The First Trimester: A Week by Week Symptoms Guide

The first trimester can be quite a hellish time, dominated by nausea, vomiting and tiredness, but what about those lesser talked about symptoms that hit you out of the blue and come as a surprise? Well, here’s a guide to the symptoms I have been experiencing over the past three months, plus a few chucked in from my previous pregnancy. You may recognise some or all of them, and you probably have a few of your own to add to the list, but remember, even if you have no symptoms at all, this isn’t necessarily anything to worry about! Plenty of women don’t notice any changes at all when they’re pregnant and still have perfectly healthy babies, so don’t fret. If in doubt, contact your doctor or midwife team.

Symptoms at THREE WEEKS:

At three weeks, it’s extremely early, and I didn’t really have any ‘symptoms’ as such. However, because I have the patience of a two year old in a sweet shop, I had started testing on day 23 of my cycle, which was still 5 days before my period was due. This was my ‘symptom’ at 3 weeks pregnant:

An almost totally imperceptible line on an hCG strip:

Can you see it? Five days before my period was due I thought I could see a super faint line on an hCG strip. Turns out it was a positive result.

At 11 days post ovulation, I used a cheap hCG strip, and found that if I looked really, really carefully and in the right light, I could see what I thought was a really, really faint line. So faint, that it was almost entirely invisible, and makes for a pretty terrible reference photo for a blog, as on a computer screen you can hardly see it at all! I couldn’t be sure that it was a positive result because of the possible confusion with ‘evaporation lines’, but as it turned out, it was in fact a very early detection of low levels of hCG in my urine, which, in this case did mean that I was pregnant.

Symptoms at FOUR WEEKS:

Four weeks is around the time when many women who have been actively trying to conceive discover that they’re pregnant, as it’s about when your period would normally be arriving, and your hCG levels are high enough to be picked up on a pregnancy test. So, an absent period is the (pretty obvious) first symptom of pregnancy a this stage! But if you’re anything like me (impatient), you might be searching for clues as to whether you’re pregnant even before your period is due. These are the other symptoms I had started to notice at around 4 weeks, but you might spot them even earlier:

In the first few weeks of my pregnancy, I developed an obsession for this stuff: Cawston Press Rhubarb drink. And no, this isn’t a sponsored post (though it probably should be!)

∙Mild nausea that comes and goes.

∙Slight car sickness.

∙Slight tiredness, with less ‘strength’ and less energy than normal.

∙A craving (bordering on obsession) for sparkling drinks containing grapefruit or rhubarb.

∙A strange one: my finger nails seem stronger and the tips whiter than normal. My imagination?

∙A sudden sensitivity to smells that previously went undetected was actually the first sign for me when I was pregnant with my first child, Odhrán. This time around it took a few more weeks to fully take hold.

Symptoms at FIVE WEEKS:

At five weeks, many women still haven’t taken a test, as your period is still only about one week late at this stage. Therefore, you may not notice any symptoms if you’e not looking out for them. In my case, this is when my symptoms starting ramping up, and the list was added to by the day.

By five weeks I was obsessed with pink grapefruit and ate several each day.

∙My nausea is becoming more consistent now.

∙The tiredness is more noticeable, especially in the afternoon and early evening. Lots of early nights!

∙I’m getting slightly breathless when exercising compared to normal.

∙The obsession with sour or bitter sparkling drinks is growing ever stronger.

∙A craving for grapefruit begins (‘m eating at least 1 large pink grapefruit a day, cut up into chunks and eaten with a spoon).

∙My first aversion begins, to chocolate! Normally I’m addicted to it, so this has been surprising to say the least…

Symptoms at SIX WEEKS:

At 6 weeks, you still may not be feeling too bad, and will possibly still feel like you have the same energy levels as before. Be careful though, pushing yourself too hard at this stage can bite you on the bum, as you find yourself more exhausted after physical exertion than you would normally be.

While still active, I had started to feel more tired than usual by 6 weeks.

∙Nausea has gone up a gear and has become even more consistent.

∙Motion sickness is increasing, even to the point where swinging gently on a swing induces the feeling of needing to vomit.

∙Physical exercise and exertion induces more tiredness and exhaustion than normal.

∙Food seems to taste more delicious and satisfying, or more disgusting and repulsive. The middle ground seems to have faded away.

