Things I didn’t know before I got pregnant

When you tell people you’re pregnant, the ones who are already mothers immediately take you aside and tell you horrific things about pregnancy and birth. There seems to be a conspiracy to keep this information secret from non-pregnant women until it’s TOO LATE.

(There’s also a bunch of stuff that nobody tells you, but you quickly start finding out for yourself. Like about constipation.)

Well I refuse to be part of the conspiracy of silence. Here’s my dispatches with the secrets from pregnancy-land.

If you are contemplating throwing away your pills and trying to make babies,

If you’ve just done a wee on a stick and you’re looking at a scary blue line wondering what to do next,

Or if you made a baby years ago (or you plan never to make babies) and you just want to laugh at me…

Then this post is for you.

A close up picture of a positive pregnancy test.

A stick I weed on, some months ago.

Things I didn’t realise #1: It’s a big fucking deal.

I know this seems obvious. And yes, I did realise that parenthood is a life-changing experience. I’m not stupid. I just didn’t realise quite how it would feel.

I am with child. Like billions of women before me throughout history. And yet when it happens to you, it seems like the biggest fucking thing in the world.

The first time I had my heart really broken – 20 years ago now, dumped by my first love – I remember walking out into the street and feeling vaguely surprised that everyone was just acting like normal.

“How come the street just looks the same as it did before? How come buildings haven’t fallen down and people aren’t rending their hair? DON’T YOU ALL KNOW WHAT’S HAPPENED?”

Yes, that’s the solipsism of youth. But let’s face it, like Hugh Grant’s character in About a Boy, we are all the star, in our own heads, of the film of our lives.

Finding out you’re pregnant is earth-shattering the way being dumped for the first time was. Only more so.

A miniature human thing is growing inside your body! You’re going to be a parent! Responsible for a small person for the next 18 years, if not the rest of their lives! And on top of that, as shaken as you may be, you can’t have a drink or a fag!

I felt like walking down the street people would be able to tell that a momentous and amazing thing had happened to me. Like there should be a giant, glowing, OMFG over my head.

I went to the doctors. “Hi, I’d like to register with the doctor. Errrm, I’ve just found out I’m pregnant.” I sort of expected party poppers and fireworks to go off and a brass band to start playing. The receptionist said “congratulations”, while tucking a pen behind her ear and looking under a file for some forms.


You can’t get your head round the idea that millions of people do this every day, and everything just carries on as normal. I wondered around in a daze, unable to think of anything else. I couldn’t quite relate to the everyday world. I wanted to blurt out, “I’m pregnant!” all the time. “Well, that’s very nice love”, people said, “but do you want a single or a return?”

Most of the adult women you know have done it. Bloody hell! I kind of thought it was a big deal when my friends had kids. But I just didn’t take in quite how big.

I think it’s one of those things, like infinity, that you can’t ever really get your head around. Creating a new person from nowhere? Nope, just too incredible and miraculous to contemplate. Being responsible for it for the rest of your life? Argh! Growing it, inside your body, from a single cell to melon-sized then passing it through your fanny? Wait, what?!?! Whose stupid idea was this then?

I’m at 22 weeks now (babies come out around 40 weeks – that’s the kind of thing you usually don’t know until you get pregnant). I think we’ve kind of got our heads round it a bit, but I still have moments of, “Shit, what were we thinking?! There’s no way we are responsible enough for this.”

Also, I have occasional moments of abject existential terror at the thought that there’s a tiny human inside my body, sucking my nutrients and moving around when they want to.

It’s just too freaking WEIRD.

Things I Didn’t Realise #2. Pregnancy symptoms start from day 1.

I knew that you got morning sickness right from the off. But when people I knew were pregnant they didn’t look pregnant for a while. So I didn’t think of them as being *that* pregnant. And then they gradually looked more and more pregnant. And I thought of them as more and more pregnant.

Here’s how I thought of it: you start off a tiny bit pregnant, then get more so. Until you’re fully pregnant. And then a baby comes out.

I guess it is a bit like that. But also a lot not like that.

