The day I found out I was pregnant it was as if I had been asleep for my entire life and was suddenly waking up. Colors were more vibrant, the sky brighter, the sun warmer, the scents of spring more potent; people smiled at me as if they knew my secret and even the birds twittered our good news from bush to bush to tree to tree as I walked around the neighborhood. I couldn't wait for the joys of pregnancy to really start, and I mean all the joys of pregnancy. I was naive or simply crazy, but as I said before, I wanted it all. Any symptom in What to Expect When You're Expecting, I was eagerly expecting.
Be careful what you wish for.
That first day knowing there was a little person growing inside of me, I was scheduled to work the evening shift in the deli of a local co-op. My menial job seemed suddenly utterly insufferable and devoid of purpose. What could be more fulfilling than physically creating a child? Baby was only the size of a poppyseed and yet I already felt I was more powerful than any god, putting together this little person piece by piece with each breath or bite. A customer asked how my day was and my eyes started to tear up. I told him it was the best day of my life. He asked why and I let him in on the secret I was supposed to tell no one, not until more time had passed and we could be sure baby was here to stay; at least not until our families and friends knew. I had to excuse myself and spend a few good minutes sobbing in the bathroom, tears of joy spilling out onto my chef's coat as I thanked the universe for my good fortune.
I rolled into bed that night exhausted beyond words physically and mentally. Little did I know it was just the beginning.
Slowly the nausea began to creep in. Just a low buzz at first, annoying, but bearable if I kept my nose plugged. Smells were too intense to handle. The tiniest shift in the air could send a hint of some far off scent in my direction, which was enough to make me woozy, so I plugged my nose at all times in an effort to avoid unpleasant smells and the resulting nausea. The relief was short-lived. Morning sickness is possibly the least accurate description anyone has ever come up with. Constant sickness would be much more appropriate.
Every day it increased in intensity until I felt I was constantly at sea, riding wave after wave of nausea and with no solid land anywhere in sight to fixate on. I could hardly keep anything down other than foods in the "beige" food group: crackers, white toast, plain pasta, plain popcorn. And the fatigue! Sleeping less than twelve hours in a day left me feeling like I had been hit by a train, and I often found it physically impossible to drag myself out of bed. It was all I could do to stay awake for an eight hour shift at work, and I was often so sick I couldn't even make it in.
I was having a rude awakening. I did not want this nausea. I did not want this fatigue. I did not want this emotional rollercoaster. I was completely caught off guard at how unprepared my body was for the stress of pregnancy and I was devastated that I could not handle it. This baby was kicking my ass.
"This is so much harder than I ever thought it would be," I confided in a friend. "I don't know if I can do this."
"You can do it," she assured me. "This too shall pass. They say the morning sickness and fatigue only lasts the first six to twelve weeks anyway. It will be gone in a flash." Six to twelve weeks?!?! It had only been two and I was convinced I was dying. Was she trying to torture me?
She was right of course, although it got worse before it got better. In my case it was about ten weeks of hell before things started to turn around, and turn around they quickly did. As the nausea abruptly subsided, my appetite steadily grew and with it my belly. I had always had the flattest stomach of anyone I knew, and suddenly there was a very noticeable and awfully adorable little bump; finally proof that my little blueberry really was growing in my womb.
My appetite was insatiable and my thirst unquenchable. I ate and I ate and I ate with no satisfaction and I drank and I drank and I drank but still my throat was dry. Other pregnant friends assured me that they, too, had become human garbage disposals, but when we ate meals together even they were astonished by the bottomless pit that had replaced my stomach. They were convinced I had miscalculated my due date. "There is no way you are already showing that much," they would insist. "I've hardly got a bump and I'm x weeks ahead of you," they'd say. "It's hard to know for sure when you've ovulated; you must have miscalculated."
Oh no, I knew.
My husband and I packed our bags and together with my mother and three sisters went off to France to visit his family. My mother had warned me in the years prior as we were planning this epic trip that I should wait to get pregnant until after. "You don't want to travel while pregnant," she told me. "Especially not a long trans-Atlantic voyage." Listen to your mother, ladies. She is usually right.
What could possibly be worse than being packed like a sardine on a fifteen-hour flight when dealing with the physical joys of the first trimester? A three week road trip in a tiny European car with your sisters and mother when dealing with the emotional joys of the second trimester. That. That is worse. That is soooo much worse.
And what better way to fly to France than with a twenty-four hour layover in Finland? At the street market in Helsinki we made our first purchase for baby: a pair of green overalls handmade by a beautiful old Finnish woman with kind eyes and dextrous fingers. We chose something unisex as we had decided to forgo any ultrasound for the duration of my pregnancy. I was incredibly healthy; I was young; my mother had had four healthy pregnancies without ultrasounds. We figured they were medically unnecessary and an excessive frivolous expense. We had no desire to know the sex of the baby; how often does life give you such a surprise? Thus the green overalls - neutral enough to work either way.
We continued on to Paris where my husband left my sisters and mother and I to go visit his family. We spent time puttering around playing tourist and enjoying the quaint French countryside at each others' throats. I am surprised any of us survived, honestly, but somehow we did. And upon returning home to an overgrown yard, greedy chickens and hungry cats we were astounded to find that I was measuring five weeks later than I should have been.
It had been at lunch in a tiny coastal town in rural France that I had first truly felt baby move, though there had been bizarre bubbly feelings before, and when baby moved, baby moved. I often had to stop and brace myself, so intense was the feeling. Coupled with my too-large belly, this movement left us with one possible conclusion: this baby was a monster.
We decided this new little person was huge enough to merit getting checked out. After much debate we decided to go ahead and get an ultrasound. The possible benefits of finding out something was wrong ahead of the game with adequate time to prepare for the consequences outweighed any possible detriments.
And so, at twenty one weeks (just over five months) pregnant, we went in for our very first ultrasound.
Boy oh boy were we in for a surprise.