My (Second) Pregnancy Diary: Second Trimester Combination of Energy and Anxiety

Just as word goes, the second trimester I mostly felt extraordinarily. I had tons of energy, was out and about and felt like doing all kinds of things. Anxiety lessened and I started preparing for a gentle natural birth, wishing and hoping for an experience just like my first one, only without the complications. Everything suddenly shifted direction in the last weeks, when the perspective of a natural, at term birth became uncertain, which in turn, took my anxiety to unprecedented heights. 

Finding out the sex of the baby

15 weeks into the pregnancy we received the results of the noninvasive prenatal test (NIPT). Just what we were waiting for to spread the word about our new baby. Little gosling wasn’t aware of anything, as we had taken care of not talking about the pregnancy in his presence. We wanted to be able to break it to him with all details, including the sex of the baby.

At the last consultation before our three week holiday in Romania, the gynae reassured us upfront the NIPT results were good, no anomalies detected, but wouldn’t reveal the sex until after the routine ultrasound. “On va voir ensemble” (“Let’s see it together”), he said. Baby was not in a favourable position to see anything so, at the end, he simply said: “C’est une petite princesse”. A girl!!! I so badly wanted the baby to be a girl. My husband was unshaken; he had been certain all along it was a girl. “It’s what I ordered” he kept saying :))).

Breaking the news to our son

Little gosling had expressed the wish to have a younger sister. His best friends at school, Gaby and Emile, had younger sisters in the same school, Lucia and Freya. Apparently, the siblings were a constant presence in their conversations. One night, little gosling told me: “Let’s have a little sister”. I was pleasantly surprised and I could see his daddy suddenly raising his gaze and paying attention to us from his corner. I explained that if we had a baby we could not really choose; what if it were a little brother? “I would just ignore him”, he said very naturally. Didn’t know how to react to that :))). So, good thing it was a little girl. 

I already had a short list of girl names. It took us less than a minute to discuss and decide on a name, before we picked up little gosling from school and gave him the news. I listed them and my husband only liked one of them. Our baby girl would be named “Iulia”. 

At home, we told little gosling we needed to talk to him about something. 

“Do you remember how you wanted a little sister?”

“Yes? Is it coming?” 

“Yes, you’re gonna have a little sister. Daddy and I thought of naming her Iulia. What do you think?” 

“I like the name Iulia. Where is she?” 

“In mommy’s tummy.” 

“Can I see it? When is she coming?”

“In January. She’s gonna still grow in mommy’s tummy. She’s about 10 cm big now (approximating the length with my fingers). When she’s ready, she’ll come out.”

He was looking at us with big eyes, full of surprise and excitement. He was curious. That day and ever since, he’s been asking recurring questions about when, how long before Iulia comes out and how, which way she would come out of mommy, how she got into mommy’s tummy. 

I explained calmly and naturally.

“Daddy planted a seed in mommy’s tummy, just like he did with you.”

“She will grow inside mommy’s tummy until she is big enough and ready to come out, just like you did. We expect her to come out of mommy at the end of January next year (after holidays, after mommy’s birthday, after St Nicholas and Christmas).”

“ She will come out through my vagina” and showed him when we took baths together.

He asked whether we could name her Lucia or Freya. “We want her to have her own name and identity. There is already one Lucia and one Freya”. He was ok with that.

It felt good, unpretentious, natural, intimate, the way I wanted it to be.  

He has kept asking to see my tummy (skin, not covered with clothes) and caress it, calling Iulia’s name. When he sees me caress my tummy, promptly asks whether she is moving and quickly puts his small hands on to feel her. There’s a clear sense of impatience and he would like Iulia to come out already, including her in our conversations.

Bodily sensations 

Second trimester brought along new sensations compared to my first pregnancy. 

Round ligament pain was completely unfamiliar to me. The sharp ache in the sides of my abdomen, particularly when doing a sudden movement, like getting up or twisting in any way. I quickly learned to move gently and slowly, lifting my body up bit by bit when lying down. 

The hunger sensation eased, almost to a point where I would feel hungry in the morning when waking, but pretty satious in the afternoon/evening. Reflux and particularly a sour taste in my throat, occasional heartburn settled in early. For a few weeks, I felt discomfort after eating anything made with white flour, so no more pains au chocolat :P. Can’t stand to see or taste broccoli anymore and ethnic food stopped agreeing with me. 