∙The urgent need to eat often and at regular intervals is developing.

∙Not strictly an ‘aversion’, but I have gone off coffee. Even the smell doesn’t appeal any more.

∙A metallic taste is developing in my mouth. Not pleasant.

Symptoms at SEVEN WEEKS:

Ok, so here’s when things really got interesting. Even if I hadn’t already taken a pregnancy test, my symptoms by 7 weeks were unmistakable; I felt terrible.

∙Extreme exhaustion is setting in; I’m feeling the need to lie down constantly, nap during the day and be in bed by 7pm.

∙Strong and unrelenting nausea has firmly taken hold, as if suffering from permanent ‘sea sickness’ —on dry land.

∙A sudden aversion to chicken has begun; can’t eat it, can’t smell it, can’t even think about it. Apologies to my father-in-law who cooked us a big chicken dinner and watched as I ate NONE of it…

∙My aversion to chocolate is confirmed; I tested this out by sampling some of my mother-in-law’s secret stash. Nope. Revolting.

∙My super-human sense of smell is now firmly in place; everything stinks, including my partner, Rob!

∙Talking of smells, my farts have got smellier! This is down to hormones changing the way your bowel works. That’s my excuse and I’m sticking to it.

∙Thrush! Yep, I’ve had it with both pregnancies. Severe itching ‘down below’ both on internally and externally. Get me the Canesten!

Symptoms at EIGHT WEEKS:

∙Nausea is constant, intense and has no break now. Why it’s called ‘Morning Sickness’ when it lasts all day and night, I’ll never know.

∙Exhaustion is now extreme, meaning daily 2 hour naps plus 12 hour night sleeps.

∙Dizziness, shakiness and weakness has started to kick in, especially first thing in the morning, as if caused by low blood sugar or low blood pressure.

∙Constant eating and snacking needed to stave off feelings of sea-sickness and dizziness.

∙Night time eating has become necessary, as nausea and light-headedness wake me up at night.

∙My hands are swelling up a bit now, and the veins on the backs of them stick out more than normal. Pretty.

∙Hormone-related bowel changes means I now have diarrhea. Thankfully not the ‘desperate-run-to-the-loo’ kind, just looser than normal. TMI?

∙I’ve also been feeling flutterings, pulling and tightening in the lower abdomen, which is most likely the womb expanding and growing to accommodate it’s new happy camper.

Symptoms at NINE WEEKS:

If your first trimester is anything like mine, by nine weeks you’ll be praying that the second trimester arrives early! For me, at 9 weeks I was just over half way through this challenging first stage. To cheer ourselves up we got an early reassurance scan and saw our little gummy bear moving on screen. You’re over the hump! You can do it! Symptoms this week were:

Our 9 week early reassurance scan helped cheer me up despite the nausea.

∙Sickness and nausea is as strong as ever.

∙I would now descried the exhaustion as ‘debilitating’. I spend the whole time lying down and getting dizzy when I stand up.

∙The familiar aversion to being touched on the legs that I experienced in my first pregnancy shows up again. Get off, Rob!

∙The frequent need to urinate means I need to wee all the time, including throughout the night, which is more than a little annoying.

∙An insatiable thirst has me downing pints of water and waking at night to drink even more. Ice cubes in the water is particularly refreshing.

∙Bogeys: Here’s a weird one! Extra snottiness and dried up bogeys occupying my nostrils are now unmistakable. Gross, but true!

∙Lower back pain has blighted my week this week, most likely caused by picking up my son (which normally wouldn’t have been a problem).

∙Last but not least, and caused by the muscles of the stomach relaxing due to my pregnancy hormones, I am finding myself needing to burp a lot more. Attractive, this 1st trimester, isn’t it?

Symptoms at TEN WEEKS:

The first trimester was spent lying down 90% of the time wearing seasonal pyjamas even though it wasn’t Christmas. Here I am with Odhrán, who was suffering from a cold when this picture was taken, so he sympathised with my plight.

∙Nausea, exhaustion and weakness continue as strong as ever.

∙Insomnia has ramped up, caused not only by the need to urinate, eat and drink but also by nightmares!

∙Nightmares and vivid dreams have become a nightly occurrence and will wake me up at 2am or 3am for several hours.

