Updated: Jun 18, 2021
So, here we are - pregnant. Healthy and glowing with our thick hair, trim bumps, creating perfect little homes for our impending arrivals, except the truth can be somewhat different. Our expectations of what pregnancy “should” look like are often driven by others and in a large part by the media - sometimes by what they say but equally by what they don’t. Embarrassing conditions and topics are not always easy to discuss, so lets see if I can throw a few of them out there. I am a great believer that if we verbalise and discuss our woes we can release the power they seem to hold and normalise them. I hasten to add that I didn’t personally suffer from all of these, that really would be too much for one woman to bear.
Deviation from the perfect pregnancy might see you suffer from (and to throw in some legal jargon “but not limited to”) some of the following -
Swollen ankles: extra fluid in the body and the pressure from the growing baby can cause swelling in the ankles and feet. Forget your stilettos, dainty shoes or FMB’s for a while and be prepared to embrace some wide fitting sandals, hey you can still rock them!!!!
Piles (haemorrhoids), or swellings containing enlarged blood vessels inside or around you bum (anus): apparently more prevalent in pregnancy as pregnancy hormones make your veins relax. So while your veins are kicking back and taking some time out and ordering a pina colada you might be noticing lumps, itchiness and a feeling like you still need to poo after going to the loo!!
Loss of bladder control: so if we aren’t feeling like we need a poo we are needing to wee. During pregnancy and childbirth pelvic floor muscles are given an almighty work out. It is easy to imagine increased pressure on the bladder as your baby grows and you may leak when you cough, sneeze, exercise or laugh. The constant need for the loo is understandable, your baby has squashed your bladder to the size of a thimble!
Farting. So if we aren’t pooing or weeing we are farting: One of the main causes of increased farting during pregnancy is the hormone progesterone. Our bodies produces more progesterone to support our pregnancies, progesterone relaxes the muscles, including the muscles of your intestine. These “slack” intestine muscles plus the increased pressure from your growing uterus mean that your digestion slows down allowing gas to build up and suddenly we have created the perfect storm.
Belching: please see above, the same applies!!
Heart burn: once again the hormone progesterone comes into play causing the valve to relax this allows stomach acid to pass into the esophagus and irritate the lining. The pressure of the growing baby may also push stomach contents back up into the esophagus.
Varicose veins: oh the joy of the blue veined map appearing on a body that at times doesn’t feel your own.
Back ache: The archetypal image of the pregnant woman rubbing her back, and with good cause. The weight of the growing baby can distort the position of the lower spine, putting a strain on the back causing backache. Ligaments in your body become softer, relaxed and more flexible in preparation for the birth. To compensate the the joints in the pelvis and spine end up taking addition pressure causing lower back pain.
Nausea: this is the one symptom that most people connect with pregnancy, in fact around 90% of women will suffer from it starting around week six, the bad news is that it isn’t limited to the morning as the name “morning sickness” might suggest. Some people just have occasional bouts of nausea while others might be actually sick many times a day.
I was living in London during my first pregnancy and the thought alone of traveling to work by tube was enough to make me gag so my morning commute was undertaken by bus, sitting as close to the front as possible for a quick exit, sick bag discretely hidden in one hand and a ginger snap biscuit in the other.
Shortness off breath: your body is working overtime, no wonder you are out of breath, forget the aerobics class you are going full out with the pregnancy business. The growing uterus contributes to the shortness of breath but equally the amount of blood in a woman’s body increases significantly during pregnancy. The heart has to work harder to pump blood around the body and to the placenta. This increased 24/7 workload makes that gym class look easy but it can make a pregnant woman feel short of breath.
Skin changes: hormones and blood flow during pregnancy can create all sorts of delightful and also less delightful side effects. The estrogen, progesterone, oils and 40% increase in blood flow can see a radiance appear or..... you might discover dark pigment patches on your face attractively known as “the mask of pregnancy”, apt as you might wish you had an actual mask. The increased oils that can provide some with the pregnancy “glow” can also cause acne. There is also the darkening of the nipples or skin between the legs and let us not forget stretch marks. The list of charming skin responses is really unfairly extensive.
Linea Nigra: This is the dark vertical line between your belly button and pubic area, it will usually appear at some point in the second trimester. It isn’t harmful and an old wives tales states it is an indication of the sex of the baby - if the line runs only up to your navel, you're having a girl, but if it runs past your belly button to up near your ribs, it's a boy. Who knows if there is any thing in this (I can’t speak from experience) but the darkened hormonal “zipper” can look particularly fetching when paired with the next feature;
Popping belly buttons: you might experience your “innie” becoming an “outie” if too much pressure is exerted on the abdomen from the growing baby. Mine never fully “popped” but if I was laughing a deep belly laugh it would dance along with my own version of the Hokey Cokey : “you put your belly button in, your belly button out, in, out, in, out, shake it all about”. Nothing attractive about that but it was kind of hilarious.
Hair growth: Hormones of pregnancy can increase hair growth, there is the thick lustrous hair we associate with pregnancy but those same hormones cause hair growth in other places too, like on the face or neck. Your hair growth should return to normal about 6 months after giving birth and if you are lucky your pregnancy may coincide with the charity event Movember where you can claim solidarity with those men who don’t usually sport facial hair either.
……and the list goes on:
Deep Vein Thrombosis
High blood pressure
Vaginal bleeding and discharge
Have a little look on the NHS website for “common health problems in pregnancy” where you can get advice in how to help or lessen some of these symptoms although with the best will in the world you can’t eliminate everything.
If I have missed out your ailment please don’t be offended, it appears that whilst pregnant anything goes or perhaps that should read “everything goes.......in the wrong direction” and the list could be literally endless of major and minor issues. So as we stagger forth wheezing, looking grey from vomiting or red from the strain of trying to push out a constipated poo, with our blotchy skin and bushy beard, bulging ankles emerging from swollen feet, criss crossed with varicose veins, belching and farting please know that we do this as a united sisterhood - I see you and you are still beautiful and amazing, growing another human being inside of you, how could that ever be?
So what does all this have to do with guilt. We all have preconceived ideas about what pregnancy should look and feel like. We see glamorous celebrities on the red carpet and magazine features of stunning women cradling their baby bumps, but let us not forget they have spent hours in hair and makeup and may well have been airbrushed too.
But it is the expectations and the failure to meet the ideal that can cause the feelings of guilt. “I should make more effort”, “I should try and keep my weight down”, “I should be better at being pregnant” but the truth is nearly every woman will be fighting her own pregnancy demons, trying to be the faultless image of pregnant perfection and invariably coming up short.
So the pregnancy reality is different from our glamorous preconceptions. Forget society, families, friends and organisations who have all built images and perceptions of what is expected, leave behind the failure to meet these demands and step away from the guilt and disappointment and know when we see pregnant Hollywood stars glide down the red carpet they are as equally happy at the end of the evening to kick off their shoes, rub their sore backs and have a fart!