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An Exercise In Surrender: My First Trimester Experience

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Note: I have gone over and over in my head while thinking about and subsequently writing this post. Pregnancy, getting pregnant and the experience of pregnancy is a tough topic for many people. The last thing I want is to alienate anyone or seem uncompassionate, but I also knew that my experience would help a few people who have a similar journey to mine, so this is the whole story xox.

I found out I was pregnant on Monday, March 14th, 2016. After returning home from a trip to Europe to visit my husband, I was having a heck of a time getting over jet lag. I also couldn’t finish a cup of  black coffee (my morning solace) to save my life and was not my usual night owl self.

When I started to add up the different-than-normal-feelings I was having I decided to take a pregnancy test. The pink plus sign came up I literally said out loud, ‘wow, so this is really happening’ with a grin and a big sense of wonder. We had been talking about starting a family since the fall, but due to my husband’s travel commitments for skiing and being away most of the time, we didn’t really follow a schedule because we knew chances would be slim for us to conceive. I guess the fertility gods of Spain had a different plan for us!

Finding out I was pregnant was a surreal moment, and didn’t really feel real until my first ultrasound at 9 weeks. I chose to wait one looooong week to tell my husband Manny that we were expecting as he was competing at World Cup Finals in St. Moritz, Switzerland and I wanted to share the news in person, when he got home.

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Little did I know that the coming months were about to be some of the most challenging I had ever experienced…

But first, in order for this post to really make sense, there is something I need to share with you that I’ve held off writing about for quite some time. During the middle part of my twenties I went through a big internal struggle. It’s taken years to get enough perspective on what I discovered about myself and it’s changed almost everything about my life for the better.

I discovered I was an introvert when I was 23 years old. While most people likely know if they are more introverted or extroverted, I had always landed weirdly in the middle of both worlds. Growing up I played tons of team sports and hung out with my friends often, but also read and did my school work on my own religiously. I preferred solo projects vs. working in groups,  but was never shy while in a group of people. As a very young child I can remember having periods of being extremely shy, but I wouldn’t have considered myself quiet.

University was an extremely challenging time for me internally. I loved the social aspect of school, and living with friends but it drained my energy and caused a lot of challenges to my mental well-being. Because I love people, I have always found that most of my friends (and my husband too) are extroverts, but I struggled for years to find a balance of not feeling extremely exhausted after spending so much time with people (even those I love dearly).

I now know that the biggest difference between introverts and extroverts is how we recharge. Introverts recharge from time alone, reading, exercising, being in nature and generally having quiet time. Extroverts get energy from spending time with people, sometimes it can be partying or just doing activities in groups.

After learning to truly embrace my introversion in my mid-twenties, I had made daily quiet time a part of my self care routine and new exactly when I needed a night (or three, ha!) on my own. When my husband and I set off on our honeymoon to Hong Kong and Bali in May 2015 I packed a few books for our three week adventure, one of which was Quiet by Susan Cain.

Being completely comfortable with my introverted but outgoing and friendly self at this point in my life, I didn’t consider how much this book would truly change what I knew of myself. As my husband surfed the massive waves outside our authentic Balinese hotel, I was in heaven reading my book and sipping coconut water on the beach.

Manny would come back for a rest from the pounding surf break and find me exclaiming ‘I am exactly like this! I never knew that about myself!’. At one point he looked at me in disbelief and said, “Please don’t take this the wrong way, but don’t you think it’s weird that you have to read a book to realize all these things about yourself?”

This is exactly what Susan Cain talks about in Quiet, that introverts are often programmed to think that they way they are is second-rate, that we need to put on a brave face and be more social, or get out and be with people more often because that is what successful people do. For me, it has taken many years of struggling to honour my introversion vs. seeing it as a hurdle I have to get over. Manny and I had quite a few chats about this topic on our trip…

But it wasn’t until I came to the section about sensitivity that my world really changed. Many introverts also identify as being sensitive. Being a ‘sensitive’ person isn’t what you may think. Rather than being someone who gets their feelings hurt easily, sensitivity is a trait of some people’s nervous systems. About 20% of the population is made of HSPs or Highly Sensitive People. These individuals truly have nervous systems that process much more stimuli than others and experience sensory input overstimulation. They can get overwhelmed more easily, and also tend to have deep emotional connections.

As I read this section of Quiet, I became very quiet. It was immediately clear to me that I was an HSP. I had always felt things very deeply, and to be honest, had always felt ashamed for my sensitivity. After taking the mini quiz to determine what level of the sensitivity spectrum I fell on, I scored 23 out of 27 possible questions, meaning I was definitely a highly sensitive person. You can take the quiz for yourself HERE.

Being a sensitive person means that you tend to be acutely aware of your body, your surroundings, the energy of other people, and your own mental state. This is exactly what pregnancy has been for me, a hyper-sensitive experience. In my first trimester, my sense of smell was out of this world. I couldn’t handle the scent of my own deodorant, the laundry detergent, my own husband or coffee. Smoking, perfume or any other normally strong scent were enough to make me throw up immediately. I began referring to myself as a hound dog!

In the future I will certainly write more about my journey to embrace and even rejoice in my sensitive nature, but this post is about my experience during my first trimester of pregnancy, and I couldn’t accurately explain it to you without first sharing this important aspect of my personality.

You’ll hear people say ‘some people can handle pregnancy well, others can’t’ or much more accurately I think, ‘every pregnancy is different’. And my first three months were physically and mentally challenging, and also wonderful in some ways too.