∙Food obsessions continue to pop up out of nowhere, causing me to panic-buy tonnes of the same thing (which I wouldn’t recommend; I stocked up on Thai green curry sauces in week 10 but by the end of week 11 I hated the stuff).

∙I’m guzzling whole milk by the gallon (in porridge, cereal and tea).

∙As well as food aversions, I’ve also developed pregnancy-related human-aversions. or more specifically man-aversions. Ok, Rob-aversions. Rob’s feet gross me out now; if his toes so much as touch my leg I freak out. I was also surprised to notice that certain sounds he makes (particularly low, rumbling noises that he puts on to play with Odhrán) make my skin crawl and drive me insane (imagine The Incredible Hulk in the fight scene where he’s floored by the sonic cannons; that’s me).

Symptoms at ELEVEN WEEKS:

Thai green curry became a short-lived obsession for a week or so. Ice-cold water with lime, lemon and mint provided refreshing relief.

∙My drink obsession is now iced water with mint leaves, lemon and lime juice.

∙My food obsession is pear, kiwi and lime fruit salad with a mango puree and mint leaves, as well as carrots and cucumbers dipped in hummus.

∙The chicken aversion has become ever stronger, to the point that even the thought of live chickens walking around in their pen make me feel sick. Sorry chickens, no offence.

∙I realise that I also have an aversion to eggs now too.

Symptoms at TWELVE WEEKS:

The 12 week scan revealed the little person causing all the trouble.

∙Just when I thought it was already at its peak, the nausea and “sea-sickness’ has become even strong this week.

∙Exhaustion levels are now immense; I hardly get up from the couch or the bed.

∙Burgers have been added to the aversion list. YUCK.

∙Baked potatoes and corn on the cob have beome the new obsessions, as well as salmon (smoked, poached or baked) and cream cheese. YUM.

∙Desserts have started to taste “too sweet” (how?!) and chocolate still doesn’t appeal.

∙Crusty nipples. Anyone? I noticed this in my last pregnancy too, though it seems to have started earlier this time. It was only when I gave birth that I realised that the creamy coloured specs on my nipples were bits of dried colostrum (the thick, golden yellow-coloured first milk that your breasts produce to feed your baby in the initial few days) which, unbeknown to me, was already being made by my mammary glands in preparation for the baby’s arrival.

On the plus side, we got to see bub again at our 12 week scan.

Symptoms at THIRTEEN WEEKS:

Horizontal living became the norm for me as I moved from bed to couch and back again.

∙I have become accustomed to existing in an almost-permanently horizontal position, while having only the slightest will to live. The only reason I get up at all is to look after my toddler or take him to the (very local) park, but where I can, I am sitting, or preferably lying, down.

∙Where previously, eating regularly was at least giving me some momentary relief, food is no longer helping my nausea now.

∙Carrots and cucumber are my favourite thing this week, food-wise. So cold and refreshing, ahhhhh.

∙Mint, and ginger and lemon tea is my latest drink obsession, and gives (very temporary) relief.

Symptoms at FOURTEEN WEEKS:

Desperate to alleviate the nausea, I tried some acupressure wrist bands. Not sure they worked though…

∙The nausea has ramped up to a new level, and evenings are the worst. I’ve never vomited, but this week I came very, very close, gagging and retching at the sight of some food on TV, and even innocent old toothpaste is causing some issues.

∙My new food aversion is tomato-based pasta sauce, which ordinarily I love, but which now I HATE.

∙Night eating (bread with margarine) is imperative (I take a slice to bed with me wrapped in cling film), as is a pint of water during the night.

∙Hot chillies and jalepenos continue to be a food obsession.

∙I have started trying some anti-nausea acupressure wrist bands. I’m not sure if it’s a placebo but they seemed to work on day one…

∙Despite the horrendous nausea, by the end of this week I have noticed one area of improvement: I had my first nap-free day this week! Progress? Let’s see…

Symptoms at FIFTEEN WEEKS:

O.M.G! Are things on the up? It does seem improving this week. By Tuesday I saw glimpses of my old self, meeting a friend at the park and feeling a renewed vigour to walk and do things.

By week 15 I suddenly had more energy and found myself able to walk longer distances than previous weeks.

