It wasn't until I got pregnant that I started to realize just how many ever-present stereotypes we carry about the experience of pregnancy. How they invaded the culture so thoroughly, I'm not sure, but almost all Americans are familiar with them and they're pretty extreme.
Perhaps it's for the best that so many of them are bad, allowing anyone's experience to exceed expectations in some way. However, I also think these assumptions result in a lot of unnecessary fear. To combat that piece, I'd like to share my personal experience in hopes that it will be even slightly interesting or helpful.
Morning sickness/nausea. Expectation: You will be constantly sick and vomiting for three months or more. My reality: This was not true at all. I never vomited, or really even came close. I did feel a bit intensely nauseous on one or two occasions, but they happened when I was traveling internationally and was very jetlagged, had recently eaten airline food, and was generally on a weird schedule...so it's hard for me to say what was at fault. I don't think I was as hungry as I usually am during this time, but honestly, if I hadn't known I was pregnant I'm not sure I would have even noticed that. In general, morning sickness seems to vary greatly from person to person. I know two people who threw up every day (or multiple times a day). I know a few more who got sick on a few occasions. And I know a lot of people who never got sick at all.
Fear. Expectation: You can't tell anyone you're pregnant for three months because you might miscarry, and retracting that news will be the worst thing ever. Reality: After miscarrying myself, I personally am not in favor of keeping everything to yourself. It was awful going through my miscarriage, and then having to inform my family and friends that I had been pregnant before then telling them about the miscarriage. The second time around, I felt so much more comfort knowing that my friends and family knew, and that they could check in on me to make sure everything was still going well.
Second Trimester / The Heart of Pregnancy
The Bump. Expectation: You will show almost immediately and spend at least six months with everyone being able to tell that you're pregnant. My reality: Not at all! My bump probably entered "noticeable" territory around Week 20...and that's probably a generous interpretation. We spent that week in Hawaii, and literally no one asked if I was pregnant and reacted with surprise if it somehow came up in conversation. I had no idea it took so long to start showing, which resulted in many weeks of me anxiously awaiting the arrival of my bump. If I had wanted to, I'm pretty sure I could have worn loose clothing and denied the bump's existence until Week 30-ish. Which means I've really tried to relish the past 2-3 months when my pregnancy has been evident to everyone around me, because it generally comes with some pretty nice treatment.
Emotions. Expectation: Pregnancy will turn you into an unpredictable, weeping pile of feelings. My reality: Not at all. Based on the depictions of pregnancy on TV, I kept waiting for the moment where I would turn into Godzilla and tell all my family members how much I hated them while sobbing and stuffing my face with Cheetohs. I'm very relieved to say that nothing even approaching this scene ever came to pass. Perhaps this is controversial, but if you find yourself completely flying off the emotional handle, it's likely because you are using pregnancy as an excuse to do so...not because pregnancy is making you that way.
Baby Brain. Expectation: Pregnancy will somehow make you forgetful. My reality: Seriously? Again, no. Turns out that you're still a normal human with a normal brain while pregnant. I think my ability to understand and focus on school was entirely unchanged. I also was capable of thinking of way, way more things than just babies. In fact, when I would be going to sleep at night, I would often find myself thinking about something I learned in class that day, or something I read that was interesting. I would then consciously ask myself, "Should I be thinking about the baby right now?" And you know what? Generally, the answer was no. The baby will occupy my brain space in due time. Until then, what's the problem with thinking about whatever else you find interesting?
Cravings and Hunger. Expectation: You will crave crazy combinations of things, eat all the time, and put on 50 lbs. My reality: None of the above. Given the cultural fascination with cravings, I kept waiting for mine to show up. They never did. I maybe had an oh-so-slightly-increased desire to eat cheeseburgers while pregnant...but that also may just be because my OB's office was next to an In-N-Out. I also found hunger to be completely manageable. I ate slightly larger, slightly heavier meals and 1-2 small snacks a day, definitely an increase over what I would eat before, but not much. The largest change on the hunger front was that I've gone through 3-4 periods where I would wake up in the middle of the night pretty hungry, something I can't remember happening to me before. However, I only ended up snacking in the middle of the night one time. All the other times I just fell back asleep and ate my normal, large breakfast first thing in the morning.
All of this probably explains my very positive experience with weight gain. I went into the pregnancy terrified that my weight gain would somehow get out of control and that I'd have to lose a bunch of weight at the end. Instead, I've gained the recommended amount of weight for someone of my size (roughly 1 lb. per week for the 2nd and 3rd trimesters) and while I'm sure there will be a post-pregnancy period where I don't love what's happening with my stomach, I am no longer terrified about the prospect of dieting. Overall, I think most people will probably end up in a good spot from a weight perspective if you 1) have a healthy relationship to food to begin with 2) eat when you're hungry, rather than constantly and 3) generally make good nutritional choices. In my experience, your choices don't even have to be all that good (see: the aforementioned In-N-Out trips). They just need to not be completely terrible.
