, what did you expect pregnancy would be like?

Susanne: I honestly can’t think of any specific expectations that I had, but I do know that being pregnant was actually easier than I anticipated. I guess I expected the basics: morning sickness, back pain, tiredness, etc. I never had any morning sickness and had minimal back pain. I guess you could say I had an “easy” pregnancy. I did have some sciatica for about a week. THAT was unexpected. I sympathize with the women who have to deal with sciatica for months at a time. I also expected to “look” pregnant a lot earlier than I did. Almost like once you find out you are pregnant you instantly have a cute prego belly. 🙂 Nobody tells you about the in-between stage when you just look fat!

Liesel: My belly would get big. I’d have to cut my pantyhose down to the crotch on the seam if I actually wanted to wear any. I’d love it.

Melinda: I had no idea. At all. I went in with no expectations.

Aileen: I had no clue…I’d seen my sisters go through a total of 5 pregnancies between them and I still had no clue what to expect.

Kate: That it would be fun, and awesome to feel a baby moving inside me.  That I’d have minor morning sickness, eat lots of soup and cry a lot.  That I’d have a super cute baby bump.  I also thought I’d love my new body and feel very sexy and proud all the time.

Before experiencing labor/ birth, what did you expect it to be like?

Susanne: I knew during the pregnancy that I was going to do everything it took to have him naturally, with no epidural. I expected labor to hurt, but I don’t think you can describe or understand the type of pain until you go through it. It’s a completely different pain from stubbing your toe or falling down the stairs.  However, I was mentally prepared that I this was what I was going to do, and that was that. Almost as though there wasn’t another option. I never spent a lot of time dwelling on or worrying about what labor would be like, but when I did think about it, I thought it might be like having really bad cramps.

Liesel: Short (family history of short labors). Painful but would get over it quickly afterward. Had fear of the “unknowns” of labor. I totally thought I would be one of those women who “oooed and awwwed” over my slimy baby laying on my tummy right after birth. After all, it’s a miracle, right?

Melinda: I thought it would be intense and hard work, but I didn’t really know how to define those any more than that. Still don’t!

Aileen: I thought it would be worse in some ways than it was and better in some ways than it was. Basically, it was nothing like I expected, at all.

Kate: I thought that I would instinctively know how to do it, that I could trust my body and I’d just be able to handle it and go natural.  That I didn’t need any support but Ben or training because I was “made” to do this.  And that it would be fast.  My mom showed up at the hospital less than an hour before I was born, dilated to 9.  I thought this would happen to me, too, or at least something close to it!

What was your biggest surprise as far as pregnancy, especially symptoms you experienced?

Susanne: I thought I might have all sorts of bizarre cravings, but the reality was that I only craved fruit. Lots of it. I guess there are worse cravings to have! Also surprising was losing {almost} complete control of some of your body functions! It’s…unnerving.

Liesel: My feet hurt SO bad through much of my pregnancy. I was working a very physical job and on my feet all day in the heat of summer. The extra weight KILLED my feet. Total surprise. I also experienced a lot of sharp pain near my belly button, stretching of round ligaments maybe, that bothered me at work and at home while both on my feet and off. Ouchy.

Melinda: The constipation. I figured I would get leg cramps and itchy skin and acne. The constipation threw me for a loop and was really, really bad.

Aileen: How tired I was. How mushy my brain was. How sick I was–throwing up 1+ times a day until 7 months.

Kate: I really didn’t feel well for the first several weeks…more so and in a different way than I thought.  And I got wider early on.  I did not have a cute little “all baby” bump at all, I was just kind of big everywhere.  No one guessed I was pregnant until well into my third trimester.  Oh, and how starving I was in my second trimester and how dizzy I got if I didn’t eat constantly.

What was your biggest surprise as far as labor/ birth?

Susanne: The one thing that I was totally unprepared for, {but was totally neat} was after laboring for almost 16 hours, feeling him finally get through the birth canal to the point where you feel the need to push. That feeling was totally unexpected but I knew that, okay…this baby is going to be born soon now! The other “surprising” thing was that I only pushed for just under 30 minutes. The doctor told me that many women, especially first-timers, can push upwards of a couple hours. I can’t help but wonder if that’s because of an epidural, though… Labor is not easy and it hurts, but something I did realize that I think helped me to “get through” labor is that your body knows what to do. Try to relax as much as possible and just let it do its thing.

Liesel: It hurt WAY more than I could have imagined and I DID not get over it at all quickly. I hated pushing and didn’t feel instantly bonded to my baby. I DID NOT oooo and awww. I didn’t really care about much of anything at that moment.

Melinda: That I tore, despite all my preparation. But that, other than that, everything went exactly as planned and I didn’t have any pain! I surprised myself by actually succeeding at hypnobirthing.