One of the reasons it took me awhile to write out this post is because I knew I had to address my sensitive side, and I knew I had to take the time to provide personal background. I also really don’t want what I share about pregnancy to seem like I am complaining or that the first three months were a terrible experience because they weren’t. It was hard though, and I don’t think that skirting over my truth is that helpful for anyone. My goal is not to scare people who haven’t been pregnant, but instead to write what I really needed to be able to read when I was going through my first trimester. It has definitely been worthwhile 🙂

When Manny came home to Calgary I shared my secret with him, in a card cause I’m a words girl and that’s how I do everything, plus it was so emotional to watch him read ‘You are going to be a Dad’ out loud! We then headed out to our home in the mountains in Invermere, BC in a little cloud of bliss and excitement. We spent the weekend hanging out, pretending I was drinking alcoholic drinks while we were out with friends and then chuckling when we got home. By Sunday afternoon I wasn’t feeling so hot and was starting to experience some nausea.

The next 8 weeks were filled with all day extreme nausea and all day vomiting. Some days were ‘better’ where I would only throw up once or twice. Other days I couldn’t keep a single thing down and would get sick 7 or 8 times.

Looking back it is a bit of a blur. I honestly don’t know how I got anything done (I didn’t get much done!) but I did manage to teach my bootcamp strength training classes as I was the least sick from 5-7pm, make it to most of my clients’ training sessions and write some emails too. Some days I slept for 16 hours, stayed in bed or on the couch and cried in between bouts of getting sick repeatedly.

Manny was home for only two weeks of the eight that I was sick. I told a few of my girlfriends that I was pregnant and struggling and they would get me groceries, make me soup and offer words of encouragement, that really helped. Most of my clients knew I was pregnant as I was not at all my normal, perky self and even got sick at their homes a couple of times.

Every day I would google things like ‘how the hell do you survive morning sickness?’ or ‘extreme morning sickness cures’. I think I have read every single reasonable and crazy article on the topic. I found solace when I stumbled upon a support group for the condition ‘Hyperemesis Gravidarum’ which is essentially extreme morning sickness experienced through out a pregnancy.

There were funny moments when I would laugh at the ridiculousness of how sick I was. I threw up on the sidewalk in plain daylight. I threw up in the elevator of our condo building (thank god I was alone!). I threw up in my car. I tried ginger candies, accupuncture, wrist bands for nausea prevention, ginger ale, saltine crackers, bananas, and finally found some reprieve by taking a prescription, diclectin from my Doctor (which I am still taking). It’s a high dose of vitamin B6 and an antihistamine, but I still got sick every day.

I had heard of food aversions before but didn’t really understand the extent of what they truly meant. I didn’t eat a single vegetable for 4 weeks. Cooking was a no-go. The thought of meat was also too much to handle. I ate a lot of plain yogurt and bananas, ichiban soup, grilled cheese sandwiches and blueberry banana smoothies.

My friends thought it was hilarious that I, of all people, couldn’t fathom eating protein and veggies. I took comfort in talking with a friend who is a dietician who had just recently had the same experience. Through not wanting to eat much of anything, I learned how much I normally enjoy good, healthy food.

Because pregnancy is by nature, an imbalanced hormonal state, I was all over the place with my hormones. My blood sugar was up and down and all over the place. I had some really emotional days and a lot of very lonely days.

Some people get sicker than others during early pregnancy. Some people have lasting sickness. Others feel more tired than anything else. Some women told me they felt fine with one pregnancy and felt awful with a second. And then, there are many pregnancies that do not make it past the first or second or third trimesters.

I think this was the most interesting twist of my whole first trimester experience. While I felt awful, 98% of the time and was extremely uncomfortable and sick, I was still grateful. Pregnancy is uncertain. There are no guarantees of anything at all. On days when I thought, how can this be so terrible? I would immediately find myself thinking of friends that I knew had lost their babies and just try to surrender myself to trusting in the process.

This is why I describe my first trimester as an exercise in surrender. We surrender to the journey our body is on, knowing that it is completely uncertain, sometimes unpredictable and at the same time beautiful. I don’t actually think I was mentally ready to get pregnant until I was more comfortable with being uncomfortable. Through the past year of experiencing injuries and seeing my Dad have a massive stroke, I had more tools to deal with discomfort and uncertainty. I have learned that my sensitive side may help me to be a great mother in the future, even though it may have greatly contributed to my levels of sickness.

Of course I am incredibly grateful for this pregnancy and am also in awe of what my body is doing on a daily basis (whether that is getting sick or growing a human or both!), but I want to give some hope to anyone who is having a rough go with their first trimester. It does get better although that might take longer than 12 weeks for some of us. Try not to get frustrated with not ‘finding the solution for your morning sickness’ for some of us, there isn’t one. Consider that one day you will look back on this experience as one moment in time, even if it seems to drag on forever (and yes, I wanted to punch people when they said this to me, but it is true).

Now that I am well into my 2nd trimester, I’ll be back soon with another update and more photos (I have no photos of my first three months, I was literally out of commission!).

Thanks for reading and for all the congratulations you’ve given to our family,

Lana

Extra resources for introverts and sensitive souls:

  • Quiet by Susan Cain
  • The Highly Sensitive Person by Elaine Aron

These are some of the books I have found to help me embrace my sensitive, introverted side. Feel free to email me at lana@blastfitness.ca if you found these helpful, I know my world has changed for the better the more I embrace my true self.

You can also join me on my pre & post natal journey via my exclusive email list, Blast Fit Pregnancy!

Blast Fit Pregnancy