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A guide to writing pregnant characters

This guide to writing pregnant characters was written for us by Marian Andersen aka Nightscarling.

pregnant lady

In the course of writing cooperative stories or play by post role plays its not uncommon for characters to form personal and intimate relationships. Occasionally these relationships result in pregnancy.  The problem then comes up, how do you write for your now pregnant character when you personally have never been pregnant?  What does it feel like? How does it change you? What about all those things that people just don’t actually talk about?

There are a few misconceptions I will address but I’m not going to go into details of facts and numbers, anyone can google to find those out.  So I will offer up some websites that are particularly useful.

  • whattoexpect.com
  • babycenter.com
  • thebump.com
  • Mana.org – Midwife based care for the granola characters

Forty Weeks is Not Nine months: Calculating the due date.

Unless you’re tracking your characters menstrual cycle this can be a little tricky,  Generally speaking a woman is fertile fourteen to eighteen days after the first day of her last menstruation.  So, to make this simple, take the date you want the character to have gotten pregnant, subtract 14 and then stick that date into the due date calculator of your choice. Something to keep in mind as well is that pregnancies are not nine months, they are forty weeks, so save yourself a headache and use a due date calculator

How do you know you’re pregnant?

Well, there are a few ways, the most reliable one is to take a home pregnancy test.  Some women do not get symptoms before their first missed period, others know they are pregnant the next day.  A lot of this has to do with how in tune with their body the woman is, and how her body is going to react.  Each woman and every pregnancy, even for the same mother, is different.

Morning Sickness: Truth and Fiction.

The term morning sickness was probably made up by a man, who had never been around a pregnant woman in his life.  Not only does morning sickness tend to not be in the morning but its usually not the vomiting that one sees on TV.  For most women morning sickness is a constant fluctuating degree of nausea or queasiness.  It does tend to be worse for some women in the morning, and for others at night.

There are two causes of morning sickness, in early pregnancy your usual culprit is hormones, pregnant women are seething volatile mix of hormone fluctuations that take control of their entire body and mind, this will come up again, but one common impact is nausea and sensitivity to smells in particular. When it comes to smell its not just food, perfumes, noxious odors or even the smell of your favorite shampoo can make you sick.

The other cause is physics, two solid objects cannot occupy the same space, so as baby gets bigger, it shoves other internal organs out of the way, one of the victims of the space hog is the stomach. Small frequent meals and non carbonated beverages are your life line in the last few months.

The exception to the rule: Hyperemesis gravidarum, also known as excessive vomiting. This is uncommon but for those who suffer from it its usually during their first pregnancy. It starts about 4 to 5 weeks in (around the first missed period) and lasts through mid pregnancy.  Depending on how bad this gets women can suffer from dehydration and nutritional deficiency. They may end up having to be treated with IV fluids and supplements. If you chose to inflict this on your character, google it, like most other things there are degrees of severity.

Hands off: When the fun bags are not so fun.

The breasts, those wonderful sexy bags of fatty tissue that we use to drive the men and women wild, are not just there for our entertainment and courtship rituals.  This unpleasant wake up call often starts at about 3 weeks as the body starts releasing hormones that tell your breast tissue to wake up and get to work.  Thats right, play time is over, time to do what you were evolved for, make milk to feed that baby.

For some women this never bothers them, others its a slight annoyance, for some of us, the girls are suddenly off limits to touching and even looking. Your bra becomes your nemesis, and you will spend days trying to decide if you’re more comfortable with or without it. For most women the girls settle down with their tantrum around week 12 to 14, for others… they keep the fit going for longer, or in the most unlucky the whole 40 weeks.

Would you like pickles on your ice cream? Food cravings:

This one is always fun when writing, but the truth is, most women don’t actually get odd food cravings. The cause of cravings is your body giving a heads up that its missing something it needs.  If your character is eating healthy, taking their prenatals and does not suffer from any underlying nutritional deficiency they probably will have little to no cravings. Now, this does not mean that an occasional craving won’t happen. I ate more milk shakes in the last few months of my pregnancy then I have in the rest of my life, apparently I needed some calcium. You can again google food cravings and get all kinds of web pages that talk about what your food cravings mean.

Pica is a particular condition related to food cravings to consider, this is where the pregnant mom starts craving non food items, such as dirt or soap.  This is cause for concern and should be addressed.  Again, google Pica for more details.

I’ll just close my eyes…  : Fatigue

This is the big one, all women get this to some degree when pregnant.  They are after all consuming a lot of resources and energy to create a new life.  It is not uncommon for pregnant women to nap, for a few hours, or to even nod off anytime they sit down and relax for a few moments.  This is good for them, let them sleep, or if you want some drama, don’t. This is another one of those symptoms that start early, and its not uncommon for a woman to think she is getting sick about a week before her expected menstrual cycle.

