The Myth of How You’re ‘Supposed’ to Feel During Pregnancy

Sometimes the realities of growing a human don’t quite meet your expectations.
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Published August 17, 2022
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Crack a classic pregnancy book, and you might start to think that growing a human should be like a magic carpet ride with fairy dust and all the happy feels. While the very idea of a mere mortal creating another being is certainly a trip, the journey isn’t always as amazing as it’s made out to be. This is something I’ve been learning during my second pregnancy.

When I was pregnant with my first child, I felt great and cute and excited 99.9 percent of the time. I couldn’t wait to see how the body I knew so well would change every week—would my breasts get bigger? Hair get thicker? Skin get clearer? I wore bump-hugging clothes and took “bumpies,” ate mostly organic, went to prenatal yoga classes, obsessed over decorating our nursery and relished in joining expectant mom meet-ups. I felt special when my colleagues would deviate from their meeting agendas to ask how I was feeling. I loved being pregnant so much that I specifically requested a baby shower; I wanted to celebrate.

This time around though, while pregnant with my daughter, I’ve felt totally different. It’s completely out of sync with how I thought pregnancy was supposed to feel based on my first experience and what society has conditioned us to believe.

Just days after my positive pregnancy test—well before any bump was detectable—I began to feel so bloated that even my leggings felt tight. Within weeks, my gait devolved into a not-so-cute waddle, stairs would leave me utterly out of breath and sciatica pain struck with a vengeance. I developed horrible varicose veins that made me want to hide my legs even on the hottest days. Forget about weekly bump photos—I just didn’t want to be seen.

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It didn’t help that I felt utterly exhausted—still with no bump in sight. Just about every time I sat down, I dozed off, making me a terribly boring playmate (and if we’re being honest here, an unfit supervisor) for my 2-year-old. I also felt endlessly nauseous—a symptom that was brand new to me. I couldn’t fathom feasting on anything remotely normal or healthy when the only things that appealed to me were dumplings, ginger dressing and those uber-greasy Trader Joe’s sweet potato crackers that we should all just agree to call chips.

Meanwhile, my baby was the size of a poppy seed (or maybe a blueberry), making my complaints feel deeply unwarranted. Every time I asked my husband to run our son’s bath so I could take a load off, or insisted on ordering Asian food, I felt less like a pregnant goddess and more like a drama queen.

Being a second-time parent only made things worse: Having previously experienced a full-term pregnancy, I fully knew what it was like to be really pregnant—and that things would only get harder and more uncomfortable. This wisdom made me feel even more like an imposter.

Of course, now that I’m in my third trimester, I’m realizing that this notion of how we’re supposed to feel during pregnancy really has to go. There’s no one way to experience it all, regardless of the trimester.

Although my baby belly can’t possibly be mistaken for post-burrito bloat anymore, and my aches and pains feel legitimate and warranted for someone who’s almost 8 months along, there are plenty of common pregnancy feelings that I still can’t relate to. For instance, in my new moms’ group, when my pregnant peers talk about how much they love feeling kicks, my baby’s soccer practice just feels like indigestion. While they wax poetic about their registries, the clutter of it all stresses me out as I daydream of emptying every closet and drawer in my apartment to make way for a new human. When they compare prenatal massages and coordinate prenatal yoga classes, my stress level soars yet again; lately, I feel less inclined to opt for pampering and more prone to be penny-pinching for necessities like postnatal supplies and diapers.

Worst of all, I feel like I should be feeling ready to welcome a baby—I’ve done this before!—when in actuality, I’m anything but. I’ve only just figured out how to balance childcare, freelance work and quality time with my son. I still feel starved for me-time, and I worry that I’ll never have it this “easy” with two kids when it already feels so hard with one.

Despite the fact that this pregnancy was 100 percent desired and that I have dreamed about having a daughter my entire life, the logistical, physical and financial burden of bringing a second child into our family couldn’t worry me more.

With this, I heed a call. Whether you’re experiencing unexpected symptoms at unexpected times, or you aren’t experiencing expected symptoms and sentiments, or you’re feeling wholly unprepared and not remotely ready for the life change about to hit you like a ton of bricks, I see you. And if you just aren’t loving this whole pregnancy thing, hear me out: It’s okay—and more normal than you may think.

About the author:

Elizabeth Narins is a Brooklyn, New York-based freelance writer and content strategist. She’s held staff positions at Women’s Health and Cosmopolitan, and was most recently the senior director of digital and social content at WW (formerly Weight Watchers).

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