This is the story of my battle with depression during pregnancy (antenatal depression), and post-partum depression. As I have stated before, these are feelings that I wish I never had felt. This is not the way I wanted either my pregnancy or post-partum experience to go. But this was my reality, and I am not going to sugar coat it. That doesn’t do anyone any good. I have decided to share this for the benefit of other women, especially those who may be going through, or have gone through similar experiences. While I was in the midst of my battle with PPD I desperately searched the internet for stories of experiences like mine, and came up with only a few results.
Back to Part 1This was not easy to write, and I suspect it’s not going to be easy to read. But the ending, though still in progress, is a happy one. This should be a story of hope and preservation as opposed to one of sadness and bitterness, and I hope that it touches you.
When N and I left that first doctor’s appointment, we knew we had to do what we had been putting off for six long weeks. We had to tell my parents. I’ve never been so nervous to tell my mom something, even though keeping the biggest secret of my life for six whole weeks was about to land me in a padded cell. Telling my dad in person was out of the question, my mom was going to have to handle that eventually.
Before N and I got married my mom had explicitly told me not to get pregnant right away. She reminded me that I wasn’t ready to be a mother, and might not ever be. I can’t say she wasn’t right or that her concerns were unfounded. And I didn’t think that the fact that the pregnancy was an accident would make any difference in regards to her previous opinions.
But to my relief she didn’t explode. She didn’t seem angry or upset. She wasn’t particularly happy, and her first concern was the fact that I had been taking psychiatric medication. I told her that I had gotten off it right away and called my doctor mere hours after finding out, and that eased her mind. Eventually she told my dad, who was similarly concerned about my taking medication. He constantly sent me information about birth defects (this would have really pushed me over the edge if I hadn’t been too numb to think about anything except my crushing sadness), and when I was 18 weeks along he paid for me to have an extra ultrasound to make sure the baby “had all 10 fingers and toes.”
It did. And that’s when we found out it was a she. She was Reagan and not Joshua. Finding out her sex was an incredibly difficult situation, and despite my attempts to be completely open, it's not something I feel comfortable talking about yet.
I thought that knowing my baby’s sex and her name would finally connect me to the pregnancy. So far I had felt nothing. If I wasn’t so sick and ballooning up in the abdomen I would have never guessed there was another person growing inside me. (Of course there’s the missed period as well but you know what I’m saying.) I was so sure that as soon as a woman got pregnant she had some spiritual sense of the life she was incubating. That she had some connection to it- especially one of love. But I felt nothing. Nothing at all.
The first time I felt R kick I was about 20 weeks along. I was sitting at my desktop computer when I felt something and screamed. I wondered if I had felt my first kick, and seconds later came the second, and then the third, and then the fourth… R’s kicks were the first thing I felt when I woke up in the morning, and the last things I felt before I fell asleep at night. It was constant and painful, and the novelty wore off quickly. I still cringe when I see videos of babies kicking.
So far, these are really the only “milestones” that I can remember in regards to my pregnancy. The rest of it was a thick haze of complete and total depression and overwhelming nausea. I spent my entire pregnancy in three rooms of my house. My bedroom (in bed), my bathroom (on the floor or huddled on a mat in the dilapidated shower), or on a “good” day in my office sitting at my desktop computer. I didn’t cook, I didn’t clean, I didn’t groom myself, and I didn’t leave the house.
The number of times I left the house alone while I was pregnant was a whopping one time. I had been craving tacos and drove to get some. When I got home and ate them they gave me a horrible bout of reflux and I ended up not leaving the house alone again for many more months.
I was having a constant stream of severe panic attacks. Of course, having multiple panic attacks daily is just a day in the life for me, but these were different. These were hyperventilating, slamming my fists on the ground, and shouting to the heavens bad. I’ll never forget the worst one.
[From a piece I wrote for a Creative Non-Fiction Course]
I was lying on the bathroom floor letting the waves of physical sickness toss me about (per usual) when the feeling first hit me. I was in my second trimester, and was supposed to be feeling better. Everyone told me that I wouldn’t feel so sick once I passed the mythical 12 weeks. Everyone lied.
I was spending the majority of my days in the bathroom. Lying on the floor or resting my cheek on the cool (faux?) porcelain of the toilet. When I felt particularly ill I’d sit beside the toilet, hands folded in mock prayer, begging the god I don’t believe in to ease my suffering. The bottle of Zofran helped a little, but divine intervention would have been nice.
So I was lying there like always, crying softly and trying not to throw up, when it felt like a weight had been dropped on my chest. My breathing became labored and a sort of panic I had never felt before took a hold of me. I felt trapped. I was trapped.
Not literally, although I suppose I could make an argument for that, as the physical side effects of my pregnancy kept me home and bathroom-bound for nine months. But this feeling of being pinned down came from another fact; the fact that I was growing life inside of me. I was pregnant though I did not want to be, I was going to be a mother though I was not yet ready. There was nothing I could do. Even after the misery of my pregnancy was over I would still be trapped. Trapped into the role of motherhood. Chained to a child. My child.
