I Thought I Had A Great Relationship With Food… Then I Got Pregnant

Photographed by Anna Jay.
pregnancy cheese rind
18 weeks can i have a glass of wine
pregnant chicken not hot all way through
how much alcohol in kombucha
I wrote you this poem – do you like it? It’s a collage of some of the Google searches I carried out in the first four months of my pregnancy. I put the terrine bit in caps because I think that one really cuts to the nub of the hysteria.
Despite being a privileged person for whom the concept of terrine is an occasional thing, being pregnant has tested me in certain ways. Food is one of the things I care most about, so it follows that I’m most in tune with the ways in which pregnancy has tested my ability to eat food. I am, at 20 weeks, more attuned to this than I am any 'flutters' or baby movements which may be occurring inside my body, but which could also be indigestion.
It began with nausea, which I am loath to call 'sickness' because I was rarely physically sick. I am even loath to call it 'morning sickness' because the 'morning' part is a myth perpetuated by the patriarchy. I just felt hazardously sick and bleary all day long – like a smudge, rather than a person.
It was tolerable, though; I just moaned and kicked my legs about underneath the fleecy blanket on my sofa. What was less tolerable was this: I had no idea what I wanted to eat. In my pre-pregnancy life, rooting around in my brain and my crisper drawer for things I might like to eat was my number one hobby, my job and a defining part of who I was. But now I was pregnant, it had disappeared! I was so bereft that I didn’t fully believe it was ever coming back. I would scroll through Instagrams of people’s brunches, homemade pies and fancy sandwiches and think, Oh yeah, I remember when I was a person who enjoyed eating.
I ate bits and bobs when the moment took me and I stopped planning meals in advance. A bit of toast here, a buttered jacket potato there, a chicken-avocado sandwich when I was ravenous. I was off all the things I thought a foetus probably required – spinach, kale, fish, butternut squash, carrots. But I developed an unusual obsession with oranges and their juice, and found fleeting moments of joy in mangos and kiwi fruits. I had dry crackers on standby because the forums told me I should do.

I have never worried a huge amount about what I put in my body, but what does that mean now my body doesn’t belong to just me?

Smells were appalling. Have you ever smelled smells? They are disgusting. I had always relied on the smell of coffee to summon me from my pit in the mornings, but now I was unable to tolerate the brewing of coffee in my home.
And so it was on a breakfast of orange juice and not coffee that my husband Rich and I met a midwife for the first time. Erin told me that I should stop using the gym lest all my joints pop out of their sockets, I should eat lots of chickpeas and I should perform pelvic floor exercises three times a day: "At breakfast, lunch and dinner – easy." Oh yes, a cinch! Just the amuse bouche my mealtimes were looking for.
By about 14 weeks, I was eating again. In my glee, I unthinkingly consumed a toastie with raw cheese in it (unpasteurised milk contains listeria!). Then, I psyched myself up over a period of weeks for a glass of Beaujolais. And I ordered terrine when the NHS website only warned me about pâté (more listeria!). After the terrine, I wondered if that had been the best decision – was that a distinction the NHS website felt inclined to make?
And this was the surprise – this new type of food guilt that would sweep in unannounced. Every woman knows the advice around food in pregnancy is questionable and extremely subject to change, but as soon as you’re pregnant it becomes very easy to vividly imagine how you might feel if something awful were to happen tomorrow, the day after you’d enjoyed a raw egg. I have never worried a huge amount about what I put in my body, but what does that mean now my body doesn’t belong to just me?
After that first midwife meeting, I laughed at the idea that my moderate use of the cross-trainer might result in anything other than a slight sweat, but I also went straight to Stratford Westfield to get a falafel wrap and flood my body with chickpeas.
And I stopped drinking my homemade kombucha – the murky, urine-coloured brew on my worktop just doesn’t fill me with confidence, however much alcohol it contains.
But not being able to plan meals in advance was a lesson worth learning. I’m not reading a great deal about childbirth, I’m struggling to commit to an NCT class and I don’t yet know a thing about breast pumps. The only way for me, personally, to cope with the enormity of this is to do one tiny bit at a time. Or in other words, there’s nothing that isn’t easier after a slice of toast.

More from Food & Drinks

R29 Original Series