Aileen: That all my good intentions flew out the window when I was uncomfortable and all my knowledge of what was in my power to ask for (like turning DOWN the damn Pitocin, stripping membranes instead of going straight to meds for inductions, etc) flew out the window, too, when it came right to it. That I’m a wimp in new situations (I knew that, but didn’t expect it to apply).

Kate: That I didn’t know what to do.  I was scared, I was in pain, and I had no idea how to help it.  I didn’t have anyone around me that could help, either, because we hadn’t taken any childbirth ed. classes and Ben didn’t know what to do, and my doctor didn’t care at all.  I didn’t know I’d end up begging for drugs.  And I didn’t know, until months later, that it didn’t have to be that way!  My second experience was nothing like this because I was prepared.

What do you wish someone had told you about pregnancy?

Susanne: Maybe it’s only because I had such a good pregnancy, but I do wish that up-front someone would have told me that it’s “not that bad.” Many times when people find out you’re pregnant they say “oh, wait until this happens…” I think it’s a shame when you hear pregnant women just complaining about how miserable they are! Granted, there are the unpleasant side-effects: morning sickness, gas, cravings, back pain, trouble sleeping, but pregnancy is supposed to be a happy event. In my opinion, there is nothing like being pregnant and everything that comes along with it is just part of that exciting process. Enjoy the entire 9-month experience…you’ll miss it when it’s gone.

Liesel: To get good insoles early on if you’re on your feet a lot.

Melinda: That the recovery is harder than you think it will be – my milk coming in hurt WAY more than labor and delivery, and I wasn’t prepared for that at all.

Aileen: That there are cures for extreme nausea/illness! B vitamins, conventional meds, high protein diet…especially the regular meds, ’cause I was a perfect candidate even though I avoid meds usually.

Kate: That there’s just no way to predict how yours will be.  You might be extremely sick or never have a minute of nausea.  You might get huge, or you might have the perfect baby bump.  And just because something bad happened to someone else does not mean it will happen to you.  And of course that you will be crazy and your emotions will be all over the place and you really can’t help it.  Also that you might not really like sex very much because you are so tired and sick.

What I Wish I'd Known during pregnancy

What advice would you offer to a first time mom?

Susanne: To do what works and what feels right for you, your baby, and your family. There is a lot of pressure out there, from every imaginable source, that tells you how or what you “should be” doing. There can be a lot of 2nd guessing as a new mom, but you’ve never done this before, so cut yourself some slack. Take others’ “advice” graciously, but do what works for you. For example: when my son was about 4-5 months old, I felt as though he wasn’t getting enough milk from breastfeeding and thought I might need to supplement with formula. I personally felt guilty or like a horrible mom because I was even considering giving him formula. We are so inundated with the “breast is best” mantra {and, let’s face it, it is the best option}, but sometimes to the extent that you’re a “bad parent” if you can’t breastfeed 100% of the time until he’s at least 1 year old. Because of that, I balked at supplementing for a little while and, truth be told, he probably did need it. Don’t allow people or ideas to influence or dictate what you know is best for your baby. There is no singular right way to raise a child and what’s best for you and your baby is probably going to look different than what’s best for someone else and their baby.

Liesel: Surround yourself with positive people and do whatever it takes to lessen stress in your life. Follow your instincts and prepare in whatever way you feel you should. Consider a doula if you are hospital birthing and be sure to remain open and honest with your midwives if home birthing. Trust them and know that they will not take offense to anything you say or do while in labor. Consider water birth or at least give yourself the option (I thought it was gross and did not have a tub, but this time I plan to use one!)

Melinda: Do hypnobirthing!! And have a VERY clear birth plan, and don’t let anyone push you around. Your body, your baby, your birth. You decide how it goes.  And a doula!

Aileen: Don’t expect anything to be a certain way. Co-Sleeping is awesome, especially while baby nurses 3/4 of the night. Invest in a good glider ’cause you’ll spend plenty of time in it. Make sure it’s comfy enough to sleep in. Don’t buy things like swings, slings, bouncy seats, etc until baby is there ’cause babies don’t always like those things–better to test them out with baby and then buy what baby likes. Video monitors are fun. It’s okay to poke your sleeping newborn in order to make it move so you are sure he/she is still alive.

Kate: Get some support.  Take some classes.  You don’t just instinctively “know how to do this.”  Find a doula.  Take your husband to classes and appointments with you.  Read everything you can get your hands on.  Watch birth videos.  Learn as much as you can.  Find a care provider you really trust.  You need to know they’ll respect your wishes, but that they are also prepared to handle things if they go wrong.  Know that with support and knowledge, you can do this.

Okay, moms of many!  I know there are several of you out there.  What do you wish you’d known?  New moms, what questions do you have?

