The Geriatric Mum: What’s it like being pregnant over 40?

When you’re twenty, forty sounds REALLY old. I’m fully aware that any twenty-somethings reading this are probably thinking that by forty they will be very different people; much more steady, sensible and worldly-wise, and that they will, like, totally have their shit together. When you’re forty however, you realise that no-one ever really has their shit together, and as for being more stable and wise; in some ways you are, but in many respects you just learn to manage the capricious and immature side of yourself, rather than grow out of it. You compartmentalise it, as if it were an over-excited chimp that you keep in a room on the other side of the house (if you’ve got your shit together enough to have bought a house that is….I haven’t.)

I never really thought about how old I’d be when I had children, but I suppose I didn’t really think I’d be as old as forty. Throughout my twenties, having children was a far-off concept, and I just vaguely thought that “in ten years time I’d think about it”. It wasn’t on my radar at all; I’d been brought up by a single mum who was a career woman; I’d seen her go from 1980’s benefits mum to training for seven years to be come a chiropractor and subsequently opening her own clinic, so my idea of womanhood was working, not mothering. My grandmother was the same; she came to the UK in the 1940’s and worked every day of her life —pretty much— until she died in her eighties. Getting married and having children was never really put on the plate as ‘the thing you do’, and if anything, seeing my mum struggle with two children on her own, coupled with her mental health issues, never made family life look particularly appealing.

My late twenties were spent travelling the world

My trajectory was doing my “A” levels, followed by University, and then throwing myself into life in all it’s wild, colourful, scary and exciting dimensions. I travelled, lived abroad, learnt languages, worked in TV, partied and studied, and when girlfriends discussed marrying rich men and ‘settling down’, it never quite hit home as something that was for me. I had a few serious relationships with guys who were ready to settle down, but I ran away as far as I could whenever things got serious. Not physically necessarily, but mentally; pushing them away because I was scared off by the thought of commitment. I took a long time to ‘mature’ in that sense, and it wasn’t until I was about thirty-seven that I started to change my mind about the whole “in ten years I’ll think about it” thing. Which is good, seeing that I didn’t really have ten years by that stage. Thankfully, I met my partner Rob, and thankfully he was also pushing the big four-“o”, so he also wanted to have children straight away, before he lost too much more of his hair.

Our first child Odhrán was born two days before I was thirty-nine. Because I’ve never experienced pregnancy as a younger woman, I didn’t know how the treatment I received throughout that pregnancy differed from that given to any other woman. I was assigned to a specialist maternity unit, but that was more to do with my family history of mental ill-health than my age, so the more frequent visits to the midwife were less to do with me being thirty-eight and more to do with me being likely to lose the plot. I managed to get through the pregnancy unscathed, and then went on to get pregnant again when Odhrán was sixteen months old.

This time, it seems my most recent birthday means I have crossed the line over to “Geriatric Motherhood’, and I have definitely noticed that my age is now a factor, if not with my own health, then with the supervision of the medics. Thirty-five maybe be the age at which you’re considered to be having a “geriatric pregnancy”, but forty is the milestone that, if crossed, flags up a whole host of other things on which the health professionals looking after you will be keep an eye.

Baby Odhrán was born when I was almost 39.

So what can you expect if you’re forty and pregnant? Well, again, I was assigned back to the same specialist unit as with my first pregnancy, but this time I’ve noticed a few added extras. Here is a run-down:

More frequent midwife (antenatal) appointments:

I see my midwife every three weeks for urine checks, blood pressure, fetal heartbeat checks and bump measurements. In these appointments she asks me how I am generally, mentally, and whether there is anything that concerns me. On one appointment, she picked up on my vaginal thrush symptoms, and also sent me for tests which showed that I had Group B Strep (a common bacteria that two in five people have living in their body, which is normally harmless but does need some management during birth to ensure the baby doesn’t get ill, so it’s important that the delivery team are aware). My midwife will also flag up any concerns she has with fetal growth, for example if your bump is measuring big or small you’ll be sent for extra scans at the hospital.