∙No need for daytime naps this week, which means I can finally start working on some projects I’ve been meaning to get on with while my toddler naps on his own.

∙Evenings are still difficult, with the activity of the day catching up on me and causing strong nausea and exhaustion by 5pm each night.

∙Nightmares seem to be reducing too, although…

∙I still need to wee a lot at night!

∙Thrush continues to be an issue.

Symptoms at SIXTEEN WEEKS:

A mixed week this week. I was looking forward to week 16, as in my head it was the magic week when, in my pregnancy with Odhran, the woeful first trimester symptoms came to an end and I stopped feeling sick and exhausted. So I was (mistakenly) expecting that this week I would suddenly feel completely normal and bounce back to life. In reality, things seem to have gone backwards somewhat this week ,and some of the progress made last week appears to have retroceded.

By week 16, all I wanted to eat was bread and cereal.

∙Energy levels are up and down; some days I feel almost ‘normal’ and others I need to join my toddler for a daytime nap.

∙The nausea has been quite bad, and my gag reflex has stepped up a gear. I gagged on toothpaste one evening and was a tiny bit sick into the basin!

∙My huge disgust reflex and aversion to the tomato-based pasta sauces that emerged 2 weeks ago has gone up a level; I tried to make a pasta bake and couldn’t even look at it, let alone smell or taste any of it. Rob had to eat it all. He wasn’t complaining.

∙I seem to be eating nothing but bread and cereal (with whole milk).

∙The vivid dreams continue but not quite as bad as previous weeks.

∙My insomnia is fairly bad; I’m spending 2 or 3 hours awake per night.

Symptoms at SEVENTEEN WEEKS:

I don’t want to speak too soon, but the first trimester appears to have finally been left in the past now, as my energy levels, nausea and general outlook on life seems have vastly improved. Last week must have been the transition. While certainly not my ‘normal self’, I’ve come on leaps and bounds from the invalid I was a few weeks ago, and I’m looking forward to a productive second trimester! I hope you are too.

Now in the 2nd trimester, I ‘treated’ myself to a giant pregnancy pillow to help me sleep more comfortably at night.

∙Coffee, which I haven’t touched since I discovered I was pregnant, has suddenly reclaimed its appeal. I am now enjoying one (weak) cup a day.

∙The nausea, although still present, has reduced greatly.

∙My taste buds are still off kilter, with things that I used to like (chicken, tomato-based pasta sauce, eggs, burgers etc) now pretty revolting.

∙Acid reflux is now kicking in; this was an unwelcome accompaniment to my last pregnancy too. Gaviscon is my new best friend.

∙Back and hip pain is causing me a bit of discomfort, and my normally comfortable mattress is now way too hard! I have got myself a HUGE pregnancy pillow and a memory foam mattress topper, which help immensely, as I am also trying to train myself to sleep on my side, ahead of the third trimester (when it’s recommended you don’t sleep on your back in order to maintain good oxygen supply to the baby).

∙No more naps! I’ve got way more energy again during the day.

So there you have it, that brings us up to date and into the second trimester! Let me know in the comments below if you’ve had similar symptoms or whether you’ve experienced others that I haven’t mentioned, I’d love to hear!

Freya is one half of The Amateur Parents, along with her partner Rob. Follow Freya on Instagram @the_amateur_mama for more parenting articles and photos.

The First Trimester: Why the big secret?

Some believe it’s bad luck, some say it’s simply tradition, but whatever the reasoning, until a woman passes the twelve week milestone of her pregnancy, convention dictates that she is not to reveal it to anyone but her doctor, and her partner. The superstitious amongst us believe that until twelve weeks, it is tempting fate to mention your pregnancy, because so much can go wrong and your pregnant status is somewhat ‘insecure’ until you’ve passed that all-important turning-point. Granted, the first trimester is when the risk of miscarriage is at its highest, but as someone who has experienced an early miscarriage myself, I would say that having people around you who know what has happened and can support you in your hour of need is exactly what you need at such a devastating time. In my case, most of my friends and family had no idea that I was pregnant, but when I started to bleed at six weeks, I just knew that it had come to an end. Even though we hadn’t told anyone that I was pregnant, once I knew I was miscarrying, I felt the desperate need to reach out and let people know, partly for support, but mostly because I felt an unbearable weight of sadness for this little life that had existed for six weeks and was now going to leave the world without anyone knowing that it had been there at all. It felt like I was doing that little soul a disservice to let it vanish without trace, so I ended up telling everyone I knew that it had been there, but that now it was gone, and it was the only thing I could do to honour the importance of the little life that had been with us for such a short time.

