My last post here was in July. I was packing up for Aífe and I to go on a big schlep to England, via the Netherlands, so that I could participate in a conference on animal ethics and to enjoy a big, summer schlepping adventure with my best friend. I was pretty excited, and intended to blog about our journey in great detail. And now it has been eight months without a word. What happened?
What happened is that exactly two weeks after that last post, I discovered I was pregnant. Which means I was already pregnant when I set off on the big schlep with my heavy suitcase and kitty in tow. I didn’t know that though. My husband and I had been trying to conceive for a few months, but we’d had no luck in my previous cycles, and there was absolutely no sign that anything was different about this one. After a few months of getting down over the negative results, I’d decided to stop worrying myself, to stop thinking about getting pregnant, and focus on the adventure at hand.
So while I was completely exhausted from the moment we set off on our trip, I assumed my fatigue was easily explained by an intense schedule, a lack of sleep, an excess of baggage, and carrying a twelve pound cat around all day in an unexpected and unrelenting heat wave. Those were valid reasons to be tired. But in our last days in England, it finally dawned on me to take a test, and I discovered that there was another reason for my unrelenting weariness; I’d been carrying a stowaway the whole time. A stowaway not much bigger than a poppy seed, yet already triggering an astonishing cascade of changes throughout my whole body… and about to trigger a lot of changes throughout my life.
I am now over thirty-eight weeks pregnant. My due date is April Fool’s Day, but all the books and apps I look at tell me to be ready to go into labor at any second. And so, now that the end is nigh, I’d like to share my experience of trying to combine pregnancy and cat-schlepping.
Long story short: they don’t mix very well at all.
The first trimester is exhausting. As I said, the first sign I had of being pregnant was being tired. Like, wrecked. We had to keep busy, and keep moving, when we were in England. But in the weeks after getting home from our trip, I found I could sleep for nine hours, stare at my computer in a useless fog for three hours, and go back to bed for a two hour nap. And I am not a napper by nature. I am also not an early to bed sort, but I was dragging myself to bed around 9:30pm, after several hours of sitting around half-comatose.
I had been commissioned to write cat-schlepping articles for Boneshaker: A Bicycling Almanac and Oh Comely, which were exciting assignments, and shouldn’t have been too difficult. But I found writing anything a ludicrous struggle. Forming basic sentences required slow and careful dredging of my brain, and even then, I often found my hands typing out words that weren’t the ones I’d had in my head. So even in those hours when I was actually awake and out of bed, I was a bit weird, and wildly ineffective.
I was also more than a bit nauseous. Starting around the ninth week, I’d wake up feeling like I was going to barf if I moved my head. The morning was spent struggling between the knowledge that I needed to eat to settle my stomach, and the uncertainty over which foods I could successfully get into my stomach and keep there. While the queasiness usually settled down towards afternoon, it was always lurking nearby, and unexpected smells could set me off heaving.
None of this was enough to put me off cat-schlepping entirely. I still took Aífe out on walks somewhat regularly, in the summer afternoons. We wandered parks, fields, side streets, flea markets, and riverbanks around central Berlin. We stalked rabbits, watched mice fighting over peanuts, peed in leaves. The usual.
Our bicycle rides, however, came to an abrupt halt. Until then, any time we’d needed cat food, I’d been in the habit of loading her up in her pack and bringing her to the pet store with me. The one we usually go to is about two miles from home, and a good chunk of the journey is through the Tiergarten, which is nice and green and traffic-free. It’s a bit of work, pedaling home with a big kitty on your back and nearly twenty pounds of cat food in your basket. But I’d always managed before. However, when I tried it in August, I thought I was going to die. I still looked like I was in pretty good shape from all the schlepping over the summer; my limbs were toned, my stomach was still pretty flat. But my body was already filling up with all kinds of new hormones and fluids, and my already normally low blood pressure dropped even lower. I felt like crying and puking and collapsing in the street all at once. I decided those trips were over.
Then came a concern over toxoplasmosis. There are lots of ways to contract toxoplasmosis, but cats are the most famous vectors. I figured, surely, if anyone was going to have it, it would be me – when I’d lived in San Francisco, I’d spent a couple years up to my ears in kitties at the SPCA, and in the years since we’d left, I’d been dragging Aífe all over the world, through all kinds of gardens and mountains. But the results came back negative. I didn’t have it, which means she almost certainly didn’t, either. Which sounded like good news. Except having the parasite before you conceive is actually harmless to the baby – it’s only acquiring the parasite during pregnancy that is dangerous. So suddenly, I was scrubbing my hands furiously with a nailbrush after every walk and every litterbox cleaning, worrying that my fur-baby might inadvertently destroy my human baby.
