Pregnancy was really weird for me. And by weird I mean hard but I also mean weird. I was never one of those little girls who dreamed about their wedding or their dress or the invitations they would use or the string quartet that would play as I walked down the aisle. No, I dreamed about having babies. When I was five years old, I walked through the grocery store cradling a bag of rice like an infant, stopping periodically to burp the rice or pat its back soothingly. I talked obsessively about what maternity clothes I’d wear and what kind of a shower I’d like. I dreamed about what it would feel like to rub my belly like pregnant women often did and how exciting it would be to announce “she’s kicking” to a room of friends and family. All that to say, when I actually did get pregnant, and with twins at that, I thought I would be the happiest person in the world-my rice had come to life! But see the thing was, I wasn’t.
First of all, I felt like I had the flu for three months. I was sick, I had migraines, I wanted to kill everyone and everything in my path. I’m a type 1 diabetic so in addition to the stresses of early pregnancy, I was haunted by horror stories on the internet of deformed babies and lifelong complications. Additionally, I had to test my blood sugar between 14-20 times per day when I was used to testing only 4 times per day at most. I remember a friend (you’ll know who you are) said there are like a few weeks in the middle where you feel good, your belly is kind of cute and people are really nice to you. That happened. Somewhere in the middle, I felt good about myself. And happy. I was at the beach with my best friend and her family and I spent some time walking on the each by myself and I reflected upon this enormous (no pun intended) thing that was happening inside me. I rubbed my sweet little bump of a belly, looked out at the vast ocean and thought great big thoughts about the meaning of life.
Then I moved into the third trimester. I was doing prenatal yoga at that time and bothered by the number of women in my class who often exclaimed, “this is just the happiest time of my life”; “I was meant to be pregnant”; “I’ve literally never felt more beautiful”. I looked around like what the f*&#? I’m miserable. My back hurts, my skin itches, I peed twenty seconds ago and have to pee again, my face is covered in acne, I am depressed and cry all the time, I have heartburn that feels like throw up in my neck, I have stretch marks on every part of my body, I can’t touch my toes, I can’t tie my shoes, I haven’t actually seen my legs in months, I don’t even want to look in the mirror and I haven’t slept in weeks. I seriously, and I don’t say this to say what I’m supposed to say, wondered what was wrong with me. My dear friend and beautiful yoga instructor talked me down of the ledge over lunch reminding me that other people did in fact feel this way and that I wasn’t alone. I appreciated the effort, but I felt alone.
Towards the end of my pregnancy, I hit a wall. I reached a point where I just needed these babies out of my body. It culminated in about one week. At that point, I had stopped working because I couldn’t walk. I sat at home in a giant tee-shirt (did I mention it was summer), watched tv, sweat, complained and tried to sleep. My body ached, my skin burned like poison, I couldn’t breathe, I couldn’t eat because of the heartburn, I had splitting migraine headaches. I remember contemplating adult diapers because the thought of getting up again to pee was not acceptable. I knew that my body was shutting down. The day the babies came, I went in to see my perinatologist for our regular appointment. I told him that something was wrong and that I wasn’t going to make it much longer. He said, and I quote, “You’ll be shocked how long you can keep them in when you’re thinking about the health of your baby.” I felt like crying and punching and asking him about his vagina but instead replied, “Ok, check my blood pressure”. He did. His face changed. He called Labor and Delivery and they were born about ten hours later.
And then the really crazy stuff happened. The stuff they don’t talk about. The stuff that doesn’t relate to diapers and onesies and delicious smelling johnson & johnson baby wash. I have never felt less like myself than I did those first three weeks after they were born. I was horribly, profoundly depressed. I longed with every free minute I had to have my belly back. I would have given anything I owned to just have been pregnant again. WHAT? This is the person who basically complained straight for eight months about being pregnant. How could I possibly want to go back there? I don’t know how to explain it. The easy explanation is that before the babies were born, I felt like people cared how I was doing-what was going on with me. Once they arrived, I took a major backseat. And as unattractive as this is, that made me sad. It had been just the three of us for eight months and now these new people were there and were fiddling with us and that was wrong. On top of that, I felt like a crazy person. I can remember calling my mom and telling her that something was wrong-that I should never have been allowed to have babies because I was a horrible, selfish, depressed person. I remember the way she watched me-not as a worried mom who is just trying to be supportive-but as my mother who searched my normally bright eyes for some sign of life. I knew this was real because she never left me alone.
Our daughter came home after a week and it was about that time that I took myself off the glorious, mind numbing pain killers I had post delivery. Perhaps the combination of the come-down partnered with the overwhelming anxiety surrounding caring for a newborn is what did me in. I wept. I wept all day. Interspersed with weeping, I had anxiety attacks. What if something happened to her? What if I wasn’t supposed to be a mom? What have I done with my life? And when I looked at her and saw her perfectly crafted face with these tiny eyelashes and fingernails and lips and earlobes, I felt nothing. Nothing. I’ve been through a lot-especially as it relates to health and medicine-and I can honestly say those three weeks were the hardest, most challenging time of my life. I felt like the worst person to walk the earth-the most selfish, self centered piece of crap out there. And I kept looking at this little person with eyelashes and fingernails and earlobes and lips, and I thought about what she would be when she grew up and what she’d think and what she’d say and I felt nothing. Nothing. Nothing. Our son came home a week later.
At my lowest low, I looked into getting help. I was shocked, and still am frankly, by the lack of dialogue around this time in a new mother’s life. Not just the typical “Post Partum Depression” stuff that people seem to whisper about and “shh” one another over on various hard to find websites and chat rooms, I mean the holistic look at what those first three weeks look like. Hell, what those first three months look like. How you will feel about your body and your role in the world; how your job will suffer so that you can stay home and care for these babies; how your marriage will be tested in ways it never has before; oh and how your hair will fall out. Really wish someone had warned me about that.
At the end of those first three weeks, the morning after a particularly troubling night where I wondered if I should take anti-depressants, check myself into a mental institution, or pack my bags for a lonely life alone on the road, something happened. I woke up and it was as though overnight someone had taken a vacuum cleaner to my brain and sucked out all of the nasty and the dark. In its place was clarity and perspective and awe at the two most beautiful things I had ever seen in my life. I fell madly, psychotically, probably unhealthily in love with my two babies. And it’s only gotten “worse” each day. As I sit here, I think back on my bag of rice-how much I loved it and cared for it and comforted it while my mom paid for our groceries. Maybe all those years I fantasized about being pregnant was misdirected. I hadn’t wanted to maternity clothes and the shower and the kicks and the attention. It wasn’t the belly I wanted, it was the baby. And while the road there was surprisingly hard, where I sit now, with two babies smiling at me and chewing on their fingers, is completely, entirely right.