Thoughts on Action
"Contemplation often makes life miserable. We should act more, think less, and stop watching ourselves live." ~ Nicolas de Chamfort

Pregnancy: A Treasure Trove of Terrifying Ailments

Let’s get disgusting, shall we? Last week, I developed a totally bizarre and (I thought) inexplicable* rash just above my ankles. Complaining about it to my boss (TMI for the workplace?) elicited one of her most common responses for nearly all our topics of conversation: “One more reason not to have kids!” She, who has a child of her own, went on to explain that pregnancy causes your body to flare up with all kinds of crazy ailments that can’t be readily explained or controlled.

Five years ago, this wouldn’t have scared me in the least. Namely because I was foolish and arrogant enough to think I’d be the miracle of modern health who wouldn’t be afflicted by the bodily woes of pregnancy. I’d had the benefit of two and a half decades of impeccable health, my college hangovers rivaling the occasional bout of flu for Most Debilitating Affliction. And then…

I guess I got old. My streak ended. I won’t bore (or disgust) you all with the details, but I developed an inflammatory condition and spent the better part of two years on various slabs of butcher paper in a tissue of a gown, waiting for yet another doctor to tell me they couldn’t find a cause or a cure. They started me on two medications that manage the symptoms, but will never obliterate whatever it is that’s attacking my body.


[note: the number of medications featured in this photo do not speak to the severity of my condition. They speak only to the severity of my laziness in cleaning out my medicine cabinet and are featured here only for dramatic purposes.]

After years of rolling my eyes at other people’s hay fever, gluten allergies and lactose intolerances, I joined the pain-in-the-ass-diet and multi-medication club. Quite frankly, I was pissed. My body had betrayed me. Coming home from what must have been the tenth different doctor I’d seen in the span of a few months, I allowed myself a little boo-hoo-poor-me session of tears. And friends, I don’t cry easily. [I just watched Brian’s Song for the first time last week without so much as a tightening of the throat. My heart is made of granite.] But this was different. It was a feeling of helplessness the likes of which I’d never experienced.

And now someone’s telling me I’m going to have to navigate a veritable battlefield of uncontrollable ailments if decide to get pregnant? A quick search pulled up these glorious accompaniments to the with-child condition:

  • Heartburn
  • Constipation
  • Nausea
  • Diarrhea
  • Hemorrhoids
  • Anaemia
  • Itchy skin
  • Thrush
  • Water retention
  • Vericose veins

Most of these are entirely temporary, and (as with most things in life) as long as I can see the light at the end of the tunnel, I can deal with it. But what about that inevitable weight gain that seems utterly impossible for some new moms to lose? If I can’t return to my pre-pregnancy figure no matter how carefully I follow my old diet and exercise regimen, am I going to feel as helpless as I did in those doctors’ offices? What if some of the other items on the list above become permanent fixtures as well?

It seems small of me to let something that most people would consider a relatively mild issue enter into the decision of something so big. And I would have thought the same thing, if I hadn’t already been so blindsided at how awful it feels to have things going on in your body that are entirely out of your control. Maybe I’d have the same luck my Mom had with us three kids and feel better than I’ve ever felt in my life while pregnant. Then again, maybe I wouldn’t.

*The rash culprit? A tiny free sample of lotion that lived in my purse for approximately four years before I slathered it on my legs en route to, of all things, a baby shower. Omen? Or sheer coincidence?

19 Responses to Pregnancy: A Treasure Trove of Terrifying Ailments

  • neal says:

    When my wife was pregnant, she quickly developed a rash that stretched from her neck to her ankles. She scratched herself bloody every single day. It lasted for nine months, and the day after our daughter was born, it was gone. The doctors could never figure out what it was. Not PUPPS, that only lasts for maybe a trimester or less. It wasn’t a dangerous kidney problem (although they tested her a lot for that). She’s probably just a bit allergic to carrying babies. Our daughter was healthy and strong, so nobody’s the worse for wear today. But it was a mysterious and onerous predicament that, as best I can compare, was like a bad case of the chicken pox that lasts for nine months.

    I can’t help feeling she’s a bit insane for wanting to go through that again. I mean, we can adopt. I’d be proud to adopt, perhaps through foster care. But despite the serious lowering of her quality of life in some ways, my wife felt the miracle of a life growing inside of her was powerful, and worth it. And I still think she’s crazy. I guess every choice we make in life seizes something and sacrifices something else…I just hate being itchy.

