The first trimester

The first trimester

I have all these notes from pregnancy, I really have no excuse when it comes to finding things to write about. Time and energy are the rare commodities when you’re working (in a paid job) and working (to parent an 18-month-old) and working (to be a good partner and vaguely competent adult). But this evening I seem to be able to give myself the mental kick in the pants to put fingers to keyboard and talk about pregnancy. At least two friends and two colleagues/colleagues’ partners are expecting right now; maybe it’s all the extra baby talk in the air.

I think my first trimester felt longer because of the IVF. You don’t get the experience of a missed period, calculating your cycle length, wondering whether it’s late-late or just had-a-rough-week-at-work-late, not when you’ve had a medical professional literally inject a viable blastocyst directly into your uterus. It’s the awful thing about all those misogynist American laws which cut off abortion access at six or seven weeks: because your pregnancy is timed from your last missed period, which is likely, probably, or just maybe two weeks before you conceive, “for patients with a predictable 28-day cycle, there is only about one week before the “six-week” threshold to confirm pregnancy.” And not many people have a predictable 28-day cycle.

Anyway. My point is, IVF takes all the guesswork out of it. You know when Li’l Blasty arrived. You get told exactly when to go for a blood test to confirm pregnancy. You get a seven-week scan to formally discharge you from the care of your fertility doctor. You get lots of fun early pregnancy anxiety, which I may have had to remind myself I already wrote about. And then you’re rolling happily into the first trimester.

Mine was pretty cruisey (spoiler alert, things take a TURN at about 27 weeks). We met with two midwives: one younger, softer, more homebirth focused and highly recommended by a friend; and the other, bluntly spoken, hugely experienced, fabulous nails. It was a real “the hero we needed” choice, and one we were very lucky to be able to make. I managed to make a lot of very sensible adult decisions in my pregnancy, and picking the midwife who was going to look me dead in the eyes and tell me when I was being silly was definitely one of them.

Aotearoa being Aotearoa, it turned out she was my hairdresser’s midwife too.

I didn’t have much in the way of morning sickness, but it felt very touch-and-go at times, like if I coughed too hard everything was going to explode. No cravings either, just a sudden, very definitive sense of yes or no to eating any given food that was offered to me, which I knew was definitely real and not “just” in my head the first time the smell of pizza made me genuinely want to throw up.

See, babies do ruin everything.

The first trimester can be lonely. We didn’t tell many people, though when your nearest and dearest all know you’ve been struggling for a while and are trying IVF it just gets awkward at some point because they know you know but don’t want to pry because it might not be good news but on the other hand you’ve told them previously when it’s bad news so there’s really only one conclusion to draw especially when she starts ordering ginger beer instead of a craft sour …

But it was also nice to have this thing that was just ours. A little flicker of hope barely making itself known in the world. A moment of quiet before all the drama (seriously, week 27) unfolded.

Photo by Estée Janssens on Unsplash

The support curve

The support curve

Baby is nine months old, and I have no idea how much she weighs. It’s not a big deal – she’s very clearly happy, healthy, eating us out of house and home, and we have a Plunket appointment next month for her 9-12 month checkup. But it’s been nagging at me a little, and making me reflect on how it feels like the supports that have surrounded us since before she was born are on a real decline.

And that’s not really a big deal either because we’re still surrounded by friends and family and community. We’re in a really privileged position, being able to have one parent at home full-time (and to have me work from home a few days a week). My mum lives only a half-hour away, J’s family visit regularly.

But before she was born, there was our amazing midwife. Always there, literally at any time of the day or night if we needed her. One person who knew us intimately and had a huge amount of experience and knowledge to calm any anxieties we had (and there are so, so many anxieties). Our antenatal classes connected us to a bunch of people expecting babies at literally the same time as ours, and more experts on things like feeding and sleeping.

Once she was born, there were the hospital midwives and surgeons and Plunket, and once they found her heart condition, the entire NICU team swept in, with nurses and more doctors and social workers. We got enrolled in Heart Kids and put in touch with Parent to Parent. We were back at the hospital for a weight check every week for the first two months of her life.

At the same time, the antenatal group kept going, with group chats and coffee catch ups. It meant so much, sitting in the dark at 2am feeding a jaundiced little bub, to be able to type “god I’m so tired, anyone else up?” and have three other mums respond.

It’s a bit redundant to say things change over time. Of course, once baby had her surgery and recovered like a complete champ, we weren’t going to need all those checkups. Of course, Plunket doesn’t have to be dropping in quite so often once you’ve nailed those early milestones. And naturally, as paid parental leave starts to finish up, people go back to work and schedules become more complicated and those weekly coffee catch ups become harder to coordinate.

I’d never go back to those early weeks when everything was new and completely terrifying and we desperately needed to have all those people on the end of the phone to reassure us and get us additional support. But I do miss the security net, and the sense of a whole community focused on one thing: a happy healthy baby. It feels like you lose that support in little bits and pieces, and sometimes – like when you look at baby’s WellChild book and realise you don’t know how much she weighs – it hits you all at once.