Why is the world spinning… : Other symptoms

Dizziness: Pregnant women increase their blood volume and heart rate significantly when pregnant. All that extra blood can cause them to be dizzy or lightheaded.  This makes things like standing quickly, or doing yoga and other exercise challenging.

Shortness of breath: Usually this shows up as baby gets bigger, post 20 weeks. Like with the stomach, the uterus is trying to make room and if the lungs are in the way, well, they get squished.  Stairs, jogging, working out can become challenging for women in the last three months of pregnancy.

Swelling and bloating: Fluid retention comes with being pregnant, not only do you have a lot more blood racing around in the body but now you have started to retain water as you get closer to the due date.  It is not uncommon for pregnant women to lose aht lovely glow and become puffy in the last two months.

Constipation: There are two main causes, because of the extra life growing the body slows down its digestive process, this makes food stay in the body longer and allows maximises the amount of nutrients absorbed.  Later in pregnancy you can blame baby again, there is only so much room to grow and the internal organs are regularly squished.

There is a good picture showing just how much compression and rearanging of internal organs happens to pregnant womens bodys here.

Porcelain Doll Syndrome: Just how fragile are pregnant women?

A lot of people like to play their pregnant character like they are going to break, or to use trauma to be the reason they lose the baby.  While this can make for good drama at times it also tends to make pregnat characters, boring for you and irritating to others. The reality is that most women who are healthy when they get pregnant are able to continue with their normal routines for the duration of their pregnancy. Athletes who get pregnant often continue their normal exercise routines for the first two trimesters and some up till their due date. Same for dancers, and professionals. Some may chose to take things down a notch, but it is strongly recommended by doctors that women try to maintain their physical activity while pregnant, its good for mom and good for baby.

Trauma / Starvation: The reality is this, the woman’s body has evolved to defend its unborn child, the amount of trauma a woman has to suffer before she will lose a normal healthy baby at any stage of pregnancy is significant. My rule of thumb is this, if it is going to kill the baby, it probably is going to kill mom.  When it comes to food, moms body is going to give nutrients to the baby first, and mom gets the leftovers for most nutrients.

Combat: If your mom is a warrior, she is still a warrior. There are things she might want to avoid, like getting stabbed or shot in the abdomen, but this again goes back to what I said before, if its going to kill baby, its probably going to kill mom too.

So what should mom worry about?

Body temperature, moms body needs to stay at a normal temperature while pregnant, so, saunas and hot tubs are out. Watch out for high fevers too, anything over 102 can cause a lot of damage to baby.

Staying healthy, there are some inless’s that can have consequences for the pregnancy, there is a whole list and a bunch of discriptions of them here. Now the flue is on the list, and before you get all excited, read it, I can not think of a single woman who did not have the flu when pregnant and most of them had normal healthy babies.

But I heard that my friends friends girl lost their baby when she fell down stairs.

Yeah, that does happen, but it usually looks like this.  Mom falls on stairs, mom goes into preterm labor that the doctors can’t get to stop, baby is born at 20 to 30 weeks, baby does not survive.  More often than not, there is something else that coincided with the fall to cause the loss such as multiples, preeclampsia, ineffectual cervix or nearness to due date.  I will go into these complications in a bit.

Medications:

Most of our characters don’t need medicine, they tend to be paragons of health and fitness until they are not.  Again, google is your friend.

Now for the fun stuff: Complications and Preterm Labor

We love to make life hard for our characters, don’t lie to yourself, you know its true.  So what can you do to your character to add a little spice to that boring pregnancy?  I outlined a few things and I shall once more direct you to the web, bow down to the google.

Spotting: This is not uncommon for pregnant women in the last trimester, spotting after sex is normal, if its more than a little spot, they should be worried.

Braxton Hicks – False Labor: Common In the last trimester as well, this is usually the bodys way of telling mom, slow down and drink some water.

Preeclampsia / Eclampsia:This is one of the big ones, its characterised by high blood pressure, and can cause a reduction to the fetus that could cause problems. This often starts in later pregnancy and if not treated can cause seizures and coma for mom and death of the baby. This condition can only be treated by an emergency c-section.

Gestational Diabetes: This is a form of diabetes that develops in moms who have never had any diagnoses of diabetes before the pregnancy. It can cause problems for mom and baby particularly excessive weight gain for baby while in utero. Most moms can manage this with diet but a few do end up on insulin.

Anemia: This is caused when moms body is unable to produce enough red blood cells to accommodate the demands of pregnancy or she is unable to get enough iron in her diet.  It can cause fatigue and shortness of breath, in severe cases fainting.  This can be very dangerous for baby.

Complications of Delivery:

Placenta Previa: This is usually not an issue until its time for baby to be born.  The placenta is the organ that develops that filters all the products from mom including blood before it hits baby.  If the placenta is partially or fully covering the cervix it can cause hemorrhaging when mom goes into labor.  Usually this is going to result in an emergency c-section.

