Pregnancy is hard for me. The morning sickness is debilitating, the squishing of my internal organs as baby grows uncomfortable, the third trimester aches and pains and pre-labor contractions nearly insufferable, and the c-section delivery second only to a Criminal Minds torture scene. To say I look forward to the day baby comes into the world is an understatement.
When asked at hospital admittance if I suffer from postpartum depression, my answer is always no. It’s not depression. It’s elation. Elation at the fact that I no longer have to undergo the misery of pregnancy. Elation at baby and I having made it through surgery alive. Elation at getting to see and hold and know this new person I’ve grown inside me for nine months.
Depression, no. Elation, yes. But also something in-between.
I wouldn’t characterize this in-between feeling as sadness. It’s more one of fear, regret, and nostalgia. I attribute it to my anxiety, which I was diagnosed as having four years ago after my son’s traumatic birth but which, after a couple therapy sessions and careful introspection, I realize I’ve had my entire life.
This fear and regret and nostalgia manifests itself in any number of ways, but usually as extreme fantasies, the roots of which always involve something bad happening to my baby or family, me obsessing about the abrupt transition from being pregnant to not, and me reminiscing about the parts of pregnancy that I think I miss. To be clear, these fantasies don’t involve me doing anything bad to my baby or family or me regretting bringing my baby into the world. Instead, they involve plausible yet completely out-of-left-field scenarios in which harm comes our way and me longing for and regretting that I will no longer feel my baby kicking inside me or daydream about the day I hear his first cries despite the physical and emotional toll pregnancy always has on me.
This in-between feeling, this postpartum monster in my head, strikes when I am feeling particularly vulnerable or alone: at bedtime; when the visitors have dispersed and my husband has returned to work, leaving me to be the sole caretaker of baby for as long as maternity leave extends; when baby naps, relinquishing me briefly from my responsibilities as mother and permitting me to be alone with my hormone-fueled thoughts.
This postpartum monster plants visions of me accidentally dropping baby as I carry him to his changing table or attempt to feed him. It embeds nightmares of baby aspirating on spit-up during the night while I lay unaware beside him, slumbering peacefully. It makes me question every twitch of baby’s eyes and smack of baby’s lips, certain baby is suffering from the very same brain-injury-related seizures his brother before him suffered at birth as a result of his stroke in utero. It tortures me with thoughts of disease and accident and tragedy befalling the ones I love most.
This postpartum monster reminds me that I will never again experience the miracle that is growing a human inside me — that I alone solidified this fate for myself when I chose to have a tubal ligation during this last c-section (never mind that the doctor confirmed this was the right decision after determining another c-section would be out of the question thanks to the severe scar tissue problems that made delivering this last baby one sliver shy of impossible). It reminds me that never again will I feel tiny baby kicks or hiccups. It makes me miss the times when I would talk to my swollen midsection and know someone on the inside was listening. It makes me remember with fondness the first time I heard baby’s first cries and makes me regret that I will never again be overcome with an emotion so raw and joyful as that of knowing this new life will thrive. It makes me regret all I took for granted during pregnancy — makes me wonder if my discomfort and agony wasn’t just a figment of my imagination.
This postpartum monster resides somewhere between depression and elation. It shares living quarters with fear, regret, and nostalgia, lingering for weeks, toying with my feelings, and renting space in my head. This postpartum monster will soon be evicted and no longer able to evoke such primal emotion, but its imprint will remain forever, for though its life span is short-lived and its capacity to take me over entirely nonexistent, it is real nonetheless. This postpartum monster is real.
And it is the reality of this postpartum monster that can make it the scariest monster of all.
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