We took the at-home test, and saw the second blue line. We hugged, kissed, and laughed at how excitingly strange it all was to be unfolding before us after months of hoping for this moment. We marveled at the tender truth of it happening in my body, born of careful consideration, trying, timing and watching others from arm’s length experience this very path. So surreal and raw, I took two more tests - digital, to ensure no reader’s error - and the journey of our pregnancy began.
A few weeks went by spent in this happy unknown, with fatigue as my only strong pregnancy symptom. I have always been a champion napper, though, so was pleasantly unphased by the need to succumb each day to a late afternoon snooze. Your dad started calling me “kitty”, as he’d frequently notice I’d disappeared, to then find me curled up on a soft blanket in some patch of sunlit furniture.
But then a shift occurred which is not often spoken of, at least not in a public manner that makes it familiar to most. I began to weep over feeling so unlike myself, in ways I couldn’t articulate. Your dad, elated at your existence, became triggered by my shift, dipping into his own mental file cabinet of past experiences and unfortunately expressing more frustration than support, choosing words that still sting to think about now. Real talk? For a woman carrying a child, it isn’t all slaps on the back and celebratory shared cigars, while life moves on predominantly unaffected like an annoyingly patriarchal scene from Mad Men. From the instant that second blue line appears on the stick, a transformation begins deep inside. You do not have to be “spiritual” to feel this. It isn’t Bubba’s fault, of course, that our biological experiences caused conflicting perspectives. But it is important to note how even those well versed in empathy may need to pause and reevaluate their approaches every now and again. (Don’t worry, he inevitably did this, and we are both better for it).
The truth was difficult to admit, but eventually we had to acknowledge my old friend depression slipped its sticky, invasive grip around my being and settled in to whisper it’s lies of panic and loss and disconnection. Like a curse of shaky hovering, as Glennon says, prenatal depression found its way into my days, turning me from “kitty” to, well, zombie.
What have we done?, we thought. What if this gets no better for 9 months? Weren’t we finished with this game of mental health, having found a rhythmic formula for success a few years back?
Why, I questioned, oh why did I go off of my medication? (short answer: because I wanted a “clean” pregnancy).....
It was all very Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman, returning to the scene of her prior shopping humiliation...
Baby, *you* were never a question of mistake. Of that I must be clear.
This essay is for you because I feel it is important to practice my own vulnerability, as an invitation for you to invest in the same process. And yet it is also for my fellow women who recognize themselves in my story. Whether you have felt the full force of this, a lesser version, or an even more intense, challenging, postpartum bout: I see you.
Beloved mama, I could not have written a word of this in the midst of the suffering. Please know that. I could not have peeled back the layers to find any nugget of truth, or goodness, or wisdom in those weeks. I could not have silver lined, or seen a light. Hope felt like a faint mist that came with loving intentions from the people I let into my struggle; soft and inviting, but fleeting and oddly mysterious. Too faint to actually stick. So light, I just walked right through.
This is one of the greatest misunderstandings on the subject of distressed mental health: The very efforts required to potentially lift ourselves out are the same ones we have lost power, strength, and energy to do. This triggers a deep dive into shame and guilt. The kind that turns a soul on itself. Your Aunt Kelly made me laugh by equating all of this to Dementors (oh my gosh, I can’t wait to read you Harry Potter); a feeling of the very life you love being sucked out, replaced with only cold lack of hope, peace, or happiness, while you stare back helplessly. She also mailed us a shirt saying “My Patronus is a Labrador Retriever” as a nod to our dear Ivy, so really when I tell you that your Aunties are the best, I mean it.
Mama: Do not feel you are extra failing because you do not have the means right now to unpack the heavy layers upon you, in order to articulate what is happening in your spirit, or to specify your needs, your fears, your hurt -- you do not have to sharpen those emotional tools in this moment. You simply need to be gentle with your being. If you are in the hard place, ease up on you. Day to day is a perfectly acceptable, preferable, way to live.
And mamas: You do not have to suffer.
EVERYONE has mental health. The same way any living human has lung health, gut health, heart health etc. The mind is paramount to the success of it all: our delicate, unique ecosystems within. To treat the consideration and care of its health any differently than another piece of the human puzzle -- with shame or guilt or judgement -- is absurd.
In a sweeping understatement: I am grateful to my midwife team for so lovingly guiding me to better medical days, without making me feel guilty for a single second. I am grateful to your Aunt Belle, my precious sister, who called every day just to say hello and let me know I had not been forgotten. “I’m just going to call you again tomorrow, even if I’m awkward, Ok?”, she said, perfectly exemplifying that repeatedly showing up for your people matters more than how natural you look doing it.
I am grateful that since opening up to these women, our pregnancy has been a total joy. I have truly loved sharing this body with you.
So, my baby, let people into your confusing bits.
And honey, check on those you love often. Even if you feel awkward doing so.
The path ahead will be imperfect, a dance of steps forward and back and a shimmy to the side. But God, the Universe, Dumbledore will use any ounce of brave movement to slather your shame with a balm of encouraging love. Your dad and I will do the same.
We see you,