Welcome to if : Parenting stories you actually want to read, whether you're thinking about or passing on kids, from egg-freezing to taking home baby and beyond. Because motherhood is a big Mothership — not when — and it's time we talked about it that way.
Pregnancy is an insane process. One minute you’re regular-old you, a person whose major unsolved health mysteries may bear such thrilling self-titles as “That Weird-Looking Freckle,” “Probably A Root Canal But I’m In Denial,” and “
Am I Gluten-Intolerant Or Just Hungover?”
Then, all of a sudden, you’re housing a sensitive mass of cells that is going to become a human — and its life
literally depends on you and the things you do with/in/for your body over the next 30ish to 40ish weeks.
Like I said, it’s
insane. And maybe the most confusing experience, ever.
One of the first things my doctor told me when I found out I was pregnant was, “The internet is not your friend.” But because pregnancy is basically one bizarre body-invasion issue after another, it was nonetheless
so tempting to type every little woe and wonder I came across over the course of my 41 endless pregnant weeks into that trusty Google search box. But please, don’t follow my lead. Whether you are pregnant or trying to conceive or just living your life, the internet often only makes whatever concern or anxiety you’re dealing with worse.
Since I know you’re tempted anyway, I thought I’d share the weirdest, most burning pregnancy concerns I googled, with the answers fact-checked by one Katherine Hicks, MD, a board-certified OB/GYN in Massachusetts. What you’ll find ahead is a smattering of things that might come up during your time growing a human. And you’ll get to see how much internet “wisdom” is true and how much is horribly, horribly wrong. From puke to pee to mucus plugs, ahead are some of the odd but common queries I asked the internet during my pregnancy.
Month 1 “binge drinking didn’t know I was pregnant” Finding out you’re pregnant just as you’re coming up for air after a week-long hangover (thanks, wine country!) is not as much fun as it sounds, trust me. Thankfully my son was born perfectly healthy and remains so to this day, but of course I didn’t know this when I found out I was actually two weeks pregnant during a three-day booze-fest celebrating my friend’s bachelorette. I hadn’t been trying to conceive, but still, the pregnancy was overall a pleasant surprise and I wanted to make sure we were good to go. So, I googled it. What the internet told me: “Totally fine to do!!!! I went to a hen night w/my gals from uni whilst preg & had 14 vodka crans & now baby is 8mo & so fat and jolly!” Thank you, BabyCentre.uk message boards, for the consolation. What Dr. Hicks told me: “This happens ALL the time, and at two weeks pregnant, you'll be happy to know that your blood — and the alcohol level in it — does not mix with the developing embryo. You do not share a blood supply with the pregnancy for a few more weeks. If you completely abstain from alcohol once you learn of the pregnancy, I do not consider the risk of fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS) to be measurable,” she says. So that’s a relief. Still, it is worth pointing out that if I had been further along, things might have been different. “There is no ‘safe' interval for continuing to drink once you have a positive pregnancy test,” Dr. Hicks says. And fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (including FAS, which is the most severe form) can cause developmental problems, such as trouble learning and remembering or trouble controlling emotions.
Month 2 "did embryo eat subchorionic hematoma" I started bleeding pretty heavily, and I figured I was miscarrying. I came to terms with this “fact” and went to the doctor to confirm it. She told me that I was not miscarrying; rather, I had a diseased-sounding but apparently quite common complication called a subchorionic hematoma, which is when you get a blood clot in the chorion (the membrane surrounding the fetus) that causes some vaginal bleeding. She also said it would resolve on its own, probably. But how, exactly, would it resolve? What the internet told me: Some initial googling revealed that it “resolves” when your embryo eats the hematoma. (What?!) But there were also many sad stories of hematomas that did not get “eaten” and ended up “crowding out” the embryo, leading to loss of the pregnancy. What Dr. Hicks told me: “The embryo DOES NOT eat the subchorionic hematoma. The mother's body gradually reabsorbs and recycles the proteins in the collection of blood, over time. Sometimes, a portion also drips out of the vagina in small amounts, which accounts for why some women have light bleeding early on and go on to have a perfectly healthy pregnancy.” So where did those “crowding out” stories come from? Well, it is true that in a small number of cases, a subchorionic hematoma can cause the placenta to detach from the uterine wall, leading to miscarriage. But this is quite rare. Answers for other things I googled: " bleeding 8 weeks pregnant"
Month 3 "can fetus die from morning sickness" By month three, my morning sickness was starting to get real. And by “real” I mean I had morning, noon, and night sickness — and the tiny group of Foods That Did Not Make Me Vomit was lessening exponentially by the day. It was not long before I was subsisting almost entirely on iced tea and gummy bears and was convinced I was killing my fetus in the process. What the internet told me: No info on morning sickness vs. baby health, just a TON of articles about how extreme morning sickness “ drives women to abort babies.” Also some information about how “morning sickness” is a misnomer, and it’s totally normal for it to happen at any time of day. What Dr. Hicks told me: Feeling nauseous enough to vomit is a normal, even healthy, part of pregnancy. “It is a result of the circulating levels of HCG, the pregnancy hormone,” she says. “Surprisingly, even severe cases of morning sickness usually do not harm the baby. The developing embryo/fetus is remarkably capable of robbing the mother of what few nutrients are getting into her (or are already in her system) and grabbing them for itself. Over time, of course, the mother's body can become depleted, and in severe cases, hospitalization with IV nourishment can be necessary, but these interventions are done for the health of the mother and not because the baby is in any way suffering.” Answers for other things I googled: " morning sickness lasting all day"
