— Have you ever seen a perfect human being?
— Birth a baby, and you’ll see one.
My mom and I
In the past year I’ve had an on-again-off-again relationship with my blog and social media. I took more breaks in 2019 than I did in the previous three years of blogging combined. I left emails unread and comments unanswered.
Wanna know a little secret? I didn’t even feel bad about it. All because this year I was too busy. Busy making a human being. Turned out it’s an all-consuming business that requires tons of energy, leaving a woman (or at least this particular woman) with little desire to communicate with the outside world.
And even if the woman in question wanted to, where would she find time to reply to comments when in the first trimester she slept sixteen to eighteen hours a day on average? By the way, why does everybody talk about morning sickness in the first three months of pregnancy, but extreme exhaustion is never a subject of conversations?
I remember one day before I even knew I was pregnant especially well. I woke up, made breakfast for my husband and saw him off to work. Then got ready myself to go to a coffeeshop — as I always do — to write for the blog. With my cardigan and sneakers on, I kept pacing the apartment in search of the headphones. It took me about ten minutes — oh no, not to find the headphones — to realize I had done enough for the day and need a little rest. Just a tiny bit. I lay down on the bed, still wearing my cardigan and sneakers, at eight in the morning. I woke up at 1 pm. That is when I knew something was up.
My husband knew it when I stopped going to a coffee shop on a daily basis. He likes to joke that we shouldn’t be renting an apartment, because I practically live in coffee shops. He is not wrong. Which is why when I turned into a hibernating bear refusing to leave the bedroom under any circumstances he got seriously worried.
I had to type into Google “first trimester is it normal to sleep” and Google Autocomplete thoughtfully suggested to finish the sentence with “all day”. Knowing that I am not the only one to search for the answer was somehow liberating and I shamelessly went right back to bed.
From that day onward most of my Google searches started with “is it normal…?” And let me tell you something: everything is normal when you are pregnant. Is it normal that my stomach hurts? Yes. And my back too? Aha. Peeing twenty five times a night? Nothing special. Got a restless leg syndrome? Happens. Heartburn? Insomnia? Yes and yes. Aversion to coffee of all things? Totally normal. Basically, any weird random symptom you might have is totally fine during pregnancy. And it feels like this state will never end.
In those rare moments when I was awake during the first trimester I kept thinking: “Well, this is it. I will be this tired, sleepy and unproductive till the end of my days”. Then came the second trimester, and for three months I turned into my normal self again.
There was a family trip to Russia that involved me and my husband, my parents, his parents and our siblings. In numbers, that is eight people, three languages (with 24/7 translation on my part), five flights, three train rides, and four hours in a minivan on gravel road to get to the coast of Arctic ocean. All while four months pregnant.
At five months, I visited Venice and Milan for the first time. And at six months, I flew to Istanbul for my best friend’s wedding. In short, second trimester was gold. Apart from the fact that it was not entirely clear for people whether I got pregnant or just put on weight.
When I imagined myself pregnant I, of course, thought of a cute little (or not so little, but distinct) bump. In reality, for the first five months there was no bump. I just extended in all directions. Meeting acquaintances in the street was awkward. Do they realize I am pregnant? Is it obvious? Shall I tell them? I mostly let people believe I ate too many pretzels.
In the third trimester, with my long-desired visible bump came a whole new range of symptoms. I was as slow as a turtle, heavy, and made loud “old lady” sounds whenever I had to get up from a chair or bed. Sleeping only on my left and right sides left my hips numb. Thankfully, my feet didn’t get too swollen, but tying shoe laces became a real challenge. The worst of all, though, was my intensified restless leg syndrome. Try relaxing at night when your legs jerk uncontrollably for an hour.
Third trimester was when I finally started preparing for the baby’s arrival: reading about pregnancy and delivery (that’s right, I started reading about pregnancy when it was about to be over); researching the best strollers, cribs, and diapers; and finally buying all the cute baby stuff. The cute baby stuff is crazy expensive, by the way.
Did you know that a good stroller costs upward of a thousand euro? As I am not a crazy lady, I spent “only” six hundred for a second-hand one. A pretty little set of baby clothes (body suit and pants) is easily fifteen euro, and they are meant for two months maximum.
The idea of spending money on size 50 (0 to 1 month) seemed ridiculous. So I bought everything in size 56 (1 to 2 months). How small can my baby be? Fast forward the next three months — of course, my husband had to run to H&M to buy size 50 on the first day out of the hospital.
