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One poet, George Ella Lyon, speaks to her newborn infant of the placenta as "that red pad of which you were the lily/ with the cord lying bleached across it/ like a root pulled from the water/ like a heartroot torn free."
- from Great With Child, by Debra Rienstra
what chinese doctors know
That all women should take Evening Primrose Oil, four 1000mcg capsules a day, after giving birth to regulate their hormones. Also barley grass supplements, four a day, for core nutrition!
the girlfriends' guide to pregnancy
By Vicki Iovine
Quite often nature provides us with physical clues that might make us suspect we are pregnant even before modern science confirms it. Usually, when you find out that you are, indeed, pregnant, you say to yourself with a sudden awakening, "Oh, so that's why my (Fill in the symptom "boobs hurt"; "bladder falls"; "husband drives me crazy.") Especially in retrospect, you will see that there are usually abundant physical changes to inform you in no uncertain terms that you are pregnant. That is why I am always cynical when I read those stories about unsuspecting women giving birth to babies in airplane bathrooms after nine months of not knowing they were pregnant.
Come on now! Most eight-month-old fetuses kick and tumble so fiercely in your stomach that you can watch your abdomen go from round to nearly square. And what about that inevitable weight gain? Who are these women trying to kid? Either they are trying for the Immaculate Conception excuse or they just are not really paying enough attention to themselves. There are plenty of other changes that, when put together, might lead you to suspect that you are pregnant long before you confirm it with a pregnancy test. What follows is a list of the common early warning signs.
One of the most common changes in the pregnant woman's body is in her breasts. The newly pregnant woman often gets the same puffy breasts that she gets premenstrually, but the consensus among the Girlfriends is that these breasts are a lot more sensitive. In fact, taking a shower can be agonizing if you face the stream of water, sleeping on your stomach becomes unbearable and if your husband should happen to touch your breasts you will feel completely justified in hitting him with the bedside lamp.
Not only are they sensitive and sore, but they are getting bigger and bigger every day. The good news, especially for those of us who have always secretly longed to be big busty gals, is that they will continue to grow, and they will stop hurting eventually. In a month or so, you and your husband will have a nice new set of playthings.
Another symptom that the Girlfriends found in early pregnancy was the need to urinate a lot. You may find yourself getting up two or three (or more) times a night to pee when you used to sleep all night long without even hearing a peep from your bladder. Since fatigue is often another early sign of pregnancy, you will probably learn to loathe all of these interruptions of your precious slumber.
There is some old folk wisdom that says that all this getting up and down all night to pee is nature's way of preparing you for early motherhood, when the up-and-down drill is much the same. I happen to think that this folk wisdom is incorrect, because you will start being able to sleep again later in your pregnancy and everyone knows a pregnant woman cannot be expected to remember something that she learned six months earlier; heck, she probably can't remember what happened yesterday.
All these nighttime trips can, indeed, be annoying, but it usually is not as bad as it sounds because almost all of us Girlfriends discovered that we could get out of bed, walk to the bathroom, pee, wipe, walk back to bed and crawl in, all without opening our eyes one single time. Some of us could even manage to take a drink of water without looking. I, however, was almost always hungry at night, and I frequently ended up in the kitchen after one of my nocturnal pees. If the trip downstairs hadn't awakened me, the refrigerator light was sure to.
The tiredness of a newly pregnant woman is like a heaviness or being on nighttime cold medication permanently. One of my Girlfriends, Becky, who sells real estate, was so tired that she fell asleep in the car every single time she went to houses of prospective clients. Fortunately for Becky, she has a partner who did most of the driving. The newly pregnant woman may find herself at work, unable to think of anything but lying down.
My Girlfriend Rosemary used to lock her office door and nap on her sofa for a few minutes every day. Those of us who are fortunate enough to actually take a nap sleep like the dead, waking up with blanket creases on our faces, red cheeks and bedhead hair -- and usually little more refreshed than we were before. Forget about renting a video for a cozy night in with your husband. You will be snoring by the time the warning not to bootleg the tape and sell it for profit is over. This fatigue can also lead to an inability to stay awake long enough to have sex. Please hand this book to your husband right now.
ATTENTION, HUSBANDS OF NEWLY PREGNANT WOMEN: DO NOT TAKE IT PERSONALLY WHEN YOUR WIFE WOULD RATHER SLEEP THAN SLEEP WITH YOU! SHE REALLY CANNOT HELP IT AND IT IS ABSOLUTELY NO REFLECTION ON YOUR MANHOOD OR HOW MUCH SHE LOVES YOU. TRY AGAIN TOMORROW MORNING AFTER SHE HAS HAD SOME REST.
Phantom menstrual cramps can be another sign of pregnancy. Many Girlfriends have never been more certain that their periods were going to start than when they were pregnant. Pregnancy and serious PMS (which is always serious) have several similarities, such as lower back pressure and that slightly crampy feeling you get right before your period starts. Since I was always paralyzed with the fear that I might miscarry (which, by the way, I never did), I really hated the feeling that my period might start at any minute. I can't count the number of times I felt a little trickle and dropped every thing to fly to the bathroom to see if my period had begun. As you will soon learn, in pregnancy, there is a lot of trickling going on as your body goes into overdrive in the vaginal secretion department.
