still recovering: on my path out of a dreadful pregnancy

For the first sixth months of Simon’s life, I wondered: How long will I feel relieved not to be nauseated and flattened? My pregnancy continued to loom large. Physically and emotionally, I was recovering–not from the birth, but from the difficult, unpleasant pregnancy.

And then, sometime around the six-month mark, the intensity gradually ebbed.

Whenever I do something or go somewhere for the first time since I gave birth to Simon, I’m still confronted by challenging memories and visceral feelings. When we went to the same Halloween celebration (and I could feel the nausea again, remembering it, and felt a little anxious leaving the house without all my protein-rich garlic-and-onion-free snacks and iced herbal tea and tissues). When we headed out for our pre-Christmas outing to downtown Minneapolis. So perhaps some of this recovery will happen as we cycle a year out from Simon’s birth.

Some of it, too, happened as I realized how profoundly ill, exhausted, and depressed I’d been in view of how wellness felt once I could feel it again. If your newborn is waking you every hour and a half, and your main reaction is “wow, I feel so great, it’s amazing to have energy again! oh, I’m enjoying food, this is AWESOME!,” some dark shit has gone down, that’s all I’m saying. So I experienced the pregnancy, just pushing through as best I could; and then I experienced realizing how difficult and bad it really had been, at a whole new level, aghast as well as relived; and then I slowly accepted that I really am okay again and can count on that now. I’m really not pregnant. I’ll wake up tomorrow and still not be pregnant. Amen.

I was told, while I was pregnant, that I would “forget about all this” the moment I saw my precious baby’s face. People want to tell you that it’s “worth it.” I don’t know exactly what drugs these people are on.

I remember damned well what it felt like to be sick and hopeless for months on end. I can look straight at Simon and remember it. And while I truly do love my baby with a heavens-spilling-over-with-singing-angels sort of passion, I would not have chosen to get pregnant if I’d had foreknowledge of what that experience would entail.

I don’t have a tidy wrap-up. But I know some of you work with pregnant people and some of you have had traumatic pregnancies, and I just want to speak to this part of the experience here.

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  1. Posted 21 January 2013 at 2:39 PM | Permalink

    And thank you for continuing to speak to it. For one, it helps to cut through that bullshit line that “everything is forgotten once you see your baby’s face!” Because it’s not necessarily the case. And why would overwhelming love erase other overwhelming feelings anyway?

    As always, I think what you’ve shared here offers up a good for other women. I know I will (and have already) point people here so that they can read your story and not feel so all alone.

  2. Sorenson
    Posted 22 January 2013 at 2:58 AM | Permalink

    Ohhhh yes. My first pregnancy wasn’t so bad but the second one was a shocker. Terrible ante-natal anxiety and panic. Terrible heart burn. Terrible nausea. Exhaustion. It was just miserable. I still shudder when I see a pregnant woman, and my daughter is two and a half. I am very glad to have her in my life but the horror of the pregnancy did not fade quickly and I suspect it never will.

  3. Lara
    Posted 22 January 2013 at 7:41 AM | Permalink

    Heck, I just had a bunch of dental work during my second pregnancy, and 5 years later I am still surprised and pleased every time I can get my own self out of a dentist’s chair! I have finally stopped visiting bathrooms just because I see a bathroom sign and I’m not carrying a baby or a toddler at the moment, but I still consider it. And those are responses to ordinary, very small discomforts. My own mom can still be relied upon to dig for one of the crumpled tissues that are always at the bottom of her purse as a reflex response to spills and drips in public, even on her grown kids. I am not saying that you will permanently feel the trauma of your pregnancy experience, since I expect it will continue to soften with time, and overlaying the memories of better years will move it into the background. But I do think our childbearing and childrearing experiences are intense, in a way that I know has re-shaped me, permanently, not just in relation to my kids, but who I am and how I operate in the world.

  4. Posted 22 January 2013 at 9:32 AM | Permalink

    I can relate somewhat to this. My situation wasn’t as severe during the pregnancy, which I think eased my postpartum views of it a bit, but I still shudder at that time and there are a handful of triggers (so to speak) that send me back to that time.

    One difference for me is that I always viewed Oliver (and Bella) outside of the pregnancy experience. My brain categorizes them as seperate, perhaps as a coping mechanism. But then it’s more that I get kind of body blaming a little bit, as though it was my body’s fault for being so sick and miserable during pregnancy. Add in the message from my mom that if I just thought more positively (like she did) or kept more busy (like she did) then I wouldn’t have been so miserable in the first place. NEAT-O, MOM!