Here’s how I also thought of it: the fertilised egg is a little seed. And your womb is like a pot of compost. And the seed just plants itself in there, and does it’s thing and grows. And you (your body, your self) carry on around it, pretty much like normal.

But it’s not really like that. It’s more like this: Your body was a factory that made saucepans. And now a big emergency switch has been thrown and it’s being hastily converted into a factory that makes lawn-mowers instead. New machines are ordered. Existing machines need to be changed drastically, or double in size, or speed up or slow down. The whole shape of the factory is re-designed. Supply lines change. Previously important machinery gets moved out of the way and has to lump it.

What starts off as one tiny cell, implanting itself into the wall of your womb, is the trigger for ALL of this. Massive doses of hormone are the messenger. And your body (and brain) jump to obedient attention.

TIDR #3. Constipation.

One of the things the massive amounts of hormones do is slow down your digestive tract. This can (probably will) give you constipation. Nobody told me about the constipation. Bastards.

I got constipation from early on – before I even knew I was pregnant. The human digestive tract is about 30 feet long. The foetus, at that stage, is smaller than a poppy seed. How could something so tiny stop something that size in it’s tracks? Hormones. Bloody hormones. The signal goes out, and your body obeys.

Everyone advises eating lots of fibre. Yes, well, thanks for that, you smug gits, but I WAS ALREADY EATING A HIGH-FIBRE DIET, I’M A GUARDIAN-READING HIPPY. Brown rice was not enough.

SOLUTION: The only thing that worked was loads of dried prunes. Other people have suggested dried apricots, or fresh kiwi fruits. Dried prunes are really cheap though. Five dried prunes count as a portion of your five a day, and in my experience are enough to get your sluggish bowel moving.

Apologies for the TMI (what am I talking about, this whole post is TMI), but there is one upside to the constipation thing: after four days of no shitting, the enormous prune-induced shit you do have feels absolutely great.

TIDR #4. Peeing

Peeing all the time also started from day one. I thought that was only towards the end, cos the baby sits on your bladder. Nope, it’s right from the start, cos the hormones increase pelvic bloodflow, making you *feel* like you need to wee all the time. So you inconveniently queue up and pay 20p at a train station, but then you only pee an eggcup’s worth. It’s well annoying. Especially cos it happens all night. (Not the queuing and paying 20p bit. I don’t live in a train station. Just the peeing.)

SOLUTION: It helps a bit with night peeing if you drink loads of water all day but then not in the last hour or so before bed. The idea being you pee it out before sleep. But I still have to pee in the night once or twice.

TIDR#5. Pregnancy is like female viagra

This came totally out of the blue for me. But it turns out the UPSIDE of increased pelvic blood flow is being hornier than usual, and more easily turned on. I can’t believe no-one had told me this. The boyfriend had been worried I’d go off sex now I was pregnant. No sirree.

Pregnancy books do mention this in passing, I realised. And they even say you may have more frequent or more powerful orgasms. Why is this one a secret??? I suppose they didn’t want to make pregnancy sound too enticing at school, in sex ed.

SOLUTION: Why the fuck would I need a solution?

WARNING: Not everyone finds this, so don’t complain to me if you get pregnant for the orgasms and it doesn’t work. But frankly, given all the other shit stuff pregnancy does to your body (and the whole parenthood thing), it’s not a very sensible reason for getting pregnant. You’d be better off buying a rampant rabbit.

TIDR #6. Breasts

The only issue with the increased libido is keeping the boyfriend in bed and servicing my sexual needs as much as I want. Fortunately, I have my secret pregnancy weapon – giant comedy breasts!

I thought they would get a bit bigger at the end, with the whole getting-ready-for-milk-production thing, but mine started growing before I’d even missed my first period.

A friend of mine said recently I’d have to admit to my unborn child one day that I spent my entire pregnancy talking about my breasts on twitter. Well frankly, if his sexual appendage had doubled in size in the space of a few weeks then he’d be talking about it too.

