I know I have promised you the story about how we came to find out we were pregnant, but also to let you in on what kind of a hell the first trimester can be.
Let’s just say this pregnancy came as a bit of a surprise.
All those in this season of your lives know the annoying ladder of questions that you always get asked:
‘So are you seeing someone yet?’
‘Oh when do we get to meet him/her?’
‘So when is he going to propose?’
‘Oh, I’m so happy for you I’m starting to tear up, so when’s the wedding?’
‘Congratulations! And when’s the first child coming?’
‘Oh, they’re great, aren’t they? When are you going to have a second one?’
On and on the unremitting glacier of questions keep coming.
I always find it odd when people ask – have you been trying? Which is the polite way of saying ‘Have you been trying to fall pregnant?’ but actually sounds a lot more like ‘Have your matrimonial intercourses been calculated and forced instead of playful and spontaneous?’
(Have you been trying? Sure.
Yeah, but, have you been actively trying? No, I just lay there and she does all the work.)
Karen and I are in the que sera sera camp – we have been hopeful but not actively trying. Sure, there’s the urgency of time because you know, you’re not getting any younger, but let’s just say we had in our minds a trip planned to Italy to eat all the cheese and drink all the wine in the middle of this year. We would then come back from the trip and then go full active, if you know what I mean.
Which is why the phone call at work came as a surprise.
You see, Karen had been feeling a little unwell lately. We were emceeing a good friend’s wedding in January and she did not touch very much of the wine, which for her was a little odd. (Yes, she enjoys it responsibly. No, she does not have a problem.) We came home the next day and she then proceeded to complain about how she has been feeling rather bloated and constipated of late, and just a little tired.
I put my Emergency Doctor hat on, stroked my chin thoughtfully and came to these conclusions:
i) she had a gluten intolerance
ii) she had a lactose intolerance
iii) she was housing some kind of parasite
which was why I recommended she saw our family doctor to have it checked out.
I wish you could have seen the look on my face when I took the call from Karen that day at work. ‘Erm, hon. So the GP asked me to pee onto a stick, and erm, I’m pregnant!’ I burst out laughing incredulously and kicked myself for being the World’s Stupidest Father/Husband/Doctor. I walked past the curtains in a daze.
‘Sorry for interrupting our conversation,’ I told my patient. ‘That was my wife on the phone. Erm, I, erm – we’re – erm, pregnant.’ which made the patient and her husband forget her worries for awhile to roundly congratulate me.
They were the first ones I told. Like the announcement of Jesus to some random shepherds and unknown wise men, I shared the news of our pregnancy first with complete strangers.
The second person I told was a fellow colleague of mine, a female ED consultant.
‘Erm, I just got a call from my wife. You know, she has been feeling tired and bloaty these last few weeks, and…’
‘Oh, she’s pregnant! Congratulations!’ came the quickfire reply.
‘HOW DO YOU KNOW?’ I shot back, surprised. Was I really such a terrible doctor? ‘I was telling her all kinds of other things she might have been suffering from like you know, parasites…’
‘That’s because you’re a boy…‘ she concluded, correctly, with a dismissive wave of her hand.
And that’s how I found out we were pregnant.
The First 12 Weeks
Let’s see, how should I phrase this?
This is the single most crazy thing you can do to your body. Not a poorly thought through tramp stamp, not a tongue piercing connected by a chain to your nose piercing, not even swallowing a sword to impress your street audience. Pregnancy is the most unnaturally natural thing – the craziest thing you can do to your body.
The World’s Worst Superpower (and we’re not talkin’ ’bout North Korea)
If you could have one superpower (Marvel, obviously, not DC), what would you ask for? Would you want spider senses and the ability to climb walls? Or perhaps you want to be able to read people’s minds, or take down a tree with your laser-blasting vision. You know – cool, useful stuff.
When you’re pregnant, you can smell everything. And I mean, everything – you can smell what your neighbours are cooking, you can smell if someone had smoked in your office four hours ago, you can probably smell the colour purple.
The hormones drive up your sense of smell by a thousand fold. I don’t even understand how this is a protective mechanism for mothers carrying a life in their bellies. Karen could tell if I had used softener in our laundry (which I have, since I have known laundry) and politely asked if I could stop using it (otherwise she would kill me in my sleep). Part of the reason we had to give up the dogs was because she suddenly became really sensitive to the way they smelt, especially Toby (a.k.a. Sir Pee-A-Lot).