How does this differ from a younger woman’s experience? For younger pregnant women, visits to the midwife would be much less frequent. According to the NHS, for first pregnancies, you can expect to have up to ten antenatal appointments throughout the whole pregnancy, and that includes all your hospital scans. For women having their second baby, you’ll have only around seven antenatal appointments throughout the whole pregnancy. In my case, if you add up all the midwife appointments, scans and seeing the consultant, I will total about sixteen or seventeen planned antenatal appointments (and this isn’t even my first baby!).

At forty, I see my midwife every three weeks

Aspirin:

Despite being fit, active and with no health conditions (thank God) being over forty means that I’ve been told that I have to take a daily 150mg dose of Aspirin in order to prevent blood clots, hypertension and possible preeclapmpsia. I don’t have any other warning signs for developing any of these conditions, so although it can be taken from as early as twelve weeks, I was only prescribed it from twenty-seven weeks. As there is no evidence that it does any harm, I decided to heed the midwife’s advice and take it as a precaution, even though developing these conditions is not one of my concerns.

I’m taking the recommended 150mg of aspirin a day to prevent preeclampsia

Consultant appointment:

Another thing I’ve been told just recently is, that in addition to all the extra antenatal appointments I am having because of my age, I will also be given a consultant appointment at around thirty weeks. This is to discuss our birth plan and to advise me that they recommend an induction. Which brings me on to the next point:

Induction plan at forty weeks:

Being aged forty or above means that a consultant will advise that I am induced on my due date (forty weeks), as according to the NHS, losing your baby as a stillbirth once ‘overdue’ carries about twice the risk of a younger mother (which is about the same risk as that to a thirty year old woman at forty-two weeks pregnant; one in five hundred).

As an over-forty mum, the consultant will advise that I am induced at forty weeks

Glucose Tolerance Test (GTT):

The NHS say that developing gestational diabetes is approximately four times more likely in mothers over forty when compared to women in their twenties or early thirties (about one in twenty-five compared to one in one hundred). My midwife tests my urine for sugar at every antenatal checkup and I also had a GTT test to check that my body was able to metabolise sugars in the normal way. It is: yay!

My verdict?

That’s about it…for now! It’s important to note that despite older mothers seeming more likely to experience problems in pregnancy and childbirth, what is unclear is whether the increased chance of complications applies to all pregnant women over forty, just first time mothers
over forty, pregnant women over forty who have a large number of other children or pregnant women over forty who have additional underlying health problems. If you’re fit, active and healthy like I am lucky enough to be, then conception, pregnancy and childbirth are all highly likely to go as smoothly as if you were in your early thirties. So don’t let any of this worry you! Pregnancies over forty are also on the increase, with loads of women now waiting until they’re in the right relationship or for other conditions to be right before embarking on motherhood. So if you are one of them, you are in good company!

If anything, I count myself extremely lucky to be living in the UK, where I have access to all these extra check and measures, as I’m a firm believer that there’s no harm in being extra vigilant, and of putting your mind at rest. I feel very fortunate that both me and my baby girl are in such great hands and that our health is being monitored every step of the way, “geriatric” or not! Bring on the zimmerframe!

Freya is one half of The Amateur Parents, alongside Rob, her partner. Head over to Instagram and to see all the latest posts from @the_amateur_mama

Boy or Girl? We put TEN baby gender predictions to the test.

If you’re anything like me, you’ll be dying to know the gender of your baby almost as soon as you see a positive result on your pregnancy test. Mums-to-be have, for generations, turned to old wives tales to predict the gender of their baby, but how do these non-scientific approaches compare to modern technology? When Rob and I decided to find out the sex of our baby, we put ten well-known gender prediction methods to the test. From old folklore to state-of-the-art DNA analysis, which ones turned out to be correct?  

1. SneakPeek Test:

For someone born in the ’80s, whose own mother didn’t even have an ultrasound scan, this first one is almost unfathomably futuristic. The SneakPeek test is an at-home finger-prick blood test that you send off for DNA analysis. How on earth does it work? While every person has his or her own DNA in their bloodstream, a pregnant woman’s bloodstream also contains DNA from her unborn child. A non-pregnant woman will only have female chromosomes in her blood, so SneakPeek looks for male chromosomes in a small sample of your blood. If they find male chromosomes, that means baby is a boy. If no male chromosomes are found, the baby is a girl. SneakPeek’s website claims that their test is 99.9% accurate at 8 weeks into pregnancy, so if you simply can’t wait until the 20 week scan, this is a great choice.