Month 4 "how to make DIY diclegis" Although most cases of morning sickness subside after 12 weeks, by month four I was still throwing up multiple times a day, losing weight, and largely working from home in a lame attempt at sort-of functioning. Yep, I was among the lucky few to have hyperemesis gravidarum, which is when morning sickness becomes severe. At some point, I heard about this supposedly awesome, supposedly safe miracle morning-sickness drug called Diclegis (Thanks Ms. Kardashian-West!). The problem: Diclegis is hella expensive. So, my doctor breezily suggested I DIY the stuff by cutting a vitamin B6 in half and taking it along with the over-the-counter sleep aid, Unisom. It sounded easy, but also...kind of sketchy? What the internet told me: Diclegis is totally probably better than the DIY version, because, like, it has a name and you have to pay for it. What Dr. Hicks told me: My doctor’s “DIY Diclegis” advice was spot-on. “It is perfectly acceptable and a very widespread practice,” Dr. Hicks says. “There is no difference between this and Diclegis except a high-priced marketing campaign.”
Month 5 "can I go in hot tub pregnant" I dragged my pregnant (albeit shrinking) ass — and my DIY Diclegis, and my Zofran, for which I got a prescription when my doc sent me to the ER because my blood had zero sodium in it or something — to New Mexico to visit a dear friend. She is a yoga teacher at a natural hot-springs spa, and I was convinced that the spa’s 100-degree mountain pool would cure what ailed me, but I ended up being too afraid to sit in it for more than 30 seconds, because... What the internet told me: “You will literally fry your child.” What Dr. Hicks told me: Indeed, pregnant people should limit their time in hot tubs, though the “frying your child” risk is extremely overblown. “Let's [also] be clear about the difference between a Hot Tub and a hot tub,” Dr. Hicks says. “The first is the large, shared 'spa' experience found in hotels, spas, and some rich people’s patios. Usually, these are maintained at about 108 degrees, and the hot water is constantly being replaced by more hot water." In other words, the water is really, relentlessly hot. This scenario is dangerous because “the high temperature for prolonged periods diverts blood away from your uterus and developing fetus.” Soaking in Hot Tubs, especially early on in pregnancy, has been linked to birth defects and miscarriage. However, this doesn’t mean you’re doomed to cold showers for the full nine months (it also means that I could have safely soaked in those New Mexico hot springs for a good 10 minutes). Then there’s you know, a hot tub, like the one you have at home. “Soaking in your own tub, as long as the temperature is moderate and not steaming, and you're not constantly refilling it with more hot water, is fine and soothing,” Dr. Hicks says. “In fact, we use this for pain relief in laboring mothers — the hospitals keep the water temperature below 104.” Answers for other things I googled: " pregnancy drinking wine"
Month 6 “Pregnancy weight loss” Some places I puked while pregnant in NYC: the A train car, the A train platform, the garbage can on the A train platform, the A train tracks, the sidewalk outside Ground Zero, Prospect Park, my therapist’s house, my friend’s kitchen, the Refinery29 bathroom, the Refinery29 office elevator. (Sorry, everybody.) By six months pregnant, I’d gone from 140 pounds to 124. I spent one pleasant day in the ER being pumped with nutrition, but more and more, my days were feeling very dark. I couldn’t catch a break from the nausea, and after so many months of it, I was starting to forget what it felt like to just feel okay. I dreaded every day more than I’d dreaded the previous one. Ever cheerful, my doctor kept telling not to worry too much, but that she really wanted me to gain weight. So did I. “Peanut butter smoothies! With ice cream!” she suggested brightly. I vomited. What the internet told me: “How to lose that baby weight, FAST!” Um, sorry, already did? And it’s awful? I was looking for help in reversing my weight loss, but there wasn’t much out there about that. Nor was there much advice about when, exactly, a lot of pregnancy vomiting becomes too much pregnancy vomiting and too much weight loss, and what you can even do about that. What Dr. Hicks told me: Well first, dear reader, you’ll be happy to know that Dr. Hicks assured me the amount of weight loss I experienced was “truly abnormal.” I’m hopeful that you will never know the same misery, but in case you do, you should know when to seek care and what might happen when you do. Dr. Hicks explains that if you go more than a full 24 hours without being able to keep anything down, including liquids, you should see your doctor for a urine test that can tell whether you need IV fluids or nutrients. “[At this point,] We offer to check a urine sample for ketones,” she says. “This tells us if her tissues — HER tissues, not the baby’s — are starving and need IV replenishment with or without medication to control the nausea. Sometimes this can lead to hospitalization.”