Normally I have a modest pair of B-cup breasts. They’re perfectly nice – I’m fond of them – but nothing to write home about. In the first few weeks of pregnancy they got bigger, and bigger, and bigger. I’d look in the mirror and they looked like obscene porn star implants. When I was lying on my back the boyfriend described them as ‘standing up like two jellies on a plate’.

My bras became unequal to the task. I went to get fitted for a new bra and walked out of there in an E cup. An E cup!

The boyfriend (always a breast man) is mesmerised by them. I can win any argument by just lifting up my top and showing him my tits. Now the bump has grown the breasts look more in proportion and not quite so porn-star as they did. But they are still, frankly, enormous. I’m wearing a bra to sleep in for the first time in my life.

My sister – she’s the kind of woman who reads the skincare tips in magazines – told me it’s important to moisturise breasts and bump daily, to avoid stretch marks. When I told the boyfriend this he selflessly volunteered to rub the cream in.

What with his breast obsession and my hormone-fuelled libido, we end up not getting a lot done. But it’s an excellent way to start the day. I reckon we won’t get much chance to play hide-the-sausage once the baby’s born, and it’s important for us to strengthen our relationship at this crucial time in our lives as a couple…

WARNING: I’m afraid this is not a universal experience. My friend said hers didn’t change size at all. But then hers were pretty big to start with.

TIDR #7. The breasts thing has a downside.

They are sore a lot in the first trimester. Really sore. Remember the factory analogy? Breasts are a part of the factory that need a complete overhaul for their new role.

And you know how your nipples get erect when they are cold? For a while, if they got cold enough to go erect then they really, really fucking killed. Like someone was sawing off your nipples with hot knives. Fortunately this doesn’t happen if they are erect through sexual arousal. Just the cold. But I’m living in Scotland and it’s winter.

Mostly this happened when I was in the flat. The boyfriend was renovating the sash windows. Which involved breaking one pane of glass and having a hole instead of a window for 3 days. In Scotland. In January. My nipples got cold a lot.

The only thing I could do was put my hands over my breasts, while swearing and hopping about, until they warmed up and stopped hurting. Sometimes (especially if my hands were cold) I’d go and get the boyfriend and make him hold them – he has very warm hands. He liked that, but I was in far too much pain for shenanigans.

Then one day, for the first time, it happened when I was walking down the street. I immediately spotted the difference between your breasts hurting when you’re at home and them doing it in the street. You can’t put your hands over your nipples and dance about swearing in the street. Well you could, but you might get some unwelcome attention.

Honestly, the pain was unbearable. I gritted my teeth, swearing under my breath, and went into the nearest shop. Unfortunately it takes ages for them to warm up and stop hurting when they get that cold. Partly I think cos the huge comedy breasts are very insulating – it takes ages for body heat to get to the nipples, far away as they are. This is why boyfriend and his hot hands are so useful.

I had to walk around the shop, trying to surreptitiously rub my upper arms against my breasts to warm them. I must have looked like a badly co-ordinated penguin impersonator.

The boyfriend, ever practical, suggested a solution. You know those hand-warmer things? The little rectangles that you click and a chemical reaction heats them up? He reckoned I should carry one of those in each pocket. Then if the need arose I could just click them into action and slip them into my bra.

I think it’s hard to slip things into your bra in public without people noticing. But what if I fitted the little handwarmers into my bra before going out? In the event of cold nipples, just give each breast a quick squeeze and hey presto, soothing heat, right where it’s needed. If they were fitted into your bra right, you might be able to activate the warmers – click! – just by flexing your chest muscles. Like some kind of odd, nipple-pleasing superhero.

I now think they should market bras with those things fitted, especially for pregnant women living in cold climates. In fact, I’m amazed Ikea don’t sell them already. Or are Swedish women too Viking to need nipple warmers?

TIDR #8. Hysterical laughter

As you can imagine, the massive hormone levels (and the whole adjustment-to-imminent-parenthood) have funny effects on your emotions. Especially in the first trimester, I’d lose my temper more easily than normal. Or get weepy.