How early can you use it? 

8 weeks.

What does it cost?

£79 (but you can get 10 USD off if you use The Amateur Parents special discount code SPIDEC12).

Was it easy to use?

As long as you don’t mind using a finger-prick device to extract your own blood, the SneakPeek test is relatively easy to do without leaving the house; it just takes a bit of preparation and careful reading of the instructions. I took mine when my (male) toddler and partner weren’t around, as contamination of the test with male DNA can give you a false ‘boy’ result. They provide everything you need in the kit, but be careful not to open the cellophane wrapper until you’re ready to take the test and have washed your hands and sanitised the surface you’re going to use thoroughly. It comes with a little nail brush, and the instructions are very specific about how long you should scrub your hands for, and about not touching anything else while you handle the test contents. As long as you’re happy to follow the instructions to the ’T”, it’s not hard to do. I particularly liked the fact that they provided a little stand for the vial, a rubber band to put round your wrist to increase blood flow, and several finger prickers in case you don’t get enough blood with the first one. 

How quick are the results?

I took the test on a Monday, posted it off the same day (the test recommends you take it to a post office for scanning, but I just popped it in the postbox nearest my house, and it was fine). I got the results by email on the Friday night. So in my case, 4 days, but I know some people who have got their results back even quicker. It’s worth mentioning that we were in Lockdown in the UK when I posted mine off, but my results still came back pretty fast.

What was their prediction?

GIRL (scroll to the bottom of the blog to find out if they were correct!)

GET 10 USD off the SneakPeek test HERE or use The Amateur Parents discount code SPIDEC12

2. Nub Theory:

Before about 15 weeks gestation, both boy and girl babies have ‘genital tubercles’, also known as a ‘nub’, between their legs. In early pregnancy this nub looks surprisingly similar on both males and females, but with time, this small part of your baby’s anatomy will eventually develop into their gender-specific genitals. For those in the know, determining gender is possible between 12-14 weeks gestation by looking at a scan picture and analysing the angle and shape of this nub, also referred to as the “angle of the dangle.” The ultrasound picture must be in profile view in order to allow both the spine, and the nub’s relationship to it, to be seen. The theory goes that if the nub is angled at greater than 30 degrees in relation to the spine, it is likely to be a male fetus. If it is pointing straight out, under 30 degrees, or down, it is likely a female fetus! You can try and work it out yourself by looking at your 12 week scan, or do what we did, and go to the Nubologists to get it done professionally!

How early can you use it? 

12 weeks.

What does it cost? 

£7.99

Was it easy to use?

Very. I emailed the Nubologists two scans from my 12 week ultrasound appointment and they emailed me back with a gender prediction, explanation and annotated scan picture. They also told me, as a percentage, the certainty with which they were making their prediction (this differs depending on the clarity of your scan, position of the baby and other factors to do with the scan beyond their control). 

How quick are the results?

Nubologists do a 24 hours service, or even quicker for a higher fee.

What was their prediction?

GIRL, which they predicted with 85% confidence (scroll to the bottom of the blog to find out if they were correct!).

3. Skull Theory:

Skull gender theory works by identifying the shape, size, and other related factors of your baby’s skull while they’re in the womb. According to skull gender theory, the sex of your baby can be identified by how blocky, round, large or small your baby’s skull is. Boys are said to generally have larger, blockier skull shapes than girls. Girls are said to have more rounded skulls that are also smaller in overall size. If you’ve got your 12 week scan pictures, you can try and work it out yourself, or do what we did, and go to The Gender Experts to get it done professionally!

How early can you use it?

12 weeks.

What does it cost? 

We got the Skull Theory and the Ramzi Theory as a package and the price for that is £14.39 (USD to GPB conversion accurate as of 15th Nov 2020.). Skull theory on its own costs £9.

Was it easy to use?

Yes, I emailed The Gender Experts two scans from my 12 week ultrasound appointment and they emailed me back with a gender prediction, explanation and annotated scan pictures.

How quick are the results?

They emailed me the results within 24 hours.

What was their prediction?

GIRL (scroll to the bottom of the blog to find out if they were correct!).

