19 Women on Early Signs of Pregnancy

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Haters will say that the best way to know if you’re pregnant is to take a “test” and of course, this is exactly what you should do. Yes, if you are a sane person, guided by logic, ready to meet your fate, and confident in your ability to maintain a neutral expression at the Duane Reade checkout counter — by all means, take a test.

Others, myself included, will go to great lengths rationalizing spending the better part of a week in suspense, inwardly turning the possibility over and over, taking an inventory of their own bodies, chanting what if what if what if. I’ve been that woman: sure my period will come any day now, wondering why I would waste another perfectly good $17 to confirm I am a paranoid or too-hopeful or simply-premenstrual fool.

In Elena Ferrante’s book about writing, Frantumaglia, she memorably describes her narrators as having one trait in common: “They are women who practice a conscious surveillance on themselves.” This is how I think about those heady days spent wondering, doing symptom surveillance, googling “how do you know if you’re pregnant,” as if some anecdotal answer will rise up from the bowels of BabyCenter and free you of your suspense.

There are also more legitimate reasons to dwell in the gray area of self-surveillance. Maybe it’s too soon; you usually can’t know until ten days post-ovulation (although: spend any time reading online forums and you’ll see outliers to affirm your every irrational impulse). Maybe you don’t live anywhere near a drugstore and have a child to take care of at home. Maybe you don’t get paid ’til Friday. Maybe you weren’t expecting to be pregnant, and didn’t even think of the possibility — that is, not until now, when you’re caught off-guard by your body or mind or body-mind adding brand-new behaviors to the repertoire.

I’m currently 24 weeks pregnant, and I have a 3.5-year-old son. Both times, my earliest symptoms have been boob-centered: a weighty tenderness a lot like what comes before my period, until my nipples start to itch, a sure sign that they are about to double in size and betray me. That and general bodily exhaustion. And crying a lot. All of these things, nips aside, can be rationalized away, or dreamed into existence. But everyone is different! Maddeningly, anecdotally, fascinatingly different.

Here are 18 women on their earliest suspicions, the symptoms that made them do a double-take and eventually, finally, go pee on a stick.

Lydia: Brutal boob pain. They felt swollen and so painful that I didn’t even want to put a bra on, but they looked really great.

Tess: Almost immediately, in both of my pregnancies but particularly the first, everything smelled disgusting. The most blatant offender was hair. Other people’s mostly, but also my own when it was dirty. The unwashed hair of the person in front of me in the grocery store line had a funk so thick and horrible that it was almost visible. Like a cartoon cloud of greenish-grayish-brown stink, maybe with tiny flies around it.

I never threw up immediately, but the memory of the smell would haunt me all day and I’d vomit about it later. Other more minor sources of disgusting smells included, but were not limited to: coffee, meat, cigarettes, basements, my dog, bus exhaust, and olive oil. Once, someone mentioned gin in conversation and my brain summoned the ghost smell of gin and I threw up for six hours. I hadn’t even actually smelled it. Even ideas had smells. And they were disgusting.

Alexis: Crazy good orgasms, followed by nearly passing out in the British Museum (N.B.: there was a reasonable delay between these two events.)

Charlotte: I actually felt totally mental, like really hated my boyfriend and hated his smell and was super depressed and angry.

Jen: I started feeling faint after our second real “try,” when we’d just gotten back from a trip to Tulum (… I know). It was summer and really hot out, and for some reason my husband and I decided to walk a few miles across town. We stopped off at a flea market and I remember feeling lightheaded walking over the cement and thinking, Hmm, seems bad to faint here.

When I mentioned this to my husband and pointed out I “could be…?” pregnant, he admired me for doing all that walking. It could have just been the heat, and not what did turn out to be pregnancy, but my lightheadedness that day kicked off what soon became a familiar dynamic: My husband admiring me for persisting at something physically (maybe just taking out the trash), and me scoffing and insisting I was fine.

Carole: I began wondering whether I was pregnant when I started crying while playing tennis because my husband was “so much better than me!” That and super tender breasts were what tipped me off. I was never nauseous, but I reached a whole new level of tired that I never knew existed … until I reached it again postpartum.

Evie: The main thing that made me wonder was that I forgot to eat breakfast and lunch one day, just like didn’t think about it. It was as if my appetite got deleted from my brain. This was the first time that had happened since I had mononucleosis when I was 16, so I took a pregnancy test the next day and got a positive.

Kaitrin: Ravenous 20 hours a day.

Lynn: Coffee made me sick, when it had only ever brought me joy?

Colleen: When I found myself only wanting a single cup of coffee one day, I took a pregnancy test and was five weeks along. By week six just the smell of it made me gag.

Lucia: I knew it when my workout shorts stopped fitting. I upped my workout time and started eating less but was still gaining weight. Then I realized my period was missing.

Ellie: Spewing out the car door on the way home from a party after just two or three small glasses of wine. I’m usually more resilient than that.

Kendel: I was biking home and it felt so much harder than it normal. I was just so fatigued. I took a test the next morning.

Holly: With my second there was this insane fatigue that I instantly recognized, and a few days later implantation bleeding.

Rebecca: I got that sharp round ligament pain when coughing super early with baby No. 2. Since I’d only ever felt it when I was pregnant with my first baby, I knew.

Kathryn: I had ZERO symptoms. Annoyingly! I didn’t believe I was pregnant until the 12-week scan. I must have spent a fortune on pregnancy tests just to check.

Hanna: With both my previous pregnancies and this one, I knew I was pregnant the night we conceived. Physical confirmation came in the form of … an extremely tingly clitoris after sex. And by tingly I mean almost painfully throbbing.

Also, I’ve had pee problems since my first daughter but the dreaded Sneeze-Pee came back HARD within a week of conception.

Carla: I just felt things were Not Right. I couldn’t even explain it to myself or my husband when he asked, but my body just started feeling kind of weird and foreign. I guess it was my first time experiencing womanly intuition in such a visceral way, which was very affirming but also creepy as hell.

Early Pregnancy Signs, According to 19 Women