Pregnancy 101: The Woes, the Rules, and Yes, the Swollen Ankles

Two blue lines. “Are you sure?” I asked my husband, Tom. One line on the white, plastic stick looked kind of faded. I peed on another stick. Same result: Two blue lines, this time, more defined. “Ninety-nine percent accuracy, babe,” he pointed out. In the movies, when couples find out they’re pregnant, they usually hug and cry and have this really special moment in the bathroom. I simply shrugged and suggested we go see a doctor to be absolutely sure. I’m sure my husband wanted to say, “I told you so!” (He was more sure than I was that I was going to get pregnant.) Instead, he said, “Well, we did say, if it happens, it happens.” But he’s much better at hiding his surprise and going with the flow than I am.  

This happened in September of 2020, in the middle of a pandemic, but at a time when things were starting to open up gradually with conditions. Los Angeles was still experiencing heavier restrictions and closures, but lockdowns were lifted and travel was permitted. I went back to my laptop, but instead of working, I sat there doing the math. A week and a half without a period. Six weeks since my husband and I had a shotgun wedding in Vegas. I didn’t get knocked up in Vegas, although that would have definitely made for a fun story. According to my math, I must have gotten pregnant about a week after.

Even when the doctor confirmed I was pregnant, I was still in denial of how fast it happened. I was the one who suggested to my husband that we “try” because I honestly didn’t think it could happen in one or two goes. I strongly believed it would take some time. One of the reasons I wanted to marry Tom was his eagerness to become a father and start a family. He and I are ten years apart, so as I’m pushing thirty, he’s pushing forty. There hasn’t been a great history of fertility or conception in my family. Getting pregnant with me took my mother a year, and after that, she suffered two miscarriages. My rationalization for “trying” was simply that I’d rather attempt conception sooner than wait and possibly face the difficulties of conceiving later.

Seven months later, I can be honest with myself, though. I wasn’t ready for what was about to happen. It felt too soon. I didn’t even have my health insurance figured out yet. In my first ultrasound, my husband couldn’t be in the waiting room or doctor’s room. I sat on a cold chair wearing a scratchy hospital gown for what felt like a million years as I waited to be checked. Finally, the doctor came and stuck a tube up me (sorry to be graphic) and I had to call my husband so he could see the baby (the size of a seed), too. After the ultrasound, my doctor asked if I had any questions, and of course, I had to know, “Can I still eat sushi?” She chuckled and listed off a few things I should try and avoid during pregnancy. But trust me, the list went on and on.

Google: What can’t I eat during pregnancy?

Results: About a million and one things including sushi, oysters, rare meat, soft cheeses, coffee, tea, soda, alcohol, sugary foods, or juices…

There went all my favorite dishes. There went my 16-ounce cup of iced coffee in the morning and an order from Starbucks in the afternoon. There went my brie and cracker snacks, my lox bagels, and oh my God, all my potato chips and chocolate treats! And there went my mentally stabilizing end-of-the-day glass(es) of wine. 

Really, what is there to do but eat and drink in a pandemic? Talk about sacrifice. Don’t ever put a person in front of me audacious enough to say, “It’s only nine months,” or they will feel my wrath. Only nine months? That’s practically a year. Not to mention the six or more months after delivery for breastfeeding. That’s a year and a half! I don’t want to sound like a glutton or an alcoholic, but seriously, that is a long time to fantasize over meals and drinks.

Speaking of wine, that’s exactly how we broke the news to my mother: while grocery shopping during a trip in Lake Tahoe. My mother knows me too well. I cannot pass the wine aisle without getting a bottle or two; it’s physically impossible – my hands involuntarily reach for the shelf. When she noticed how I ignored the aisle, she asked why. All sense went out the window as I heard myself blurt out, “I’m pregnant.” She was thrilled. My husband rolled his eyes, the ultrasound photo tucked away in his jacket pocket for when we were supposed to tell her over dinner later. We all hugged. 

The trip was beautiful, but while there, I called several places to see if there were any activities we could do. The only thing open was a horseback riding  ranch. I leapt for joy but my mother killed that joy quickly with, “You can’t horseback ride. It’s bad for the baby.” I couldn’t believe this. 

Google: Can I horseback ride when I’m pregnant?

Results: Activities like horseback riding, skiing, surfing, diving, rock climbing, biking, driving, or running for too long should be avoided during pregnancy. You can, however, walk. 

Great. So with the already limited amount of things to eat and do during a pandemic, the things that people can do are not options for pregnant me.

I had many mixed feelings that accompanied the discovery of being pregnant. As I said earlier: I doubted it was true at first. There was regret for pushing us to try so soon after getting married. There was guilt because even though I conceived so easily, contrary to my doubt, I wasn’t instantly happy like I thought I’d be. There was additional guilt when I considered how many women and couples try years and years, undergoing several procedures for this one thing I wasn’t thrilled over. For some, I know pregnancy isn’t even possible. I knew that by sharing the news, I would spark a lot of Congratulations! and sincere joy, but I also might cause someone to lose a little more hope or feel inadequate, even when they were trying to be happy for me. I know firsthand how Facebook and Instagram can make you feel like you’re missing out, that great things are happening for others while you’re falling behind, or that life just isn’t fair.

