When Dave and I found out we were pregnant, we were filled with a myriad of different emotions: joy, wonder, excitement, nervousness, anxiousness… the list goes on. With all of life’s uncertainties, nothing can prepare you for the overwhelming feeling that comes from knowing that, together, you created life. And now that life will continue to be sustained inside of you for the next nine months. To say that this is a miracle is an understatement. Even now, 17 weeks in, there isn’t a day that goes by that I am not amazed by what is happening inside of my body. There are so many couples who have difficulty conceiving. I think about these individuals daily and am sure to never take this miracle for granted. Even through the difficult days (and there have been quite a few), I feel blessed to have been given the opportunity to become a mother.
Excitement is an emotion I have felt every day since finding out we were pregnant--excited to meet our little bean, excited for the ways in which our family is about to change, and excited for Dave and I to take on our next big gig: becoming parents. That said, my first trimester was anything but easy. As many mothers-to-be do, I experienced a variety of unpleasant symptoms that early pregnancy brings. Of course, I knew all of the possible symptoms that I may be faced with and how common they were. I knew about the ongoing nausea and un-heard of levels of exhaustion and inability to eat or live in ways you were used to, pre-baby creation. And yet? It still hit me like a ton of bricks.
Maybe it’s because I consider myself a fairly healthy, nutritious, fit person and for some reason this subconsciously made me feel as though I would be above many of these unpleasantries. Maybe it’s because, in ignorance, I felt as though I was stronger than these first trimester trials and tribulations. I would easily overcome them. Maybe it’s because my mother didn’t have any morning sickness, and my naturopath told me there was a good chance that I wouldn’t either. Well, as you can probably guess (or just know, as you roll your eyes at me), none of these things mattered. Because pregnancy hit me. And it hit me hard.
I would say that nausea and exhaustion hit around the same time, starting at five or six weeks. At first, I could control the nausea with regular, small meals. However, by week seven, it was unrelenting. It didn’t matter what I ate or when, there was no relief. And it would be even worse if I let my stomach become empty. And so began the first unpleasant routine of constantly eating but never feeing hungry. I would nibble on the suggested saltine crackers and pretty much anything that didn’t make my stomach turn at the thought of it. I would struggle through my workday, trying to allow my busyness to distract me from how I was really feeling. Many days I would arrive home around 4:30 in the afternoon, only to crawl into my bed and Netflix (no chill) until I could peel myself from under the covers to wash my face, brush my teeth and go to sleep for the night. It was exhaustion like I had never felt before. Just as people told me it would be. And yet… still, somehow, a shock. Turns out building a human is hard work. By week eleven, I was fairly certain that this daily routine of constant nausea and sleeping whenever possible would never end. I would never feel the sensation of hunger again and I would never have energy to do anything more than the minimum. I was sure of it. The only saving grace (and I do not say this lightly) is that I never threw up. Not once. Well into my second trimester, I am still thankful for that. It is not lost on me how difficult early pregnancy (or all of it) is when you are constantly running to the bathroom, not knowing when the next vomit episode may occur. For the women experiencing this and still completing your daily responsibilities (or just functioning on any level at all): I bow down to you. You are gladiators.
Beyond all of the symptoms, I think the most difficult part of this journey was the feeling that I had lost myself. I was beyond thrilled to be growing this little human, but early in the process, felt that I had become a shell of who I was. I no longer had the energy to be active—something that, in part, defined who I was. I was lucky to be making it to the gym once a week, never mind five times. And many weeks, even that wasn’t happening. Everything I knew about nutrition went out the window in favour of eating for survival. The name of the game was getting anything into my mouth that didn’t make my stomach turn. Sometimes that meant crackers and peanut butter, sometimes it meant toast. Macros and micros weren’t even in my vocabulary. All structure around my diet was lost, which was extremely challenging for me. But force-feeding myself my regular foods was not an option. I would look at myself in the mirror at the end of the day and not know who I was at this point. Now, I know this maybe sounds a little bit dramatic, but after several weeks, the reality of my state began to weigh on me… and on my husband! Dave is the most supportive partner, and I couldn’t have asked for anything more during these dark days, but by the end, we both agreed that this was getting old. It was difficult for him to see me like this, and as a result, his mood was affected as well. We couldn’t go out and do the things we usually did together, and the only quality time we had involved lying in bed and working our way through a new Netflix series. Don’t get me wrong: this is enjoyable at times, but day in and day out, you start to crave some variety.
Now, of course, I was counting down the days until the end of the first trimester, particularly because I kept reading things like, “Most women find that by week 12, they are enjoying a burst of energy and an increased sense of hunger!” All I can say about that is that is that these experts obviously need to talk to more women. Because week 12 came and went and I still felt like garbage… which created a little bit of animosity towards the creators of my pregnancy app. I didn’t have an increase of anything except resentment for leading my astray. Anyway… I would say by week 15 I started to see the light. I still did not feel physically hungry, but much of my nausea could be controlled by food. If I ate every two hours, I didn’t feel constantly sick. I did begin to enjoy a bit more energy, and was even getting back into a regular gym routine, working my way up to four workouts a week by week 17. Some days I still needed an afternoon nap, but not every day. I felt motivated to go out and be social with other humans, because I felt like I had something to give to others again. There was no “switch” by any means, but gradually, things became easier and I could see that this would come to an end.