My husband’s work took him away from home for the end of September, all of October, and the start of November. While I didn’t love the idea of him being gone so much, I was looking forward to using this as a time to focus and get a lot done. And this was the perfect time of pregnancy – and year – to do it. Right as I came into the second trimester, my nausea went away, the exhaustion eased up, my brain and hands could communicate again. The weather had cooled to a comfortable temperature, yet the days were still pretty long and bright.
So I would write all day, with Aífe by my side. We’d follow sunny spots around the flat and balcony, and she’d bathe and snooze while I typed. I kept reading how important it was to stay active throughout pregnancy, so in the late afternoons, I’d plop Aífe into her pack, and set off on a walk. At the start of the second trimester, I was just starting to outgrow my bras and jackets, and I was struggling to button my jeans (I had to unbutton them if I wanted to sit down). But I was still able to wear Aífe’s pack across my chest, the way she prefers, for the forward view. We spent a lot of time exploring the sights and parks along the Spree, and enjoyed many fine autumnal sunsets along the river.
As the weeks wore on though, I did find myself becoming both more bulbous and more clumsy. One sunny afternoon stroll through the park, I cut through some birch trees on the way home. There were a couple of decent sized branches laying on the ground ahead of my feet, that should have been no problem to step over. But somehow, I caught my boot on one of them, and fell. My bump by now was big enough to stick out a ways, and the only thing I had time to think was, “Protect the bump!” So I threw out my hands, and crashed down on hands and knees. When I looked up, Aífe was in front of me, in the leaves, looking at me with alarm and confusion. I was still wearing her pack on my back, but the force of the fall had flung her out of it, right over my head! I checked her over; thankfully, she was fine. My legs had some scrapes, but the two small creatures I was carrying would be okay. I laughed with embarrassment at my clumsiness, but I was a bit shaken – if even a casual stroll could hold the threat of disaster now, I was going to have to be much more careful.
By the start of the third trimester, things had really changed. The main difference was that I now had a substantial belly on me. I was carrying an extra thirty pounds of hard, watermelon-like uterus full of fluid, placenta, and an actual kicking, wriggling person.
And I was exhausted again. Not as constantly tired as the first trimester, but a similarly strong fatigue that would hit me in waves. If I exerted myself much one day, I’d be totally wrecked the whole next day. And the bigger I got, the harder it was to get a good night’s sleep. My blood pressure was still low, and blood tests showed I was (like about half of all pregnant women) a little anemic. Iron tablets and naps were prescribed, but my energy levels remained frustratingly lower than normal. My ability to get shit done was restricted to small pockets with a cycle of constant needing to snack, pee, and lie down. In the process of growing a baby, I was becoming a baby… or perhaps a lazy old cat.
My spirit of adventure seeped out of me, until going anywhere much farther than the grocery store seemed like a huge endeavor. I was barely even taking Aífe out to the park. If she minded the change very much, she didn’t show it – she’s never been a big fan of winter weather. She did seem a bit bored sometimes though, so I tried to give her lots of indoor play, and did strap her pack on and get her out a few times when my energy was good. It wasn’t at all possible to carry her across my front anymore, so she had to go on my back, but at least we were getting out.
But then the back pain started. I’d had some weird, recurring twinges in my lower back during the end of the second trimester. I took their warning seriously, but since they came and went fairly quickly, they didn’t bother me too much. But in the third trimester, things got more painful. My now massive uterus was cramming into my ribcage, and the little dude inside of it was constantly kicking at my ribs. For about a week, it caused aching discomfort on the front of my ribs. Then I got a throbbing pain in the back of my ribs, just below my shoulder blade. There was not one upright sitting position where I wasn’t acutely uncomfortable. I was referred to an osteopath, who examined me, and said she could clearly feel where one of my ribs was sticking out in the back. She worked the bone back into place, and the pain improved. But there were still days where that spot was still quite sore.
I had been looking forward to the baby dropping, and easing the pressure on my ribs. But now that the baby’s head has descended into my pelvis, there are all kinds of sharp pains popping up down there when I walk around. Aching and heaviness in my abdomen and back that feels like a menstrual period that won’t properly start or end. My digestive system is a mess, I’m not sleeping well, and I’m often nauseous. There’s the sciatica, and a lot of Braxton Hicks contractions. Just tying my shoes is a tiny battle, involving much grunting.
I know my body will be forever changed by pregnancy, but I don’t want it to be permanently damaged. So I am taking all the warnings about softening joints and stretching ligaments seriously, and avoiding lifting or carrying anything I don’t absolutely need to. Which means I’ve given up on taking Aífe out, at all. Cat-schlepping is on hold for now. I have every intention of resuming once I’ve come out the other end of the postnatal recovery weeks, and my organs and ligaments have all settled back into roughly the same places they used to be. I don’t know how I will balance minding an infant and a cat though. Maybe they’ll have to be taken on separate outings? Maybe they’ll have to be group outings with my husband? We shall see. In the meantime, the little guy we’re expecting any day now will make life at home a lot more interesting. I’m very curious to see what Aífe makes of him.