I saved money where I could by buying second-hand bouncer or choosing the simplest crib at Ikea. And then I would go ahead and order custom linen bed sheets, hand-made wooden rattles, and knitted toys from Russia. Add to that the cost of delivery to Germany and the import taxes.
I complained to everyone who would listen about swaddle blankets being five euro a piece. But a waterproof mat with cute penguin print for twenty five didn’t bother me at all. Go figure.
Finally, the third trimester was the time of anxiety. I spent a week watching gazillion videos about cloth diapering and hours choosing the best brand, only to realize it is not sold in Germany.
I went back and forth on buying a sleeping pod, a glorified pillow for baby to sleep in, because although thousands of moms in Europe and USA swear by it, it is banned in Canada for safety reasons.
The one time I cried during the whole nine months was when we bought the “wrong” infant car seat. It was a great seat, it just didn’t recline, but my despair was limitless.
Not a big deal, you’d think. Definitely not a reason to have anxiety. Normally, I would agree with you, but in the last months of pregnancy choosing the most absorbent diaper and the safest pillow seemed like matters of vital importance.
Surprisingly, I wasn’t anxious about giving birth. Perhaps, it seemed too unreal. The idea of a baby making his way out of my body and into the world felt fantastic. And by “fantastic” I don’t mean “awesome”, I mean out of a fantasy book or movie.
Here’s the thing. When you see other pregnant women and think of the way babies come into this world, it all seems perfectly natural. But when it’s your belly that’s growing by the day, when it’s you who’s feeling the kicks, when it’s your private parts that are involved in the most unimaginable magic trick of all times, it feels like a sci-fi movie.
So I patiently waited for my projected delivery date. I was all ready, except that I didn’t want to pack my hospital bag for some reason. They say, labor almost never starts the way they show it in movies. Instead of water breaking all of a sudden, women usually have mild contractions for hours on end before anything interesting starts to happen.
Well, what do you know, my labor started Hollywood-style with water breaking. Apparently that happens in 10% of women, and I was one of them. If you are reading this while pregnant, go pack your hospital bag. Throwing random stuff into a suitcase while water is running down your legs is a questionable kind of fun. Thanks to my awesome preparation skills we arrived at the hospital with a suitcase, a backpack, three tote bags, and a nursing pillow.
At the information stand I said something along the lines “das baby… kommt” while pointing at my belly, and was directed to the maternity ward. One of my main concerns with giving birth in Germany was the fact that I don’t speak German. I took classes for two months during the third trimester, but my skills go as far as describing how my day was and asking for a bread loaf to be sliced at the bakery.
What if the midwife doesn’t speak English? What if I don’t understand what to do? What if they scream at me in German? That last one was especially frightening. I mean, you don’t want to be screamed at in any language, but especially in German.
I’ve been told that in delivery room, in the heat of the moment women retreat to their native language. The only thing I ever said in Russian during eight hours of labor was “Господи, когда же это закончится?” which translates to “God, when is this going to end?” The rest of the time I was speaking perfect English to my husband and doctor and — surprise! — almost perfect German to the midwife. Ok, maybe my German wasn’t perfect, but we understood each other.
At some point during transition period (which is the most painful phase of labor) I screamed “Nein! Nein!” in reply to the midwife’s suggestion to lie down, which shocked even me. Do you realize how incredible it is that my mind’s immediate reaction was not “No!” or “Net!”, but “Nein!”, a word I almost never use.
I won’t go into details of my labor. Suffice it to say that it was painful and intense and pretty damn amazing. I am still in owe of what a female body is capable of, what my body is capable of. On the first day of winter I gave birth to my son, and he is perfect, just like my mom predicted.
At the time of writing this my baby is almost a month old. And I finally feel ready to share the news. If you are wondering where all the pictures of tiny baby shoes, me holding a sonogram in front of my belly, and cake with blue filling were for the past 10 months — well, I have none. I didn’t tell my parents I was pregnant until four months and my friends until almost six months. I didn’t have a baby shower either. Blame it on me being a superstitious Russian lady.
If one of my Russian friends posts a pregnancy photo on Instagram, I can be pretty sure they have already given birth. We don’t do baby showers and the first time people are allowed to see the baby is after one month. So if you thought I am the only weirdo like this — no, there’s a whole country.
I guess you won’t be too surprised if I say I am not planning on sharing baby pictures. Instead, here’s a picture of my breakfast. First of all, because this blog is still about food. And second, because finally, after nine months, I can eat soft cheese and soft-boiled eggs again. And that is also a cause for celebration!