Written by Various Artists

Health

From Here to Maternity: Pt II

In the final part of our celebration of all things bump-based, three writers reflect on their own pregnancies. This week: fat feet, holistic pissing and a pulmonary embolism.

Pregnant and happy in the Lake District illustration

Illustration by Louise Boulter.

A “fricking awesome” pregnancy turned Hazel Davis into Smuggy McSmuggington.

I was an espresso-guzzling, wee small hours-frequenting whirlwind for most of my 20s and early 30s so it was a surprise to everyone when I got pregnant and immediately became Mother Earth.

My hair was glossy, my skin was smooth, I had a perfect baby bump with no lumps at the side and I felt like running everywhere. It turned out pregnancy suited me right down to the ground.

It’s a howling cliché but everyone who met me said, “But…bbbbut you’re Actually Glowing!” I was. OK, it might have had something to do with the fact that, having tried for a baby for nearly a year, I had cut out caffeine (MY MOST FAVOURITEST THING IN THE WHOLE WORLD), injected multivitamins and taken up sleeping with gusto (MY LEAST FAVOURITEST THING IN THE WHOLE WORLD).

Because we had been trying for a while, I knew I’d conceived virtually the second I got pregnant. In many ways this was interminably dull. I wanted a bump immediately and to wear wafty ‘70s clothes but instead I had to wait MONTHS and also, because of the Never Tell Anyone Ever About Being Pregnant For The First Three Months In Case You Jinx It law, I couldn’t reveal my secret.

However, this did mean that I floated about for three months looking pleased with myself and having shiny hair and nice skin and slightly bigger boobs but suspiciously asking for decaf and not having tiramisu just in case.

“I read Maya Angelou’s entire back catalogue in the bath during my first pregnancy because nobody wants to tell a pregnant woman to get out.”

We’d booked a weekend away in the Lake District a couple of weeks before I discovered I was pregnant. It was essentially meant to be a baby-making weekend. Instead it became a whole weekend of us looking smugly at each other and me being required to lie down, waited on and smiled at. It was fricking awesome.

The first three months are the hardest in a healthy pregnancy (and mine was blissfully healthy). I had some vague nausea, oh yes. At 4am I would feel slightly queasy, but not enough to put me off the one morning coffee I was allowing myself. While pregnant friends barfed their guts up for 16 weeks, I enjoyed all the special treatment my partner gave me at night. Massages, back rubs, tea in bed and endless baths. I read Maya Angelou’s entire back catalogue in the bath during my first pregnancy because nobody wants to tell a pregnant woman to get out.

People warned me repeatedly to slow down, to rest up and sit back. I wasn’t being a dick, I genuinely felt well. Well enough to (with a friend) hoik a mattress down some stairs at eight months at a singing retreat, much to the horror of my fellow choristers, and well enough, when the baby decided to be a couple of weeks late, to send myself out on a four-mile walk. Granted, I had only factored the two miles there into my plan and forgotten about getting back but it did the trick and she was born a few days later.

Though I have already earned myself at least three punches for this piece so far, the birth itself wasn’t even that bad. It all happened so fast because I lost loads of blood, which sounds awful but actually meant they wired me up and sucked her out pretty fast. No messing. And I had loads of blood spare anyway. The next day I drove to Sainsbury’s and did the shopping, just to prove a point.

Don’t worry, the next pregnancy was worse. (Oh wait, I didn’t have any morning sickness then either. I’ll stop now, shall I…?)

Hazel DavisHazel Davis

Hazel Davis is a freelance writer from West Yorkshire. She has two tiny children but the majority of her hours are taken up with thinking about Alec Baldwin singing sea shanties and the time someone once called her “moreishly interesting”. @hazedavis

 

“Don’t worry”, the doctor assured Rachel Extance. “You don’t have a pulmonary embolism.” He was wrong.

When I found out I was pregnant I started watching Call The Midwife and worrying about gestational diabetes. What the huge pack of leaflets and offers from baby clubs I was given by the midwife failed to mention was the risk of developing a pulmonary embolism – a rare but life-threatening condition and one of the commonest causes of maternal death in pregnancy. And yet, just eight weeks into my pregnancy, I developed a clot on my lung. Here’s what I learned:

Your health can change overnight.

I went from being a fit and active person one day to someone who couldn’t climb the stairs the next. I was walking into town to buy a bra when I first realised something was wrong. It’s only a mile and a bit but suddenly the world started spinning and I couldn’t breathe. I sat down on a wall outside someone’s house. Then again at a bus stop. I finally made it into town and sat in the changing room in Marks and Sparks trying desperately to get my breath back. The next day I really couldn’t walk upstairs.

If you experience breathlessness, don’t ignore it.

I did. For three days. It didn’t occur to me there could be something seriously wrong. I thought I was just pregnant. I only made an appointment with the doctor because I had to go into the surgery for a blood test and while I was passing the reception desk I thought I might as well see if there was a slot available that week. The doctor, who I saw the next day, sent me straight to A&E.

Pregnancy messes up blood tests.

The initial test for a blood clot is a D-dimer, which measures a molecule released when blood clots dissolve. On my second visit to A&E in the space of three days (I ended up there four times in six weeks as shortness of breath became more acute), the doctor came to give me an outpatient appointment and tell me I could go home. “We don’t know what’s wrong with you but don’t worry,” he said. “You haven’t had a heart attack and you don’t have a pulmonary embolism.”

“It didn’t occur to me there could be something seriously wrong. I thought I was just pregnant.”