    We are thinking very seriously about a third, which is surprising to me. But I also am lining up many things in order to be able to handle another pregnancy. I am planning on anti-nausea meds this time (cross my fingers they work), hiring help (since family not interested in seeing kids much) so that I can get adequate rest – KEY for me in managing nausea & depression and then also possibly (probably?) continuing on depression meds during the pregnancy. It is my hope that addressing these key issues will help me get through the rough months so that I can enter into the newborn/baby months in a much better place. We shall see…

    • Erin
      Posted 22 January 2013 at 10:41 AM | Permalink

      We’re also considering a third. Well, that’s not entirely true – I want to have a third, but my husband doesn’t. He thinks I”m out of my mind for even considering it after what i went through in my second pregnancy. I almost had to go on disability, and I certainly would have had to except I have a flexible job and I was able to spend almost all day in bed. The memory of the misery seems far more etched in his brain than mine. Isn’t that weird? I was so happy after my second was born – ecstatic. I had a great birth, I love babies, I love nursing, I even love being pregnant (except for the complete misery part – like @Laura, I compartmentalized the pregnancy from the nausea, which sounds weird but worked for me). I figure nine months of terrible, horrible, unimaginable awful (which is not a true risk to myself or the fetus, fingers crossed) is worth it. Since I want another baby. (Plus I would take zofran from the moment of getting pregnant.) But in any event, I think my husband is right and the baby is off the table.

      But I remember one time I heard some music that had played in that pregnancy months and months afterward and I was so overcome with nausea I had to leave the room. Bodily memory is a weird thing.

  5. Lyons
    Posted 24 January 2013 at 8:32 AM | Permalink

    Totally, totally with you. My baby is almost 4 months, and I appreciate multiple times a day not being pregnant. I feel like I lost a year of my life. I had gotten so used to feeling horrible that I thought I had just turned into a lazy wimp. Immediately after giving birth I felt absolutely amazing and realized how truly awful the whole experience had been. Of course then PPD hit a few days later, and I went through another couple of weeks of hell, but at least I could eat normal food, drink normal water, and not feel like I was in a complete haze all the time. I also hated to hear people say that it would all be worth it, etc. I most certainly did not feel like it was all worth it after having the baby, and I still don’t. I wasn’t joyously in love with my baby right away, and it isn’t the best thing that’s ever happened to me. I hope that it will continue to get better and better, but I certainly have a much more realistic view of parenting than I used to. I’ve been trying to talk about my experiences as much as possible to friends and acquaintances, because I think there is a grossly inaccurate picture painted of it in our culture, and it was a huge shock to me. Thanks for writing this. I have no idea how you went through it with another kid.

    • Molly
      Posted 24 January 2013 at 9:13 AM | Permalink

      I’m sorry that was all so hard for you: I’ve been lucky and grateful both times to have easy, joyful postpartum periods, and it seems just no fair to have difficulties then piled on top of an unusually difficult pregnancy. Best of luck as you continue recovering from all this and connecting with your child beyond all the yuck.

      As for how I did it twice–I didn’t. My first pregnancy was very normal–sick during the first trimester, fabulously pleasant third trimester–and I was looking forward to being pregnant again. It just didn’t work out that way this time, alas …

      • Lyons
        Posted 25 January 2013 at 4:25 PM | Permalink

        Oh I meant I have no idea how you went through your bad pregnancy while taking care of another kid! My mom was very very sick with my younger brother, and she had to have a friend care for me when my dad was at work. I have a memory of standing at the edge of the bed looking up at her and being proud one time when I got sick and threw up, because I was just like mommy.

      • Molly
        Posted 25 January 2013 at 5:48 PM | Permalink

        Oh, I see! Yeah, that did really suck–more because I had to withdraw so much from Noah’s life and couldn’t enjoy him much for the better part of a year than because it made things harder for me, but that’s largely because he was (thank God thank God thank God) old enough to understand what was going on and help out.

        And on that note, it’s really interesting to me that you remember that moment from your own childhood. I do wonder how Noah will remember that episode in our lives together … probably not fondly, as even his baby-loving self stopped suggesting we have additional babies once the pregnancy was SO bad for SO long.

  6. Posted 3 March 2013 at 1:08 PM | Permalink

    Thank you so much for sharing your experience with the world. My wife Catherine found it and read it to me this morning. This level of HG is uncommon, and no one gets it. So It has helped emotionally to see there are others “enjoying the hard part” of a newborn.

    I can’t tell you how important it is to find we are not alone.


    Adam Crabtree

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