With my second pregnancy, which thankfully gave us our healthy son Odhrán (now eighteen months old), we didn’t tell anyone until after our twelve week scan. I don’t know why we felt the need to wait to tell people, particularly seeing as I would probably have told them anyway if it hadn’t gone our way and we’d ended up losing that baby too. I suspect it was superstition that prevented us telling too many people; the fear of tempting fate or getting too excited, too soon. It’s almost as if you’re supposed to reserve your happiness until the world deems your pregnancy to be ‘real’, even though to you, with all the changes that are assaulting your body so dramatically and with the sense of protection and love that you feel for your tiny mini-me from the word go, it is more than real already. There were benefits to keeping it a secret I suppose, namely the surprise that our family got when we sent them our first scan pictures, as they’d had no idea that we had conceived again so quickly after our miscarriage, and were delighted to see such a clear ultrasound scan of an already well-developed baby. I called my dad on FaceTime to show him in person, and admittedly, it was a special moment, made all the more precious because we’d waited to tell him. It’s also kind of fun keeping a secret and figuring out ways to throw people off the scent, and finding out, when you do tell them, whether or not they had suspected something all along. However, the downside of waiting is having to plough through three months of morning sickness and covering it up to all and sundry with a web of elaborate —and increasingly ridiculous— white lies.

With my second pregnancy, we decided to wait until the 12 week scan before telling people.

The first trimester, although largely ‘invisible’ insofar as any external physical signs are concerned, is actually, for many women, the most difficult part of the whole pregnancy. Those two little lines on the pregnancy test can mean that you’re about to spend the next twelve to sixteen weeks feeling increasingly tired and ill, while not being able to tell anyone why. If you’re lucky enough never to have experienced the dreaded morning sickness then I’ll happily enlighten you as to how it feels. Remember the worst hangover you ever had? Take that feeling and think back to the last time you were bed-bound with a really nasty bout of flu and add that to it, then chuck in a good measure of sea-sickness, some food poisoning, and a dash of vertigo. Make things a little bit harder for yourself with some insomnia, regular nightmares and frequent nighttime urination, plus the head-rush-inducing, stomach-knowing, desperate need for a midnight meal —every night. Maintain all of this for twenty four hours a day and then try and keep the whole thing to yourself, pretending everything is absolutely, gloriously, fine. And that’s not even the worst version; some women find themselves vomitting up to ten or twenty times a day and even end up being hospitalised due to dehydration and exhaustion. The clandestine world of the first trimester means feeling like absolute cr*p but having to put on a brave face and show up to the world; the smiling life and soul or the consummate professional, feigning normality, only to return home at the end of it all and collapse in an exhausted, tearful heap.

Those two pink lines are the start of three months of morning sickness for many women.

With my current pregnancy, which we found out about at the end of July, I didn’t necessarily want to wait until the official twelve week scan, but I had at least wanted to see a heartbeat on an early private scan before making an announcement. However, useless with secrets, my partner Rob told his sister at the first opportunity he had, when I was still only about five weeks pregnant. That led to his parents and other siblings being told, and before long I had also caved, telling my brother and sister-in-law about a week later. I hadn’t planned to say anything, but they had come over to visit at a time when I was already starting to feel nauseous and tired, I wanted them to know why I was sitting down every five minutes and leaving Rob to run around after our toddler instead of helping. As a wave of nausea washed over me, I announced that we had ‘news’ and then explained that I just wanted to get it out there: I felt like sh*t! Had they not been visiting precisely when the morning sickness was kicking in, I may well have put off telling them until we had subsequently had our first scan at just over nine weeks, which is when we did in fact tell the rest of our friends and family.