Breach: This is where baby does not turn around in the womb and wants to come out feet first. Now, on all the website you see you will see recommendations for csection. However if you were to check out some of the midwife pages or more naturopathic sites you will find a lot of people who are proponents of vaginal breach deliveries. If the mom has support of an experienced and patient caregiver it is possible to have a breach baby.

Hemorrhage: It happens occasionally that something goes wrong with the uterus after delivery. Usually the cause is a failure for the uterus to contract after the placenta detaches causing massive bleeding.  Modern hospitals will give mom a drug called pitocin to stimulate the uterus to contract if that doesn’t work they will attempt surgery to find and cauterize the source of the bleeding. However in some cases this can result in a hysterectomy for mom. For those of you writing in fantasy worlds, this is probably not a good way to go. Hemorrhage and uterine infection were the two leading causes of maternal mortality.

Premature baby: A preterm baby is at risk, they often are small, their lungs and immune systems are not ready for the outside world. Depending on how preterm they are there are a lot of other concerns. March of Dimes is a great source for these issues.  Preterm labor however is not necessarily a problem for mom, unless the cause of the labor is something that would put mom at risk.

Normal Labor and Delivery.

So, your character manages to make it somewhere between 37 and 42 weeks, they are finally ready to get that bun out of the oven and move from pregnant lady to mom.  You have seen a few movies and TV shows, so you know how this goes right? Wrong.. lets start with the biggest pet peeve of moms everywhere.

Clean Up In Aisle Three:My water broke!

So this is not so much a flood of water gushing from your loins and causing slip hazards at the local convenience store as it is a trickle or slow drip.  Thats right, water breaking is far less exciting than the entertainment industry wants to make you think it is. At most we are talking a single cup of amniotic fluid dribbling down your legs and making a small puddle on the floor.

Dilation, Contractions, Labor, Oh MY!:

So we all see on TV, how a woman’s water breaks, she doubles over, starts cussing and swearing its all HIS fault, and they barely make it to the hospital before Jr comes shooting out all on his own.  Yeah, lets try that again, the first signs of labor have nothing to do with water or contractions, everyone say hello to those ever so helpful hormones.

Nesting:

One of the signs Doctors actually look for is for the woman or more often her partner to start complaining about Moms odd behavior. Such as finding them cleaning all the ceiling molding with a toothbrush at 2 am, or crying hysterically because babys room is not done being set up, or more likely that the shade of vermilion is not right and now class’s with the azure drapes. I know one mom who spent the week before she went into labor cooking and freezing enough food to feed a small army, so much food she and her husband were giving it away to friends, families and coworkers.

Anxiety:

Some moms start to get homebound, they feel anxious at the thought of leaving the house, or being far away from it.  This is the lizard brain, the primordial part of your brain that runs on instinct rather than logic, telling the conscious brain, “hey dude, don’t go too far cause we need to be where its safe when Jr makes their debut.”

Dilation & Effacement:

This is one of the things you should just go look up, dilation and effacement, yeah, fun stuff and probably not something you will talk a lot about in your writing. But go learn what it means.

Labor:

There are several stages to labor and delivery of a  baby, its not all go go go, its more like, a casual stroll through a park, then a gentle hike in the woods followed by a free fall down a black diamond ski slope. So… lets take a walk.

Early Labor: This is when you start getting that feeling, you know, like maybe you need to use the bathroom, or a mild backache. Many moms feel these things off and on throughout pregnancy that they don’t realize they are in labor at all. What’s happening is the cervix is softening and dilation which will eventually allow baby out.

Active Labor: Now we are starting to talk about contractions, this sage tends to start after your water breaks. The contractions gradually grow stronger and last longer until you reach the really fun part. Transition.

Transition Labor: This is the stage TV likes to show. At this point contractions are almost back to back, they are hard and strong. Many women will expel waste at this point. Thats right, everybody poops, especially when you’re having a baby. Feel free to leave that out of your writing, unless you really want to be authentic. Some women who are not being given proper support may start to shout, scream, curse and otherwise express themselves in unkind ways. However, this is not helpful, women who stay calm, use deep breathing and have a coach with them, have shorter and easier deliveries.

Pushing: Lets Do This! Oh yeah! Ok so you know where you are at the point, from the early labor before mom even knew what was starting to now your looking at about 24 hours.  Now transition is much faster, from the point your contractions come back to back your talking 15 minutes to a few hours, depending on mom.  How do you know its time to push? Mom is going to start telling everyone she has to poop, thats right, she is going to feel like she has never had to poop so bad in her life. This is the head of the baby pressing into the actual birth canal.  Pushing takes maybe an hour, at most. Most doctors won’t let it last nearly that long for fear that baby will not be able to breath.  One thing to keep in mind for moms, pushing slower and longer is more effective than pushing hard and fast, baby will arrive with the same speed and much less trauma to mom.