Weird Attention from Strangers. Expectation: Strangers will approach you all the time, touch you without asking, and ask you weird questions. My reality: Never. I literally never had a complete stranger touch my belly. Any stranger who did approach me to talk to me always said something very kind and genuine, and the attention never bothered me. This is perhaps something that is very different depending on what geography you live in, but I generally expect that people are familiar with normal human boundaries.
Sleep and Exhaustion. Expectation: You will never be able to sleep well, and will therefore be constantly exhausted. My reality: Both sleeplessness and exhaustion ebbed and flowed. Exhaustion was the one first trimester symptom that was undeniable for me. Thankfully, I was in school for more of my first trimester, and afternoon naps were something I could regularly work into my schedule. My exhaustion disappeared completely during my second trimester up until the middle of my third, and I was able to maintain a pretty grueling school schedule without ever feeling overworked. However, starting in the second half of my third trimester, I began to have periods of sleeplessness. Usually I would wake up at 3:00 or 4:00 in the morning and be wide awake for 45 minutes or more. I have to think that this must be adaptive--the body's way of preparing you for regular sleep interruptions. Because of these middle of the night waking periods, I would get more tired during the day...although most days I could push through it if I wasn't able to work in a nap. On the whole, exhaustion was pretty bad during the first trimester, and completely manageable thereafter.
Discomfort. Expectation: Your feet and hands will swell, your back will hurt, your hips will ache, and you will generally wish you were living in a different body. My reality: Given how pervasive pregnancy discomfort is, I have been shocked to get to the end (40 weeks + 4 days as of this writing!) and to still be pretty darn comfortable. Is my belly big? Oh yes. But my shoes fit, my rings fit, and I can walk a couple of miles no problem. I hope I have this baby any day now because I'm dying to meet it, but physically, I think I could go for another month. I did have a period near the beginning of the pregnancy where I had some discomfort in my tailbone. However, I started sleeping with a pillow in between my legs, and it went away immediately.
Nesting. Expectation: One day, you will wake up and have an overwhelming urge to organize everything you've ever purchased while also scrubbing your house from top to bottom. My reality: I honestly do not understand where this expectation comes from. I never had even a modicum of desire to "nest." I mean, did I want to organize our baby stuff? Yes, but that's because I thought that keeping it in piles on the floor was probably not the best solution for us. Bob is actually the one who woke up on day and declared that it was the day that we were going to set everything up and wash all of the clothes. So we did. Maybe this particular impulse will surprise me later, but given I likely have a few days or less left at this point, I'd be pretty surprised.
The Version. This is specific to treating a breech baby. My baby was in the breech position (head up, feet down) from weeks 28-37. In that position, attempting a vaginal delivery is dangerous, so babies are delivered via c-section unless they can be turned. I strongly preferred to try for a natural delivery, so I agreed to a procedure called an external cephalic version, in which the doctor effectively grabs ahold of the baby from outside your stomach and pushes them into the desired position.
Prior to going in for this procedure, I had read online that it was extremely painful, although short. However, it has a pretty high success rate (it depends on where you get your data, but I think a fair estimate is 50-60% success rate). For me, a 50% chance of success was worth it vs. a 100% chance of c-section and then needing to recover from surgery. So I went in expecting a few minutes of pain and the potential for disappointment.
The first time they tried the procedure, I fainted--but not from pain. They give you a shot of medicine to relax your muscles, but it also makes your pulse race, and the combination of my elevated pulse and lying on my back (squishing major arteries) resulted in me fainting. However, once they revived me and made sure both me and the baby were okay, they tried again. While the procedure was uncomfortable, yes, I would not go so far as to describe it as painful. And it WORKED! And it only took two or three minutes to work! Since this experience, I've talked to multiple women who had breech babies but decided not to pursue a version because their doctors warned them of how painful it is. I find this to be completely crazy. It's hard for me to believe that the very short-lived discomfort of the version is anywhere near as bad as the pain of recovering from surgery. I don't know why versions have gotten this reputation for being so hard to endure, but I think it does women a disservice. If you find yourself with a breech baby, I would highly suggest at least giving the procedure a shot. You can do it!
In conclusion: while pregnant, you are a normal human woman. You are not a monster or a saint. Most of your life will be the same. Expect normalcy, and normalcy will likely follow.