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11 Comments

  1. I'm glad Suzanne had a great experience with pregnancy, but I come from the opposite side – I never knew pregnancy would be so hard and uncomfortable. It never seemed to phase my mother, who had 7 kids (I was the second oldest so I was able to observe most of her pregnancies). I, on the other hand, had to face an identity crisis because pregnancy is such a different season for me than my un-pregnant state. I have to lower all my expectations, narrow down my priorities, and just get through the 9 months with as little stress as possible. I wish someone had prepared me for the possible challenges, because the first time around I was caught completely off guard.

    Of the women I talk to, older mothers (my mother's contemporaries, 40's and 50's) most of them seem to have really enjoyed pregnancy and miss that season. Of the younger women I know (20-30's) most of them have painful, difficult pregnancies with constant back and joint pain, nausea, blood sugar issues, low energy, and more. I have two theories to explain this. Either 1) the older woman are forgetting the difficulties of pregnancy right along with pain of labor. Or, 2) Our bodies have degenerated more because we don't have as nutritious a diet as the past generation, and thus our bodies struggle during all aspects of the reproduction process.

    I tend toward the latter theory myself, and wonder if I will have better pregnancies in my later years as I will have been on a real food diet longer…What's your take on this, Kate?

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  2. I am the mother of ten and I wanted to offer my own experience with pain at the naval. It can be an umbilical hernia which may not be the end of the world. Depending on whether you plan to have more babies and it's size, surgeons won't always recommend repair. I developed on while pregnant with me tenth. It slowly grew bigger and required repair after she was born. Another friend developed one during her pregnancy with her third child and surgeon did not recommend repair. She has since had another baby with no ill effects and is hoping for another. But one more friend had a small hernia (like a cm) which tore suddenly during her pregnancy with her sixth baby and it required immediate emergency surgery. Even if you don't want a repair, or don't need one, it's important to know it's there. Your doctor will ask you to lay on your back and lift your head. This will make the hernia "pop out". In most cases you don't even need addition tests. Just FYI.

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  3. My biggest advice to an expecting mom is to PREPARE. Research and really study up for labor as if you were studying for a test! I was advised to just "go with it" with my firstborn, and I had a long, intervention laced delivery. I spent my entire pregnancy preparing for my second labor, and I had a completely natural labor and delivery with my second. It was amazing! I was also in a hospital, so if you are determined, know your rights, and prepared, it is 100% possible to have a natural labor in a hospital. Some women prefer the comforts of home, but I personally liked that I could be waited on for 2 days in the hospital and not have to be mom/wife/home manager in my first two recovery days.

    Trina, I disagree with #2. I eat the most "real" of anyone in my family, exercised throughout my pregnancy, and I still had gestational diabetes (and I have a slim build, but there is a family history) as well as varicose veins. I don't think you can say that anyone who has a hard pregnancy doesn't take care of themselves. I think #1 is more on target.

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  4. Trina,

    I'd venture to guess that both are true, to some extent. I know a lot of older people [grandparents] romanticize children's antics, for example, but of course when they were the parents they found it exhausting and difficult too. I think they do forget a lot. Some of the pregnancy discomforts would go along with it.

    But, I think those discomforts probably WERE a lot more minor than what people these days are facing. People didn't have PCOS, they weren't very overweight, they didn't have diabetes and other conditions at the rate they do today. Frankly it makes me sad when I see a woman who is struggling desperately with her health, and still trying to get pregnant. I even suggested to a group once that they might want to take some time to get their health under control before conceiving, and got the answer "There's no perfect time." I don't think they realize just what the repercussions will be!

    Although honestly I think the answer stretches further back. Our parents didn't eat that well; in the 5Os it was all about formula, TV dinners, jello, etc. All the new, convenience foods. It was still BETTER because they'd eat real meat [with no hormones and junk added!] along with it, and they still got fresh milk. But it was a start. And many definitely ate poorly as young adults. But they didn't have a generation or two of damage behind them then, they were basically first generation "crap eaters." So they were able to throw it off all right and do okay in pregnancy. But then they left US somewhat damaged because of their choices, much less about to throw it off. That leads us to today, where we are just weaker and we struggle more.

    I do believe it doesn't have to be that way. I felt sick and weird and struggled a lot with diarrhea and constipation. I ate SAD and took a lot of OTC drugs to manage my symptoms. I've moved more and more to real food since then. I *suspect* that I'm carrying a girl again [morning sickness was much less last time with a boy], but other than the minor nausea that was exacerbated by eating any junk, I've felt quite normal. I haven't struggled at all with constipation or anything. And now, at not quite 11 weeks I have quite a bit of energy. I feel "pregnant but normal" if that makes any sense. Not to mention I'm about the ONLY one of my friends to never suffer a miscarriage, true difficulty getting pregnant [only difficult because of breastfeeding, but that's normal], bleeding, complications, or anything else. I suspect this baby will be the healthiest so far because of diet and lifestyle. So yes, I'm sure it can change!!