I continue battling constipation, going from one extreme to the other, finding it hard to fix from diet alone and exercise. The pressure on my rectum keeps the piles alive and much more than during my first pregnancy, I struggle with internal piles. The anal itchiness is my constant companion, but the internal piles start to sting more and more often.

Breast tenderness has been less of an issue than during the first trimester, although there have been times when even the touch of the bra was absolutely uncomfortable. Little gosling has kept on breastfeeding, unbothered by anything.  

One thing I have not missed at all from my first pregnancy: swollen ankles. Because I had no issues. Must be courtesy of Brussels weather ;). 

I am still not sure how the famous Braxton-Hicks contractions are supposed to feel like, but mid-way through the second trimester I definitely felt the same sensations as during the real contractions during my first labour: abdominal cramps, low back pain and urges to empty myself. Honestly, these helped ease constipation. 

Energy levels, sleep, exercise

From week 12 onwards I felt super energetic, I wanted to do so much. Good-bye tiredness! I slept like a log again, no longer waking up during the night to pee. What a relief! My body sort of slowed down towards the end of the afternoon, but generally, I felt like I could do anything. 

I kept taking my morning walks, determined to do my 10 000 steps daily as long as possible, if not until the very end. It was my me time, listening to audio books or podcasts, observing the nature around our park, talking photos just for my soul, capturing the little details: the shapes of leaves, the swans chasing the geese away on the lake with their big white wings in this menacing basket-like shape, the flowers, noticing the noisy parrots, following the growth of chestnuts, noticing the same people running at the same hour every day or practicing meditation on the grass, under the same tree…

I mapped the different pre-natal activities in my area, looking for those with physical presence and working hours schedules, as online things did not work for me and I did not want to eat into little gosling’s time with me. Due to the pandemic and holidays it was only from September onwards that courses finally became available. 

I started going to pre-natal yoga classes once a week at my favourite studio. It was almost one year since I had last gone to a yoga class and let me tell you, it was hard. My heels were way up high from the ground again in downward facing dog. The warriors felt uncomfortable on my knees and shoulders and I was back to the easiest version of the tree pose. My balance was off. But it felt good for my body, for my back, for my joints and for my mind. It was just the right amount of time and effort for my body at that point. And the 15 minutes of winding down in a reclined shavasana at the end felt heavenly!

I went to pre-natal aquafit once a week, with a practicing midwife. I enjoyed that tremendously! Being in warm water, with other mommies to be, sharing about our pregnancies, fears, doubts. I kept thinking how great it would have been to be able to swim and spend more time in water pregnant. One day, I’ll definitely learn to swim properly! 

Weight gain/pregnancy bump

Weight gain was less than during my first pregnancy – less than 3 kg. I had the same high bump, right under my chest, for the first many weeks. At some point mid-way, it took on a more normal, equal, round shape and descended further down. I could not locate the box with my maternity clothes from my first pregnancy, so I bought two pairs of maternity shorts, for the warm weather and two pairs of maternity leggings for the cooler times and kept on using my tops. At 28 weeks I still used my longer blouses; they fit just fine.  

Baby moving

I started feeling Iulia move around 20 weeks in. The gentle, fluttering, almost imperceptible kicks from the first days became more frequent and vigorous towards the end of the trimester. The last 3-4 weeks I was surprised by how active she was, especially at night. I could sleep very well, but little gosling had a period of waking up indecently early so we were all on our feet before 5 a.m. And Iulia was kicking to the point my tummy was shaking :)))) Little gosling had been such a calm baby in my tummy, so I feel surprised every time I feel her. I uncover my tummy and watch with wonder, laughing and talking to her, as her moves make ripples on my skin. 

She also becomes very active when I read to little gosling. We joke that she must like the sound of our voice, rejoicing in the certainty that when she comes out, she will recognise us, she will know mummy and her older brother. 

