Feeling at Home in a Newly Pregnant Body
Something felt off. The small hills on my bicycle ride to work suddenly sucked the wind out of my lungs as they never had before . My normal yoga class, though always difficult, suddenly made me lightheaded . I found myself urgently needing the bathroom more often than usual . On the morning I first saw the two bold lines on a pregnancy test, about one week after my missed period, I was surprised but not shocked.
It was a chilly Saturday morning in late January. I stared at the two lines which, admittedly, my husband and I had wanted but not expected so soon. We were elated, but I suddenly felt the weight of the life inside of me, though, at only five weeks pregnant, that life was only the size of a sesame seed. It was an odd feeling, to know I had so many changes going on inside, but barring any intense pregnancy symptoms, it almost didn’t seem real.
I had always read that early pregnancy symptoms, such as sore breasts, fatigue, bloating, and nausea were eerily similar to those of PMS . As a result, it was easy to think these feelings could be attributed to my normal monthly cycle, not pregnancy. It felt so unreal that, despite the gray sky and chill in the air, I suddenly felt an overwhelming need to run. Maybe as a test to see if my body really felt any different. Possibly to prove to myself that I could conquer any latent pregnancy symptoms. In any case, I soon found myself suited up in lined running tights, a fleece headband, and two long-sleeved shirts, ready to go.
Though not always a runner, I am an active person — I bike, walk, and take transit as my main modes of transportation in my mid-sized city. I do yoga regularly, and sometimes I throw in a run for good measure. It is not uncommon to find me on a spontaneous bike ride on a beautiful day, deciding to run a 5K on a whim, or deciding to take a last-minute hike to celebrate a long weekend. My run that day would reassure me I was still this active person, even with a new life inside.
The cold January wind stung my face as I trudged up the first hill of my route, and I immediately regretted my decision. I persisted, much more slowly than usual, the fitness tracker in my ears reminding me with every passing mile that my body wasn’t quite the same. I managed to pound out three miles, arriving home exhausted and feeling somehow huge. I knew in my mind that the baby was much too small to be bouncing around, but I felt as if it had been the entire time. An hour later, my right knee swelled up. It was as if my body were telling me to slow down, something I’ve admittedly had trouble doing in many areas of my life.
Over the next few weeks, I felt myself changing physically and grappled with it mentally but did my best not to express it. Outwardly, I continued riding my bicycle and accepting invitations to happy hours; inwardly, I felt the baby’s presence constantly and paranoia that everyone else did too . I labored up hills on my bicycle while riding with friends and ordered seltzer with lime at happy hour. My husband and I even arranged an elaborate beer switch at a Super Bowl party so no one would notice I wasn’t drinking. I privately welcomed the changes in my body and their reassurance of a healthy baby, but I didn’t trust them enough to share them with the world.
In spite of seeing a heartbeat via ultrasound at six weeks, my husband and I weren’t yet ready to share our happy news. I knew this was a strong milestone, but I also knew that 10–15 percent of known pregnancies end in miscarriage, most of those occurring during the first trimester (before 13 weeks). I had no symptoms of a miscarriage, but I also knew that a missed miscarriage could occur; one that carries no symptoms. If you’ve ever wondered why you tend to hear about pregnancies after about 13 weeks, these worries are probably why.
My doctor assured me I could continue my life mostly as normal, minus alcohol, some foods, and excessive amounts of caffeine, but I felt my body changing every day. Every night, I woke up in the middle of the night to use the restroom. Every morning, I woke up not quite sure which pants my bloat would allow me to wear that day . Every evening, I found myself sprawled on the couch and ready for bed by 9pm. I couldn’t continue to do everything, and between my 6- and 12-week appointments, I lived in constant fear that I was simultaneously doing too much and not enough.
Now, after a successful 12-week appointment in which our ultrasound showed a distinct picture of a baby rolling and swimming around, I have finally allowed myself to relax and succumb to my new cravings and feelings, no matter how out of character for me they might be. My belly is just starting to grow beyond the bloat of early pregnancy, and I have felt comfortable explaining why I am drinking seltzer water at parties and declining 30-mile bicycle rides. In short, at 15 weeks pregnant, I have finally become comfortable with the idea of being pregnant, though I am sure I will become more unfamiliar with my changing body each day.
Adjusting to a pregnant body and the lifestyle changes that accompany it can be intimidating, but at the end of the day, self-care is always important, pregnant or not. I have been lucky to miss the debilitating sickness that accompanies pregnancy for over 50 percent of women, but every woman’s body and every woman’s pregnancy is different.
A strenuous run may not have been the best way to start my pregnancy, but gradual acceptance of my body’s changing limitations and appreciation for the extra work it is now doing to create a human life has both impressed me and allowed me to continue to live an authentic, active life through other avenues. I have continued to ride my bicycle to work and attend my normal yoga classes, but I have allowed myself to use lower gears and pass on poses that don’t feel right. I may not ride as far or run as fast as I did before pregnancy, but I am still me at the end of the day, and I am comfortable in my body—pregnant or not.
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Author Bio Johanna DeCotis Smith is a freelance writer, environmental engineer, city dweller, gardener, bicycle advocate, city planning nerd, soccer fan, and adventurer. She enjoys spending time outside with family and friends, learning (most recently about pregnancy!), and exploring new places by bike. She lives in Atlanta, GA with her husband.