What the 3rd trimester of pregnancy is like (one person’s experience)

Note: This is the 3rd piece on my personal experience with pregnancy, which I’m sharing in case it’s interesting or helpful for others. You can check out The First Trimester and The Second Trimester for more.

1) The physical

Moving gets more taxing. Pregnancy ages me 30 years. Suddenly I’m staggering every time I stand up, groaning when I need to change positions, wobbling up and down the stairs like an ancient aunt. I start to plan my movements in advance. Do I really need that drink from the kitchen, or can I just lie here on the couch? My body seems to start falling apart — my back hurts, my muscles strain, I can’t sleep. I make lists of everything I’ll do when I’m no longer pregnant: sleep on my back, go for a run, wear stylish clothes, drink a beer.

This, by the way, is the beginning of my normally kindhearted mother’s vindication. The baby kicks me awake at night or makes me pace during the day, and she laughs. You were just like this! she says. Finally, you see what I went through.

2) The future

Now all of my plans involve a kid. In the first trimester, I avoided thinking about the future because I didn’t want to get too attached, or jinx the process. Now, my partner and I joke about who he’ll look like, whether he’ll be on the hockey team or a mathlete, how we’ll teach him to have impromptu family dance parties, how we’ll stay up late together during lunar eclipses and show him the stars.

3) Other people

People everywhere get more congratulatory and even more incredulous at my size. Other parents send advice and spreadsheets and gifts and hand-me-downs, all of it useful and supportive. People stop me and say, Are you sure there’s only one in there? or Sometimes I don’t recognize you because I only see that giant belly! A few months ago that might have seemed intrusive, but now I love it — people are connecting with me in a whole new way, and they’re sharing parts of themselves I’ve never seen before.

4) My partner

My relationship with my partner changes. This pregnancy changed my life half a year ago, but it doesn’t yet affect him at all. He can stay up late, drink with friends, go for long runs, and board planes to other countries without thinking about it — all things I lost months ago. It feels unfair. It’s clear that, no matter how considerate or empathetic or well-intentioned he is, this process will never affect him the same way.

5) The reality

The little science experiment in my body finally becomes real to me. The hospital tour is the first time I really understand — at the end of this pregnancy, I’m going to a hospital with the smell of blood and disinfectant, and, after a part of my body tears itself out of me, I’m going home to a totally different life. For the first time, I think — What have I done? Do I really want this?

6) Panic

After months of trying not to think about the future, I panic. I have none of the gear, the knowledge, the preparation that I need. I read all the spreadsheets the type-A moms have sent me, make lists, visit stores, ask for authoritative information. Luckily, within a few days, I realize that there’s not much dependable info out there. It’s strangely comforting. I don’t know anything, but neither does anyone else.

For a while, I can’t stand to be alone with my thoughts. I fill my time with trashy novels and unwatchable TV, avoiding thoughts of the impending pains of labor or managing a newborn or spending the rest of my life as a worried parent.

7) Calm

Finally, I finally hit an equilibrium state, where my physical discomfort is about equivalent to my fear of labor and parenthood. After a few days, I realize that a bad plan (painful labor and coming home with an unknown baby) is better than no plan at all (waiting around for something to happen). Once I’m ready for that next phase, it starts feeling wasteful to spend time waiting, and I find myself trying, absurdly, to manage to my due date the way I’d manage a deadline.

8) Labor

In the last weeks, every new physical change makes me wonder if I’m going into labor. A new pressure in my belly, swelling in my foot, soreness in my back — I think, Is this it? Am I ready? What have I done?

And then suddenly it happens, and labor starts. It’s almost exactly like people told me — parts of it theatrical, like my water breaking, and parts of it boring, like waiting around in a hospital room with nothing but the quiet pings and beeps of machinery. Each contraction is a tidal wave of pain. I can see it approaching, prepare for it, breathe through it, feel it recede, and have a minute or two of normal conversation before the next one arrives. After hours of contractions, shivering, and pushing , I’m tired of the pain, and beg for relief.

9) Joy

And then finally, after one last push, a bright-eyed, big-headed, spindly-limbed tiny perfect boy is placed on my chest, the pain is gone, and my life is immediately different.

Pregnancy is so specific to every person, and mine, like my life right now, is informed by the fact that I’m incredibly lucky. But there are still hard and unexpected parts that I wish I had better ways to deal with. Writing about these experiences has helped me understand or just accept them.

I’m sharing this series partly because it’s a fascinating experience and because I wish someone had told me these things earlier. It wouldn’t have changed much — the hard things would still be hard — but I might have felt more understood, and less powerless. But, of course, those feelings are also part of this journey.