Pre-natal checks 

I continued seeing my gynae once a month, with routine urine and blood tests performed each time. Toxoplasmosis was much more of a concern here than in South Africa. I don’t remember doing these tests the first time around. And I was determined to monitor my thyroid closely. My TSH levels were good on the hormonal dosage I had pre-pregnancy, so I kept it up unchanged. Somewhere along the way, though, I ran out of pre-natal vitamins and completely forgot about them. 

Wasn’t too crazy about the cervical exam the doctor performed each time before the ultrasound. He explained he was doing it to make sure the cervix was closed and there was no risk of infection spreading up towards the uterus. Upon reading up, I understood it was not a routine procedure done by all gynaes, but there were moms for whom it had prevented serious issues. I talked it through with my overly-protective husband and we decided that whilst uncomfortable, we would rather not take any chance. 

The second trimester morphological ultrasound was incredibly technical and detailed. Happily, all was within parameters. I don’t remember having done a special ultrasound during my first pregnancy. Back then, it felt like all our monthly ultrasounds were incredibly detailed (much more so than the routine ones this time), so maybe there was no need and our doctor was specialised in this. 

I had my gestational diabetes test at the end of week 27. I found it such a peculiar experience, that I will detail in a separate post.

Preparation for birth

Keen on having a natural, unmedicated birth like the first time around, I started researching alternatives for giving birth in Brussels. Home birth was not an option we were comfortable with, but a midwife unit in a maternity hospital definitely was top of my preferences. It became quickly obvious there was little choice. While the system here sees C-section as a last resort, the overwhelming majority of births take place in hospital, overseen by gynaes, in the old fashioned lying on your back position with feet up and in 75% of the cases, with an epidural. 

There were two options available. Luckily, one was in the hospital where my gynae was practicing and I decided to explore first his openness to work with a midwife led process. I can’t shake off the complications that followed my first birthing experience and kept thinking if I had to undergo an intervention, I’d rather do it with my doctor. After all, he did a good job with my laparoscopy.  

In parallel, I read books and articles about maximising chances for a gentle birth; started listening to my hypnobirthing affirmation and relaxation tracks and practicing the breathing techniques. I attended the birth preparation classes given at my hospital by a specialised kinesitherapist, focusing on breathing techniques and positions in labour and expulsion phase. I missed the one on perineal education, though. They were quite useful to understand what to expect from birthing in my hospital of choice. 

We kept the conversation going with little gosling about the progression of the pregnancy, baby’s birth and how we would all need to adjust and cooperate to take care of her. Much like we took care of him. We read stories about the arrival of siblings. We talked about what she would eat; about the fact that babies’ only way of communicating with us is by crying; about the fact that in the beginning they can’t talk or walk and spend most of their time sleeping. 
We decided it was a good idea to ask my mom to come and stay with us for a while. A one way ticket, my husband called it. We talked to my parents and made arrangements for her to arrive around 4 weeks before the due date, just in case.. In Belgium, mom and baby are kept in hospital at least three days post-partum and with the pandemic restrictions, it was not entirely sure kids would be allowed to visit. My husband’s main concern was to make sure little gosling was cared for while he was with me during birth and in hospital.

We also decided that the only thing we really needed to have ready for Iulia’s birth was a bigger family bed. We would co-sleep, but that did not mean we would change anything in little gosling’s routine. He falls asleep in his bed, in his bedroom, but sometime in the middle of the night, he moves to our bed, between us. A bed of 2m x 2m would do. Not your typical size in Belgium. So, we ordered a mattress from a German company and my husband undertook the task of expanding our bed frame to fit it (I can hear him cutting the wood as I am writing this :)). 

We kept all little gosling’s baby clothes and items, including pram and car seat, so no need for creativity there. Wasn’t too keen on blue for him, just as I am not keen on pink for Iulia, so his clothes should give us a good breathing space. 

Uncertainty about birth 

Once the NIPT results came back positive, my anxiety levels dropped. I felt relieved and I could relax, although not completely. Being a 39 year old mom-to-be, I was alert to the different increased risks, so kept counting the weeks and marking the different milestones we were safe from. 

