This is part 1 of my birth series, where I share my pregnancy journey and my birth story.
Hi everyone! Five months ago (April 2019), I gave birth to Baby A. :) Some of you may have wondered if you had missed my announcement on my pregnancy. The truth is, I didn’t post about my pregnancy anywhere, choosing to keep the news a secret. In total, I only shared the news with less than five people (including my husband), and a select group of close friends when I was getting close to birth.
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to the endless taboos and practices, I felt trapped by the many expectations of my culture, many of which are rooted in outdated beliefs and practices. The issue isn’t that they are tradition, but that many of these beliefs are not compatible with who I am, yet they are constantly forced onto me without regard of my wishes.
So since I was born, I was constantly told to shut up by my mom, who said that children should be “seen, not heard,” and that children “know nothing” — both of which are common beliefs in the traditional Chinese culture. As a girl, I was made to believe that my menstrual blood was dirty, and that a girl’s underwear is shameful, because these are the beliefs of the older generation. These beliefs are not specific to the people around me, but are common beliefs in my culture, particularly in my parent’s generation and among people who hold traditional beliefs. Yet I never questioned them or thought that they were suspect until I grew older and became more conscious as a person.
I thought this was the last of it, until I got married and became subjected to a new host of taboos and restrictions. After I got married, I became subjected to a never-ending pressure to have children, even though I had said that I had not decided if I wanted kids. Yet I would be fear mongered with stories of women who delayed having kids and subsequently regretted it when they couldn’t have them, suggesting that I would regret it if I didn’t have children. Subsequently, conversations when I was around would always involve some implicit nudge to have children. It was as if I was a human with no identify, no life, and no purpose, that my sole objective in life was to have kids, and that I had no worth as a woman if I didn’t have them.
It didn’t end there, for I began to get unsolicited advice on pregnancy from a close member of my family. While well-intended, I had not even decided if I wanted kids, yet I would be inundated with a long list of overly restrictive, archaic taboos, ranging from not using scissors to not eating bananas to not looking at animals, all with their own stories to back them up. I was drained by the end of the interaction, and I knew that this was the start of more to come if I were to actually be pregnant one day.
So when Ken and I decided to have kids, and I soon became pregnant, I knew that it was the best if (a) we didn’t share the news with anyone, and (b) we only shared the news with selected people when I was ready. Chinese moms-to-be tend to receive intense scrutiny as everyone floods them with endless restrictions on what not to do (many of them rooted in old wives’ tales), ranging from diet to daily actions to home renovations, and I just didn’t want to deal with them. These restrictions are very strictly enforced depending on how traditional your kin are, and not following them would cause you to be repetitively reminded, criticized, reprimanded, and fear mongered, eventually causing you to follow these “rules” out of (a) mental fatigue, (b) weariness of hearing the same thing over and over, and (c) guilt if anything were to happen to your baby.
Rather than deal with that, I felt that my priority should be to focus on what needed to be done to ensure a smooth and safe pregnancy, and to nurture my baby the best I could.
So for my entire pregnancy, we only shared the news with my dad, Ken’s parents, and later on with selected close friends toward the end of my term. Everyone else only knew post-birth. I didn’t share the news with my mom pre-birth as I had felt distanced from her in recent years, and I felt that she would likely share the news with others before I was ready for others to know, something which my dad agreed with as well. (In the Chinese culture, people rapidly share news with everyone, and individual privacy is a poorly understood concept.)
For the whole time, I made sure to keep a low-profile, and kept social meetups to a minimum. This wasn’t that difficult as I’ve been living a low-key life for the past few years out of a desire for more privacy in my life.
My 9-Month Pregnancy Journey (Jul 2018 – Apr 2019)
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 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 fully natural birth without drugs or unnecessary medical intervention, and found an excellent gynae to help me achieve that. Ken and I took a course to educate ourselves on birthing, breastfeeding, and baby care, 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 (it would return in my final trimester, though not as bad as during my first 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 diet, that the best diet where I wouldn’t have acne is an oil-free, allergen-free, 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 a lot daily (!). 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 was below the recommended 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. The notion of “eating for two” is entirely false — based on NICE guidelines, 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 quality food (via a nutrient-dense diet) vs. a high quantity of calories.