The first trimester of my pregnancy with Odhrán was by far the most difficult part of the whole pregnancy. The nausea was one thing, but the debilitating exhaustion that accompanied it was something I found very hard to hide. I was working in an office at the time, and the tiredness would get so bad that I’d have to book meeting rooms in secret and slink off when my colleagues weren’t looking, in order to go and lie down when it all got too much. I worked in a shared office space where all the meeting rooms had glass walls, making it pretty hard to carry out my covert activity with stealth, so I would use the ‘prayer room’ instead, as it had a proper door and no windows, allowing me to curl up on the kneeling cushion they provided for the floor and die in peace for half an hour. There was no way round telling the girl at reception why I wanted to book that room, and even though it was ‘breaking the twelve week rule’ to tell anyone at all, it felt like a huge relief to share my secret even with a stranger, and I basked in the sympathy of her knowing smile as she handed me the key, revelling in the rebellious pact I had created with my new-found confidante.

Now, with my current pregnancy, I am at home full-time with an eighteen month old toddler, which although taxing in its own way, at least means that I am not having to commute to work or put on a brave face in front of other adults for most of the day. Usually a very active person (I can normally run 10k without batting an eyelid, and would ordinarily do an intensive gym class at least four times a week), I have spent the last sixteen weeks almost permanently horizontal. It’s only because I have a toddler to entertain that I have even been making it out at all; just about managing the half mile walk to the park and back before resuming my position on the couch. The first trimester of this pregnancy has been every bit as bad, if not worse, than the last one. So exhausted by eleven in the morning, I would have to make joining my son for his two hour naps a daily routine, and my life has consisted of moving from bed to couch to floor and back again. It’s only in the last couple of weeks that the regular dizzy spells, low-blood-pressure-induced black-outs and debilitating tiredness has eased off a bit, but I’m still enjoying the last bit of nausea that doesn’t yet want to budge and which, unlike the term ‘morning sickness’ suggests, does in fact last all day…and night. 

Daytime naps with my toddler became a daily occurrence throughout the first trimester of my current pregnancy.

Because of the pandemic, we’ve been doing a lot less socialising than normal, which in many ways has been a blessing in disguise, not least because I haven’t had to make constant excuses for why I’m acting with less enthusiasm than a mushroom that’s been left to wilt at the bottom of the fridge, or why I can’t manage sitting upright for more than an hour without my face turning a thunderous grey. During the first trimester of my pregnancy with Odhrán, I’d have to regularly turn down invitations, and because we were keeping it a secret, my useless reasons only served to baffle and confuse their recipients. One that sticks in my memory was having to explain that I was too tired to meet a friend to visit a church because I’d been to a 70th birthday party the day before. I mean a church and a 70th birthday party. Yeah, I mean, don’t burn the candle at both ends, Freya. To this day that particular friend likes to remind me how so bizarrely out of character my excuse was, given that I would normally have the energy to go mountain biking, go-karting and kayaking with her, and a church visit wasn’t going to be anywhere near as exhausting as any of the high octane pastimes we would normally enjoy. 

Despite the social restrictions we’ve had this year, there have been some opportunities to meet with friends, and depending on how severe your pregnancy symptoms are, even a picnic in the park can seem like a mammoth task when you feel like death warmed up. It was for this reason, not having to make pathetic excuses to my friends as to why I couldn’t join them or why, if I did, I’d be lying down on a cushion for most of the duration, that I decided that in this pregnancy, I would give the twelve week rule its marching orders once and for all. Before Rob had even opened his gob and let the cat out of the bag by telling his sister, I had in fact told one member of a group of friends of mine, with whom I’d planned to meet up on Hampstead Heath a week or so earlier. We had been discussing the logistics of how I’d get there and whether or not I would stay over at hers, me being a south Londoner and she living in Kentish Town. Because I was already starting to feel queasy and weak, the thought of travelling across London on public transport with a toddler in tow was starting to give me the heeby-jeebies. I was dithering about with the plans as I was holding out for a lift from another friend who would be driving up from south of the river, but given that only a few weeks earlier, a non-pregnant me had walked the entire eight miles from Deptford to Primrose Hill in thirty-five degree heat to meet the same group of friends, with my son, the picnic stuff and both our overnight stuff piled high on his buggy, I could sense that my new apparent aversion to any form of physical exertion was drawing a bit of baffled attention. I decided to text my friend to tell her the reason why I was acting so flaky; I was four weeks pregnant! It was such a relief just to know that she knew, even if none of the others did, as somehow it felt like someone had my back.