4. Ramzi Theory:

The placenta is a vital organ connecting the mother’s uterus with the foetus, supporting the developing baby by supplying nutrients, eliminating waste products and enabling gas exchange via the mother’s blood supply. But how does the placenta develop? Around 9 days after implantation, finger-like projections known as ‘chorionic villi’ start to connect the early embryo with the mother’s uterine wall, and these projections are often referred to as the ‘future placenta’. Dr. Saam Ramzi Ismail discovered that the direction or orientation of the chorionic villi is an accurate marker in determining the sex of a baby. He believed that a natural polarization occurs in the womb in which male embryos are magnetized toward the right side of the uterus, and females are drawn toward the left side. It’s best to use a scan picture taken at around 6-9 weeks gestation for the Ramzi theory. You can ask your sonographer which side your placenta is on at your early scan, or if this isn’t possible, do what we did and send your scan picture to The Gender Experts.

How early can you use it?

6 weeks.

What does it cost? 

We got the Skull Theory and the Ramzi Theory as a package from The Gender Experts and the price for that is £14.39 (USD to GPB conversion accurate as of 15th Nov 2020.). The Ramzi theory on its own costs £9.

Was it easy to use?

Yes, I emailed The Gender Experts two scans from my 9 week ultrasound appointment and they emailed me back with a gender prediction, explanation and annotated scan picture.

How quick are the results?

They emailed me the results within 24 hours.

What was their prediction?

GIRL (scroll to the bottom of the blog to find out if they were correct!).

5. Psychic Gender Prediction:

If you’re open-minded and fancy a more spiritual take on baby gender prediction, there are psychics who, as well as giving readings on love life, career, health and money, can predict if and when you’ll have a baby, and if you’re pregnant; what gender you’re carrying. After googling ‘baby gender psychic prediction’ we chose Enchanted Destiny, who from the age of 12, has been doing tarot card and psychic readings, ever since she bought an astrology book in a supermarket while on holiday with her mum. Since then she says she has developed even stronger powers, and can make predictions using tarot cards, oracle or angel cards, or by receiving messages from ‘spirit’. 

How early can you use it?

As soon as you know you’re pregnant (or even before!).

What does it cost? 

We bought Australian reader Enchanted Destiny’s ‘Psychic Baby Gender Same Day Reading‘, costing £4.72 on Etsy.

Was it easy to use?

Yes, I found Enchanted Destiny on Google when her shop on Etsy popped up. I hit ‘buy now’ and dropped her a message with my name, and she replied with a short message containing her prediction.

How quick are the results?

I received my results the same day.

What was their prediction?

GIRL (scroll to the bottom of the blog to find out if they were correct!).

6. Old Wives Tale 1: Bump shape and position:

If you’re a traditionalist, there’s a plethora of old wives tales which claim to predict the gender of your baby without any invasive tests, ultrasounds or spirit guides to help! We chose three of them to predict our baby’s gender, the first one being ‘bump size and position’. Generations of women (and men!) swear that you can tell the baby’s gender just by looking at the mother-to-be’s bump. Carrying ‘high’ means you are having a girl, while carrying ‘low’ traditionally means boy. Additionally, a round, ball-like baby bump means you’re pregnant with a baby boy, while a wider bump with weight distributed width-ways across your midriff is a sign you’re carrying a girl. It’s kind of impossible to be objective about your own bump, so I asked my Instagram followers to look at it and decide whether it looked more like a boy baby bump or a girl! 55 people commented with their guesses on my Instagram page @the_amateur_mama. 

How early can you use it?

As soon as you have a visible bump, so ideally from about 18 weeks, depending on your body shape. We did it at just over 19 weeks.

What does it cost? 

Nothing!

Was it easy to use?

Yes, it’s as simple as asking people to look at your bump and tell you what they think based on whether you’re ‘all bump’ (indicating a boy) or more spread out (girl), and whether your bump is high up on your body (girl) or lower down (boy). 

How quick are the results?

Pretty instantaneous!

What was their prediction?

BOY. 36 people said boy, and 19 said girl, so boy won. (Scroll to the bottom of the blog to find out if they were correct!).

7. Old Wives Tale 2: Ring on a string:

For this test you need a ring attached to a piece of thread. Lie on your back and have your partner or a friend dangle the ring over your baby bump, and wait for it to start moving on its own. The theory goes that if the ring moves back and forth like a pendulum, the baby is a boy. If it moves in a circle, you’re having a girl. 