I dropped to my pre-pregnancy weight on the day 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 twice weekly from my 5th month 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 Omega-3 EPA/DHA, of which the latter two I normally take as a vegan. I didn’t take any prenatals as (a) I would break out when doing so, even with fully organic and raw ones, and (b) unless you have a deficiency, prenatal vitamins are really unnecessary and it’s about eating a nutrient-dense diet instead.
I also did not take calcium supplements which are routinely given to pregnant women. If you research this, there is actually controversy surrounding calcium supplements, where researchers have found from analyzing 10 years of medical tests that taking calcium supplements may raise the risk of plaque buildup in arteries. Moreover, a study showed that women who consume their calcium from food have healthier bones than women whose calcium comes from supplemental tablets, even when the supplement takers have higher average calcium intake. Instead, I consumed my calcium through diet (leafy greens, vegetables, beans), which is the most reliable way to increase a body’s calcium intake.
Ken and I knew Baby A’s gender (it’s a girl! ❤️🥳) by the end of Month 3 as we took the Harmony Test. Typically, parents only know their baby’s gender at the end of Month 5 when they do the 5-month scan. We didn’t have a gender preference to be honest, but if you were to make me pick a gender, I would have a slight preference for a girl, so I was pleasantly surprised and happy that Baby A turned out to be a girl. :)
Harmony Test is a test commonly offered from Weeks 10 to 14 to test for fetal abnormalities, with the option of knowing your baby’s gender. The other commonly offered test is the Oscar Test, though you can’t find out your baby’s gender through it. The Harmony Test has a 99.9% accuracy rate while the Oscar test has a 80% accuracy rate. The former is much more expensive, at 3-4 times the price of the latter (in general the Oscar Test starts from S$300 or US$200 while the Harmony Test starts from S$1,000 or US$700, though the prices can differ a lot from clinic to clinic).
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, plus spend weeks living in uncertainty), and I was 34 years old then (pregnancies over 35 tend to have more risks), we decided to take the Harmony Test to avoid guesswork and to know the gender in advance. All the results were normal, and it was a huge weight off my mind. ❤️
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, which was another huge weight off my mind. ❤️ My amniotic fluid index (AFI) was on the lower end of the normal range, so I started swimming regularly and drinking lots of water daily thereafter, which are instant ways to improve your AFI. I also had bilateral notching which my gynae said was not uncommon and was not something we should worry about after assessing my report, and everything did indeed progress normally and uneventfully in the end!
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 my diet. I also did not have Group B Strep which is routinely tested between Weeks 35 and 37.
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 darker than usual. I later found out that these are normal pregnancy side effects due to hormone changes, and they faded or disappeared over a few months after I gave birth. (There are some brown spots that remained on my cheek post-birth though.)
If you have a retroverted uterus like I do, you’ll experience frequent urination in your first trimester, where you have to wake up 2-3 times a night just to pee. This stops once your uterus flips forward by itself during your second trimester. Frequent urination (4-5 times a night) will return in your third trimester as your bump grows larger and presses on your bladder. 🤣
At Month 6, I started to experience a very sharp stabbing pain in the lower right side of my abdomen whenever Baby A stretched or kicked, and later my left side as well in Months 7-9. 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 symptom called round ligament pain. I would experience it sporadically after giving birth, particularly when turning in bed, and it disappeared after two months.
Other funny observations during my pregnancy were feeling Baby A’s hiccups (starting from Week 27 — she hiccupped 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 pregnancy belly line (linea nigra) appeared on Week 25 and darkened over the next few months.
Also, I started snoring from Week 28 when I had never snored before in my entire 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. 😑 This snoring only happened a few times 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 personally credit a large part of this to my diet.
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 then later spreading to my 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 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 Week 35. During my third trimester, I had to wake up very frequently 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 around with my big bump!
These were all normal and were signs that my body was preparing itself for birth, which would happen soon enough!!! 🤣
Proceed to the next part where I share my birth story!
This is part 1 of my birth series, where I share my pregnancy journey and my birth story.