The text I sent my friend, at just 4 weeks pregnant, breaking the ‘rule’ of the ‘secret first trimester.’

I was dying to tell the others though, particularly as I sat in the back of my friend’s car on the bumpy journey across town, feeling increasingly car-sick as I stared at his smartphone, politely watching a family video he’d made and wanted me to watch, the motion of the car beneath me combining with the flickering screen to create a nauseating bog of doom in the pit of my stomach, as my friend excitedly babbled away in the driving seat, oblivious of my plight. Once at Primrose Hill, as I struggled up the slope holding my ten-tonne son and all our picnic things without asking for help, I was dying to explain that actually, I wasn’t really managing very well at all and that it felt like I had Arnold Schwarzenegger strapped to my body in the Baby Bjorn rather than a toddler, with my lungs feeling like they were going to explode at any given moment. Later, at the picnic, as one of my friends unwittingly took my only can of non-alcoholic sparkling grapefruit drink that I had specifically bought to alleviate my nausea (bubbles and tang help!) and gulped it down thirstily, not realising that it wasn’t just any old can of drink, but my refreshingly crisp, nausea-alleviating lifeline (ok, a bit dramatic, but you try keeping your cool when you feel like you’re on a rough boat crossing even though you’re on land, and you have newly arrived pregnancy hormones surging through your bloodstream ), I wanted to unleash my inner banshee and let out a long, guttural scream along with the words “I’m f*cking pregnant, you mother-f*ucking, sparkling drink-stealing bastard!!!”.

Putting on a brave face: I was already feeling nauseous and tired at a picnic with friends, but hid it under a smile because I was keeping my pregnancy a secret.

I didn’t of course, because I was keeping my pregnancy a secret, so instead I smiled politely as I watched the drink I’d been looking forward to for the last two hours disappear down his unenlightened gullet. A few weeks later, after I’d had my nine week scan, I met up with the same group of friends again, only this time, I had texted them in advance to announce that I was expecting. I did this less to induce a inpouring of congratulatory replies, and more to give them a heads up that it would be likely that I would be spending most of the picnic lying down, with my hands on my tummy and my eyes shut, and that they weren’t to think me rude if my pained expression gave the impression that I was secretly thinking that I’d be having more fun sat with a bunch of carrion birds, picking bits of rotten flesh of a carcass. It worked; everyone understood that it was the morning sickness, and not their company, that was the cause of my sad-sack demeanour, no-one expected me to be the life and soul of the picnic and… no one stole my drink. 

With this pregnancy, we decided to tell people at 9 weeks, which is when we saw the baby’s heartbeat on an early scan.

And this, for me, is an important part of why I believe couples should feel that it’s ok to tell people they’re expecting, even in the early days. The first twelve weeks are precisely when a woman should be wearing her “Baby on Board” badge and being given special dispensation and a seat on the tube. When you’re feeling like sh*t, you don’t want people having any expectations of you; rather you need a friendly face, some understanding, hell, sympathy even, a bit of assistance and regular access to food and drink, without looking like some sort of rabid snack-devouring, demanding diva-b*tch. Once people know you’re pregnant, all is forgiven. And if it doesn’t go your way, if you do lose your baby in those first twelve weeks, being able to tell people and hear about similar experiences from other couples who have gone through the same thing lightens the load immensely. Keeping the whole thing a secret, as if it never really happened, isn’t fair on you, and it doesn’t do justice to the people you know and love, because the truth is, people are generally kind; we can all relate to the pain of losing someone, and to share that pain with those around you, if not halving it, certainly makes it a lot easier to bear. It also invites other couples to talk about their own experiences of miscarriage, which they may previously have felt too embarrassed, ashamed or nervous to bring up for fear of judgement or stone-cold, awkward silence. 

In my case, when another another couple replied to my message in which I’d told them I’d had a miscarriage, to reveal that they too had gone through the same thing just eighteen months earlier (and had subsequently gone on to have a healthy baby, who by that point was four months old) I was so relieved. It wasn’t that I was glad to hear that they had suffered, but it was a relief to know that I wasn’t alone, that I wasn’t abnormal and that I hadn’t done anything wrong. To hear them speak of the devastation they had felt, which sounded so much like that which I was drowning in there and then, and to hear that they had got through it, recovered and gone on to have a healthy baby, gave me a life buoy to hold onto. More and more people opened up to me about their own experiences as a result of me telling them about our loss; not just about miscarriages, but pregnancy complications, problems conceiving and all manner of fertility anxiety, all echoing the same desperate agony that I was feeling, and all making me realise that this feeling was not unique to me. 

