“I have loved the stars too fondly to be fearful of the night.” // Prenatal Depression: Winter 2020/2021

DenaMarch 1, 2021

It was the strangest thing, finding out that I was pregnant again after all of these years. It was difficult to believe. There was this part of me, deep inside, that always felt like I would have one more baby. With each month that passed, though, I received fresh confirmation that perhaps that was not in the cards for me. There was an ache in that, but an acceptance too. After all, my hands are as full as full can be. And then, as years passed, the acceptance part grew vaster and the ache grew quieter. So that on that late November morning when I realized what was happening, my reigning emotion was disbelief.

I suppose that disbelief took hold and planted its roots firmly within me. The other emotions came and went–excitement, joy, fear, anxiety, hope–but it was always disbelief that won out. I simply didn’t believe it was going to happen. And then, on a December afternoon, I found myself laying on a table with my belly being scanned for confirmation of pregnancy. And it was there that I would receive the most shocking news of all. The nurse said, “This is going to take longer, because I see two.”

There are only a few times in your life when you are truly shocked. Most things we can anticipate in one way or another. Usually we have some idea of what is coming. We play a part in shaping our destiny and even the unexpected, in many ways, can be predicted or at least anticipated to some degree. But then there are moments when you are truly and unquestionably knocked off your feet. That moment was that for me. First, pure shock and then, that familiar, all-encompassing disbelief that I was beginning to know so well.

Hyperemesis Gravidarum set in quickly and fiercely. By 6 weeks I was in agony and by 8 weeks I was bedridden most of the time. Nausea and lethargy ruled my days. I would suffer that way through December, January and the first half of February. Seemingly endless days of pain. I ended up in the emergency room, unable to keep down any fluid or food. I was severely dehydrated and malnourished. It took 2 standard IV bags and 1 dextrose IV bag to stabilize me. The holidays came and went in an utter haze.

The one thing that I hope people understand about HG is that it is relentless. It is a pain unlike anything else I have ever known. Where even the most terrible pain comes and goes, HG does not let up. The nausea and the lethargy are constant, unwavering, without end. Days turn into weeks and weeks turn into months. All the while you are praying for a break in the suffering, but the break doesn’t come.

It was a bizarre contrast to be so sick and yet, still, to be in such disbelief. At some point in my ongoing delirium, hormones took over and my disbelief shifted to outright denial. I knew what was happening but I was struggling to survive. I could not see past the suffering and into the miracle. There was just pain, and I gritted my teeth and bore it, unable to look forward, only capable of survival. In that wilderness, prenatal depression returned to me. For a month, I would slip back and forth between a jagged will to survive and a despairing resignation into hopelessness.

It’s not a secret that depression has been an ever-present part of my life. I live with it but I know, very well, how to navigate it. Yet, there have been a small handful of times in my life where that changes. I describe the difference as living and thriving with depression versus going into a depression. In that former case, you are okay, you can use tools to manage and thrive. In the latter, you are not okay. It is a dark, inescapable place, where even your most effective tools become useless. Gratefully, because I had lived through prenatal depression already, I vaguely new what was happening and that it was temporary. Still, there were a couple of times where it was truly awful, what Parker J. Palmer calls, “the deadly darkness.” This passage from him says it perfectly–

“Like a wild animal, the soul is tough, resilient, resourceful, savvy, and self-sufficient: it knows how to survive in hard places. I learned about these qualities during my bouts with depression. In that deadly darkness, the faculties I had always depended on collapsed. My intellect was useless; my emotions were dead; my will was impotent; my ego was shattered. But from time to time, deep in the thickets of my inner wilderness, I could sense the presence of something that knew how to stay alive even when the rest of me wanted to die. That something was my tough and tenacious soul.”

Finally, in February, there were signs of improvement. It began with good hours. I remember distinctly being on a phone call that lasted just over an hour. When the call ended, I realized that I hardly felt nauseous for the duration of the call. It felt like bliss. Intervals of respite like that, slowly–very slowly, became more frequent. Eventually I got to a place where I could stave off nausea by eating. Now, at 17 weeks, I feel nauseous in the mornings before I eat, but other than that I can keep it at bay by eating small meals every 30-60 minutes. It’s a lot because typically I only eat twice a day. (I love my intermittent daily fasting…) But I recognize that this is what my body and my babies need right now.

I realize that this post is quite dark, but it’s important. I am not one to minimize the darkness. It is a part of life that too often we hesitate to share. In contrast to all of this, the past few weeks have been full of light and excitement. We found out the gender(s) of the twins. As I’ve been feeling better I’ve been able to slowly return to a sense of normalcy. As our ultrasounds become more frequent and I see the babies more often, my feeling of disbelief has faded. These babies are coming, and although pregnancy has not been easy for me, I absolutely adore motherhood. The prospect of newborn twins is, of course, daunting (especially as a mother who had a colicky infant) but with all of the years that have passed since I last had a baby, I have gained so much knowledge and perspective.

I know now just how quickly it will all come to pass. This will most certainly be my final pregnancy and even at the worst of it, the nightmare of it, I knew that it was special and a blessing among blessings. There is so much that I am truly excited about and grateful for. I’ll share more soon.

–title quote from “Twilight Hours” by Sarah Williams, 1868

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