Once my bump arrived, I also became a target for complete strangers. In the past month, as I hit the 25-week mark, I’ve had two random encounters. My husband and I were at The Grove in Beverly Hills, shopping for baby clothes, when an older woman startled me with, “You know, I could never have children. That’s why my boyfriend left me.” She kept going, sharing very personal stories. We gave a friendly nod and politely moved away. The second time happened at a Korean BBQ restaurant a few weeks ago when the restrictions on outdoor dining were lifted. The owner repeatedly approached our table to inquire about the baby: “How far along?” “Boy or girl?” “Children are such a gift. Are you excited?” When it was time to pay our bill, she appeared again, relaying that for 37 years, she and her husband could never conceive. “We’ll be back with the baby when it’s safe for her,” I said, trying to provide some comfort. The joy lit her face. These interactions, both negative and positive, just kept reinforcing the fact that sooner than later, I was going to be a mom. There was going to be another human who would completely change our lives. The thought still scares me and sometimes I feel like I’m supposed to be happy all the time about being pregnant, especially when it’s the one thing other people want and can’t have. But my mixed feelings were that: mixed, so they weren’t all bad. It took a while for 100% joy to kick in but when it did, it went full gear. 

Google: What should I get for my newborn baby?

Results: Don’t buy too much, your newborn will grow very fast. 

Too late. After the five-month mark, we found out the gender of our baby, a girl (to both of our families’ great joy)! Once the excitement hit, I started shopping like crazy. Bassinet, crib, or crib and changing table? Yes, crib and changing table. Hues of pink or neutral colors? Let’s be safe – neutral colors; you never really know until delivery. Nursery rocker? Not enough space. What else? Lounger, blankets, books, stuffed toys, and lots and lots of mix-and-match bodysuits and bloomers. I couldn’t help myself–I still can’t. Currently, I am waiting for three more packages of cute outfits to arrive, but smartly, I ordered up in sizes. Not to mention, shopping for myself. Who knew maternity jeans and leggings were so comfortable? At the beginning, I despised the thought of buying anything with the word “maternity” before it. I thought I’d be fine with just my looser clothing. I didn’t want to lose my coolness, but alas, I succumbed.

For anyone who’s experienced pregnancy, I think we can all single out a turning point, a moment that really turns the mirror around and shifts the perspective. Suddenly, all the pregnancy woes and obstacles become less and less about you. At first, all my fears about pregnancy and becoming a mother were centered around me. Could I work and write with a constantly crying baby and little to no sleep? Would I be able to function at all? Could I finish my Master’s? Would we be okay financially? Would my body “snap back”? My single turning point came because of my friend, Google. 

Google: Can I go in a hot tub when I’m pregnant?
Results: NO.

But I did, more than once. We are in a pandemic, and there is not much we can do. Furthermore, there is not much I can do. But our apartment has a hot tub, my single luxury. After a long day of work or writing, I like to go down and submerge in 104-degree water for half an hour, book in one hand, iced cold water with a slice of lemon in the other. But it wasn’t until a trip to Laguna for my husband’s birthday, when I posted a video of being in a hot tub, that I was met with uproarious cries of, “What are you doing?! That’s bad for the baby!” Do you know how many times I have read or heard what’s bad for the baby? A lot of times the warnings are extreme. Apparently, eating a little sushi every now and then, is okay. You can ride a horse, just don’t go too fast or fall off it. Everything in moderation, everything done safely. Except for the hot tub, because you put your baby at an “increased risk of neural tube defects and serious abnormalities of the brain or spinal cord.” – Google

I honestly didn’t know how serious it was. I haven’t freaked out as much as I thought I would during this pregnancy, but the thought of potentially hurting my little girl sent me into an anxious frenzy. I wanted to go to the doctor immediately to make sure everything was okay. And that’s when it hit me. I care about her SO much, so much that it hurts. She may still be a little alien in my stomach, but she’s my little alien. I love her beyond words already, and the thought of possibly hurting her devastated me. I swore off hot tubs permanently (okay, not permanently, but until they’re safe to use). And thankfully, my baby is perfectly fine, according to our last ultrasound. More so than hearing her heartbeat for the first time, or feeling her kick my side, or even finding out that she is actually a she, the hot tub was my turning point, the moment I realized this is not about me anymore, this is all about her. 

My due date is May 9, 2021, and it couldn’t come any sooner. Now in my third trimester, I understand what expectant mothers mean when they say all the pain, the discomfort, insomnia, the body changes are all worth it. Even when I have to put a hair tie through my pants’ buttonholes to wear them, even when my back and my uterus are screaming at me, and my hands and feet are swollen, even when I don’t feel confident in how I look, how I’m going to be as a mom, or how I’m going to be a mom and still accomplish my career goals, I honestly can’t wait. All the new moms I’ve talked to advise that I should rest and relish this time before my baby is born, because once she’s here … she’s here, and I can forget about sleep and sanity altogether. But I’m sure they felt the same way I do now: content, as I count down the days before I bring my child into my world, a world she will take over, and I won’t mind at all.

Julz Savard Hall is a Filipino-American writer from Los Angeles, CA. She has a BFA in Creative Writing from Ateneo de Manila University and is currently pursuing an MFA in Creative Writing at Antioch University Los Angeles. She works for a nonprofit as a Communications and PR Specialist, and writes and produces music on the side. She is currently completing her first YA novel.