Photo by Malvestida Magazine on Unsplash

The early pregnancy anxiety

The early pregnancy anxiety

Back to my one weird trick of writing up some of the copious notes I took before baby arrived!

So, we won the IVF lottery on our second spin of the wheel (I never know how to count it; is it still our first go if we only had to do the embryo transfer twice, but didn’t need to do all the hormone/egg collection rigmarole again?).

And it was exciting, and terrifying, at the same time. It also didn’t feel quite real – or maybe it’s more accurate to say, I didn’t let it feel real.

As I wrote in that previous post, every bit of good news just kicks off the next cycle of anxiety. A positive pregnancy test is only one step in confirming you’ve got a bona fide healthy pregnancy on board, and the moments of greatest excitement are also the moments of greatest risk.

I think I managed to not cry, not shed a single happy or upset tear, until the seven-week scan.

It’s the big cut-off point for IVF patients. Either everything is looking good, and they happily send you off to go find a midwife and carry on like any normal pregnancy, or, well, it’s not and you have to decide whether to go through it all, all over again.

I hadn’t had any bleeding (good sign?) or cramps (neutral sign?) and maybe just a little low-level nausea in the evening (good sign?), which naturally I turned into another thing to worry about because my mother had horrific morning sickness with me so maybe not puking my guts out was a bad sign??? But I managed to lock everything down into an itty-bitty box and refused to look at it.

Bottling everything up is not typically a great long-term strategy for mental health, but (personal reckons, and I am not a psychiatrist!) I figured in the very short term it was better than having a full-blown meltdown.

And then, there it was. A weird little flicker in the middle of a weird little bean-shape sitting smack in the middle of my uterus, on a big screen for all three of us (me, J and our lovely fertility doctor) to see.

I will happily admit I cried. That little flicker made it real.

(And it also made me angry because of that whole “heartbeat” meme that anti-choice monsters use to deny pregnant people the right to choose, and I didn’t want to feel angry and political in that moment. Though it is on brand. But that’s all a rant for another time.)

Although I had done my best not to get my hopes up, in case they were dashed, I had started talking to the baby. Trying to build a sense of connection to something not even a centimeter big. Hoping in a vague and ridiculous way that it would create a positive environment, a good vibe, some more luck. But it wasn’t as real as it became when I saw her on that screen, thumping away, oblivious to literally everything.

We all react differently. J started planning things. I bought one of those week-by-week antenatal books. This was pretty typical for both of us.

And it was all fine for a couple of days. Then I had a bit of a crash.

This is really where the title of this blog comes from, because the note I wrote on 3 September, four days after the scan, was entitled “Everything you do is probably wrong”. It was my first, proper, massive panic attack of the pregnancy.

If you’re like me, you start off thinking you’ll be sensible about it all. Just follow the normal guidance. Definitely don’t believe everything you read on the internet! Check the advice about food and exercise and sleeping and symptoms to watch out for.

And then, somehow, it all spirals into a freakout because what if the pet guinea pigs have contracted a rare virus from a mouse so now you can’t be in the room while their bedding is being changed and maybe washing your hands for the third time in 10 minutes will help??? on top of the ten other things you Googled today.

I could tell it was bothering J. Suddenly I was stopping meals halfway through to check if I was allowed to eat them. I was transformed from the stroppy feminist who’d happily rant about diet culture and food policing and the way patriarchy constrains pregnant people by creating an environment of fear and blame, into a nervous woman whose favourite phrase was “no, I can’t eat that.”

But it was really difficult to break out of it because it made total sense.

The fact was, at that point, if anything went wrong – if we lost our pregnancy – no one would ever be able to convince me it wasn’t my fault.

When our first embryo didn’t take, it was actually kind of easy to shrug and say, well, fertility science is basically witchcraft, they have no idea why it does or doesn’t work a lot of the time, it’s a coin toss roll of the dice cross your fingers kind of game. And it was even easier than that knowing we had an embryo on standby in the freezer, so we didn’t have to consider re-starting the whole bloody process.

But now – then, after the seven week scan – the baby was there. She had a heartbeat (see previous note about awful anti-abortion losers). And the only person who could screw things up was me. The doctors had done their job. J had performed his part. My body became the weakest link, and I just didn’t have a lot of faith that my body was up to the job.

The trick I always (try to) use with anxiety is: find the thing you can control. For me, it was finding a midwife. At the same time I felt like everything was exploding around me, I was scanning online profiles for a lead maternity carer, hoping I’d find the perfect person who would make it all smooth sailing again. Someone – a third party, not my partner or my mum or my best friends, who are obviously all biased and therefore liars – who could reassure me that every pregnant person goes through this stuff and comes out fine on the other side.

Thankfully, I did.

Photo by Barbara Krysztofiak on Unsplash