And so we were captives in our own home, trapped in the only bedroom in our house with a ceiling fan, blowing away the co-mingled smells of sickly sweet laundry softener and wet dog fur, while praying this sickness would pass.
I was talking to some of my female colleagues at work to debrief, and someone said she would get nauseous and throw up even at the sight of McDonald’s golden arches.
At least she is not sensitive to how you smell, they laugh. And they tell you stories of men who had to sleep in the living room just because their wives could not stand the smell of them.
I silently vow to shower more often.
The Hunger-Hurling Cycle
With the smells came the vomiting. Like on your knees vomiting. Like Friday night after 20 ill-advised vodka shots vomiting. Like wishing you would die vomiting.
But then you would be ravenously hungry afterwards. The hunger itself makes you want to vomit. And your poor husband, who can only cook instant noodles and make terrible sandwiches is now cursing his lack of cooking prowess in the kitchen as he is stirring in your sixth cup of Milo for the day.
So much Milo.
And so hungry for carbs. You start to eat rice like your husband does. He joins you in your eight meals a day and then he, too, ends up with a food baby.
And then you rush home from the restaurant and you hurl the contents all into your toilet bowl.
And then he makes you your seventh Milo.
Hungry, hurl, eat, hurl, Milo, hurl, lie in bed, hurl.
We went to the GP and we got a whole arsenal of medications – maxalon tablets, ondansetron wafers. Works for some women, doesn’t work for you. You start stocking up chocolates and dry biscuits in the drawer next to your bed.
That’s actually the only thing that helps – snacking small amounts throughout the day. Of course you still vomit, but at least you keep some of it down. It is about survival.
It Is Like A Chronic Illness
If you are lucky, the morning sickness only lasts for three months. If you are extremely lucky, you might just feel a little nauseous without throwing up for the whole nine months. If you are really unlucky, you vomit the whole nine months (although it gets a bit better after the third month).
I cannot describe to you how miserable Karen felt during those first three months. Each day dragged on like a week, and each week dragged on like a year. We got a glimpse into what living with a chronic illness must be like – it is not like a passing flu, or a week of gut-cleansing diarrhoeal purge.
It is waking up not knowing whether today would be a good day or a bad day. It is fearing that you would spend most of your day in bed being afraid of the next time you’re going to throw up. It is not being able to enjoy the things used to bring you joy in life – wine, cheese, any kind of edible food, really. It is the taste of acid and undigested food burning your gullet and your tongue. It is throwing out your back from vomiting so violently and so often. You have gone from a working independent woman to being a prisoner of your bed.
It is hell.
I am told many women who suffer severe morning sickness take time off work just to get through these difficult first few months. I can see why now.
You Are Helpless
I watch from the sides as the frustrated husband.
On the one part, I feel responsible for this, you know? You alternate between the guilt of doing this to your wife, and helplessness of watching the pills not work and not knowing what to do next. There are times when you see her through the gap in the toilet door, one hand holding her hair and another bracing the toilet bowl, and you think Seriously, again?! A tiny voice is convinced your partner will not survive these crazy protracted, vomiting episodes.
I have spoken with other husbands and fathers who are watching helplessly from the side too. Some are adamant they would never have another child or at least take a good break before having the next one, because of how much their wives have suffered during this pregnancy.
But they tell you it is worth it in the end.
They tell you that all is forgotten once you hold that bundle of joy, and then all of these things fall away.
I must say the second trimester has been a good one. Karen’s energy is back, she is working again and the nausea has well and truly abated. The house is filled with the smell of her cooking. Out of habit, I no longer put softener in my laundry. The days are flying past and we have
been to two ultrasound scans which show a healthy baby girl who we have dared to give a name to already.
It is easy in these moments to forget just how hard the first few months were. I write this to remember but also to encourage all the couples out there, that you are not alone in your journey. Just as we were not alone in ours. This is a written form of all the verbal encouragement and wisdom we received from our friends who have told us, hey, it’s not easy, but it will be okay in the end.
They pat us reassuringly on our shoulders and comfort us –
‘Wait till the baby comes. Then you will know what true suffering is.’