I never wanted to be pregnant and had forever been petrified by the idea of giving birth. I did, though, long have the desire to raise children with my husband. Despite my debilitating fear, together we decided to conceive a biological child. I got pregnant after only a few short months of trying.
Physically, the majority of my pregnancy has been a dream: not a moment of nausea, no surprises or scary test results. Just some swollen ankles and difficulty sleeping as I step into 38 weeks. As a woman of “advanced maternal age,” I feel very lucky.
What took me by surprise, though, was the emotional darkness that’s consumed my life for the past three months. I lovingly refer to it as the Pit of Despair. This isn’t pre-baby jitters, nor anxiety that the nursery won’t be ready in time. This is something much deeper, much more serious. I’ve been comparing my pregnancy to a terminal illness which, yes, may come off as wildly dramatic. But stick with me.
You’re given a due date, and if you’re a first time parent, you really have no point of reference as to how your life is about to change (true… the second, third, or fourth time parents are also in for a life change, but at least they have some understanding of parenthood). You spend time counting down the weeks and days to this date, counting down to the end of something. For nine months, I’ve had this date hanging over my head like a death sentence, the death of life as I know it. I cannot imagine what my life looks like with an infant in it. I’ve tried, but all I see after August 22 is black.
I’m not ill. I’m pregnant and I don’t pretend to have any idea of what it’s like to have a terminal illness. Perhaps it’s insensitive of me to even equate the process of bringing a life into the world with the certainty of death. But I want to say it out loud because no one said a word to me about how this part could be so brutally dark. I’m happy to see postpartum depression getting more and more attention. I just wish I’d been given a heads up that depression doesn’t necessarily wait for the child to arrive.
While friends, family, and strangers are giddy for the arrival of this little creature, I hide under the covers with puffy eyes, sobbing. I put my acting skills to work as I feign excitement because that’s what I’m supposed to feel, right? I’m supposed to feel blessed that I’m bringing a child into the world. I’m supposed to glow and sing lullabies to the beautiful little baby that’s already exhausting me. It’s easier to pretend I’m excited rather than open up about what my experience is actually like. I can see the disappointment and confusion on the faces of friends when I admit my sadness which, in turn, makes me feel even more isolated. So instead, I mention how smooth the process has been physically and steer the conversation toward anything other than my pregnancy.
Until recently, my husband and mother alone supported me as I navigated my way through the Pit of Despair. I held onto it as my very own little secret. But as I started to open up to a handful of friends about my darkness, its power started to wane. Now when I burst into uncontrollable sobs while making the bed or riding the subway or simply standing still, I know there’s a crew of supporters out in the world rooting for me at a distance. I don’t need much more than that. Just knowing they’re out there gives me the permission I need to continue weeping.
The picture perfect pregnancy may exist. But I’m pretty sure it’s a myth. An undeniable amount of pressure is put on expectant mothers to have a certain kind of pregnancy; to remain fit, happy, and excited throughout the process. I’m calling b.s. It’s weird and isolating and scary and uncomfortable and sure… maybe exciting. Maybe. I’d love to hear more women speak out about their depression during this part. The part before the stranger arrives. Prenatal depression, antenatal depression, pregnancy blues, the Pit of Despair… whatever you call it, it’s hugely important to speak up and get the support you need, because at the end of this phase, there’s the whole next part of actually taking care of a brand new human. Oof. Here we go.