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    • I really think that this phenomenon is due to coincidence. I know plenty of women who are older and remember awful pregnancy experiences and young women who have had easy pregnancies despite not exercising or eating well. I do think there is a lot of value in treating your body well, but I don’t think that it’s completely failproof. I also want to respectfully point out (to Kate) that the fact that you have never had a miscarriage does not prove that other women are causing their own miscarriages by being unhealthy. I know that is probably not what you were trying to say, but since I am extra sensitive after three miscarriages, it came across as a little judgemental. My miscarriages were caused by a uterine abnormality and were unpreventable. Most miscarriages are not preventable, as they are most often due to abnormalities of the baby that are incompatible with life. I’m very glad for you that you have never had to experience miscarriage, and I do advise everyone to eat a healthy diet, but I would caution you to be more sensitive with how you phrase things.

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  5. I am enjoying this series as I hope to get pregnant again this year. Anyway, RE: this post, I had expected to tear, and I did. Well, the whole thought of tearing freaked me out but I knew I didn't want cut either and my midwife didn't do cutting so that was fine. Anyway, that was probably the worst part, thinking I would tear because I wasn't pushing as hard as I should. I haven't looked into it, but if you know of any ways to prevent tearing, I hope you will share. Maybe I won't as much with the second? Thanks!
    Shannon

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  6. Shannon,

    Sitting in a water bath, using warm compresses against your perineum, using oil for massage [and even having your husband do some oil massage in the weeks leading up to birth] can all help prevent tears. Using a different position for pushing can too. I pushed both my babies out fast [first in less than 1O minutes, second in about 2] and tore the first time but not the second. The first time I was flat on my back with my bottom in the air. The second I did the massage, was in the water until right before the birth, and was lying on the edge of a bed kind of "aiming" down. lol. It's also much, much easier to recover if you don't get minor tears repaired. Really. I suspect that I DID tear very slightly with my son but we didn't do anything about it. It hurt like any other small cut and was fine in a couple days. The tear and subsequent stitching with my daughter was terrible for WEEKS. So if you do tear a little, avoid stitches if possible!!

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  7. I think Kate is definitely onto something about what our parents and grandparents ate affecting us. (Although I know they didn't know any better!) My mom was formula fed with a concoction of sweetened condensed milk, sugar, and water! Thankfully, she at least partially breastfed me and my siblings, but I grew up on a lot of "convenience" foods. I think previous generations had no idea how their eating habits, etc. would affect future generations.

    Shannon, I had a 4th degree tear with my first labor. It was TERRIBLE! BUT, I honestly think a lot of it had to do with my epidural and not knowing when to push and pushing too hard. You can really push more effectively when you're not medicated!! I second everything Kate says. I did a lot of that and my midwife massaged the whole time I was pushing (an hour and a half!). I only had a 1st degree tear this time, and I felt fully recovered in a week (it took months the first time!).

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  8. Thank you both. That is helpful. I know the biggest problem for me was telling myself I was going to tear. I pushed for over an hour and a half. But, I was closing my legs while doing it, hoping to "ease" the baby out a little at a time. LOL. I was in transition of course so not entirely "with it" but enough to know I didn't want to tear. I didn't get any stitches so it sounds like that was a good thing. I did labor in water but will plan to try oil massage next time around. Honestly, the after pain wasn't that bad, and neither was the actual tearing. The worst part was not knowing how it would feel and expecting it to be awful so resisting it by shutting my legs while pushing. Not very productive, huh? 🙂

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  9. I tore as well, although it wasn't very bad. I think I had a total of 4-5 stitches. It was pretty painful afterward for a couple of weeks, but being that it was my first pregnancy, I guess I'm not sure if the soreness/pain was from the tearing or the delivery. Probably a combination of both.

    If you do tear, does that mean you are more likely to tear during subsequent deliveries?

    Interesting thoughts about the generational differences…I don't think I've ever really thought about it before.

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  10. Susanne, I thought it was very positive that I only tore first degree the second time while it was 4th degree the first. Shannon, I didn't think about tearing at all. I think this second time I was like,"It can't be any worse than my first tear!" haha

    Some docs actually tell women they have to have C-SECTIONS after tears!!! That is SO NOT TRUE! (Of course a midwife wouldn't tell you that.) I had a doc. tell me that, and I switched to a midwife. My best friend had a 4th and her doc. told her that as well. I told her she needs to switch docs for her next baby!

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I’m Kate, mama to 5 and wife to Ben.  I love meeting new people and hearing their stories.  I’m also a big fan of “fancy” drinks (anything but plain water counts as ‘fancy’ in my world!) and I can’t stop myself from DIY-ing everything.  I sure hope you’ll stick around so I can get to know you better!

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