Then towards the end of the first trimester (i.e. about week 12), we went on an outing to the big supermarket. I find the big supermarket pathetically exciting, as we don’t go very often, and they have SO MUCH RANDOM STUFF.

In a bit of a tired pregnancy daze, I wandered off, looking at all the things. It was just after Christmas and tonnes of stuff was on special offer. I love reduced things.

After about 20 minutes it occurred to me I’d lost my boyfriend and I should probably try to find him. I drifted around looking for him and eventually found him in the last place we’d seen each other, where, in obedience to a very sensible supermarket-reunion-strategy I’d once mentioned then forgotten about, he’d been patiently waiting for the last 30 minutes.

For some reason his sad little face over the trolley, and the realisation of how oblivious I’d been, seemed like the funniest thing ever. I started laughing and literally couldn’t stop. I had to bury my face in his shoulder, while trying to explain what was so funny in hand gestures, as I couldn’t breathe. I don’t think I’d laughed quite so helplessly since being a small child.

This happened several times over the following few weeks, although it seems to have settled down now, sadly. For some reason it most often happened in supermarkets. Something to do with the trippy hyper-reality of the brightly-lit setting I think.

TIDR #9. Audible farting

In the first trimester I farted more than usual. I think this was connected to the constipation (did I mention the constipation?) – gas was being produced in my intestines, but the solids weren’t going anywhere, and the gas had to squeeze past it. Or possibly it was all the dried fruit.

I was able to release this in discreet farts, in the normal uptight British fashion.

In the second trimester I’m not getting as much constipation any more. And I’d say the amount I’m farting is mostly back to normal (apart from the odd special day), but my farting discretion seems to have evaporated. Now, they just pop out noisily and without warning. I believe the hormone relaxin is to blame. It relaxes things. Hence the name.

The other day, I was lying on the sitting room floor, doing back exercises for my sore pregnancy back. The boyfriend came in to discuss what to make for dinner – he wanted to check if he could make something with tuna, cos pregnant women are only allowed to eat a certain amount of tuna a week.

I checked on my phone and found that actually the amount of tinned tuna you’re allowed is 4 whole tins a week. This is surely more than anyone but a serious tuna fiend would eat anyway? I mean, when we have a tuna-based dish, we’ll use one tin between two of us. So for me to eat four tins of tuna in a week would mean we’d had tuna eight times. Who eats tuna more often than once a day?

The boyfriend went off on a flight of fancy about this, and for some reason, the sight of his upside-down face, waxing lyrical about an imaginary Mr Tuna McTuna, the tuna obsessive, made me start laughing. And then lying on the floor laughing about tuna seemed so silly it made me laugh uncontrollably. And laughing uncontrollably made me fart loudly. And then the fact that I was lying on the floor, laughing about tuna and farting loudly, made me laugh so much that tears were running down my face and I couldn’t speak.

The boyfriend just stared at me in a bemused way, saying “Silly Mummy”, and I thought, “How much more pregnant could this moment be? Doing back exercises on the floor, laughing uncontrollably, while farting, due to a conversation about pregnancy food restrictions. They could put a photo of me on the front cover of the next Miriam Stoppard book. That would be honest!”

And of course that made me laugh even more. And fart.

TIDR #10. Your friends, when drunk, aren’t as funny as you think.

This isn’t exactly a medical effect of pregnancy. More an insight brought to you by pregnancy – and the associated ban on drinking more than a thimbleful of wine at a time. (Seriously, it’s horrifying how small a glass of wine counts as a unit). Because of the stupid placenta, and alcohol being a poison and stuff, even on special occasions, when everyone is having a drink, and letting their hair down, you have to stay sober all night.

I know how it is. Your friends are brilliant. They are funny and lovely and cool – secretly you think they are more funny and lovely and cool than other people – that’s why you are friends with them.

And when they’ve been drinking, they get even more funny! Gosh, the times you’ve laughed. The hilarious conversations you’ve got into, the great lines, the non-stop fun.

