Like the (intended) readers, I am a millennial working professional who never gave a serious thought about getting pregnant within a couple of years of holy matrimony, until one day I was.
Today, thirty-eight weeks later, I am comfortable and at the peak of my pregnancy – it is now that I have the luxury to share my journey – what I enjoyed, learnt, wish I knew and what can be expected in the roller coaster that is the nine months of baby – baking!
Spoiler alert- This personal reflective piece is not my (veiled) attempt at convincing you to get pregnant; it’ll help you get acquainted with life before the arrival of the pair of little feet!
T’ was last August, the night after our first anniversary so understandably love was in the air, little did I know that confusion would soon follow – I realised I was late! Isn’t that the very definition of panic for most of us (married or otherwise)? Albeit being closely acquainted with each other for over a decade, we had, after a year of marriage, just begun to settle into a comfortable place, a routine of physical and mental peace. Needless to say, we had taken reasonable precautions. Turns out we were careless this one fateful time or maybe, the method failed us (for those who have seen F.R.I.E.N.D.S. know that condoms are safe only 98% of times!).
To Keep or Not to Keep!
Did you know that you are pregnant from the date you had your last period and not the day you had unprotected sex (or conceived) [formally known as LMP]? I didn’t. Consequently, the time you discover that you are pregnant (after you miss your next period), you are inevitably in around the 6th week of your pregnancy. Now, this is crucial because the clock is ticking on the decision- whether you (both the mother and the father) want to continue this pregnancy!
I do not wish to comment on whether the biological clock is ticking but I will identify for you the factors that may influence this decision and how. The Gynecologist’s recommendation, if you are between the age of 22-32 (ergo, most fertile age for conception starts in your teenage- the female body has not caught up with evolution as much) and this is your first pregnancy, is that you carry the fetus to term, provided that there aren’t any other complications. Irrespective of everyone else’s opinion, the only one you must heed to is of the twain who contributed to this pickle-in-the-jar (mum ‘n’ dad). Others’ opinions, despite best intentions, must be taken with a pinch of salt.
The decision was the toughest phase of my pregnancy. Reminder when you find out, you are already around six weeks pregnant and hence, the hormones have started their tango. Imagine taking a life-altering decision in a magnified PMS bubble with the hormones hell-bent on partying hard inside your body! What helps, is the bond and the sensibilities of your partner and his ability to reason whether the two of you want it or not (a yellow pad, and a pros and cons list is a saviour). Just like the decision you made about getting married (if you did), except here the woman has veto power and is legally allowed to abort the pregnancy if required without the consent of the partner.
There are some good articles (on various digital and physical repositories) that may help you decide but it all boils down to what you want? Do you ever want to have a child? Ask this question to yourself a thousand times over and if you ever answer in the positive- remember now is as good a time as any other time!
I was 29 when I was faced with this decision and I kept going back to how I wanted two more years to life, to career and my marriage before becoming a mother! This was obviously not Plan A for me but I realized that perhaps even after two years, I would not be completely ready (we keep aiming for the next promotion, the exam, the conference, the dinner, the next holiday or everything else). What needs to be understood is that none of these reasons will ever cease to exist but be merely deferred to the next time you are faced with the same decision.
There are a lot of reasons why you may not want to carry to term and please let no one guilt trip you into otherwise (every mother and mother in law has a story of your cousin who did not conceive a baby on time and regretted later when she was standing at the IVF clinic). It is not fair to you, your partner and your baby that you continue only out of fear.
There is only one good reason to stay pregnant and it is that you and your partner want to have a baby together! Of course, it is scary, but also an adrenaline rush comparable only to five hundred sky-dives rolled into one – the ultimate human experience, the one that has sustained life forever.
Be aware that this decision is time-sensitive because if you do not wish to continue your pregnancy, the easiest method of aborting the mission is through pills which can be used safely till the 10th week calculated from your LMP. After that, an abortion is still possible, medically safe and legal but only through the clinical vacuuming process. Either way, the best thing to do is to visit a gynaecologist who will prescribe an Ultrasound (USG) to confirm your pregnancy (This could have all been an ugly joke by Mother Nature). Note that in India you cannot get an ultrasound to confirm the pregnancy without a prescription of the doctor and an Identity Proof.
