Blame it on the hormones

Although I am mildly allergic, I do like cats, so I am therefore the type of person that upon reaching out their hand to a cat will inspire it to immediately sprint away. I can imagine the poor animal is thinking something along the lines of “Ugh! Get off me, you weirdo!” My friend Josie has two adorable kittens, a boy and a girl. They take the silver and bronze medal on my podium of feline cuteness (Elly’s cat is, of course, the winner… but then I’d have to say that!) When visiting her house, to my amazement both kittens made a beeline for me and I ended up sitting on the sofa with them nestled up to me. They felt so relaxed they even fell asleep as I stroked them! I expressed a smug satisfaction that I was now the Cat Whisperer. Mr Josie, however, knowledgeably claimed it was my “pheromones” attracting the cats rather than any superior stroking skills.

This got me thinking about how pregnant women produce and emit hormones. We assume that any mood swing is down to hormones, but is this just an excuse? The dreaded morning sickness is apparently caused by hormones surging around our bodies. Does this really mean that our system is working “better” and therefore a good sign? (I’ve always thought this was a “rain on your wedding day” type of scenario: we tell ourselves it’s good luck in order to make ourselves feel better. And yes, in case you were wondering, I did have rain on my wedding day!)

I’m actually not sure whether pheromones have much to do with pregnancy after all. It is hCG (human Chorionic Gonadotropin… now say that three times after a mocktail or two) that seems to be the crucial ingredient: rising levels are how a pregnancy test can detect your happy news, and if you are carrying multiples you have higher levels which is why there is a common correlation between sickness and twins. Pheromones, on the other hand, are what a female emits during the fertile time of the month in order to attract males. As pregnancy is one of the only times it is absolutely impossible to “re-conceive”, I hope I’m not producing too many of those!

In terms of mood swings caused by hormones, I suppose this is all conducive to the joy of being a woman, with pre-menstrual tension (PMT) a.k.a. pre-menstrual syndrome (PMS) being a very real part of many people’s lives. It is undeniable that pregnancy also churns up your hormones in a way that might similarly affect mood. If everything else in your life is fine, but you have an irrational grumpiness, chances are it could be those pesky hormones. However, I do find it irritating when your poor hormones – which, after all, are only trying to do their job to the best of their ability – are blamed for every tear and tantrum. It is important to separate out the real issues from superficial mood swings. For example, you might scream at your other half for not doing the dishes, then sheepishly blame it on hormones… when in reality, this is symbolic of an underlying problem: how run down do you truly feel? Are you actually desperate for more help with chores?

As for morning sickness, I will say one thing. My books are very clear that while feeling queasy can represent higher hCG levels, which is clearly a good sign as it means you are “very” pregnant, not feeling queasy does not mean that you are “less” pregnant or, indeed, have anything to worry about at all. There are many other factors that contribute to that sick feeling, including your body’s natural ability to cope with hormone surges and queasiness in general. For example, if you previously suffered from period-related moodiness and feel carsick or seasick, you may simply be predisposed to hormone effects and morning sickness. Equally, you may have been perfectly amenable and level-stomached prior to pregnancy but are now affected. If you were formerly moody and sick but no longer feel these things, this is clearly a cause for celebration – have a mocktail. I can therefore tentatively conclude that the cats just happened to like me that evening. I had spent the previous day with two dogs so maybe they had a perverse attraction to the odours I’d brought into their territory… cats are mysterious creatures after all!

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