Hi everyone! A few months ago, I gave birth to Baby A. 🙂 Some of you may have wondered if you had missed my announcement on my pregnancy. The truth is that I didn’t post about my pregnancy anywhere, choosing to keep the news a secret. In total, Ken and I only shared it with my dad and my in-laws, and a select group of very close friends.
Why I Kept My Pregnancy A Secret
The reason was that I simply wanted the personal space to focus on my pregnancy. For a while, I had been feeling boxed in by my culture. From the invisible pressure to have children, to the endless taboos for pregnant women, I felt trapped by the many expectations of my culture, many of which did not resonate with me.
So after I got married, I felt pressured when relatives started asking me when I was going to have kids, when I had barely settled into my marriage. My answer of “I’ve not decided if I wanted kids” made for awkward conversation as it did not fit the image of a dutiful Chinese woman, and people would keep pressurizing me to have kids when I had already made my opinion clear. I would switch from feelings of guilt to frustration as I struggled with finding the “right” answer to their questions while being honest with myself.
Before I decided to have kids, I started to get pregnancy advice in the form of highly restrictive Chinese taboos from one of my sister-in-laws. The situation was particularly awkward as I had told her before that I had not decided if I wanted kids, yet reminding her about this was futile as she brushed away my comment, saying that it didn’t matter as she was preparing me for the future. I would sit for two hours as I received a starter’s guide to the world of highly restrictive Chinese pregnancy taboos, from not using the scissors (or your child would have a cleft lip), to not eating bananas (or you would have a miscarriage), to not having toys with eyes (as they may house spirits). While I had heard of some of these taboos before from my pregnant friends (one of them was unable to buy bananas as no fruit seller would sell them to her), this was the first time I was hearing them at length, and I knew that they were the start of more to come if I were to decide to have kids.
So when Ken and I decided to have kids last year and I became pregnant, I decided that it was best if (a) we didn’t share the news with anyone, and (b) we only share the news with selected people when I was ready.
Firstly, I knew that sharing the news would lead to an influx of unsolicited advice, that, while well-intended, would be fear-based and generally unhelpful as it would be based on old wives’ tales. Secondly, Chinese pregnancies tend to receive intense scrutiny as everyone fuses over the mom with restrictions on what she should do/not do, ranging from logical to entirely illogical. These restrictions tend to be negative, overwhelming, and quite frankly, exhausting to deal with as you have to follow rule after rule just to appease the elders. Not doing so would lead to excessive worry on their end, while you would be repeatedly criticized and reminded of the consequences (cleft lip, miscarriage, baby being born ugly, etc.) should you not follow them.
As I felt that my priority should be to ensure a smooth pregnancy, not to allay others’ fears, I decided to keep my pregnancy a secret and focus on what needed to be done. Given that pregnancy is one of the most vulnerable phases of a woman’s life, with many changes happening to her body, the last thing I wanted was intense scrutiny of my actions. What I needed was a safe space to nurture my baby.
So for my entire pregnancy, we only shared the news with my dad and Ken’s parents, and later on with selected close friends toward the end of my term. Everyone else only knew post-birth. For the whole time, I made sure to keep a low-profile (which wasn’t that difficult as I’ve been living a low-key life for the past few years), and kept social meetups to a minimum.
My Pregnancy Journey
Keeping my pregnancy a secret gave me a lot of mental relief, and the quiet space to focus on it. I spent most of my free time outside of work reading articles, research studies, and pregnancy forums to learn about other moms’ experiences.
As I consume a vegan diet, I followed vegan pregnancy groups, on top of normal pregnancy groups, to get information pertaining to a vegan pregnancy.
After much research, I realized that I wanted a natural birth without intervention or drugs, and found an excellent gynae to help me achieve that. Ken and I took a course to educate ourselves on birthing, breastfeeding, and babycare (which in retrospect didn’t really prepare us for what was ahead), and I did a lot of reading up online.
Food & Nutrition
Throughout my pregnancy, I ate a nutrient-dense vegan diet with a strong focus on fruits and vegetables.
I didn’t eat much during my first trimester due to nausea (mine started at week 6 and lasted till week 11), and suffered very bad bloating which only improved in the second trimester. In total, I lost 2kg (4.4 lbs) during this time.
As I developed very bad acne during my pregnancy, I realized, through an elimination process, that the best diet where I wouldn’t have any acne is an oil-free, allergen-free, HCLF (high-carb low-fat) vegan diet. As almost every food sold today has some kind of oil or allergen (like soy), I had to learn to prepare my own meals (something that I hated doing in the past), and eventually developed simple recipes that I could adopt even on a busy schedule. I’d continue to eat this way post-birth and I consider this one of my best rewards from my pregnancy (besides Baby A of course)!
Weight & Exercise
Throughout my nine-month term, I only gained 5 kg (11 lbs) despite eating heartily every day (!). If you consider that I lost 2 kg (4.4 lbs) during my first trimester, then I really gained 7 kg (15.4 lbs) baby-wise.
While I was initially very concerned as it is below the weight gain of a typical pregnancy (12-15kg or 25-35 lbs), I later realized that this is simply a guideline and is not a target to hit if (a) you’re already eating healthy, (b) you’re not trying to lose weight, and (c) your baby is growing fine and everything is going well with your pregnancy. Depending on the guidelines you look at, a woman does not need to consume more calories in her first two trimesters, only an extra 200 calories per day in her last trimester, and it’s more important that she consumes a nutrient-dense diet. I dropped to my pre-pregnancy weight right after birth (57 kg or 126 lbs; I’m 1.7 m or 5′ 7″), and I credit this entirely to eating a very clean diet during my term.