An important question that you will be faced with here is, whether ‘to tell or not to tell?’. The general Indian notion is to not disclose the pregnancy till the first trimester. The logical reason behind it is that the chances of a miscarriage are relatively higher in the first trimester and the announcement may make it stressful for you to retract in case it happens.
I realized that the bigger problem with disclosure is the tsunami of advice that follows the announcement. As soon as you tell anyone that you are pregnant, like your mom or your maid or even your colleague from work who has never been pregnant, they flood you with endless advice! This is obviously done with the best intentions, but for millennials, like you and me, an excessive flow of ‘dos and don’ts’ can be overwhelming. To be told that you have to be careful all the time, eat certain things, restrain from others, especially at a time when you are still digesting the big news, can become too much to handle.
What I learnt is that the news should be shared selectively. You may be dying to tell your best friend but if she has never been pregnant, she may not understand much and start treating you a little differently. It may be smarter to share it with the good friend who recently had a baby; she knows what you are going through and may also help you with practical advice like which gynaecologist you should consider, checking on your insurance cover and so on.
The Ultrasound Experience
This first ultrasound may be done internally but is not painful at all, rather feels like an experiment with a new ‘toy’ (if you know what I mean!). The Radiologist may show you the screen but despite your best maternal instincts, it is impossible to identify the foetus. It is hardly the size of a cumin seed and looks at best like a cashew, but magically (depending on when you get this ultrasound done) may have a beating heart.
I won’t romanticise this moment as it will be a unique experience for everyone but it is definitely one that stays with you – this moment lets you witness the flutter of a heartbeat from a life you are creating! Remember this is standard procedure even if you wish to terminate your pregnancy and it might be mentally draining if you do not decide soon! Whatever you choose the two people that are important to be by your side are your partner and a good gynaecologist.
By the time you arrive here, the first trimester is half spent. Another important thing learnt is that pregnancy in modern medial terms is measured in weeks, contrary to the popular notion of nine months. Full pregnancy is of 40 weeks and it is roughly divided into trimesters. The second half of the first trimester may be messy but not like how they show in movies. You do not necessarily wake up one day and start puking or fainting. Only about forty percent of women in India actually puke in the first trimester. However, with such a momentous change, your body will show signs – one or the other and those will be hard to miss. I, for instance, was perpetually farting and burping through the first trimester! Yep, not a pretty vision, but a real one alright!
Dealing With the Changes
You will wake up one morning and feel better; that morning is not defined and may come at different times for each pregnant woman – this is when you have entered the beautiful second trimester. Your body has now accepted the fetus as its welcome host and the fetus is also stronger and more comfortable to live inside you. You may still not feel the fetus at all and you will have to adopt your own means to try and connect with the baby.
You can adopt your own means of enjoying your pregnancy; I say journal it! There will be days in your second trimester where you feel so comfortable that you might forget you are pregnant. Since you have the comfort of time now, you can use it to fill in your pregnancy journal (you can easily buy it online), take some nice pictures (you will want to see the progression of how your body changed later), share the news with family and friends, choose baby names (it is more challenging than it sounds), etc.
This is the time you will have to start taking iron and calcium supplements and your skin will glow, hair will shine and nails will grow without cracking. You deserve to feel beautiful. If you maintain a healthy lifestyle, you would not have gained more than a couple of kilos in the first trimester but will gain at least 3-4 kgs in the second trimester (As per World Obstetrics standards, you should not gain more than 12 kgs during your pregnancy). Around this time, you will progressively stop fitting into your favourite clothes! Instead of sobbing about it, you must gloat about the fact that (at least, for the first time for me) there is a perfectly beautiful reason for the weight gain.
For Indian women, the advantage is that you will continue fitting into Indian clothes like churidars and anarkalis but you will need to shop for western/ causal office wear. There are different brands (and even online stores) which sell leggings and pants with expandable bands which will accommodate the expanding belly. I will recommend that you find the perfect maternity pant/jeans which will be your comfortable companion throughout pregnancy and even after. Remember, maternity shopping (including undergarments) is not a luxury but a necessity and if your attic is of improper size, it might cause you discomfort and even pain as you grow bigger.