    • Maybe Lady
      Maybe Lady says:

      That sounds awful! It reminds me of having to wear potholders on my hands when I had the chickenpox as a child because I couldn’t stop scratching. Not sure I could rock that for 9 months.

  • Jenn says:

    Pregnancy terrifies me. I know that “millions of women do it everyday”. Yes, of course they do, but many (hopefully most!) of those women really, really want a baby. I don’t. So I don’t see the “all worth it” part of things. Some things just horrify me. For instance, I have a friend from college who has an adorable, articulate and hilarious 4 year old. She’s fantastic and my friend’s world. But my friend had a c-section over 4 years ago and STILL suffers from chronic, debilitating pain all the way up and down her abdomen due to nerve damage associated with the c-section. Doctors have told her there’s nothing they can do except keep her on extremely strong prescription pain meds forever. She doesn’t want that so she just deals. She can’t pick up her daughter, and some days can’t stand up straight. Holy CRAP! I had NO IDEA that could happen! Now does that happen to everyone? Of course not! But I think that unless you really, really want to be a parent no matter what the cost, crazy irreversible things like that, and 9 months of discomfort (and sometimes debilitating sickness) is definitely something to take into account. Since I don’t want to dedicate my life to parenting, the physical ailments involved in pregnancy really terrifies me.

    • Maybe Lady
      Maybe Lady says:

      Wow, this was a scary topic to post on – everyone has these crazy horror stories! That’s so awful about your poor friend. Hopefully it will one day disappear as quickly as it came upon her. :(

  • Nat says:

    Hi Liz,

    thanks for your interesting and funny blogs. I struggled with a similar question (make that quest) for the past 5+ years. I also have inflammatory diseases (quite annoying rosacea, colitis, arthritis to name a few) and have seen countless doctors and nagged my own health specialists for years about the question pregnancy or not? We did ttc but had a couple of early miscarriages which I see as some sort of protest of my immune system. One of the worst side effects of pregnancy can be the onset of a whole host of auto immune diseases or conditions. The baby leaves blood and dna behind in the mothers body and that is stored in the bone marrow and blood for a decade or two. This I have been told is one of the biggest reasons why women between 25-40 have a much higher onset number of auto immune/inflammatory diseases than men. The body can attack those foreign fetal cells lingering there, causing inflammation and there is no way to get rid of those fetal cells. Not trying to make matters even tougher for you, but just google the amount of women complaining about getting auto immune diseases after a pregnancy. On the other hand, pregnancy itself has often a calming effect on inflammatory conditions as it lowers the immune system temporarily.
    We stopped with the ttc by the way, but it’s just another ‘pregnancy ailment’ to consider perhaps.

    Best wishes and keep the good blogs up :)

    • Maybe Lady
      Maybe Lady says:

      Whoa – I guess you’d just have to hope you were in the group where it calmed things down instead of making it worse. My best friend had horrible migraines until she got pregnant and they magically disappeared. The mysteries of the body!

  • Rachel says:

    2 friends of mine suffered from Bell’s Palsy (a form of facial paralysis) during their pregnancys. One’s was temporary and the other’s was permanant. Scared the crap out of me! Don’t forget gestational diabetes, hyperemesis (that thing Duchess Kate went thru), hair loss, increased gum disease and all kinds of other scary things.

    Maybe ignorance is bliss when it comes to medical stuff but as I’m an information junkie I was astounded at the list of medical ailments that pregnancy can cause.

    • Maybe Lady
      Maybe Lady says:

      What?! Facial paralysis?! Good grief. There’s so much I just don’t want to know about what could happen.

  • Marie says:

    You forgot hypermesis gravidarum, poor Kate Middleton. Just want to chime in that I had perfectly straightforward pregnancies (though not without a few of the things on your list above) followed by uneventful labors and deliveries, and so did many of my friends. A friend of mine has rheumatoid arthritis (from her youth) and has also had three straightforward pregnancies, deliveries, and nursed her kids for a couple years each. A few people I know had it rougher. I found that I much preferred not gathering as much information as possible, but rather only gathering information on what was relevant to my current situation.

    I hear the point about women having more autoimmune disorders but “The Data” also shows that women who have had pregnancies and nursed have lower rates of certain cancers. And drinking red wine can at the same time prolong your life and kill you prematurely. So I think it’s a wash and I don’t generally bring up those stats as a reason to have, or not have kids.