The Baby on Board badge, which many women wait until the 2nd trimester to wear.

Silence only serves to make something which is very common feel like it’s some horrendously abnormal thing that is only happening to you, and shrouds the whole horrible experience in unnecessary taboo. According to Tommy’s, the charity that funds research into miscarriage, stillbirth and premature birth, an estimated one in four pregnancies ends in miscarriage. Most of them will be a “one-off”, caused by chromosomal or genetic abnormalities in the embryo, and will have no bearing on a couple’s chances of having a healthy baby in the future. But the tradition of keeping the first trimester —and any negative events that happen during it— a secret, somehow makes it seem like it isn’t real or valid, and that your pain isn’t deserving of any sympathy or relief. But the opposite is true. Just because your baby was only around for six, ten, or twelve weeks doesn’t take away the fact that she existed. She was alive, she was real and for that short time she was loved. Her birth was looked forward to and her future and a life of her own was imagined with perfect clarity. It’s a pretty cruel tradition that turns this painful loss into what feels like a shameful secret, and to cause a couple to fear tempting fate if they dare tell anyone their news, and to leave them to mourn the loss of that baby alone if they’re unlucky enough to have a miscarriage, seems like some sort of gruesome, outdated joke. 

Anyone who has experienced miscarriage will know, that as well as the acute sense of loss, our pesky human minds also heap on a whole load of other unhelpful emotions when left to swirl around in their own lonely cosmos; sadness; guilt, regret and anger, and it’s normal for women —and their partners— to agonise over what they did ‘wrong’ or to fret about how the miscarriage could have been prevented. The loneliness you feel at such a time of loss, especially one shrouded in secrecy, leads to the mind scampering down a rabbit hole of over-analysis, causing more pain than the actual miscarriage itself. I found that being able to talk about what had happened, including the actual physical events of miscarriage, the way I had felt when I was pregnant and when I lost the baby, normalised the experience and helped me make sense of it in the context of the real world, not an anxiety-ridden parallel universe where there were a million things that I could have done differently to prevent my baby from having died. For people to hear about my baby and how she or he had made me feel, also felt like I was giving him or her the send-off they deserved, a eulogy if you like, for the future child we never met. 

And thats the thing, despite the secrecy and the lack of official ‘validation’ of your pregnancy in those first twelve weeks, the first trimester is a time when it all feels overwhelmingly real for the mother –and often the father— of the baby-to-be. The excitement of discovering you’re pregnant, which can be the culmination of months or even years of trying to conceive, the realisation of your hopes and dreams of having a baby, the excitement of wondering whether its a boy or girl and the sudden awareness that your world is going to change beyond recognition make it, emotionally speaking, the most real experience you’ve probably ever had. Couple that with having to adapt to the rapid onset of nausea and exhaustion, and the whole things makes for the ride of a lifetime, one whose highs and lows, I believe, should be shared with those who can support you and share in your happiness, trepidation and excitement.

Of course, keeping it a secret isn’t all doom and gloom. It can be quite fun exchanging glances with your other half as he surreptitiously sips your drink as well as his own so that your not drinking alcohol doesn’t raise suspicion, and it can also be a time when you and your partner enjoy the knowledge that you have a little person on the way in the privacy of your relationship, before the world starts interfering. However, my wish for those parents-to-be who are keeping mum because of the fear that something will go wrong that they will have to ‘explain’ to those they’ve told, is that they feel supported and encouraged enough to tell whoever they wish about their pregnancy, at whatever stage they want. The more we talk about our experiences of the first trimester, both good and bad, the more we can give it the recognition it deserves, support new pregnant mums in what can be the most physically demanding stage of their pregnancy, and lend a life-line of understanding to those struggling with the agony of an early miscarriage, instead of their pain, which is every bit as real and acute as any other loss of a loved one, being shrouded in silence.

Freya is one half of The Amateur Parents, along with her partner Rob. Follow Freya on Instagram @the_amateur_mama for more parenting articles and photos.