There are no words to tell people you’re pregnant in a way that doesn’t sound desperately trite. In the past few weeks I’ve swung between the oblique (“what’s the deal with, er, children at your July 2020 wedding in Bordeaux?!?!”) and the casual (“I’m up the duff”) to the over-reaction (“never going on a nice holiday ever again”) and the obvious (“yeah I know I look fat”).
I haven’t yet posted a picture of my uterus-by-ultrasound on Facebook – too personal – or even posed in my oversized Greggs-imitation "Preggs" T-shirt that I assumed I’d be gasping to post on Instagram. (Don’t worry, I have told my family, friends and bosses before announcing it in a newspaper).
It’s my first time doing this: and I’ve got no idea how to handle it.
The first trimester is the worst for most pregnant women. I didn’t feel “thrilled” – rather absolutely petrified, which doesn’t make for the happiest of responses during weeks four to 13. (The first four were spent in my usual funk of fizz, soft cheese and long-haul travel: the baby was conceived in Namibia and spent its formative few weeks on a nine-day-long bender in New York and Nashville. It was after a whisky tasting in Tennessee that I first figured something might be amiss: why did that Lyft air freshener smell so weird?)
I know it’s not a breeze for anyone, and I’m very lucky to be carrying a so-far healthy pregnancy. I’ve had the additional issue that my first trimester – and entire pregnancy to date – has been complicated by the fact that I’ve bled through the entirety of it. Sometimes it’s been a pale pink smear on the toilet tissue, sometimes large wine-coloured clots (sorry). I had 10 scans before I was 13 weeks, after repeated visits to my local hospital’s Early Pregnancy Unit following bad bleeding episodes, where at eight weeks I was diagnosed with a cervical ectropion.
In sanitary terms, that means soft cells are growing on my cervix where hard-wearing ones should be. Ergo, those cells are susceptible to bleeding, especially when you throw in buckets of pregnancy hormones and increased blood flow down there. It’s the type of thing that would ordinarily be picked up by a smear test, but the timings of mine didn’t work out.
In the NHS textbook, “vaginal bleeding” during pregnancy is a Very Very Bad thing and needs to be investigated immediately, even when the case is not at all egregious and doesn’t affect the baby (who seems to be doing fine). Each time they saw me, doctors shrugged and told me “bleeding is just a thing that happens in pregnancy”, and that it would probably settle down into the second trimester. Then they printed out another page of unintelligible measurements to put into this big file of paper pregnant women are expected to carry with them everywhere.
It doesn’t help that the heightened emotions of pregnancy means I find myself unable to assess information like I would in my day-to-day job as a journalist. Ordinarily I’d be adept at filtering different opinions and applying common sense and rationale to find the middle ground. With pregnancy, this just doesn’t apply, as everything feels very urgent.
Every time I bled – so, daily – my brain would gallop to the worst case scenario, usually thanks to a post in a years-old Mumsnet forum. It’s very hard to shrug this off and find perspective if you don’t want to see it. I found myself checking daily miscarriage risk charts obsessively, taking heart in passing each hour, each day, each week. Even when I hit 12 weeks, the doctor told me the risk wasn’t as low as it should have been: women who bleed continue to be higher risk for miscarriage.
One weekend this summer I was in Vilnius in Lithuania with friends, around eight weeks pregnant. The trip should’ve been joyous: I was telling my friends that next year’s trip to another Baltic capital would likely not include me (my baby might’ve cramped my style). Instead, I bled steadily in the shower one morning and the next day assumed I’d miscarried in an airport toilet thanks to the amount of blood. How apt, I thought. Of course a travel editor would have a miscarriage in an airport toilet.
By about 14 weeks, after my 11th scan, we had established that bleeding during pregnancy is not always a Bad Thing. At the tail end of my first trimester, I’d warned that my negative blood type (A-) meant I would need more monitoring than most, given the “recurrent bleeding” (I now had a term for it). A negative blood type is not usually problematic for most women, but throw in a positive blood type baby and pesky cervical erosion means I need twice-monthly blood tests and then jabs of something called Anti-D, to make sure that none of my antigen-less blood mixes with the baby’s healthy blood and cause rhesus disease.
I’m now 20 weeks, and the bleeding has become as commonplace as my daily caffeine hit – yes, I’m still allowed one – and my increasingly calm mental state has meant I can judge it for what it is: one of the many pregnancy complications that women have to deal with when growing another human being. I’m not the only negative blood type woman growing a positive baby to suffer cervical erosion.
There has been lightness too. Once those fraught early weeks were over, I could see the blood and constant hospital visits as a minor inconvenience, and so have been teeth-clenchingly open with my friends. Case in point: one poor couple in a Thai cafe in south London heard all about my leaky cervix when they sat next to me and my friend for dinner last month. Sorry.
Or that time I turned up for my first Anti-D injection at the hospital, at just over 12 weeks pregnant. I started to roll up my sleeves. The nurse eyed me and said: “Ms Adams, we need you to bend over..."