    I do think that what Neal said above, this feeling that women have about the “miracle of life,” is rather strong for many people and pretty much incomprehensible to anyone who doesn’t share it (it’s not how I feel, but I get it). But hey, some people go cliff diving for the intense rush it brings so everyone gets their kicks in different ways.

    As far as the pre-pregnancy body, I know many moms that you would never guess have been pregnant, some who have had twins! Freaks, the whole lot, I say. If you are slender-framed to start with, it’s likely that you will stay that way. I jumped a couple of pants sizes but mostly that has to do with not returning to my athletic pursuits. I am not a runner, which is the easiest way to exercise with kids, and after dumping my kids off at daycare while I work, it’s pretty hard to spend my evenings at yoga, barely seeing them all day, and still call myself a parent. Having more time to exercise is probably about #6 on my list of reasons why I want to quit my job right now. All that and we’re even thinking about another… Crazy, I know.

    • Maybe Lady
      Maybe Lady says:

      Yeah, it’s hard enough to want to work out after a day of work – I can’t imagine adding the pressure of needing to see the kids on there and still keeping any kind of exercise routine. Luckily I’m a jogger, so I guess all I’d need to do is spend $34,000 on a jogging stroller.

    • Rachel says:

      My poor cousin was hospitalized for almost a week with hypermesis gravidarum and then had to have an anti-nausea medicine pump (like an insulin pump) all the way into her second trimester. It was awful! She is finally better but it was something like week 20 before she was back to fully functional. I should mention she also has a two year old and is a CPA so hello tax season. Funny thing is her baby is due on April 15th so we all think it would be great to have a tax day baby!

      • Maybe Lady
        Maybe Lady says:

        Haha – I bet her co-workers were thrilled to discover she’d be going out on maternity leave during their busiest time of the year!

  • Scott says:

    I thought you said you were going to be gross. Those temporary conditions are just the tip of the iceberg. These are pretty minor compared to some of the gynecological impacts, which are probably even more frightening. (You know where the baby comes out during a vaginal delivery, right?) Torn perineum, vaginal wall hanging out when you get older, etc. If we’re going to dive into the medical ugliness, let’s really dive in. Leaving aside what happens with a C-section, which is now 1/3 of all deliveries in the U.S.

    The list also leaves out incontinence. It’s not all about retention, sometimes it’s the opposite. For the purposes of limiting the discussion, we’ll have to leave aside for the moment the medical issues that go with breastfeeding.

    • Maybe Lady
      Maybe Lady says:

      THIS is what they should be teaching kids in middle school to prevent unprotected sex!

      • Scott says:

        Yeah, forget about that thing where you carry a sack of flour around for a few weeks. Try something where the sack of flour is pulled from your body through a surprisingly stretched opening….

  • Alex says:

    I don’t think it’s weird or overreacting at all to take this stuff into account. For someone who really knows that they want kids, this may be small potatoes and something they won’t hesitate to take the chance on. But if you’re not sure, all the risks loom much larger. It’s perfectly normal and happens with everything, from moving to a new city to getting a crazy haircut. The risks are more worth it to some people than others, depending on how much reward you think you’ll get for making them.

    For someone like me, who doesn’t want kids, I just can’t see the risks being worth taking because I don’t much value the supposed “rewards” one could get from parenting. I would be risking (in this example) my health, and for something I don’t even want. For a fence-sitter, the calculation is similar. You would be risking your health for something you’re unsure if you want. Those aren’t good odds, and it’s not unreasonable to calculate them.

    It really annoys me when the baby-pushers act like any kind of thinking on this issue is wrong, or heartless or something. It’s not, it’s just honest and responsible. Promoting thoughtless reproducing isn’t good for anyone, including the resulting kids. And blaming someone for concluding that the risks aren’t worth it to them is just being an asshole. (Case in point, my coworker today was complaining that her brother and SIL were planning on stopping after their one kid because they realized having more would cut into their chosen lifestyle too much. She thought that was “the most selfish thing I’ve ever heard.” You know, because wanting to live your own life on your own terms is just so horrible. Clearly, we all should want to live our lives on HER terms.)

    • Maybe Lady
      Maybe Lady says:

      And your co-worker’s bro and SIL probably didn’t mention that having more than one also divides their attention and all their resources (including college funds) by two instead of one. But somehow that’s selfish to give everything to one? *Ugh*

  • Scott says:

    Let’s look at the silver lining, though: whatever ailments you suffer, you can be part of a larger community of women swapping horror stories — instant club membership!

    See, it’s not all negative.

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