Pregnancy is a magical time, full of the creation of life, they say.
It is also chock full of uncomfortable and even painful experiences, many of which most women have never experienced to such an extreme before.
As a disabled person, I was under no illusion that pregnancy would be a walk in the park. I was sure I would experience aches and discomforts–I was prepared for nausea, vomiting, itchy stretched skin, lower back pain, and joint discomfort. When I found out I was having twins, I knew that many side effects would be amplified. But there were multiple pregnancy side effects I had never even heard of that I experienced, to such a degree that they notably interfered with my quality of life.
Here are a few that I noticed:
Skin tags and moles
No one told me that I would develop more skin tags and new moles than I could count on one hand because of the new hormone productions from being pregnant.
Burps so deep they are mini-vomits.
“Burping” had been mentioned in pregnancy symptom articles before, but calling these pregnancy burps “burps” is like calling a tsunami “a rainstorm”. The esophageal sphincter is loosened so much in pregnancy that your burps can actually bring up food that you ate hours ago. We’re talking I ate a snack before bed, and can still taste it in my mouth in the morning. And smelling and tasting what you had for dinner when it’s breakfast the next day is a great trigger for vomiting.
I sunburnt far easier!
Being fair-skinned, I’m accustomed to being safe in the sun. But I got wildly sunburnt on my babymoon because I didn’t know that my new hormone levels would cause me to become even more sensitive, and my normal sun precautions weren’t enough.
I had to hoist my belly up to pee
Because the babies were taking up so much space in my uterus, if I wanted to fully empty my bladder, I needed to actually pick up my bump and move it around while I was on the toilet to pee.
Speaking of bathroom-related items, pregnancy changes the PH balance in your vagina to help protect the baby.
Not every pregnant woman can notice this via smell (like when you go to the bathroom or are getting dressed). But for those of us who can, it’s trippy to have a part of your body that you thought you knew become something so different.
Paranoia about any vaginal discharge.
I also hadn’t anticipated that pregnancy would make me wildly paranoid anytime I thought I felt anything down there, but I found myself often running to the bathroom to make sure any discharge wasn’t blood (in all trimesters) or amniotic fluid (in second/third trimester for preterm labor).
Middle-of-the-foot cramps and charley horses
These became a regular part of life, especially at night. I never knew that pregnancy could cause heinous painful cramps in my foot!
I knew my stomach would be itchy–after all, it was stretching. But my feet? They weren’t supposed to be stretching–at least not anywhere near to the same extent. But there were periods where my feet would itch constantly, always worse at night. There’s not much worse than being kept awake by itchiness.
Round ligament pain began way earlier than the second trimester
Round ligament pain, when your uterus starts to grow and stretch out your ligaments, feels like you’re being stabbed in the pelvis. Seriously. It’s a pregnancy symptom that is supposed to happen later in the pregnancy, but I began experiencing it in the first trimester, thanks to being pregnant with twins. I felt like I was being stabbed with a knife by my fetuses for the mere sin of trying to use my core to stand up, turn, or really do anything.
Itchy dry eyes
This was one of my first pregnancy symptoms. My eyes were so dry that they felt swollen, which led to me feeling ridiculously exhausted.
Constant bloody congestion or nosebleeds
No one told me I’d be congested all of pregnancy, and that half the time it would be bloody! I got more nosebleeds during pregnancy than I’ve had in my life.
My nose became a superpower (or supercurse)
I could smell things no one else could. I could smell things from across the house. I could smell like a bloodhound. It was horrible, when combined with the intense nausea.
My heart began beating faster, especially at night
With my blood volume increasing by almost 50%, my heart had to work a lot harder to move all that blood around, but I hadn’t anticipated being kept up for hours at night with a pounding heart.
I would wake up drooling
Saliva production increases when pregnant. This was not an attractive look.
My typical klutziness increased
I kept running into things, and not with my belly–I knew to expect that when my belly was giant, I’d misgauge its size and run into things with it. But I kept hitting things with my elbows and hips–parts of my body that weren’t changing much in size and that I should already be accustomed to. My proprioception worsened a lot.
This feels like randomly getting stabbed by agonizing needles in your, yes, crotch. If you’ve ever peed while having a UTI, it feels a little like that, but a lot more random.
I was ready to be done being pregnant far before the babies were ready to come out! But as miserable as I was, I knew I didn’t want to spend the last several months of pregnancy just crying and moping around with, well, how miserable I was. I wanted to try to find ways to thrive, not just survive.
So to cope, my wife (also pregnant at the same time as me! You can read why we decided to do such a wonderful and crazy thing here) and I began cultivating a sense of awareness and humor around all these awful side effects. We came up with four helpful ideas:
Sometimes it helps to just exclaim, “Oh f**k, ow!” Swearing to help relieve pain is actually scientifically studied and is shown to be helpful. Not censoring my language when an extreme wave of pain hit was genuinely helpful.
Externally imagining the babies’ internal responses
Making up stories about why the babies might be causing the symptoms they are led to lots of amusement. When nausea struck badly over cooked vegetables, I’d imagine and externalize the babies’ voices: “Mother, no! Wilty vegetables are bad! They could poison us!” When I tried to pick something up and got stabbed with round ligament pain, I’d imagine, “Mother, don’t forget we’re in here! Don’t bend over and squash us!” Often saying these out loud helped solidify the experience, bring the humor to the forefront, and create space for compassion for the tiny beings in my body.
Taking my case or questions to the committee
When it was time to eat another snack or meal, but nausea was rearing its ugly head, I’d ask out loud, “Okay babies, what do we want to eat today? Hmm, interesting opinion. Okay, carbs again it is! If there’s one thing we all know, it’s that carbs are always there for us.”
“Consulting” the twins before mealtimes helped ease the frustration and discomfort of nausea and of how restricted my diet was. Okay, all we want is cake right now? And we have to eat only a special kind of packaged cheese? And we have very clear rules about what sorts of berries are okay and what aren’t, e.g. that blueberry looks suspicious but this one looks fine? Great, I’m eating like a 2 year old. I guess this is good practice for when the babies are here!
I found humorous ways to appreciate having twins when I was still having a hard time accepting all the additional medical complications I was experiencing because I was having a twin pregnancy and not a singleton. I made a lot of jokes about a BOGO pregnancy. I also joked often about how the little souls floating in the ethereal realm heard that my wife and I were thinking of only having one pregnancy each, and these three little souls were like, “But hey, all three of us want to be a part of that family–time to rush the gates!”
I spoke with a local nurse, who currently works with pediatric patients and has her Master’s in stem cell biology and nursing, on developing a sense of humor specifically to address chronic pain. M. (the nurse asked to be identified by initial) agrees that being able to share humor with others can make a big difference.
“Humor is a fantastic coping mechanism. Having people share with you and your experiences is always good. Even if it’s painful, knowing other people are going through this too is so helpful,” said M.
M. notes, “Pain is both a sign of a problem, and also has a psychological component. So you don’t want to ignore pain because it’s often telling you something, but if you understand your pain is not telling you something productive, then there are other things you can do–knowing a part of pain is psychological can be a helpful coping mechanism in itself. If you know you’re doing everything you can, then some mindfulness techniques are some of the best coping mechanisms we know of in terms of knowing how to put your body in a calmer state and process those feelings as they come.”
I feel very affirmed to continue my humor therapy during the remainder of this pregnancy–and once the babies are out, I’m sure I’ll continue to need a good sense of humor to cope with the exhaustion and overwhelm of being a parent for a long, long time!