Anxiety levels went up after our 25 weeks appointment, when I opened the conversation about birth with my gynae, with the intention to understand his views on cooperating for a midwife-led birth. He enquired after my expectations and calmly said that based on the little information he had about my post-partum complications the first time around, he would recommend a C-section

That was a big blow to me. All my hopes, expectations and plans were shattered. I asked questions, wanting to know the risks. I understood his concerns revolved around the recurrence/avoidance of the post-partum haemorrhage (what was the cause? Inability of the uterus to contract?) and a possible uterine rupture (How big had the uterus perforation during the failed querretage been? How had it been sutured? Where exactly on the uterus was it? Had there been any infection?). I did not have a detailed answer. He suggested I get a medical report from my caregivers in South Africa and continue the conversation on that basis. 

I felt disappointed. I came out of the consultation with tears in my eyes. This was the very opposite of what I wanted. I worried that I wouldn’t be able to get the details requested in time. Luckily, my midwives and doctor in South Africa quickly provided me with the medical reports and I even got the post-surgery nursery reports from one of the hospitals. My gynae is yet to examine them in detail, but it may be less dramatic than he had imagined. The conversation about birth however, is a pending one and it may yet be influenced by the evolution of the pregnancy during the next weeks. 

Risk of preterm birth

Week 27 added on a new layer of anxiety and frustration.

27 weeks and two days in, I ended up in the emergency room. One very early morning, I woke up with abdominal cramps, low back ache and the urge to go to the toilet. Nothing happened the first time around, but half hour later and yet another thirty minutes later I emptied my bowels. On the soft side. When nausea and dizziness added to the mix, I became scared. I threw myself onto the bed and asked little gosling who was awake and gently caressing me, telling me “don’t worry, mummy, it’s gonna be ok” to call his dad from the other room. I wasn’t feeling well. My husband called the emergency room and we were advised to go straight to the maternity ward. 

Half an hour later, I was vomiting on the hospital’s corridors, as my husband pushed me in a wheelchair, with little gosling holding my hand. I was immediately accommodated into a single room, with monitors on to check my baby’s heart rate and detect any uterine contractions. I could feel her kicking very actively. It was 7 a.m., her peak time. I knew she was fine, but started wondering about the contractions. More than anything, I just wanted to feel better. 

By then, pain on the sides of my middle back was quite strong. My husband took little gosling for breakfast to the cafeteria, whilst I waited for the doctor. I peed into a cup and the midwife took a blood sample. No uterine contractions were detected and baby’s heart was just fine. I kept moving around, trying to find a comfortable position. I got nothing for the pain, even though I asked several times if there was anything that could be done. At some point, I fell  asleep. Two hours later I woke up and the pain had subsided. 

The gynae came in, with the blood results and part of the urine test. Nothing extraordinary. A little anaemia, which wasn’t unusual. All pointed to a gastro virus possibly combined with a urinary infection. Nothing worrying so far. She did an ultrasound, including the first transvaginal ultrasound since the very beginning of the pregnancy. All looked fine with the baby, but my cervix was shortened (27 mm, below the 30 mm normal lower range) and showed signs of opening.

This meant I was at risk of premature labour. She prescribed progesterone three times per day and recommended bed rest. Going to the toilet and taking the occasional shower was ok; if I felt really brave, I could take a 10 min light walk, but that was it. I needed to do all possible to keep Iulia inside at least until 34 weeks or 2,5 kg. Seven more weeks.

I could choose to stay in the hospital, but I wanted to go home with my family. I wanted to go back to my life. Not to mention the financial implications of an extended hospital stay. That was ok, as long as my family would allow me to sit still and calm. No sexual contact, no stimulation of any kind, including nipple stimulation or caressing my tummy.  The doctor then mentioned a hospital stay further down the road to have corticosteroid shots to help mature the baby’s lungs. I was tired and it was all moving too fast for me to process or ask any questions. I was just listening…

When she mentioned no nipple stimulation I naively brought up the issue of breastfeeding. She was most obviously surprised. It took her 30 seconds or so to react. Was I still breastfeeding?! She had seen little goslings in the corridors.. At three years and a half.. Absolutely no, that needed to stop. Breastfeeding could bring about uterine contractions, which was to be absolutely avoided. 

The doctor repeated all these to my husband, who took it all in very seriously. He would make sure that I rested and did not get upset by anything. And we went home. Worried. Scared. Frustrated. We needed some time to process all the information and the implications…

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