What to Expect

Kelsey Breseman
4 min readMay 31, 2024
Photo by Eileen Breseman

I think my pregnancy symptoms are pretty middle-of-the-road, so I am puzzled to find them surprising. It's the difficult stuff, but it was also a surprise to get an ultrasound at 13 weeks and see a face in there: I didn't think it would have one yet.

Pregnancy seems to be culturally secret; there are many things I feel should be common knowledge, but only learned about reading pregnancy books. For instance: "X weeks pregnant" counts from about two weeks *before* conception, since it is easier to know the date your last period started. But should this not be part of the current American conversation? I didn't find out I was pregnant until late in my fifth week. Some people test negative far longer.

I've learned a lot as an incidental consequence of hosting "gals' nights," during which time some of the gals have had kids. TikTok seems to give a more realistic and reliable picture of the experience than any of the books I've read. Cliches like "every pregnancy is different" and "morning sickness" as a term are unhelpful in fairly glaring ways. "Some people are constantly nauseous the whole pregnancy and others are fine," while vague, is still more helpful.

You hear about the bump and the glow, but not so much about the constant fatigue. Lately, I've been feeling lucky: though online sources say nausea tends to let up after the first trimester, most people I've talked to say they were sick for much longer.

I know I'm more open-book than most, but I also wonder why it's so common to hide struggle and pain— not that I don't hide it, too. We share our joy, but go silent when help is most needed. I shared our baby news long before the recommended 12 weeks; if I were to miscarry, I would want my people to have the context to support me. But of course, not everyone has the network I have; well-meaning help can hurt, too.

I read somewhere that all the rules imposed on pregnant people create a dangerous notion that there is some ideal, perfect way to carry out a pregnancy— which is as absurd as the idea that there is a perfect way to parent.

The stakes are so (potentially) high that any minor, accidental "transgression" can trigger guilt. I think this is why Emily Oster's "Expecting Better" is so refreshing across my peer group: it's the only book that situates the "rules" in probabilistic terms, explicitly naming the tradeoffs and likely severity so that a pregnant person (or partnership) can make decisions based on their own values.

Being pregnant is strange. I am fascinated with my rapidly changing body in a way that probably bores the people around me. But it's different every day, confusing, public, exhausting. I didn't expect it to define me quite so much, but my days are overwhelmed by the ongoing state of it.

"I'm fine," I insist to my mother, "except in the evenings."

But it's not true. Sometimes I'm fine. Sometimes I'm tired all day. Often, I need to go lay down for a while.

Nine months isn't very temporary. There is no way to plan ahead: is backpacking in August realistic? Early third trimester might or might not be exhausting.

After delivery, there's also the fourth trimester: the body healing from the wounds of delivery and placental detachment, the rapid shedding of hormones, probably accompanying depression. That's all ignoring the physical and mental impacts of supporting a new life and adjusting to a redefined relationship with my partner.

But wait, there's more. Apparently, the baby's stem cells can alter my DNA to more closely match my partner's. If I suddenly find cilantro tasting soapy, I am going to be upset.

Right now, I'm laying on my back by the fire. I'm not really supposed to lay on my back, I think— something about the weight restricting blood flow to the uterus. But it's comfortable until I activate my newfound pelvic girdle pain by getting up.

The skin of my belly is itchy, maybe from stretching, or maybe from wearing the same wool shirt every day for two weeks. But it's kinda neat. I'm really rounding out, the skin taut enough to make a hollow sound when I drum my fingers.

I don't fit into my rain pants anymore, so until I found a belt, I was tying the belt loops together with a bit of rope. The waistband of my one pair of pants is too tight, so it's good the pressure is no longer making me nauseous.

I poke my belly, and wonder if I should. It's not poking back yet, but it's supposed to start soon.

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