With all four of my children, I did experience some bleeding early in the pregnancies, and while this is not particularly common, it may happen to you. A general rule of thumb is that if the blood is brownish with no clots and doesn't fill more than one or two sanitary pads, everything is probably all right. If the bleeding is bright red or has clots in it, call your doctor right away. And if there is cramping with the bleeding, call your doctor immediately and ask whether they want to meet you at their office or the nearest hospital.
Believe me, I know how hysterical you can feel if you are pregnant and you find blood in your underwear, but if it makes you feel any better, all four times my bleeding was bright red (but without cramps) and my doctor just had me rest with my feet up for a couple of days until it went away. My pregnancies were just fine after that. It is perfectly natural to call your doctor for reassurance, but it's not always a call for alarm.
Quite a few of my Girlfriends said that they were light-headed early in their pregnancies. Getting out of bed too quickly could give them tunnel vision and make them see stars. Bending over to tie their shoes could result in them having to lie on the floor until the blood returned to their head. A word of caution here: A significant number of women have gotten pregnant after too much to drink, and sometimes pregnancy and a hangover are hard to tell apart. The general rule should be that a hangover that lasts for more than a couple of days could be pregnancy, and it might be a good idea to give up the partying until you know for certain. Even if you aren't pregnant, if you have hangovers that last more than a couple of days it is probably a good idea for you to give up partying anyway.
If you are light-headed, it is usually nothing to worry about, but you could pass out and bonk your head or something, so move slowly and let your blood pressure adjust at its new, slower pace.
Nausea is the Waterloo for many newly pregnant women, and it can strike at any point in the pregnancy, usually at the two-month point. They will either find themselves eating everything in sight in a desperate attempt to make the queasiness go away or they will gag at the mere thought of certain foods. You would think that a nauseous woman is a woman who cannot eat a crumb. Not true.
Many of my pregnant Girlfriends experienced starving and vomiting almost simultaneously. Pregnancy can create a gnawing uneasiness in the tummy that is most easily compared to seasickness, and, as with seasickness, food is the only thing that can settle your stomach. The catch is that not all food is friendly food. The challenge is in finding just the right foods to soothe the nausea, because you will be amazed at how many of the old favorites, such as cheese, fish, broccoli or chicken, now make your stomach lurch uncontrollably when you simply think of them.
Some of my more unfortunate Girlfriends have had such extreme nausea that they would gag right in the middle of a sentence. My poor Girlfriend Maryann was so plagued by morning sickness that she would throw up spontaneously. There would be no warning signs, like a wave of nausea or a watering of the mouth. One moment she would be chatting normally, and the next minute it was the pea soup scene from The Exorcist. She just sat as quietly as possible with her mouth clenched tightly to try to keep the mess to a minimum. Then again, just as many other Girlfriends have never experienced a gurgle of nausea.
This diversity is just another example of how nature gets a kick out of keeping us guessing and never letting us completely relax. There is really no rhyme or reason in this area of food preferences and sensitivities. You might be like my Girlfriend Sondra, who when she was pregnant craved anything spicy. She would start her days with Mexican food drowning in salsa. By lunchtime she was begging her friends to go to sushi bars with her so that she could nibble on the green mustard, even if she couldn't eat the raw fish.
Or you might be like my Girlfriend Shannon, who craved "comfort" foods like mashed potatoes, cereals and white toast. My Girlfriend Corki got on a fruit kick and lived for strawberries and nectarines, with a little chocolate thrown in every now and then for variety.
Obviously, the goal is to eat some foods from the five major food groups, if not at every meal, then at least once a day. DO NOT PANIC, HOWEVER, IF YOU FAIL TO EAT TEXTBOOK BALANCED MEALS EVERY DAY DURING YOUR FIRST COUPLE OF MONTHS OF PREGNANCY. No matter how vehement those other pregnancy books are about your needing eight ounces of protein, four glasses of milk and a bushel of green leafy vegetables every day, just do the best you can and KEEP TALKING TO YOUR DOCTOR.
He or she may prescribe vitamin supplements to help carry you through the nauseous period and into the second trimester, when you will be thrilled to eat nearly anything that is placed before you. You may find that a calcium pill is as effective as the glass of milk that makes your eyes water and your throat close down. The bottom line this early in your suspected pregnancy is this: If you feel "green" and you haven't got a temperature, it s time for a pregnancy test.
sensitivity to odors
For a lot of women, including myself, the very first sign that they are pregnant is that the world begins to smell strange. Common aromas seem to get more powerful or cloying. My Girlfriend Mindy developed such an aversion to the smell of dairy products when she was pregnant that she couldn't walk into a grocery store or a delicatessen for fear of smelling the cheese and throwing up in the aisle.
One morning she saw me pouring cream into my coffee and started making noises like a cat trying to get up a fur ball. Continuing with this cat theme, my Girlfriend Lynn had to beg her husband to take over the job of feeding their cat because the first waft of the "Seafood Surprise" when the can was opened sent her streaking for the sink. By the way, if you do have a cat, and you are, indeed, pregnant, it is time to give your husband the job of changing the cat litter. Ask your doctor for details, but there is some virus that cat poopoo can give to pregnant women, so steer clear of it (like I have to twist your arm, right?).