What might disturb you while your belly expands a little every day is the stretch marks that come with it. There is no scientific way to stop it but it can be controlled by oiling. Oiling the belly (and nipples in the third trimester) is also suggested for general well-being of the skin which gets stretched as the uterus expands. What will overcompensate for the stretch marks is the moment you feel the baby move inside you for the first time. You’ll be tired at the end of a long day and still in a difficult meeting when suddenly you will feel like a butterfly fluttering inside your belly (no, it is not a kick). It feels like first love (this time before the first sight) and you will not be able to help yourself but smile.
What to Do and What Not to Do
Telling your family may help you emotionally and the happiness that the news will bring to them may help you through some gloomy days full of mood swings. A word of advice here – there will be a constant check on you to ‘be careful’ and you do need to be careful to the extent that all the pending lifestyle changes that you were procrastinating, will have to be done now. The only restrictions your doctor will ask you to observe is to not lift weights and to refrain from smoking, drinking, taking unprescribed drugs, and eating papaya and pineapple (oh and no sushi/ raw fish). You may also be advised (depending on the position of your placenta) to abstain from sex for some time (otherwise it is perfectly safe and even enjoyable to have sex throughout your pregnancy).
The mantra that will take you a long way is that “You are pregnant and not sick!”. You may feel morning sickness and tiredness but that is just your body coping with this huge change and it does not indicate that you should give up on your routine. Again, I am no doctor to comment but unless he/she tells you otherwise, you should continue with your regular life and healthy habits. Instead of giving up on going to the gym, driving or going to work, you must focus on giving up smoking or drinking and even unhealthy food.
Rujuta Diwekar (whose book on pregnancy I will highly recommend) says that you can continue the level of exercise you did when you got pregnant but not start some strenuous exercise routine during your pregnancy. The greatest example is Serena Williams winning a grand slam during her first trimester (to which my response is that it was only possible as she did not have desi relatives). To sum it up, your life is not over but will continue to remain the same but your body and mind will demand you to live better- sleep better, eat better and only then will you feel better.
As poetic as it may sound, your pregnancy is as easy as you make it! Focus has to be on being happy; fake it till you feel it happy (It is generally only tough during the first-trimester. I promise, it will get better). You have to remind yourself that it is a miracle that you are experiencing even when you do not feel like it. The fetus is selfish, the gynaecologist told me, it will take away everything good from your body; all the nutrients. That is the biological reason you may feel low and tired at this point before you start your supplements.
Just one more mantra before I start to sound like a guru is that – “Each pregnancy is different”. This is something I recommend be your standard response for unsolicited advice. Women hold pregnancy very dear to their hearts and love to narrate their experience and believe that how they felt/what they did is what you should! This is tricky since every pregnancy is different and it is perfectly fine if you do not feel like eating achaar or pani puri, your taste buds may or may not change at all. Whatever it is will be a communication between you and your body and no one else; you need to act accordingly.
Eating can be tricky when you are pregnant- apart from your taste buds drastically changing, everyone around you has a conspiracy theory around pregnancy foods. You can take the most innocent of ingredients/food and perform this experiment- for example- eggplant- there will be someone or the other who will say that it is not supposed to be consumed because someone they knew ate it and had a miscarriage. There is no point of trying – you’ll go bonkers if you start listening to everyone and everything!
If you consult nutritionists or your dadi/nani, you will be told to eat as per the season, eat what is locally grown and avoid it only if it produces too much heat in the body. The rule is to only listen to your gynaecologist and she will encourage you to eat balanced nutritious home-cooked meals. Your baby is a few grams right now so remember you do not have to eat for ‘two’. Pregnancy is not a pity party where you drown yourself in cupcakes and blame your husband for not feeling the same emotions. This will hurt no one but you! Recap for the importance of owning your decision and embracing the change.
