Tits, Tiredness and Toast: What It’s Actually Like Being Pregnant

'I thought I had come through those heady student days of vomiting in bins, panic-eating sausage rolls, sleeping in the afternoon and worrying about the size of my breasts. And yet, here I am'Illustration by Holly Walsh

Tits, Tiredness and Toast: What It's Actually Like Being Pregnant

by Nell Frizzell |
Published on

Have you ever stayed up all night, then gone on a day-long, winding car journey, in a pair of too-tight trousers, with a storming hangover and the taste of burnt onions in your mouth? Then you, my friends, have also experienced my first trimester of pregnancy.

At the age of 32, I thought I had come through those heady student days of vomiting in bins, panic-eating sausage rolls, sleeping in the afternoon and worrying about the size of my breasts. And yet, here I am. Since getting pregnant (by a very nice man, my partner in fact, possibly on a night train back from Cornwall) my body has started to turn from that old familiar battleground of muscle, ego, self-criticism and unpredictable urges, into something quite remarkable. It has become a shared repository of hopes, imagination, love and dark magic. But one that appears to need daily injections of granny snacks like pork pies, hard boiled eggs, sausages and pineapple chunks to keep going (and despite the fact that I have spent the majority of my adult life eating as a vegetarian).

Being pregnant, I have discovered, is as much an act of imagination as biology, particularly in those first three months. Until I saw the figure of a tiny skeleton man whomping around my womb like a drunk woman at Centreparcs, the whole existence of my baby was nothing more than a thought, a rumour, a desperately-wanted but unknowable guess. I mean, sure, I’d weed on more plastic sticks than a dog at the dump and my period didn’t come, but at no point did anyone other than me ever actually, you know, check. Pregnancy tests are now good enough for doctors and midwives not to test your urine - if you say you’re pregnant, they believe you. And so, you wait. You wait, hoping against hope that your knickers won’t unexpectedly become stained with blood; that you won’t wake up hollow again; that your baby won’t ebb away as quietly as it came.

In films, and on television, the 12-week scan looks like the emotional mix of the moon landings and your wedding day. Women seem to lie back, their eyes dewy with tears and whisper ‘My baby! My beautiful baby!’ I, however, stared at the screen with something close to terror as this tiny white form zoomed down the side of my womb like a slide, threw its hand in the air like Freddy Mercury and, at one point, tried to swim. Occasionally a great grey cloud would obscure the image and the radiographer would apologise for the enormous size of my bladder, only to then change the angle of approach so the genuinely bizarre face of skeleton mask would emerge from out of the darkness, its eyes shining like two 5p pieces. The terror wasn’t negative, but a terror born of love. I lay, my heart in my throat, my hands shaking like two sweaty leaves, waiting for the bad news. Was its heart leaking? Did it have a skull? Was it really alive? Faith in my own body was, as I should have expected, as miserable as the wisps of hair across an adolescent boy’s chin. I so wanted it to be okay; and I was terrified that it wasn’t.

There are a few other things about being pregnant that don’t work out quite like they do on the telly. In that first trimester, there is a sort of interior fatigue that is hard to fight. So much is happening beneath your skin - the building of synapses, organs, the creation of cartilage, blood, the beating of a heart smaller than your little fingernail - that you will sometimes feel utterly occupied, totally spent, without moving a limb. I also, for one of the first times in my life, became wolfishly private. The idea of other people knowing, other people hoping for, talking about, expecting and loving a baby I wasn’t even sure was still alive, was almost unbearable. I don’t want anyone to buy me a single thing until the baby exists in the cold, dirty oxygen of the outside world. Because, if they do, and something goes wrong, I will feel like I’ve failed them. And, frankly, I don’t need that pressure.

I am also weeing like a horse in the advanced stages of prostate decay, my discharge has doubled, I have thrown up every single time I’ve taken the number 253 bus and my nipples are now sensitive enough that, after a cold outdoor swim, I get overwhelmed with a sort of sadness like I’ve landed on my bicycle crossbar.

But the strangest thing, one that I find hard to admit, was the way my love for my partner turned, gradually, into dependence. I can’t explain it but, at around two and a half months, I found myself sitting at home, wishing for him to come back with a piece of fruit, some cloth, a letter; something to show that, even when he was away from me, I was in his heart. I work as a lifeguard at The Women’s Ponds on Hampstead Heath and, one day, I watched a pair moorhens nesting in our rowing boat with tears in my eyes. The female moorhen would sit, on her pile of sticks, alone, for hours, looking at the water, unmoving, simply waiting. Meanwhile, the male moorhen would swim off, collecting leaves, stalks of grass and reed, sometimes three times his own length, until he felt ready to swim home, back to his boat, and lay these soft pieces of green beneath his nesting partner’s breast, to make her a little comfier. The trust of that female moorhen, and the devotion of her male partner, left me utterly undone.

And so here I was; a woman of words and thoughts and the world; a woman who has lived alone, hardened her heart to the brutality of rejection, built a life around her mind and taken on adventures, sitting at home, waiting in the silence of my own nest, for my partner to come home. Hoping that he will have brought me some soft envoy of his love; some tangible symbol that he would be there for us when I needed him most. I tried to tell him about the moorhens and, well, I couldn’t. I couldn’t speak.

The breasts, the belly, the vomit, the hope, the disbelief, the discharge, the hormones, the sour taste and exhausted limbs - that I was expecting. But the thudding weight of love? That caught me off guard.

Like this? Then you might also be interested in:

I Try Boxing To See If It Can Ease PMS

Imagine Have To Chose Between Your Mental Health And Your Fertility

A Broken Heart Can Last Forever, Says Science

Follow Nell on Twitter @NellFrizzell

This article originally appeared on The Debrief.

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