Early on in my pregnancy, I had some abnormal blood tests. I will preface this story by saying that luckily, by now, we have learned that nothing is seriously wrong with me. But at the beginning of pregnancy, we didn’t know that. And frankly, we were already feeling a bit nervous and overwhelmed at the prospect of becoming parents and taking care of this small child. We knew many stats and stories about miscarriage in the first trimester of pregnancy, and the fact that something could be wrong with me, and therefore wrong with the baby, too, was overwhelming. So, I spent the first few weeks of pregnancy receiving vague voicemails on the phone from doctors, sitting in waiting rooms at doctor’s offices (some of the worst places in the world when you are nervous), getting my blood drawn, waiting on lab results, worrying, trying not to worry so I didn’t hurt the baby, etc. At each of these appointments, doctors would warn me about a variety of possible outcomes, but would give me very little real information about what was happening.
Coupled with this, I began to read a lot online about pregnancy. BIG MISTAKE. One thing that I had not realized was just how exhausted and foreign your body can feel to you during the first few months of pregnancy. Popular culture likes to make references to morning sickness , women’s extra keen sense of smell and the fact that you may visit the “ladies’ room” more often than you used to. But what they do not tell you is that your body starts to change. My abs started to ache, I got a weird metallic taste in my mouth, the site and/or smell of chicken was enough to send me running, and I fell asleep every evening between 8:30 and 9 and could have slept straight through until 9 or 10 in the morning, if it hadn’t been for those pesky alarm clocks. The worst part of this was that, when I “googled” each new symptom (which I did), you could find some healthy information about normal pregnancy symptoms. But for each web page telling you that you were normal, there were 50 “messages from doctors”, pregnancy forums or hospital sites that told you that this symptom, as well as many other perfectly normal bodily changes, could be a sign of many terrible things.
And added to this was the food culture. To anyone who ate with me during the first months of pregnancy, I apologize. I was terrified of hurting our small baby by eating anything incorrect. I carried my smart phone with me everywhere and diligently “googled” everything I ate. And, just like you can with symptoms, you can find web pages to convince you that any and every food is off limits. At one point
in time, I refused to drink herbal teas because an article I had read about the possibly damaging effects of too much chamomile and peppermint (seriously) and I even got nervous about eating peanut butter on celery because I wasn’t convinced the celery had been adequately washed.
Add to this the list of other things that you should avoid around the house: beauty products (Scented soaps! Dandruff shampoo! Hair dye! Nail polish!), household cleaners (although I didn’t mind making Justin the primary user of these), cat litter (again, not so sad here), and a myriad of other, random things to be feared. There was never a safe space or moment in the day! You had to be constantly vigilant in order to be pregnant!
Part of my obsession with following these rules obviously had to do with my own issues of hypochondria and nervousness over carrying a child for the first time. It felt like, and is, a big responsibility. I do want to be a “healthy vessel” for this little human.
But I also think the issues go beyond me personally. I think that our health care culture, and our culture in general, is really into scaring pregnant women. Increasingly, the list of foods you should avoid is growing, along with the activities you should be wary of and the symptoms that are “harbingers of doom.” In another article, journalist Marie Baca describes the world of “middle class pregnancy” as full of hysteria and paranoia. It’s a world where, “… having a baby can feel less like participating in an ancient biological process and more like taking on a high-stakes independent research project.”
We can see this by not only by looking at the laundry lists of things that you should fear and avoid like the plague during pregnancy, but also through the number of interventions that occur in pregnancies. The number of ultrasounds that each pregnant woman receives has grown astronomically over the past few years. In addition, the rate for C-sections has risen to almost 33 percent, and about 23 percent of women have their labor induced. Some women choose these options, because serious complications arise. But it also seems that doctors and hospitals alike are just much more likely to paint pregnancy as a high risk endeavor and to not trust childbirth to proceed in healthy and natural ways.
And here’s the thing. Miscarriages and birth complications do happen, and they are sad and devastating when they do. And we need to make sure that women have spaces to share those stories of loss and to grieve. But for hundreds of thousands of years, women have been having really normal, healthy pregnancies, too. And they probably ate soft cheeses and enjoyed seafood and didn’t have to visit the doctor every 4 weeks.
So for now, I’m still following many of “the rules” (better safe than sorry, right?), but I’ve stopped looking online for information, and I’m trying to trust the process.