Writing & Pregnancy: First Trimester

Challenges: You feel like warmed-over road kill. You suddenly feel like you have an expiration date on your productivity. You might be struggling with anxiety and worry about being pregnant, or about the viability of your pregnancy.

Bonuses: You might be still riding the excitement high. If your symptoms are mild, you can keep up your normal routines fairly well. There’s no baby-prep work to take up your time yet. You have plenty of time to plan and daydream.

My most vivid memories of my first trimester involve standing outside in the early morning, trying to pick up petite doodles of puppy poo without looking at or thinking about them, lest I start gagging.

I had a fairly mild first trimester. Only threw up once, gagging on a vitamin. Queasiness was a constant companion, I was frequently tired, and I had daily headaches for which I could take nothing but the occasional Tylenol… but all in all, not that bad.

Pregnancy, I find, skews your perspective swiftly and without mercy.

For most people, the first trimester is some kind of miserable. Frequently, you haven’t told anyone why you’re puking and tired and irritable. If you have, you get the special treat of having people suck in their breaths a little and intone “Isn’t it a bit… early to be announcing?” (When interacting with pregnant people, a good rule of thumb is to assume that you are the fifth person today to say any given thing. Fifth repetition still nice/useful? Go for it. Fifth repetition likely to send pregnant human into frothing hormone-fueled rage? Keep your damn mouth shut, Janice.*)

What does any of this have to do with writing? Odds are, the first trimester is going to find some way to fuck with your productivity. I work best in the mornings. When I woke up every single morning with a splitting headache, that went a bit awry. I would love to tell you that I have a dozen fool-proof methods for staying productive while suffering the equivalent of a three-month flu, but the truth is, I don’t. You don’t know what your first trimester is going to look like until you’re in the thick of it. You don’t know how your routines are going to hold up. You’ll be better off if you have rock-solid writing rituals and practices beforehand, but there’s no guarantee they’ll survive contact with reality.

So here are my two truths of writing while pregnant:

  1. Be flexible.
  2. Be kind to yourself.

These may sound familiar, because they’re pretty much the foundational truths of writing and parenting in general.

If you are the sort who always sits down at exactly the same time to write exactly the same number of words, and that has stopped working, view it as a blessing. Now is the time to train yourself to write in your vomit-free moments; to transcribe sentences on the phone while up at night unable to sleep because of your pregnancy-induced jitters; to learn to write longhand because the screen suddenly gives you headaches. It’s a time to be realistic about what you need to get done over the next few months, and create a plan for accomplishing it. But it’s also a time to cut yourself some slack, to learn to listen to your body and hear when it tells you to let some pressure off of yourself.

Meet your deadlines, if you have them. But don’t fall into the trap of thinking that you have to finish your life’s work before d-day. I did not do this. My first trimester was a blur of panic, anxiety, and the conviction that I needed to somehow write an inventory of novels in six months that would last me until my last kid hit kindergarten.

Be flexible. Be kind. Write what you must, what you want to, and what you can, in that order. And if your production drops off? Breathe. Relax. Refocus. There are years ahead, and the only thing you’re racing is yourself.


*If your name is actually Janice, please feel free to insert “Denise” or “Carl” here. As long as you then keep your damn mouth shut.

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