But what you discover when you’re pregnant, and only allowed one unit of alcohol, is that when you are stone cold sober and they are drunk, your lovely friends really aren’t that interesting at all. They talk too loud. They repeat themselves. They get emotional for no reason. In fact, they are just as annoying as drunk strangers.

The worst thing about it is you realise this means YOU are probably boring when you’re pissed as well. Not witty and hilarious like you thought. And if, like me, half your mates have been pregnant before you, this means that they saw you being this annoying. For months on end. They didn’t even tell you. And now they are getting their own back.

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  • AN  On February 25, 2013 at 9:30 am

    I’d add another ‘bloody obvious but nobody warns you’ item: It’s frikkin weird to have a small person moving around inside of you. I’m 35 weeks gone, and my stomach moves all over the place of its own accord. He twists and turns and moves and it feels just so bloody alien.

    Loads of women I work with (who have kids in their teens) glazed over and waxed lyrical about how amazing and wonderful it is to be pregnant – and it is, when you’re not feeling knackered/nauseous/emotional/terrified/suffering frozen nipple. Hurrah for lifting the lid and revealing a little more about real life 🙂

    Oh and one last word, to add to the TMI fest: Discharge. Enjoy.

    • matriarchalutopia  On February 25, 2013 at 9:53 am

      Yes! The pregnancy books go all misty-eyed about ‘the first time you feel your baby moving inside you is a magical moment’. I was like, ‘No it’s not! It’s incredibly creepy!’ Glad to know I’m not alone:-)

      • k.  On February 26, 2013 at 5:51 pm

        i remember describing the sensation to my husband as feeling like a little old man with long fingers and fingernails was sitting inside the womb gently scratching me with one of his long fingers..

  • Shortwife  On February 26, 2013 at 3:52 pm

    I hear you!!!

    I told everyone after Boychild was born (May 2012) that I was going to write a book entitled ‘Shit they don’t tell you’… it would be like a pregnancy ‘War& Peace’. I won’t go into it further as there are some things that you really don’t want to know (but even so , you probably should know) so all I will say is, please do your pelvic floor exercises. You’ll be thankful for it. Trust me! (and that is one of the less-grim things you should know). Good Luck.

    Oh yes, one last thing… if you have any books/movies/plays/friends you want to catch up with then do it now. Really.

    • matriarchalutopia  On February 26, 2013 at 3:56 pm

      Right. Am going to make myself a reminder sign about doing my pelvic floor exercises. Good advice, cheers!

  • kim  On February 26, 2013 at 5:39 pm

    Made me chuckle so much! When I was pregnant with my first baby I remember not getting stretch marks for months,then all of a sudden it looked like I’d been clawed by a tiger! Oh how I cried!! Haha!! (And yes,I moisturised!! )

    • matriarchalutopia  On February 26, 2013 at 5:45 pm

      Oh no, can that happen? *doubles moisturising routine*

      • k.  On February 26, 2013 at 5:50 pm

        moisturizing doesn’t actually help. :p if it’s meant to happen (aka.. you have the genes for it) it will happen, no matter how much you rub in that creme! another myth i suppose. i wear my tiger stripes with pride (and they do fade with time..)!

  • k.  On February 26, 2013 at 5:48 pm

    impressive list! btw they do make nipple-warmers. well, not really, but i wear these wool-pads when it’s cold here. but then again, i live in northern-norway, so without them i would have been in trouble. protecting your nipples is just as important after you give birth while you’re still breastfeeding though. i still feed my 22-month-old a few times a day and i forgot the wool-pads when i went skiing the other week. i slipped some wool-mittens down my bra and it worked after a while! but i did have to stand around and kind of rub/slap my chest for a bit..

  • Maria  On February 26, 2013 at 7:02 pm

    If you feel that way now, wait till you have the baby… girl, you’re in for a big surprise!! That’s when it gets really tough, at least for me… And nobody tells you about that either…

  • Lena  On February 26, 2013 at 7:41 pm

    Funny. But wait until you give birth. Or survive your first month with a newborn. Btw, I do try to tell my (child-free) friends the truth about pregnancy and babies. But they just look at me as if I were mad. Now, when my baby is 18 m old, I can laugh at it, but when I was seriously depressed, frightened and alone, it felt like a huge conspiracy against any young mother who tried to complain or asked for help.

