Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Pregnant with Anxiety

Late March/Early April: Everyone assured me my baby would be here any moment, due to the size of this belly. But it got bigger, my friends. Much, much bigger.

Eight years ago today, I was two days past my estimated due date. I'd done my research; I knew that due dates were guesses at best, and I knew better than to pin too many hopes and dreams on mine.

But that's exactly what I had done. It didn't help that, for the past month or so, everyone around me assured me I would "pop at any moment," and kept asking me if they were planning to induce. Working as a teacher has its perks; the enormous number of well-meaning busybodies surrounding you is not one of them.

It also didn't help that I had no clue how rough the discomfort of the last 6 weeks could be. All the books and my midwives spoke of increased "pressure" as the day of labor approached. Pressure is not how I would describe the constant, stabbing pain that made me feel like baby could fall out at any moment.

But what helped least of all was my mounting anxiety, making each moment leading up to the birth exponentially more excruciating.

I didn't know I had anxiety. I had no clue that was the word to describe the constant, intrusive thoughts that took my breath away and woke me up at night. Nightmare visions of a stillbirth or a baby with life-threatening abnormalities (we'd declined genetic testing) or a perfectly healthy baby that died in a horrible car wreck during the 5 minute drive from the hospital to the apartment, all due to an improperly-installed car seat.

I didn't know anxiety could cause me to snap at everyone around me - from the clerk at the store who dared comment on my Nutella consumption to Dave's family when they inquired about my health or poor Dave himself, when he so much as breathed funny.

I didn't know my anxiety and perfectionism were first cousins, encouraging each other to torture me in new and unusual ways. I desperately wanted a perfect, unmedicated birth - just like the ones I'd seen in the countless birth videos I'd watched. But it went beyond making a birth plan and taking the proper classes and finding good music and meditations and coping mechanisms to see me through; I was terrified that I'd mess it up. That I'd grimace, rather than appear calm. That I'd forget to shift positions and the baby wouldn't descend and that I'd have to have an emergency c-section. That this baby would stay comfortably put so long that my midwives would schedule my induction - an induction that would cause a lot more pain than unmedicated contractions - leading to a cascade of interventions. Not to mention the overwhelming fear that I just would not be able to withstand the pain at all - a valid fear considering I'm an absolute wimp about any kind of physical pain. And don't get me started on the crushing fear that I wouldn't be able to breastfeed. That would take its own, very long, entry.

This anxiety got worse and worse, and I can honestly say that the time leading up to Stella's birth was miserable. I walked and walked and walked the streets of Park Slope Brooklyn, waddling so desperately that passers-by often commented along the lines of "poor woman!" I ate dishes guaranteed to induce labor - pounds of pineapple and homemade eggplant parmigiana - that managed only to induce my raging heartburn. I woke up every night at 3am, starving for a bowl of Honey Nut Cheerios with whole milk, despite the fact that all those well-meaning busybodies kept telling me to "sleep now while you can." I danced aggressively at night, imagining my baby's head descending further into my pelvis. And I tried so hard to calm my racing heart, to stifle those terrifying images, to reassure myself that I'd do my best to get the birth I wanted, but that I'd accept reality, come what may.

I wish I could go back and tell myself to get help - stat. I wish I could warn past Randi that this anxiety - this condition that I didn't know was my condition - was only going to get worse after the baby arrived, climaxing in a terrifying mental health crisis that nearly took me from this planet. I wish I could say, "Stop worrying about how well you're going to give birth, stop obsessing over breastfeeding, and take care of yourself, woman! You're going to be this baby's mother, and you can't do this if you're not healthy!"

But I can't. I can only read my Timehop updates helplessly: increasingly desperate words stating how hard I was working to get this baby here, irritably warning people to stop asking about her arrival, moaning about how little sleep I was getting during my final, baby-free days.

Stella arrived 11 days past her due date. I was scheduled for an induction that morning, but the night before, not long after my mom arrived from Kentucky, the labor began on its own. It was fast and healthy - around 10 hours - and I got everything I wanted. On paper. No interventions, no medication, breastfeeding that lasted well over a year, with just a few text-book issues peppered here and there.

But that birth shook me to my core - the earth-shattering, poorly managed pain opening a Pandora's box of repressed memories and terrifying symptoms that lasted for about 16 more months, and have taken these past 8 years and many more to come, I'm sure, to remedy.

Stella is my incredible daughter. While the end of the pregnancy and the birth were hard, and while my anxiety and postpartum mood disorder remain a dark period of my life, her entry into my world was profound and beautiful. As her 8th birthday approaches, I'll celebrate the wonderful young lady she has become, the beautiful soul she has that makes this world better day by day. But for now, I mourn for the woman who suffered so badly, so unnecessarily, and I remain dedicated to spreading the world to make sure no other women suffer the way I did.

If something doesn't feel right while pregnant or after giving birth, it isn't right. Don't listen to people when they say pregnant women are "moody" or that it's normal for a new mother to have "baby blues." You know  yourself. If it's intrusive, if it's scary, then it's abnormal, and it can be helped. Postpartum Progress is a wonderful website with tons of resources, but if it's serious, calling 911 or the suicide hotline - 1 (800) 273-8255 - is the best bet.

I'm lucky that I had an incredible partner in Dave. He continually urged me to get help, even when I actively pushed him away. I'm so grateful for that. Please do that for yourself if your partner isn't as supportive or informed.

And one more thing - if you want to hear me talk about this candidly, with some dark humor, you should watch my Moth performance. But be warned, it contains some triggering and even vulgar language. Mental health disorders aren't pretty.

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