So how did I survive the “dark days,” as they became known? I give these suggestions for the sake of sharing, but if you are a first-time mamma-to-be, know that every pregnancy is different. I had so many tips and tricks sent my way that others swore by, but that had little to no effect on me. However, here are a few strategies I used to get me through:
Maintain steady blood sugar:
My number one tip is to eat before your blood sugar falls. That may mean eating before you’re truly hungry. Taking in small snacks every couple of hours can prevent a drop in blood sugar that can contribute to the development of nausea. For me, I also used the first signs of nausea as my new hunger cues. Since I didn’t actually feel hunger, I had to use the feeling of sickness to remind myself that it was time to eat. The longer I waited, the more nauseous I would become. Constantly munching on snacks really helped keep the nausea at a manageable level.
Include protein in as many meals as possible:
This was one of the hardest things for me to do, as most protein sources were not overly appealing. I went from eating around 120g of protein per day to being lucky if I could get in 60g. I had (and still have) two main sources of protein that I can eat daily: SKYR Greek yogurt (20g per serving) and protein powder (20-30g per serving). I include these in my day as frequently as possible, for a few reasons: I want to maintain as much muscle mass as possible during this pregnancy and regular protein intake will help accomplish this; protein is extremely helpful in maintaining steady blood sugar levels, a.k.a. reduced nausea; and it’s important for my growing babe! For me, I have found that the most important time to eat protein, without fail, is my first meal of the day. If I don’t have a good dose (minimum 20g) of protein with breakfast, there’s a good chance I am not going to feel well for the rest of the day. So if you’re struggling with full-day nausea, try incorporating a high protein source first thing. I am hoping that, as this pregnancy progresses, my pallet will expand and I will be able to enjoy other high protein sources, including high quality meats, and eggs. But right now, it’s about survival. I do the very best I can, which means eating what I can stomach.
Only nap for half an hour at a time:
I was finding that, as essential as naps were, I was starting to avoid them when possible because I would feel sick when I woke up and would have a hard time shaking that sensation. So, when it was planned, I would set my alarm for a quick half an hour nap. I found this to be the magical number that allowed me to regain some energy, but stop me from feeling ill when I woke. So, if you’re having this issue, try cat napping instead of those 2 hour, mid-day slumbers!
Have cold drinks on hand at all times:
I have always been a regular water drinker and tend to have a water bottle on me at all times. However, since becoming pregnant, my thirst levels have gone through the roof. I crave water like I never have before. Beyond hydration, cold beverages (especially sparking water) have been my jam. They interest me when food doesn’t and often calm my stomach… even if it’s just a little bit. Even through my most difficult weeks, I really enjoyed sipping on a cold drink. I don’t know what it is… it just helped me. So give it a shot. The more ice, the better.
When exercising, listen to your body:
I am beyond thrilled to be back in the gym on the regular these days. Always check with your healthcare provider, but the general consensus is that you can do, activity wise, whatever you did prior to becoming pregnant (within reason, of course). So, I am doing almost all of the same exercises I did previously, keeping my mid-section in mind and removing exercises that require me to be flat on my back. However, it’s funny how your attitude changes once you know that you’re responsible for this little alien growing inside of you! I find myself becoming a little more risk averse. You will suddenly do anything to protect this babe, and at the gym, that may mean listening to your gut and opting out of a few of your routine moves. For me, I lost quite a bit of strength due to my decreased energy levels in earlier weeks. I had to slowly work my way back up to heavier weights, but am still not lifting what I did before pregnancy. It’s not to say that I couldn’t, but I choose to listen to my body and play it safe. My advice is to not worry so much about whether you should or should not be doing a particular exercise (assuming it was part of your regular routine, pre-baby). You will know what you are capable of. Just listen to your body and do what feels right. Trust yourself.
Stick to the foods that work for you:
I have no idea if this happens to others, but something I found was that I could eat something one day, and the next? The very thought of it turned my stomach. This has been interesting more than anything else (other than equal parts annoying), since I am, traditionally, a creature of habit. I can meal prep on a Sunday and eat the same foods all week. So this was unchartered territory. There has been a select few foods that I can handle on the daily. So it’s important that I keep my fridge (because most of these foods are cold) stocked. I am fortunate that most of these foods even contain a good amount of micronutrients. Bonus. For me, the foods I can tolerate (and even enjoy, to an extent) on the daily include: cold oranges and grapefruits, berries of all kinds, and yogurt. Most days I can also stomach a smoothie, which has been my saving grace since I haven’t been loving most vegetables. Smoothies allow me to sneak in a good amount of greens. Thank God for prenatals (legit don’t know if I’ve eaten a real vegetable today). So, if there are a few nutritious foods that you stomach on the daily, make sure you always have them on hand! They will save you.
So where am I now?
Today, I am well into my second trimester and the days are much brighter! The fact that I’m even able to write this blog post being the single biggest indicator. Most days, I am feeling more and more like myself. I am back at the gym and being active several times a week and my energy levels have increased significantly. I am able to enjoy activities outside of my house and have the ability to give my energy to others. Eating well remains a challenge, but as mentioned above, I have pinpointed several strategies that really help ensure I am getting in the necessary nutrients for me and the babe. I stick to the foods that work for me and listen to my body. I don’t do or eat anything that doesn’t feel right in the moment. I am showing myself kindness and grace on the daily. I am beyond thankful and humbled that my body is performing this miraculous task and because of this, I am sure to shower myself with humility and gratitude. I have found a new appreciation for my body, one that I could not have discovered otherwise. I am looking forward to the next several months and watching my body change throughout—a process that I know will not always be easy to experience, but one that I know will constantly amaze me. And beyond anything else, I am excited to become a mother and to meet our little bean, face to face.