    • matriarchalutopia  On February 26, 2013 at 11:16 pm

      I have had friends tell me this – they felt at new-mum get-togethers that everyone was so, ‘I love my baby, everything is great’ that they couldn’t say, ‘I’m really struggling’. I’m glad you were able to get the help you need and that things got better.

  • Jojo  On February 27, 2013 at 1:16 am

    Wait until you have to take your first shit after pushing out little junior! And if you have to get stitches!?!! Jayzuz that is worse than the birth itself!

  • Merle  On February 27, 2013 at 8:25 am

    Thank you!! I’ve laughed so much reading this – so true!

  • Sarah V  On February 27, 2013 at 10:14 pm

    Very true blog! Though possibly Soph you never heard this about pregnancies from me cos you were always outside drinking on the terrace with G when I was pregnant! Of course you were both always amazingly funny and witty…

    So if you want them, here are my new baby tips –
    1) GET SILICONE NIPPLE GUARDS just in case you need them and don’t listen to any idiot who says only use them if desperate, even la leche league say the new thin ones are fine, do it as soon as you get abrasion, nipples heal up really quickly if given a chance. And nipple pads, the disposable paper ones may be less eco-friendly than the organic cotton ones but they actually give comfort rather than scraping remaining skin off nipples. Hot flannels are the only thing to relieve engorged breasts. You just kind of have to hang over sink or in hot bath and milk yourself with them.
    2) If you get an infection in your stitches (though of course you won’t have stitches) take antibiotics quickly, don’t hang around worrying about baby’s tummy, just take them before your perineum goes green. mmm.
    3) Run away from any competitive mums who start talking about how amazingly ‘advanced’ their baby is. Find mums who will share stories of incompetence and panic and go for sneaky drinks in the afternoon. I was so lucky with amazing mum’s group with a wonderful woman moderating it plus meeting mum friends with whom to share tales of just how shit at being a mum we’d been now
    4) A lot of women do not get the big hormonal rush of falling in love with their newborn straight after birth. You can just feel shaky and a bit shit and knackered. So glad I had been told this, was just able to relax and wait for the love to grow. If I hadn’t known this I might have worried there was something badly wrong.
    5) Pre-baby tip – get a doula for the birth. A good one, who has been to lots of births. Or have a woman there you trust who has had lots of kids. I just ran a focus group on birth experiences – the positive experiences involved doulas/private midwifes/strong female relative who’d had lots of kids being there. Continuity of care from someone you trust is everything. Means that your partner can get on with being your birth partner and you know that someone is watching out for you who gives a shit about you and will not go off shift or run off to another birth. Security means that birth hormones work. Panic means that they switch off.

    • matriarchalutopia  On February 28, 2013 at 8:00 pm

      I just had to google nipple guards. Had never heard of such things. Wow, loads of people on the internet seem to think you should suffer instead. Cheers for the heads up!

      Tearing/antibiotics. Jesus H, yes, I promise I will take antibiotics before my perineum turns green! Although of course, I won’t tear…

      I will definitely seek out Mum’s who are rubbish lush slackers like me.

      Not sure we can afford a doula, but will think about it.

      All top advice, thanks. This is the stuff I need to know!

  • Eilidh Robertson  On February 28, 2013 at 12:02 am

    “the enormous prune-induced shit you do have feels absolutely great.” good practice for delivering your baby!

  • smes9  On February 2, 2015 at 8:57 pm

    i was talking to my boyfriend about how i had no stretch marks, when he pointed to the bottom of my massive 8 months pregnant belly and said ‘you have one there’. yeah cheers! i couldn’t see it. great list by the way- so true how when it happens to you- its the biggest deal EVER, oh and you cant celebrate with a fag ha ha cracked me up!

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