I took prenatal classes (birthing and baby care classes) in my third trimester but was informed that the best time to learn is the second trimester as you are not as anxious during that time. These classes are important for three reasons:
The most important is that they educate and involve your partner. Most men are very confused and uninformed about pregnancy (blame Bollywood) and they can learn so much more from practical classes which explain the body changes, biological processes and the ultimate labour experience than they can from reading any books or watching YouTube videos. Nature is unfair to men in a way that they do not get the transition period of nine of months when, as a woman, your body and mind prepares for parenthood. Men, on the other hand, have a moment, one fateful ‘lamha’ when they turn from the usual good man into a father!
My husband who is an empathetic man and has been a constant support for me throughout this time almost cried in the first birthing class. The instructor was explaining how the uterus muscles work harder during the short time of labour than most other muscles of a man’s body would work throughout its lifetime. It touched him to know such details in relative terms, and he was grateful later that we took the classes. I could see more men in the room look at pregnancy differently after the class.
The second reason is that you meet other women who are in the same boat as you and the interaction is healthy and beneficial. You will find out about the options of delivering at different hospitals, ultrasound centres, japa maids and everything else you might or might not have considered as yet.
The third and most obvious reason is to learn and to connect to your baby and the body. There is a lot of information about birthing and baby care out there on the internet. But it is satisfying to interact with people who are medically qualified to advise you on something as scientific as breast-feeding.
The Babymoon and Mid-Pregnancy Ultrasound!
Before the trimester ends, I will suggest that you travel or indulge in other ways with your partner. This will give you both some time to spend with each other without worrying. Babymoon now or regret later- for travel is restricted and not recommended after the second trimester.
The Ultrasound in this trimester is special nevertheless, I would recommend a 3D/4D Ultrasound (available in all big cities at select radiologists) where you will be able to see the face of the baby quite clearly. This will again be very special and will allow you to connect with your baby and imagine him or her while you talk to him or her the next time. Yes, by this time your baby listens and listens to your voice enough to recognise who mom is later. It is recommended that you listen to classical music for the baby’s brain development or spiritual literature like the Bhagwad Gita or you can just listen to what makes you happy and sing along!!
The Last Leg!
It will be no time before you step into the third trimester and everything will start feeling more real. In terms of routine, not a lot will change, you can continue working till the day the baby arrives (as long as your gynaecologist does not advise bed rest). You can also continue with the same supplements and a healthy diet/lifestyle but with a focus on more protein intake and a lot of slow-paced walking.
Walking and even other activities might tire you out earlier than usual but staying active is imperative. It is very normal to feel anxious at this time. It is called the ‘nesting’ phase where your body and your mind are continuously preparing for the arrival of the baby. I frequently dream about the baby and wake up with a list of things still to be done, while some other women find it difficult to sleep at all because of the anxiety (you may also want to start using a pregnancy pillow which will help you elevate your leg while you sleep on your side).
Your pregnancy cannot be missed at this time and so everyone around you, knows! This is also a good time for your friends or you and your partner to throw a baby shower. Traditionally, in India, a godh bharayi takes place in the seventh month and also involves food, games, singing, dancing and accepting gifts. It may be a good idea to maintain a gift registry (especially for close friends) so that the gifts you receive are only things that you need and are not repeated.
It is very tempting to shop for the baby but you must exercise restraint and diligence. Ask your friends/other mothers for suggestions. Do extensive research. Every baby is different and may not use something you bought at all. It is also smart to use hand me downs since babies outgrow what you buy in no time. Shopping for the baby serves two purpose – you are walking and you become happier!
As you approach the due date, the hospital and your doctor will explain what the signs of labour are, when you need to start squatting, what to keep in your hospital bag and how you can choose your delivery plan. Labour and delivery are not so far right now and no matter what you or I read, we will not know till we experience it. So, before I leave you, I will share what helped me relax. The simple fact that the baby has to come out; the force of life is bigger than any fear in the mind. Women, or rather females, from every species deliver everywhere; it is a natural process. Women who have conceived the baby are biologically engineered to deliver it. It is also comforting to know that the development of medical science has made its contribution to the delivery room. Options like epidural can help you reduce the pain you feel while delivering. You must discuss all such options with your doctor and hospital. I am still to make my delivery story. Hence, I will save it for the next time.
Nobody ever regretted making a baby, I wonder if that is true for any other human act!
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