Tuesday, March 24, 2009

The Good, The Bad and The Ugly: Part I

I often try to focus on the lighter, happier side of things, but the truth is that as exciting and wonderful as pregnancy can be, there are some not-so-fun aspects that many women experience as well. At times, pregnancy has the potential to be downright miserable. Between the hormones, the range of emotions, the physical symptoms, the financial responsibility, the planning, the lifestyle changes - there is so much going on that a first-time mom has probably never experienced before. Any one of these things is enough to increase stress levels in the average person - imagine dealing with them all at once!

In this first post, I will talk about the most obvious and most talked about pregnancy challenges: the emotional and physical aspects.

Pregnancy can definitely be an emotional roller coaster. For those who were actively trying to get pregnant, you may have already taken steps to prepare yourself (mentally, emotionally, financially, etc.) and therefore might find the transition easier. For those who were surprised by the appearance of that second pink line, it may take some time to get over the initial shock and fully accept and understand the situation. Or, maybe not. Everyone is different. There is a wide range of emotional states that one might find herself at different times during her pregnancy. Off the top of my head:


And this is by no means an all-inclusive list! Pregnant women may feel any combination of these and other complex emotions throughout their pregnancy as they deal with the present and wonder about the future.

In my case, I feel like the fact that I'm going to be a mother didn't really sink in until about my third month. I hadn't really stopped to think about the gravity of it all. Since then, I have felt, at times, a bit overwhelmed by the realization that I am bringing a person into this world whose life will be shaped by the environment I create for him or her. I have a hard time even wrapping my mind around such a huge responsibility. This, in turn, leads me to worry that somehow I won't live up to that responsibility, which then generates a certain amount of fear. So while I am feeling very excited and happy to be having this baby, there also exists a small but constant cloud of uncertainty and doubt.

On the other hand, being pregnant has had another interesting affect on me, something I never expected but has become one of my favorite parts of this whole experience: there are times when I feel very childlike and vibrant and full of life! It's hard to explain, but it feels as if a whole new world has opened in front of me. There comes a certain point in your life (or at least there did in my life, I don't presume to speak for you) where you're past all the big "milestones" of childhood and adolescence, when you've sort of succumbed to the daily grind and life can tend to seem very... average. But being pregnant is anything but average! There are so many new things to learn and see and experience. Each day brings something new and you never know what to expect. There is life growing inside you and the true miracle of that, once you really stop and consider it, is both humbling and awe-inspiring.

So you can see how the vast array of thoughts and emotions firing around in that pregnant brain of yours can be both a blessing and a curse. And because of the craziness going on with your hormones, you may feel things sometimes that even you can't explain!

Now add to this equation the physical symptoms. Not all women experience the same pregnancy symptoms, but there are some pretty common ones: nausea and/or vomiting (so-called "morning sickness"), fatigue, swollen and tender breasts, widening and darkening of the areolas, frequent urination, headaches, backaches, heartburn, food cravings and/or food aversions, lightheadedness and/or shortness of breath, bloating, heightened/sensitive sense of smell, cramps, elevated body temperature, etc. Also, because of the various changes in body chemistry, many women have tooth and gum issues, skin complaints, dry or itchy eyes, flatulence, constipation, hemorrhoids and other uncomfortable and potentially embarrassing issues during pregnancy. Again, every woman and every pregnancy is different, so each mother-to-be may experience one, many or all of these, and even different combinations of symptoms in each subsequent pregnancy.

There is one thing that you can be pretty certain all pregnant women will experience at some point: weight gain. Whether it's four pounds or forty, any pregnancy is going to eventually require that the mother add a little extra bulk to her belly. Watching your body transform in this way can be a disheartening event for some. I've been pretty much the same size since high school, give or take a few pounds here and there. But I've always been petite and thin (with the exception of my big butt... my stand-out feature, by all accounts) - I'm 5'4" and my pre-pregnancy weight was around 113. Suddenly, I can't fit into any of my clothes and my flat tummy is nowhere to be found! So not only am I watching my cute little body become engulfed by this fat girl I don't recognize, I'm popping out of clothes that don't fit or wearing scrubby sweatpants just to feel comfortable, neither of which exactly screams "sexy". The one bright side: my formerly A-borderline-B-cup boobs are now overflowing in my B cup bras that were once just a little too big. Dare I say I may be ready for a C cup soon! But thoughts of post-pregnancy flubber, vericose veins and stretch marks are always in the back of my mind. Just another concern to add to the list, which for some is already quite extensive.

A quick side note about stretch marks: from the research I've done and the experts I've consulted, the consensus seems to be there is no real way to prevent stretch marks. The one suggestion that appears to make some difference is to avoid gaining too much weight and avoid gaining it too quickly. Your doctor will give you an estimated weight gain range that you should shoot for based on your pre-pregnancy weight, height and body type (and whether or not you're having multiples, of course) - my doctor said I should gain about 28-37 pounds by the time all is said and done. Most of that weight will most likely come in the second and third trimesters, and a lot of it will occur naturally as your uterus expands, the placenta forms, the fetus develops, your breasts swell and your blood production increases. So although we perceive our growth as us getting "fat", really only a small percentage of your total weight gain should end up being actual fat.
Other than monitoring your weight gain, many researchers believe that stretch marks may be genetic - so if your mom got them, there could be a greater chance that you will too.


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