Unfortunately, D-dimer readings are skewed by pregnancy. Later, when I had to fill several vials of blood, the consultant got a different coloured bottle out of a drawer for me to take down to the clinic because it gave a different result to the standard ones. Go figure.

Sometimes reality doesn’t have time for phobias.

I can’t stand needles. Before I got pregnant my biggest fear was getting diabetes. I quickly got used to being given blood tests. Then there was the lung scan where they injected some radioactive stuff into me to see if there were clots in the blood vessels in my lungs (finally, a diagnosis!).

Worst of all was the time we found ourselves at a different hospital in the middle of the night without a phlebotomist and they couldn’t find a vein. The doctor ended up sticking the needle in the back of my hand.

When I got diagnosed, it turned out the treatment for pulmonary embolism is a daily injection of anticoagulant. Trying to explain while gasping for breath that I’m not good with needles didn’t get me very far. Warfarin in its happy, pill-based form isn’t suitable in pregnancy so you have to take Fragmin. Worse still, I had to inject it myself. FOR EIGHT MONTHS.

The NHS is brilliant.

As if you had any doubt. Yes there are waiting times and staying on a ward isn’t enjoyable. But there are also wonderful nurses, like the one who gave me a sandwich and box of biscuits on an afternoon when I hadn’t had any lunch and was terrified about the blast of radiation I’d just given my foetus. Plus the GP who had the sense to know there was a risk of a clot and sent me to A&E in the first place.

I had excellent care from the haematology team at my local hospital who I saw every couple of months for a check-up and yet more blood tests. When it came to giving birth, the midwives at the hospital were excellent, even though they took the gas and air off me for second-stage labour. If I ever give birth again, I’m having pethidine.

rachel extanceRachel Extance

Rachel Extance is a journalist and mum-of-one. Her main concern these days is making sure she doesn’t walk out the house with yoghurt down her top. @RachelExtance

 

Taut one-pack? Athletic widdling? Free biscuits? Welcome to Sam Wonfor’s Silver Linings Pregnancy Book.

Having faced the very real possibility that we’d never get pregnant, I think I was always going to enjoy the experience of growing a person from the inside out.

It took a year’s worth of reproductive leg-ups of varying kinds before we were able to high five over a little blue line, and for the next 38 weeks I can honestly say I pretty much loved every minute of being pregnant.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s not like I sailed through the whole experience like one of those crackers who doesn’t realise there’s a baby on the way until they need an epidural and a sweet cup of tea. I think I was just determined to find the up side once we’d got the result we thought we’d never be lucky enough to get.

Here are some of the silver linings I found in some traditional pregnancy clouds.

The trans-vaginal ultrasound

Of course I could have done without the Tallulah-bound scan wand at the six-week mark to make sure everything was where it should be (there’s a slightly increased risk of ectopic pregnancy with IVF pregnancies); but any awkwardness or discomfort was batted out of the park when we saw that flickering little heartbeat.

Widdler on the Hoof

Pissing like a fella with an enlarged prostate (five times a night on average… brings a whole new meaning to “wee small hours”) during the first and last trimesters involved more stair climbing than I would normally like of an evening. But I remain convinced that the repeated loft-to-bog trips turned out to be an effective guard against varicose veins – if completely useless when it came to combating the expansion of my arse.

The one-pack

The colossal size of my bump was the subject of many a discussion with both friends and strangers. Imagine, “Are you sure there’s only one in there?”; “So how many have you been eating for?”; and “Fuck me, your bump is MASSIVE” on a loop and you wouldn’t be far away.

“I remain convinced that the repeated loft-to-bog trips turned out to be an effective guard against varicose veins – if completely useless when it came to combating the expansion of my arse.”

On the plus side though, the second half of pregnancy offered me a taut stomach for the first time in a decade. It might have only been a one-pack, but it was tight as a drum. In Spanx.

Being a Big Foot

My feet strode confidently into the sponge pudding arena during the last couple of months. On one occasion I kicked off my strappies under the table at a press awards do, not expecting to win, only to hear my name called and find my chubby little trotters were about as likely to get back into their sandals as the Lib Dems are to get back into double figures.

But the universal advice re: swollen feet seems to be ‘keep them up’. Another film and slice of cake, you say? Don’t mind if I do.

Anxious Annie

Having got pregnant against the odds, there’s no denying I spent a lot of time panicking about anything and everything going wrong. And although the nine-and-a-half months passed without incident, I did spend more than average amounts of time hooked up to monitors when my laugh-a-minute offspring had decided he fancied a ‘quiet day’.

Mind you, I got to listen to his heartbeat more than I would have done otherwise. I also got loads of free tea and biscuits and developed a first-name relationship with the nurses on the ward where we’d finally have the official meet and greet with our boy.

Sam’s bump (who turned out to be Georgie) being snuggled by big brother Fred.

Sam’s bump (who turned out to be Georgie) being snuggled by big brother Fred.

In addition to all of these bright sides, I feel compelled to add that I was lucky enough to be physics-defyingly nimble all the way through my pregnancy. I also never had any trouble sleeping, which I think is a biggie when it comes to embracing the positive.

At 10 days over my due date, everyone was offering variations on, “I bet you just want it out now?” While I was nodding politely, I was secretly willing our little fella to hold tight for a couple of days so I could complete my second watching of The West Wing.

sam wonforSam Wonfor

Journalist and mother-of-two who gets lightbulb invention moments while breastfeeding. Well, she had one. Loves dogs and the thought of exercise. Currently receiving treatment for a deep addiction to Malteaster Bunnies. @samwonfor

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Written by Various Artists

Some of Standard Issue's brilliant women's carefully crafted words for your reading pleasure.