12 Weeks Pregnant: Head Cold with a Side of Morning Sickness

September 7 – September 13: 12 Weeks 0 Days – 12 Weeks 6 Days.

This week was hard. A multitude of women and pregnancy resources told me that I’d miraculously start feeling better in the second trimester, so I’d been impatiently awaiting week twelve. At eleven weeks and five days I puked for the first time, and the next day I puked again. I was still hoping for a miracle at the twelve week mark.

Early Monday afternoon, twelve weeks and zero days, I slumped defeated at my kitchen table with my head in my hands. I was nauseated as ever and ready to burst into tears. Granted, things have improved. I’m not as fatigued—I can now walk uphill without getting completely out of breath—and the nausea isn’t as debilitating. However, the nausea is definitely still there and it’s unforgiving in the afternoon.

I’ve discovered there are different types of nausea. Earlier in pregnancy my stomach had a dull ache and I felt queasy. Various smells and situations made me feel worse, but only a couple times did I think I would actually throw up. More recently, the constant queasiness is less poignant, but if I encounter an offensive smell, it triggers me to retch. And by offensive I mean, the smell of our new mattress, or the kitchenware aisle in the grocery store (or any aisle in a drug store—gag), or Foxy’s dog treats. There’s a pretty low bar for offensive.

I have an optimistic personality, and after I’ve taken some time to wallow, I instinctively seek out joys, goodies, and pick-me-ups that will get me out of a funk. When I used to run competitively I was motivated to persevere by inspirational songs with a harder edge like, “Lose Yourself” by Eminem or “Remember the Name” by Fort Minor. Too emotionally fragile to absorb anything that harsh, this week I reverted to the last time I was going through a highly hormonal period: teenagehood. As I ate lunch, I YouTube’d sickeningly uplifting nineties songs, such as “Hero” by Mariah Carey, “That’s the Way it Is” by Celine Dion, and “When You Believe” by Whitney Houston and Mariah. When I was a teen I used to play guitar and sing to blow off steam, but I haven’t been motivated to do so while pregnant because it feels like it’s only a matter of time before I wont be able to reach the guitar strings over my growing belly (Update: I had several months before I was too big to play guitar). Instead, I found sheet music for “Hero” and started to learn that on piano.

Later on Monday I had a sore throat, which I was sure was from vomiting the previous day (And maybe exacerbated by singing and playing “My Heart Will Go On” on piano—a performance that sent Foxy hiding under the desk in the far corner of the room). Tuesday, the sore throat got worse, and by Wednesday I had to admit to myself that I had a cold. I took the rest of the week off work, and, despite my resolve not to lose the money I’d prepaid for my Thursday night prenatal Pilates class, my husband shamed me into skipping it: “All the other women there are pregnant too, do you think they want to get sick like you?

Normally I try to avoid taking medication, but I’ll often make an exception and use a decongestant at night when I have a cold so I can get some healing sleep. However, decongestants are strictly off limits during pregnancy so I had to tough it out. I sniffled my way through a box of tissues, dreading every cough and sneeze for fear it would spur me to puke.

As soon as I knew I was sick, I reached out to friends on Facebook for natural cold remedies. I spent a couple days pretty miserable, but thanks to some friends’ helpful suggestions, I got better in record time! Here’s some of the advice they gave me, as well as some of my own thoughts:

  • Rest. I bought “Mean Streak” by Sandra Brown, which was the perfect combination of suspense, engaging writing, and smut to contentedly park myself on the couch for a day or two.
  • Lemon, Ginger, and Honey in hot water. This also helped me with the nausea, so I drank it nonstop until my teeth began ache from the acidity.
  • Vitamin C and Zinc. I’m sure my prenatal vitamins helped me get better quickly! With those horse pills I’m not lacking for anything right now.
  • Neti. Normally I’m all about the neti, but with the nausea, I couldn’t bring myself to do it. Under normal circumstances, my rule of thumb with neti is to do it like crazy the moment I feel a cold coming on—at the hint of a sore throat. In my experience, if I wait until my nose is stuffy, the neti can actually make things worse because the water gets trapped up in the sinuses.
  • Gargle with salt or tea tree oil. I wasn’t reminded of this advice until I was nearly better. My mom has sworn by the salt gargling thing for years, and although it’s one of my least favorite things to do, I do think it helps.
  • Steaming. I took warm showers in lieu of steaming. On Pinterst, I saw a suggestion to hang eucalyptus branches in the shower to add a refreshing, relaxing scent to the steam. Don’t do this. It smells awful! Add soggy eucalyptus branches to the list of scents that make me retch.
Eucalyptus in the shower

Not recommended.

Even if I didn’t spontaneously start feeling like a pregnancy goddess at week twelve, my week ended with a little bit of magic. By Sunday I was feeling healthy enough to go for a walk on the beach with Richard and Foxy, and there was a whole pod of dolphins fishing and playing just off shore.

12 Weeks Pregnant

Twelve (almost thirteen) weeks pregnant at the beach.

3 Weeks Pregnant: Pre-Conception Nutrition

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.

Wedding at Yosemite

Even though I’d made no indication Richard and I had even talked about trying, months earlier, my mom insisted I get this flowy dress for the wedding in case I ended up pregnant by then. Little did I know I was!

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.