I’m Pregnant! I’m Miserable.
As someone without a history of depression, my first three months of pregnancy were an exercise in empathy for people who do. Lying on our not-very comfortable gray couch became my one and only pastime. Gone were the days of waking up ready to enjoy the day. Coffee, meals, my husband — even Netflix — all lost their appeal. I slept sixteen hours a day, not only because I was tired (I was) but because sleep was an escape from the endless nausea and futureless apathy of the present.
The weeks and months of pregnancy stretched out before me like an interminable looping video. Get up, go to work, force smiles, return to couch, sob, ask husband for hug. Rationally, I knew hormones were to blame and that my physical and mental states were likely temporary, but I couldn’t make sense of the uncontrollable sobbing and deep sadness that took hold during this time. Week after week my to-do list remained blank and I lost track of who I thought I was.
When Pregnant in Rome
We flew to Italy in May with our tiny, pre-human tadpole and almost immediately regretted the timing of our vacation. Cappuccinos and croissants tasted delicious when we landed in Rome, but over pizza the following day my stomach shut down for good. In a country synonymous with food, I ate nothing and came to terms with just how much breakfast, lunch and dinner used to contribute to my daily happiness.
Our friends put us up in a 16th century lookout tower, promising sweeping views of the Italian countryside. It was cool enough in May to need the wood burning stove, which meant the stone tower would briefly be an oven before returning to cave-like temperatures. I barely got out of bed for for the duration of our stay and my view through the tiny medieval window was a patch of sky, alternately grey and blue.
We returned from our trip a few days early and, pale-faced, I told colleagues that we had an amazing time. Privately, I lamented the customary secrecy that newly pregnant women seemed bound to uphold.
From our vacation onwards I had an Episode of Extreme Sadness about once a week, apropos of nothing. After one such episode, triggered by an innocuous pair of red scissors, I googled ‘prenatal depression’. Turns out it’s a real thing, especially if you have experienced depression before or if you’ve had to stop taking certain medications while pregnant. Neither of those applied to me, and the only actionable advice online was to tell your doctor that you were supremely unhappy or, in my case, simultaneously sobbing and weirded out (see: tadpole).
I like to think of myself as a calm, go with the flow kind of person who can handle hard things with grace and optimism. The truth is, I like to be in control. When I’m not in charge and things are going poorly, I get anxious and try to fix things.
Ginger tea, yoga, and Words with Friends all failed to alleviate my symptoms, so, I brainstormed bigger ideas:
1. Quit my job.
2. Ask husband to quit his job.
3. Move to the mountains of North Carolina.
4. Join a country club with a pool and pretend to be enjoying summer.
Things that Did Help
I was reluctant to complain to friends about being pregnant, especially to those who were trying to become pregnant themselves. Of all the people I talked to who had been pregnant, none described their first trimester in terms as extreme as mine, which was both disconcerting and alienating. Eventually, I did find one friend who could relate to my murky outlook on life, in part due to his own experiences with depression. Thankfully, that friend made time for me and my moping on the regular.
Part way through my first trimester, my doctor prescribed Diclegis which brought 24/7 nausea levels down from 100 to a slightly more manageable 80. Acupuncture was also surprisingly — if temporarily — effective. With a needle in each wrist and ankle the world briefly returned to normalcy. These reprieves turned out to be important because for a moment I felt triumphant (I can defeat you, terrible, sickly gloom!) and because they were a reminder that the normal, stable world was still there, waiting for me.
The least helpful advice I got was from a phlebotomist, who, while drawing my blood, told me I just needed to go outside first thing in the morning, take in the fresh air and Voila! my nausea would be gone for the day.
I thought I knew what it would be like to be pregnant, thanks to my careful observation of other pregnant women: you were basically you, until your belly grew, at which point you were you, with a belly. I should have known that growing a baby would qualify as one of those big, difficult, things, like starting a company or permanently moving abroad, or what I imagine it will be like raising a child. Each is simply unknowable until you do it yourself.
Exactly at the start of my second trimester, my nausea subsided and the black cloud of pessimism that hung low and thick over the entire summer dissipated. At first, I wondered what I should be doing now that I was no longer moored to the couch, but slowly my old pleasures and pastimes returned.
These days I have a lively, jiggling creature in my abdomen, but otherwise feel like myself. I have yet to sign up for baby classes or open my copy of What to Expect when You’re Expecting in an attempt to thwart preconceptions about what is yet to come (back pain! leg cramps! labor complications!). If anything, I’ve learned that even this moment of relative comfort is temporary and as with all moments, this too shall pass.