During my first pregnancy, I was so certain that my bed pillows and comforter were mildewed that I wrapped them in plastic garbage bags and disposed of them. I immediately (and irrationally, according to my husband) replaced the pillows and comforter with brand-new ones, only to discover when I crawled into bed that night that they smelled exactly the same!
Another indication that you might be pregnant can be the feeling that you are losing your mind, or at least some vague control of your, emotions. You may feel as though you have a monster case of PMS. This is not something I am proud to share with you, but as your Girlfriend I will: Two different times, the first doctors to suggest to me that I might be pregnant were not gynecologists, but psychiatrists.
One time my husband calmly put me in the car and drove me to his therapist right after I tried to knock his head off by throwing a book across the room. (Believe me when I say this behavior was not only uncharacteristic of me, it was absolutely unacceptable to him.) Another time, after I tried to steer the car while my husband was driving (because he wasn't taking the route I had so generously suggested), I ended up on a therapist's couch sobbing that I feared I was going through early menopause because I just didn't feel like myself and my periods had stopped. That menopause turned out to be my baby Jessica, a possibility that I had not even considered.
Even if you are not prone to violent outbursts, you may experience the hormonal irrationality of pregnancy in the form of weepiness or utter lack of humor. My Girlfriend Amy, who is normally the sweetest of southern belles, was so cranky when she was pregnant that she actually became funny. The contrast between her usual tiny-blond demeanor and her general pissed-off state during pregnancy was so great that it was comical, not unlike a toddler swearing.
One of the most important things to consider during this time of emotional whiplash (aside from putting off the cleaning of any handguns) is the probability that you will be completely unaware of your strange behavior. If your husband or friends dare to suggest to you that maybe you aren't yourself these days, you will certainly feel attacked and unfairly judged (and you will begin formulating plans to have them poisoned). As convinced as you may be of your rationality and of everyone else's irrationality, you really are not normal, and you should just accept it and allow for it. In other words, this is not the time to file for divorce, change your job, buy a house or, most important, cut your hair.
You might think that not getting your period is a pretty reliable indication that there is a bun in your oven, but that was never my first clue. Sure, there are millions of women who have regular twenty eight-day cycles and know exactly when to expect their periods, right down to whether it will be before breakfast or after dinner. I, however, am all over the place. Not only am I irregular, I am usually too distracted by the business of living to have even a vague notion of when my "friend" (don't you just hate that term?) is coming. I have a hard enough time remembering to fill my car with gas, and it comes equipped with a gauge.
The fun part about this absentmindedness is that it can keep your life full of surprises; one day you wake up expecting the same old routine, and instead you discover you are going to have a baby! The troublesome part of this absentmindedness is that when you do confirm that you are pregnant, your doctor will invariably ask you for the date of your last period, and you will have to either lie (as I have always done) or give some lame answer like "I think it was on the morning that the Soap Opera Hunks were on Regis and Kathie Lee. (As if that narrows things down.)
My Girlfriend Mindy had missed two periods before she began to suspect that she might be pregnant. I think that she, like a lot of us, was not particularly upset about missing two weeks of tampons and cramps, so she accepted her lack of periods at face value: A gift from God. One thing, though, that I have learned from experience is that it is helpful to have a vague familiarity with your cycle, because the new home pregnancy tests are so sensitive that you can often know if you are pregnant as early as twelve to fourteen days after the deed. And since it only makes sense that you would want to protect your pregnancy from the earliest possible moment, a positive test result could inspire you to stop smoking or drinking or taking Prozac immediately.
The last clue that you might be pregnant that I will discuss here is "intuition." We women are supposedly famous for it, and while it has never happened to me, I have a number of reliable non-New Age Girlfriends who swear they knew they were pregnant the instant it happened. They felt something come over them, like a shudder or an instant awareness that this particular roll in the hay wasn't like all the rest; something momentous had occurred.
Scientist (or cynic) that I am, I have asked these women if they have ever felt that mystical sensation and not been pregnant and just never mentioned it to anyone. Of if perhaps the event wasn't heightened by the fact that they knew that they were having sex on day fourteen of their twenty-eightday cycle and they weren't using birth control. (You don't have to be a member of the Psychic Network to know that one out of five times that YOU get sperm to egg you make Baby.) But, no, these Girlfriends insist that they felt different physically and emotionally from that climax onward. And you know what? I believe them, even if I don't understand or relate to any of it.
If you are feeling any of these symptoms, alone or in groups, and if you don't yet know for certain whether you are pregnant, then what in the world are you reading this book for? No, I'm just kidding. You must have a pretty good hunch that a baby is in your future, so you'd best get in touch with a good obstetrician and start taking special care of your baby and yourself right now. Isn't it scary how devoted you already feel to this pregnancy? Just a few days ago, you were obliviously living your life, unaware of your little passenger. You might not have ever been trying to get pregnant. And now your entire consciousness is devoted to staying pregnant.
© 1995 Vicki Iovine
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