Over the last year and a half, since I got pregnant the first time, I have done a lot of reading on what to expect as a mama-t0-be. Some of the books I’ve read have been really helpful, some are weird, some annoy me — but none of them can really prepare anyone for what it’s really like to be pregnant. I thought I had a pretty good idea of what it would be like: I’d be tired and sick my first trimester; I’d then feel awesome until about 32 weeks, and then I’d beach out on the couch until having to be induced at week 41 — and through it all, I’d be blissfully happy and zen-like.

I’m now 25 weeks along with just over 3 months to go until my due date — and I’m getting an idea of what pregnancy is really like for me. My books and friends can tell me over and over what to expect, but without experiencing it first hand, I couldn’t really know what they meant. Here’s what has been most surprising to me over the last five months …

1. It’s exhausting. I don’t really mean in the first-trimester sense, when keeping my eyes open past 8 pm required superhuman energy. I mean that as the weeks pass I’ve realized that (duh) pregnancy is hard work.Seeing this picture really drove the point home:

I built that!

I know everyone is different, and every pregnant woman will have a different default energy level. I am a little sad to realize that I am not one who’s going to be able to, say, run the Chicago marathon just hours before giving birth. It’s even sadder to realize that I am not one who can even really tolerate much intensive exercise before feeling completely depleted. (Thank God for yoga!) We don’t even need to talk about my SI joint pain — pregnancy just seems to be hard on my body.

2. My whole body is pregnant. I’m not sure where I got this impression, but I really wanted to believe that I would look just like my old self with the addition of a giant belly in front of me. Maybe it’s all the fake-pregnant women on TV and in the movies, and maybe it was just partly denial, but I really wasn’t prepared for this! My entire body has changed in some physical way — from my face (which has puffed up) to my feet (which are wider). It’s disconcerting, but a) it’s also worth the sacrifice of vanity, and b) I am trusting I’ll eventually look like this again:

only with longer hair, since I’m not about to tie myself down to my blow dryer with a baby to wrangle.

3. You don’t stop worrying after the first trimester ends. Although who knows: maybe you did. I certainly haven’t. I still worry a lot (just ask my doctor) and still hesitate to really allow myself to think we’ll be bringing a baby home this spring. My default state since September 2010 has been Recovering From A Loss in some way, and I think it’s hard to break away from that, especially when two of those losses were pregnancies and I am currently pregnant again and have a thyroid disorder. (A delightful early Christmas present this year was a call from my doctor’s office letting me know my thyroid levels are still perfect!)

My anxiety is even a little worrisome to me (I’m worried about my worrying …) — mostly because I don’t know how I will ever be able to relax. Before he’s born — worries about carrying him to term, worries about complications during labor, worries about his health. After he comes home — worries about keeping him alive and healthy! I’m not so much concerned about postpartum depression as I am about crippling anxiety.

4. Bonding takes a while. Obviously I don’t mean that I’ve felt indifferent about my pregnancy. I think this is part of point #3 — it’s been really hard for me to think of the baby as, well, an actual baby. Again, seeing him on the ultrasound was an eye-opener because it allowed me to finally think of him in more personal terms. I think I am afraid to think of him as a real baby, a real person— it’s much easier, and somehow less risky, to think of “it” as just a nameless, faceless, featureless, soulless … fetus.

Of course that’s not true! But this is something for which I literally have no reference point. It’s incredibly surreal — I don’t know what it’s like to have a child, so I’m kind of flailing around trying to find some kind of jumping-off point here. Something that can even come close to helping me understand. And you all know I love my kitties, but this is so much more intense that the two don’t really compare. So it’s been hard for me to really start to understand this, both because it’s hard to understand to begin with, and also because I’ve struggled for most of my pregnancy with this sense of detachment from what is really happening. (I think this has also contributed to point #2.)

As time goes by and I get bigger and bigger (or, as I prefer to think of it, more and more gloriously pregnant), I’m sure I will continue to be surprised — just as I know motherhood will surprise me more than anything. This has been both the weirdest and most wonderful thing that has happened to me, and I have faith that it’ll be worth all the worry, inconvenience, and lack of mobility, and the puffy face. Come on April! Let’s get this show on the road.