December rolled around and so did N’s last weeks at the newspaper. He was being laid off after 7 years because the higher ups suddenly deemed it a conflict of interest that his mom also worked for the paper. He was allowed to send out holiday cards (FYI: ALWAYS TIP YOUR PAPER DELIVERY PEOPLE AND TIP THEM GOOD!) and then he was done. In the past he would collect at least a few thousand every holiday. But as fewer people bought papers, his routes became smaller and we ended up taking in only a few hundred dollars. We decided to use some of the money to buy nursery furniture.
I put aside my dreams of a solid wood crib from Pottery Barn and we found a set- crib, changing table, and dresser- at Walmart for around $200. We also bought a cheap upholstered rocking chair. My mom bought me crib bedding for Christmas, and we eventually painted the room a calm shade of moss green and put up beautiful birch tree decals. Sometimes at night I’d pass by the room and would feel drawn inside. I’d sit in the rocking chair, look around, and sob until I couldn’t produce any more tears. It should have made me happy, but all I could feel was pain. Eventually I closed the door to the nursery and kept it closed.
Although the doctor had recommended taking labor classes or at least going on a tour of the hospital, I declined both. I didn’t want to even think of labor until it was thrust upon me. That all changed when I was admitted to the hospital for high blood pressure. My blood pressure had been slightly high at my appointments, so I monitored it frequently at home. One night it kept climbing until it reached a truly concerning rate. I called my doctor’s nurse line and they told me to head to the hospital to be checked out. Of course, I got there and my blood pressure went back to being perfectly fine, but the damage had been done. I had seen, and been in, a L&D room. I could now picture what it was going to look like and I was a mess.
On Sunday May 1st I had another severe panic attack. I started hyperventilating uncontrollably and N had to put me into bed and beg me to take an anxiety pill (for which I had been given the go-ahead by all of my doctors for use in emergencies.) I fell asleep and slept until the next morning. When I woke up I was cramping- which was strange because I had not cramped since before I found out I was pregnant. Something inside me knew that labor was starting and I sent N to get food- breakfast sandwiches from Subway- knowing that it would be my last meal for awhile. The cramping slowly got worse and worse, and luckily I had a doctor’s appointment later that morning.
When I got there the doctor check my dilation and did a sweep. She confirmed that I was having contractions and was in the early stages of labor. She said she’d call the hospital to let them know I’d be over sometime that day. After the appointment N and I went home to get the hospital bag, car seat, etc. We also went to Target for slippers and snacks that I thought I’d eat. Ha!
We went to the hospital and in hindsight it was too early. I should have labored longer at home, but I just felt more comfortable laboring in the hospital. They had me pace the corridors while N walked beside me. I’d have a contraction and then keep walking, have a contraction and then keep walking. At one point N asked me, “Are you still even having contractions?!” right as a hard one hit. I almost slapped him.
I wasn’t dilating very quickly and when nighttime came they offered to either send me home with an Ambien, or let me stay until morning with a shot of morphine. Without thought I opted for the morphine but all it made me feel was nauseous and anxious. I was in so much pain that sleep was out of the question, and when the contractions finally got so bad I didn’t think I’d be able to stand it anymore I called in the nurse. Praise be to god I had dilated enough to get the epidural! You can bet I got that RIGHT AWAY, and was able to sleep for the last few hours in the night- until we were woken up by a visit from my MIL’s husband at 8 in the morning. I don’t think I’ve ever snapped at someone to go away so meanly. I feel bad now, but not that bad.
I hadn’t dilated much more at night so they decided to start me on Pitocin. I didn’t give two shits, I just wanted the baby out, so I agreed. Around 11:50 something started to feel… off… I was feeling painful contractions but they were different, and I was feeling a VERY strong need to push. I had also regained full mobility of my legs. I told Nate that I thought it was time to push and I needed to see the nurse. He told me I should just wait until noon when she came back in for a regular check, but in this short amount of time my body was like “I’M GOING FOR IT!” and so I made him page the nurse immediately. He also called my mom who had been at home.
When the nurse came in she told me I was fully dilated and it was in fact time to push. I told her that I was feeling EVERYTHING and that I needed a boost to my epidural. She called the anesthesiologist and after much frantic tinkering I realized with horror that nothing could be done.
The next six hours, yes I said SIX, were a blur. Machines kept beeping, the nurse kept urging, N and my mom kept holding my hands and telling me it was going to be ok, and I did a lot of crying. You see, I have a condition called Vaginismus where my pelvic floor muscles are constantly clenched. Do you know what a kegel is? It’s like my muscles are doing that all the time. And things get especially bad when I am stressed out. I had been told that the hormones of labor would override this condition but they didn’t- not completely. God bless her soul, the nurse kept her hand all up in there the whole time, pressing on my muscles to try and get them to relax.
N and my mom like to say that at one point I said I was going to “give up” and that they were scared that I actually had given up. What they don’t understand (my mom had three gloriously effective epidurals and an easy time pushing my siblings and I out) was that I couldn’t have given up if I tried. My body kept pushing for me! It was excruciating and exhausting like nothing I have ever been through.
Eventually the baby came down towards the exit and everyone got really excited. I pushed out her head and the nurse told me to wait until the next contraction to push out her shoulders and body. And you know what I did? I went “FUCK THAT!” and pushed her out completely and all at once! I wasn’t going to spend one more second pushing.
And there she was. There was my baby.