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Pregnancy Took Me by Surprise, Even Though I’m the ‘Fertility Girl’

Carly Leahy

I started a fertility company. You may think that means I’d have it all figured out when it comes to actually being pregnant. Nope. Six months into my pregnancy, I’m still shocked by how much I didn’t know and subsequently didn’t prepare for, even as the “fertility girl.”

Long before my own pregnancy, as the co-founder of Modern Fertility, I knew all about my ovarian reserve and overall timeline. I had a preconception visit, and I tracked my ovulation. And of course, having all of this proactive knowledge certainly helped when trying to get pregnant, and my partner, Charlie, and I were beyond fortunate to get a positive pregnancy test early in the process (and TBH maybe even a liiittle before we thought we were ready).

It goes without saying, 2020 was an absurd year for everyone. For us, it was the year we moved our wedding for a third time, then canceled our wedding and eloped. It was also the year Charlie was diagnosed with colon cancer. So yes, this pregnancy was an amazing blessing, but also a hold-your-breath-it’s-2020 kind of situation. I’m sure all these unknowns only heightened the stress around what I uncovered during my pregnancy.

Or maybe other pregnant people in non-pandemic years discover the very same things anew every time. Well, in case I can spare someone else who hasn’t been here yet, here are the biggest things that have surprised me about pregnancy these last few months:

The first days of pregnancy are all about counting the days until you’re “in the clear”

I know how common miscarriage is. So when I dropped my positive test on Charlie’s lap, the first thing I said was, “Don’t get excited yet.” What I didn’t know is how frustrating it is to not be able to do something in early pregnancy. Other than calling your doctor (who may not see you for weeks) and continuing to take a prenatal vitamin, you can only sit tight and wait. During this period when I wasn’t really feeling pregnant, and my doctor hadn’t confirmed the pregnancy, I needed my own reassurances. So I peed on a pregnancy test.Every. Damn. Day.

When someone tells you they’re pregnant, they’ve probably been sick in secret for months

I never fully grasped this before pregnancy. I knew about morning sickness, yes, but I thought it was isolated: You feel shitty at some point and then you’re good. Um. No. I was not prepared for a constant wave of fatigue and nausea. Everyone is completely different, and based on stories from friends who couldn’t move or eat more than a bagel a day, I had it pretty good. But I still felt sick for a solid two months. And it’s not just sickness. I felt like someone had turned the dial on me all the way down –– as if my personality changed! To top it all off, you’re keeping it a secret. When was the last time you felt like crap and didn’t tell anyone? Now, when people tell me they are pregnant, my first reaction is, “Congrats!” and, “Ugh, I’m so sorry I couldn’t have known to better support you!”

Carrier screening early can save you A LOT of stress

Carrier screen tests help you understand if you carry a gene for a health condition that could impact your child. I knew the value of carrier screening before I got pregnant –– but I never pulled the trigger on it. Since I didn’t have a family history of any known issues, it didn’t seem like something that was an absolute must, and carrier screening usually isn’t done (or covered by insurance) until you’re actually pregnant. But at 19 weeks, when I got my results, I found out I was a carrier for cystic fibrosis. I went into a tailspin, probably worsened by hormones.

Rationally, I knew I was being hard on myself. Once you are pregnant, there’s really nothing you can do to mitigate the risks for your child. But it is torture. You have to wait up to two weeks for your partner to be tested. In that time, I was a literal mess. I was all over Instagram following people with CF, to understand what kind of life my baby could have. I blamed myself for not being more proactive. Fortunately, Charlie was not a carrier (although he was for a host of other sci-fi sounding genetic diseases, but no matches that concerned my doctors). It was a relief, but not without weeks of stress that could not have been good for me or my baby.

(The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists has more information on this topic, but ask your doctor if you should get it before conceiving.)

Pregnancy can feel a lot longer than 9 months

Many of us spend so much time thinking about the right time to have a kid that the whole nine months of pregnancy part (at least for me) is kind of an afterthought. As I’m sitting here writing this, six months in, I feel like I’ve been pregnant for a lifetime. I’m addicted to seeing my baby change from an avocado to an eggplant (who even am I?!). I continue to set milestones for myself in which I give myself my permission to think everything’s OK. My latest: Get to 30 weeks, and she will be OK if she comes preterm. I’m sure as soon as I hit 30 weeks, it will be “just deliver a healthy baby.” And then, “keep the thing alive and healthy and happy and teach resilience.” I share all these feelings with my friends who aren’t moms yet — not to scare them, but to make sure they know what to expect and that once they’re ready to get pregnant, they know that there’s a whole lot of waiting that goes by.

We should talk more about these “surprises”

All of this is to say, it’s ridiculous that there’s still so much that we don’t talk about when it comes to conceiving, carrying, and delivering a baby. We should be talking about all of these things before we face them, not just to prepare ourselves emotionally but so we can continue to have more resources to plan ahead. Yes, we should talk about preconception and make sure women have the info they need to feel in control of their reproductive health. But we also need to talk more openly about the difficulties of trying to conceive — or pregnancy and postpartum — so that anyone with ovaries feels supported. And we should absolutely feel OK to discuss the emotional and physical pain that comes with miscarriage.

I’m sure that in my next few months, and –– oh god, with my actual delivery –– I’m going to stumble upon a lot more surprises. You better believe I’ll be ready to share about them, too.

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