July 6 – July 12 : 3 Weeks 0 Days – 3 Weeks 6 Days.
I have an irregular cycle (one of the reasons I was sure I was going to be infertile), so it takes me a while to worry about being “late.” By the second week of July it had been six weeks since the beginning of my cycle, so I took pregnancy test—just to check. It was negative, which makes sense since pregnancy tests don’t accurately detect pregnancy until nearly two weeks after conception (which is called “4 weeks pregnant”). I assumed I’d simply skipped a period due to the stress of closing on our new home over the last two weeks.
That weekend my two-week old embryo got some fresh mountain air when Richard and I drove up to Yosemite National Park for our friends’ elegant outdoor wedding. I felt oddly emotional while there, and I remember telling Richard I was definitely PMS’ing and that my period would start in the next week.
One of my New Years resolutions last year was to cultivate space in my heart and life for a child. Richard and I had talked about having kids, but I hadn’t really let that intention fully integrate. As part of that process, I read the memoir Having Faith by Sandra Steingraber, which is an amazing read about the impact of environmental factors on prenatal development. One of the points the author drives home is that many fish are contaminated with heavy metals, industrial chemicals, and pesticides, which can be extremely harmful to the embryo and fetus. These substances are arguably more harmful than alcohol, but for some reason booze gets all the attention. Since heavy metals take six months to leave the body, I chose to start immediately shifting my seafood consumption to fish known to be the least contaminated, such as salmon. Needless to say, when Richard and I selected our wedding reception meals months before the Yosemite wedding, I diligently selected “vegetarian” instead of “fish.” When we got our plates at the reception dinner, although my lentil cakes were delicious, I eyed Richard’s lemon-crusted salmon enviously—I’m going to assume it was farmed salmon to make myself feel better.
That weekend, I was more tempted than I’ve been in a long time to have a flute of champagne and a splash of dessert wine—especially since I’d just tested negative for pregnancy—but I settled for lemonade. I stopped drinking alcohol a year or two ago for several reasons, including the possibility that I might get pregnant. The evidence around exactly how much alcohol is safe during pregnancy is mixed, but if alcohol is going to cause damage, it does its worst early: between three and eight weeks after conception when the embryo is rapidly morphing and organizing into a human shape.
It has always made me nervous how vital and sensitive the early stages of development are, considering that it might take me several weeks to realize I’m pregnant. Another example: a folic acid deficiency during early pregnancy can cause severe neural tube defects. For that reason, I also started taking prenatal supplements well in advance (well, intermittently anyway).
By the time I found out I was pregnant, I was grateful for the preconception care I’d committed to because I didn’t feel any guilt or worry that I’d exposed my embryo to potential damage. I felt I’d done the best I could with the knowledge I had, and with a diligence that didn’t create a ton of extra stress in my life (e.g. At a sushi restaurant, I would order a roll that contained some tuna if there weren’t enough salmon-only or vegetarian options available, and I never bothered asking if the salmon was wild or farmed).
Although I believe I made the best choices for me, I’m not about to stand up behind a podium to prescribe my way to all pregnant mamas (or pre-pregnant mamas). Maybe I should have done less: I just read that most prenatal vitamins have trace amounts of lead in them, so maybe starting them so early has done more harm than good considering I already have a pretty balanced diet. It’s impossible to know. Maybe I could have done more: I didn’t make a concerted effort to preemptively avoid BPA, caffeine, salmon sashimi, or cats. Pregnancy is hard enough—especially with how equivocal all the research is around it—there’s no room for us to be making each other feel bad because we choose different paths. Each woman makes the perfect decisions that make the most sense to her.