How early can you use it?

As soon as you know you’re pregnant, or wait until you have  bump if you prefer.

What does it cost? 

Nothing!

Was it easy to use?

Yes; you literally tie a piece of string to a ring and get someone to hang it above your tummy.

How quick are the results?

It took less than a minute for the ring to start moving.

What was their prediction?

GIRL (Scroll to the bottom of the blog to find out if they were correct!).

8. Old Wives Tale 3: Baby’s heartbeat:

The heartbeat test involves finding out the rate of your baby’s heart rate in beats per minute, or BPM. This is a figure that you can find out from your doctor or midwife as early as six weeks into your pregnancy, when a baby’s heart can first be detected. According to the heart rate theory, the fetal heart rate of girls is faster than that of boys.  A heart rate above 140bpm means the baby is a girl while under 140 suggests the baby is male.

Odhrán was fascinated with with the midwife’s doppler when she listened to my baby’s heartbeat.

How early can you use it?

It’s possible that you could ask your sonographer to tell you your baby’s BPM as early as 6 weeks if you’re going for an early reassurance scan. Otherwise, your midwife may well listen to your baby’s heartbeat with a doppler from 16 weeks, as mine did.

What does it cost? 

With your NHS midwife and a doppler, it is free. As part of an early reassurance scan, costs vary depending on which clinic you go to. 

Was it easy to use?

Yes, the midwife places a doppler on your bump and detects the heartbeat within a few seconds, which can then be heard on the loudspeaker. She will use a watch to count how many beats there are and work out the BPM. 

How quick are the results?

It takes a few minutes for them to find and measure the heartbeat.

What was their prediction?

BOY. My baby’s BPM at 16 weeks was 130bpm, which, according to the theory, suggests that the baby is a boy. (Scroll to the bottom of the blog to find out if they were correct!).

9. Chinese Gender Predictor chart:

The Chinese Gender chart is said to go back some 700 years when, according to legend, a gender prediction calendar was discovered in a royal Chinese tomb. It essentially involves tapping your age when you conceived your baby, and the month of conception into the Chinese Gender Prediction calculator, which converts the numbers into a prediction of whether the baby will be a boy or a girl.

Chinese Gender Prediction. Credit: motherandbaby.co.uk

How early can you use it?

As soon as you find out you’re pregnant.

What does it cost? 

Free.

Was it easy to use?

Yes, either use the chart above from Mother & Baby to work it out yourself, or use a free online calculator like this one

How quick are the results?

Instant!

What was their prediction?

BOY. I was 40 when I conceived, and the conception happened in the month of July, so according to the chart I am carrying a boy. (Scroll to the bottom of the blog to find out if they were correct!).

10. Parental and Family intuition:

Last but not least, there’s a lot to be said for good old fashioned intuition, or ‘having a hunch’, and often the mother-to-be, father-to-be and close family will have a ‘gut feeling’ about whether the baby will be male or female. But are they right? As there’s no scientific basis to this, the answers are little more than guesses, but we thought it would be interesting to see whether in our case any of the hunches came out as correct.

Rob’s sister Kate wasn’t backwards in coming forward with her gender prediction!

How early can you use it?

As soon as you find out you’re pregnant.

What does it cost? 

Free.

Was it easy to use?

Yes! If you’re trying to work our what your own hunch is, useful questions to ask yourself are: What’s your gut feeling saying about the baby you’re carrying? How are you feeling, physically and emotionally? When you visualise your baby, are they male or female? What name do you imagine they have? And if this is not your first pregnancy, how does this one compare to your previous pregnancies? Then ask your family what they think (often they’ll offer their unsolicited opinion without you having to ask anyway!). 

How quick are the results?

In most cases you’ll get an immediate answer, but sometimes people like to sleep on it!

What was their prediction?

GIRL. Rob was convinced it was a boy; while my dad, Rob’s mum and dad, and his sister all agreed with me: GIRL. I had a hunch I was carrying a girl because of how different I felt to when I was pregnant with Odhrán. My morning sickness was worse, and I felt different hormonally; less irritable, scrappy or snappy than the first pregnancy, and with a reduced (non existent) sex drive. My tummy also felt bigger and less ‘compact’ earlier on than with Odhrán. Overall, Rob: you were outvoted!