And done! Jr has arrived.: Wrong…

Once Jr is out, mom gets a break, this break is not long and is followed by another set of strong contractions that break the placenta free and expel it.  These strong cramps will continue for a while as the uterus clamps down and restricts blood flow preventing mom from hemorrhaging to death.  Most women are only vaguely aware of this stage, its nothing compared to transition and the pushing stages and they are already being bathed in a whole new set of happy euphoric hormone called, prolactin.

For more details on labor and delivery, check out this page.

Falling in Love for the first time:

So thanks to that happy hormone called prolactin not only is moms milk going to come in but she is going to look at that baby with the misty damp eyes and that stupid smile and fall instantly in love.  Evolution at work people, there is a reason we don’t eat our young.  Prolactin also has a habit of making us sleepy and mellow.

Party Crashers:

So Prolactin has friends, and they always show up even if we don’t want them too.  About 5 hours after delivering baby moms have a series of common reactions. They get hot, shaky, frantic and dizzy.  If you have ever experienced low blood sugar, the feeling is pretty much the same.  It is caused by the sudden change in hormones from pregnancy to post pregnancy levels and from your body starting to realize what just happened to it.  They don’t call it labor for nothing people, having a baby is a hugely taxing process no matter how good or bad it goes.

The Baby Blues:

As moms body continues to adapt to the change from pregnancy to post pregnancy it is not uncommon for her to get the blues, these tend to manifest in ways like crying for no reason, moodiness, anxiety about her parenting skills, obsession over baby’s weight gain and the fact that her mother in law has moved in and put the dishes in the wrong place. This happens commonly around 7 to 14 days postpartum and lasts 3 to 5 days.

Postpartum Depression:

When the baby blues become a concern, some woman’s hormones go a little haywire after childbirth.  These can be dangerous for mom or baby.  They usually manifest themselves as an inability to care for self or baby, unwillingness to handle, hold, or look at baby, refusing to breastfeed or give baby a bottle, excessive sleeping, uncontrollable crying and in the worst case, thoughts of harming self or baby. The difference between PPD and baby blues is the severity and duration. Untreated some moms have done unthinkable acts, like killing their children.

Ok this is all fascinating but what does it feel like to be pregnant?

It depends on the mom. Some women love being pregnant, they feel alive and sexy, they are fearless and confident from the gate.  These women often are confident before they get pregnant, they are more likely to be mothers of a planned pregnancy as well. 

Some women are not happy with being pregnant, even if nothing is actually going wrong with their pregnancy they just don’t like it. They feel self conscious, tired, ugly, or out of control. These women tend to be mothers of unplanned or unwanted pregnancies, women who don’t like change or surprises or who have body image issues and low self esteem.

There are a lot of moms to be who are shocked by the way they feel about being pregnant, and it would not be uncommon for a mom who is normally very self assured to become suddenly very body conscious. Pregnancy does funny things to women.

Most moms start feeling good about the beginning of the second trimester, all the annoying symptoms of the first trimester are going away and they are not so big that they are physically uncomfortable yet.  These three months are the time to get stuff done, to plan and talk about baby.  This is also when you find out what gender the baby is, at roughly 20 weeks an ultrasound can be done to see if your having a girl or boy.  You may start to actually feel baby moving around, those kicks and hiccups that your can’t tell if its gas or baby. For many moms this is when the reality and gravity of being pregnant starts to set in. It can be exciting and scary all at once.

Third trimester is for many the hardest, moms start to get tired, they are sore from carrying around the baby weight, things in their body are moving and happening that they don’t expect and can’t control. On top of that the impending birth is approaching.  Because modern moms know so little about their own bodies let alone the process of birth this can be a very scary thing for them. Because of this many moms seek out classes on childbirth and breastfeeding, they want to be back in control or have the illusion of it through knowledge.  Moms will start worrying about those things that seem silly to everyone else, like the color of the babys bedroom walls or if they are going to buy formula or breastfeed.

Thats a Wrap

The internet is a plethora of information for writers, most is good, some is bad, use your judgement and look at a few different sources before you make a decision. Good writers do good research, but I hope that this overview helps to dispel some common myths and touch on a few less talked about topics. Don’t forget the people you know who are moms, moms love to tell our stories, good and bad.


 

Written by Marian Andersen aka nightsscarling, moderator of several games on OngoingWorlds, including Special Management and The Shifter’s War.

  • 11121519518

    Quick clarification and reminder: not all women are capable of having children, and not all of those that are capable of having children are women.

    Anti-cissexism out of the way, I do have to say that this is a really good reference that I will probably bookmark for future usage. Thanks for writing it!