As my pregnancy started to progress, my emotions started to tremble and felt tenuous. I started to feel less and less excited. And more and more nauseous. Delicious food that I used to love started to taste terrible. I felt different in and separate from my body. I didn’t feel like myself. I missed my usual energy level and started to dread exercising. I often struggled with what to eat. The few foods that I could keep down weren’t nutrient dense (crackers mostly). As I filled my grocery cart with Rice Krispies and cinnamon toast bread, I started to wonder where my healthy self had gone. I started to skip yoga because I was nervous about feeling dizzy or doing something I wasn’t supposed to inadvertently.
I started to sleep more. And watch more TV. And felt uninspired. And often a bit numb. I started seeing a therapist and she diagnosed me with ‘prenatal anxiety and depression.’ It was a hard winter. I remember feeling embarrassed about my growing belly and tended to hide under bulky sweaters. I started taking medication for the nausea, but it didn’t help much. I threw up everywhere. In my car, in my husband’s car, at yoga studios, in grocery stores, in my mother’s home (even on top of a smoke detector on Hanukkah.) I ate eggs one day, but then violently threw them up the next day. I pretended to appreciate well meaning advice about essential oils and tea and magnesium sprays, but by my fourth month, I had tried everything.
The days were cold and dark and I barely ventured out skiing, something I once loved. I had made a friend at a prenatal yoga class and enjoyed going out with her, but I remember I felt a sense of dread beginning to grow. My baby was totally healthy, but I felt weaker with each passing day and each new fruit measurement of my baby. I remember watching a video in which Cindy Crawford spoke of how “strong and amazing pregnant mamas are.” Her words floated by and I thought how lucky for those mamas. I didn’t feel like them. I felt far from amazing. I felt lonely and terrified most of the time. During prenatal yoga, the teacher encouraged us to “breathe with our baby and to connect with our baby.” I didn’t know what that meant and I felt even more disconnected from my baby and from myself.
My usual coping strategies (nourishing food, exercise, writing) failed to help and I was terrified of slipping into a worse depression once my baby was born. My family and husband started to worry too. I would joke to others that I hoped I was spared postpartum depression because I had prenatal depression. But it wasn’t a joke. I was petrified that I wouldn’t ever feel like myself again.
During my third trimester, I started frantically doing everything I could to ward off postpartum depression (even ironically as I was in a depression at the time). I cooked a huge amount of soups to freeze, hired a postpartum doula, made a list of all the baby playgroups and postnatal fitness classes around, and ordered too many baby clothes from Amazon. I attended webinars and workshops and classes about postpartum care and after-birth wellness. I made frozen padsicles and ordered mesh panties and a spray bottle. I read books on postpartum wellness and books on overcoming postpartum depression.
I wasn’t having much fun.
I also didn’t take many pictures because I was self-conscious. I regret that now.
Looking back, I wished I could have told myself to relax and to not be so afraid and to try to surrender to the changes. I wished I could have told myself to try to just be present because worrying about postpartum depression and making lists and shopping wouldn’t prevent it from happening. I also wished I had known that even if/when I did experience postpartum depression or anxiety, I would be OK. I would be able to cope. It wouldn’t be the worst experience of my life.
I’ve learned that postpartum depression isn’t a monster. Depression isn’t a monster. There is no monster except for the ones that we create sometimes.