Month 7 "how to turn breech baby” Finally, in my seventh month, a miracle happened. And let me tell you: That whole “miracle of childbirth” thing absolutely does not hold a candle to the miracle that is waking up one day, wandering to the local coffee shop, ordering a chocolate croissant, with bafflement in your eyes, and eating it all. I WAS BACK; food was back, and it was wonderful. Oh, and later the doctor told me my fetus was upside down, with his butt facing the exit, a.k.a. he was breech. The fetus’ optimal position at this point in pregnancy is head down. Although it’s not impossible to have a vaginal birth with a breech baby, it’s much more dangerous. Most doctors recommend a Cesarean section in this scenario — unless you can get the fetus to turn. What the internet told me: Do Child’s Pose and/or burn some incense by your toes. What Dr. Hicks told me: “If your baby is in a 'breech' position by the 36th week (one month before your due date), then the doctor will probably discuss the option of a procedure called 'external cephalic version.’ This is an attempt, in the hospital, basically to just push the baby into the right position, which is head-down. A shot of something to relax the uterine muscle is given first; unfortunately, the shot has the opposite effect on the mother, similar to that of drinking a whole bunch of caffeine (but it wears off soon). Although unpleasant, this is not an 'awful' procedure, and when it works, it can avoid a cesarean section, a much riskier procedure… Also, the baby's heart rate will be carefully assessed after the procedure, to be sure it hasn't placed undue strain on the umbilical cord, which is quite rare.” Answers for other things I googled: " Braxton-Hicks or early labor"
Month 8 "leaking pee or amniotic fluid" This is when the fun stuff started. I gained some weight, the fetus grew and flipped around and did headstands, and soon there was clear fluid leaking out of me. At first, I hardly cared. Like, WHO EVEN KNOWS what is coming out of my uterus these days? You could have told me it was Nickelodeon slime and I’d be like EHHH, probably! Whatevs! I ate a sandwich and didn’t puke! But then it kept happening. What the internet told me: Probably pee. About one third of Pregnancy Internet Content seems to be about pee, with most of it running along the lines of “you will never pee normal again” (NOT true, internet). What Dr. Hicks told me: It could be either, and it’s worth seeing your doctor to find out which one it is, especially if it’s almost time for birthing day. “This is one of the most common reasons that we see patients close to term in the office; NO ONE expects you to be able to tell the difference, and it's very important to establish that your water broke, or didn't break,” she says. For me, it turned out that it was just a thrilling combination of a minor pee leak plus majorly increased discharge from everyone’s least favorite Common Pregnancy Ailment, a yeast infection. Delightful. “If it happens once, under some kind of stress (such as a cough or sneeze, or after you stand up from urinating), and then it stops completely, for good, it is more likely to be urine,” Dr. Hicks says. But the stakes are high here since leaking amniotic fluid can lead to low levels, a.ka. oligohydramnios, which can be dangerous, because amniotic fluid is crucial to the fetal life support system — and “there is no way to know for sure without a test in the office, which the provider can do with a vaginal exam.” So the best advice is to get it checked out if you’re at all worried or unsure.
Month 9 "what does mucus plug look like" Apparently, throughout pregnancy, the mucus plug (which is exactly what it sounds like: a bunch of mucus) blocks the opening of the cervix. It’s there to keep bacteria from entering your uterus, but as you get closer to labor time, your cervix softens and opens, and the mucus plug is supposed to fall out. I’d read that you’re supposed to “look out” for it because it’s like, The No.1 Sign that labor is nigh. But I had no idea what to look for. What the internet told me: It looks like blood, snot, ear wax, or an alien. What Dr. Hicks told me: “Far too much emphasis is placed on the mucus plug in the information from books, websites, etc. about pregnancy,” she says. Why? A lot of people don’t even find it because it gets mixed in with everything else coming out of your vagina (see previous slide), and whether you do or don't find yours has absolutely no bearing on your pregnancy whatsoever. “It does not predict the onset of labor — or anything else, for that matter. The only value to discussing this is that it helps to know that it can happen, and it is not a reason to freak or call anyone or head to the hospital,” Dr. HIcks says. Okay, so then just out of curiousity, what does it look like? “When present, [the mucus plug] looks usually like a thick, viscous glob of clear to yellowish gel; it may or may not have some dark or red blood mixed in with it,” Dr. Hicks says. Answers for other things I googled: " 1 week overdue how to get baby out" " am I in labor??"