The reveal: WHO was right???

So there you have it: ten baby gender methods and their predictions. But which were correct? Well, our 20 week ultrasound scan did in fact show that we are expecting:

Our 20 week scan showed that we are expecting a: GIRL

A BABY GIRL!

Here’s how the predictions measured up:

SneakPeek: GIRL. Unsurprisingly, this scientific DNA test by SneakPeek was CORRECT.

Nub Theory: GIRL. Also unsurprisingly, given its scientific background and high success rate, the Nub theory by Nubologists was CORRECT.

Skull Theory: GIRL. Not usually regarded quite as scientific as the Nub theory, the Skull theory, provided by The Gender Experts, was nevertheless CORRECT.

Ramzi Theory: GIRL Again, not as widely relied upon as the Nub theory, the Ramzi theory by The Gender Experts was CORRECT.

Psychic Prediction: GIRL. Completely unexplainable, but you’ve got to give it to her, EnchantedPsychic was CORRECT.

And the Old Wives Tales?

Bump shape and position: BOY. The minority who guessed ‘girl’ were correct, but the vast majority of answers which said ‘boy’ were INCORRECT.

Ring on a string: GIRL. Rob held the ring on a string without knowing which direction meant what, and inexplicably, its circular motion (meaning girl) turned out to be CORRECT.

Baby’s heartbeat: BOY. I’d have loved this one to be correct, but unfortunately, the 130bpm recorded at 16 weeks meant that this theory was INCORRECT. Interestingly I had the heartbeat measured again (by the same midwife) as 20 weeks and it was around 145bpm the second time, showing that it doesn’t necessarily stay the same throughout pregnancy anyway, which kind of debunks this Old Wives Tale..

Chinese Gender Prediction Chart: BOY. Unsurprisingly, this ‘ancient and legendary’ predication method was INCORRECT.

And how about our own ‘hunch’?

Parental and Family Intuition: GIRL. Despite having no scientific basis whatsoever, our good old-fashioned ‘gut feeling’ was CORRECT.

My verdict?

I was pleasantly surprised that so many of the predictions were correct, and in particular that the SneakPeek, Nub, Skull and Ramzi predictions all concurred with the 20 week scan. In my opinion, the Nub, Skull and Ramzi theories are a great, affordable way to get an idea of what gender you might be carrying, as they don’t break the bank, seem to have a pretty high success rate and involve nothing more than emailing your 6 or 12 week scan to them to get a result.

To get the most definitive answer, I would recommend getting your DNA analysed with SneakPeek, as it’s pretty fail-safe. A friend of mine did all four methods as we did, just to be sure that she was really carrying a girl.

The psychic prediction was a fun addition, and although there’s no scientific explanation for it, I do think some people just have a gift for picking up on things that the wider population believe are impossible to see. If you’re open-minded or see it as a bit of fun, why not! As for the Old Wives Tales, well, unsurprisingly, three out of the four we tried were proved wrong. My bump shape is more to do with my body type and metabolism than anything else, and what my panel of followers on Instagram giving their predictions didn’t know, was that despite looking quite ‘compact’ and ‘all bump’ compared to the average, my current bump actually looks quite different to when I was pregnant with my first baby, Odhrán, a boy.

As for intuition, well again, that turned out to be correct! Sometimes you just have ‘a feeling’. Saying that though, it’s not statistically proven at all, and many parents-to-be are convinced they’ve got a boy, which turns out to be a girl, and vice versa! When my mum was pregnant with my brother, in 1981, she was convinced for the whole 9 months that he was a girl (they didn’t have ultrasounds then, much less DNA tests!) and was shocked that her ‘gut feeling’ turned out to be wrong, and apparently that happens a lot.

To conclude: Whether boy or girl, the most important thing is that your baby is happy and healthy! But of course it’s nice —and fun— to find out. It’s amazing these days that we have the technology to find out so early, which can definitely help with bonding and preparing. I hope you found our little ‘experiment’ entertaining at the very least, and interesting and helpful at best! Leave a comment to tell me which methods you’ve tried and whether they turned out to be correct!

Freya is one half of The Amateur Parents, along with partner Rob. They are parents to 18 month old Odhrán and a baby GIRL!, due in 2021.


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.