As swimming is a great exercise for pregnant women, I swam 2X a week from the middle of my second trimester leading up to birth, for about 30-40 minutes each time.
The only supplements I took were folate (a few weeks before I got pregnant and for the first four months of my term), B12, and EPA/DHA, of which the latter two I normally take as a vegan anyway. I didn’t take any prenatals as (a) I would break out when doing so, even with fully organic ones, and (b) unless you have a deficiency, prenatal vitamins are really unnecessary and it’s more important to eat a nutrient-dense diet instead.
I also did not take calcium supplements which are routinely given to pregnant women. If you research this area, you’ll find that there is controversy surrounding calcium supplements, where researchers have found that taking calcium supplements may raise the risk of plaque buildup in arteries and heart damage. Instead, I focused on consuming calcium through my diet, which is really the best way to take in calcium rather than through supplements.
Ken and I knew Baby A’s gender by the end of our third month as we took the Harmony Test, a test commonly offered from Week 10 to test for fetal abnormalities. The other commonly offered test is the Oscar Test.
The Harmony Test has a 99.9% accuracy rate and lets you know the baby’s gender, while the Oscar test has a 80% accuracy rate and doesn’t test for the gender. The former is significantly more expensive, at 3-4 times the price of the latter (the prices depend on your clinic; in general the Oscar Test starts from S$300 or US$200 while the Harmony Test starts from S$1,000 or US$700).
As I read about parents who did the Oscar Test and had unnecessary scares due to false positives (after which they had to spend extra money to take the Harmony Test), and I was 34 years old then (pregnancies over 35 tend to have more risks of chromosomal issues), we decided to take the Harmony Test to avoid guesswork and to know the gender in advance. All the results were normal.
The other major screening we did was the 5-month anomaly scan, a standard mid-pregnancy scan to check your baby’s development and to scan for any growth abnormalities. Everything was normal as well, though my amniotic fluid index (AFI) was on the lower end (but still within normal range), so I made it a point to swim regularly and drink lots of water daily thereafter (both are instant ways to improve your AFI). I also had bilateral notching which my gynae, after assessing my report, said that it is not uncommon and is not something we should worry about (and he’s right as everything progressed normally).
Throughout my pregnancy, I did not have gestational diabetes, blood pressure issues, or preeclampsia, which can be common in the third trimester, and I credit a large part of this to eating a healthy diet.
Symptoms: Age Spots, Frequent Peeing, Round Ligament Pain
Besides nausea, bloating, and bad acne, another side effect I experienced was little bumps on my neck and a couple of pigmentations on my cheek which wouldn’t go away. In total, I had about 20 bumps on my neck by the time I gave birth. Moles also seemed to form very easily when I was in the sun, and were more pronounced than usual. I later found out that these are normal pregnancy side effects due to hormone changes, and they disappeared over a few months after I gave birth.
If you have a retroverted uterus like me, you’ll also experience frequent urination (2-3 times at night) in your first trimester. This stops once your uterus flips forward during your second trimester (it’ll do so by itself and there’s nothing you need to do to make it happen). Frequent urination will return in your third trimester as your bump grows larger and presses on your bladder. 🤣
At Month 6, I started to experience a sharp stabbing pain in the lower right side of my abdomen whenever Baby A stretched or kicked, and later my left side as well during my third trimester. As Baby A is a very active baby, this happened very often, and it was so painful at times that I thought my uterus was going to burst! 😱 I later found out that it’s a normal pregnancy symptom called round ligament pain. I would experience it sporadically after giving birth, particularly when turning around in bed, and it disappeared after a couple of months.
Other funny observations during my pregnancy were feeling Baby A’s hiccups (started from Week 27, and she would hiccup a lot!), feeling her movements (starting from Month 4 — this became a few hundred times a day as she is very active!!), and feeling her punches and kicks. My linea nigra (pregnancy belly line) appeared on Week 25 and darkened over the next few months.
Also, I started snoring occasionally from Week 28, when I had never snored before in my life. This is apparently a common pregnancy symptom due swollen nasal passages from higher levels of estrogen. Because I’m a light sleeper, I would wake myself up with my first snore. 😑 The snoring only happened over a few weeks, and stopped after I gave birth.
While swelling and swollen feet (edema) are common pregnancy symptoms, I didn’t experience any of this, and I feel that my diet definitely helped in this area.
Leading to Birth
Towards the end of my term, I became very tired. I could sleep for many hours and still feel tired in the day. My body would ache whenever I woke up, initially at my neck and back, and later spreading to my entire body in the final two weeks. This would disappear 20-30 minutes after waking up. There were days when I literally felt like a 90-year-old woman in the morning! This is normal and due to the body producing relaxin, a hormone that loosens joints to prepare for delivery.
My bump “dropped” (known as lightening) in the middle of Week 35. During my third trimester, I had to wake up very frequently at night to go to the loo as my bump grew bigger and pressed on my bladder. It became quite tiring as I had to wake up 4-5 times per night in the final weeks while moving with my big bump!
These were all normal and were signs that my body was preparing itself for birth, which would happen soon enough. 🤣
Stay tuned for the next part (coming next week) where I share my birth story! 🤣