Wednesday, March 24, 2010

spring hibernation

There are women who glide through early pregnancy, hardly even remembering that they are pregnant except for occasional hankerings for a burger or a nap.

I am not one of those women.

For me, early pregnancy is more like getting hit by a train. Everyday for about 8 weeks.

Morning-sickness isn't a good term for what I experience. All-day sickness would be more accurate. In fact, first thing, lying in bed, I usually have a few moments of bodily peace, when my body has sufficiently reset from sleep to temporarily forget that its mission in life as of late is to replicate the conditions of permanent sea-sickness. The problem is that my mind still knows what is coming. I experience an overwhelming desire to just go back to sleep, not so much from tiredness as from avoidance. The hours I sleep are hours I do not feel so bad.

I am incapable of throwing up. I have thrown up exactly twice since I was twelve years old, both during my labor with Elan. In case of food poisoning, this is inconvenient. But for morning-sickness, this is a good thing, since I would be doing it at all kinds of inopportune moments like outside Elan's nursery school or on a BART train.

You'd think, having survived the first trimester twice before, that it would not come as a surprise. And yet, the sheer overwhelmingness of exhaustion and illness still take my breath away. And then there is my lack of interest, one of the most startling effects. In my regular life, I pride myself on being at least a little organized, but in the first trimester, I lose all ability to care. Bills piling up, laundry ceiling-high, toys covering every surface of the living room floor? I cannot summon the energy to care. There are moments when I worry that, caught up in my own internal-hormone drama, I will miss something crucial. I try to do the bare minimum of very-necessary tasks while I let most things fall apart around me.

I remember after my miscarriage, when the hormones had finally died down and I started to feel better physically. There was one afternoon when I did a few loads of laundry, cleaned the kitchen and started dinner. Shock! Awe! How was it possible to get so much done? I was coming out of months of sheer exhaustion, when emptying the dishwasher was a monumental task.

This probably all sounds very bitch-moan of me. You're pregnant again, I imagine people saying. What more do you want?

And that's exactly the conundrum. Of course I'm happy about being pregnant. I'm immeasurably relieved by that ultrasound which showed us the flick-flick of a beating heart. But am I... happy? No, I wouldn't say so. I would say my daily sensations and thoughts are more depressed than happy. This is something that I struggled with in both my previous first-trimesters. My first time, with Elan, the depressive feelings surprised me and I attributed them solely to being so sick. But the second time, I became pretty sure that the crazy tea of hormones brewing inside me has a depressant effect.

When I shared this with my sister, who is studying to be a midwife, she found in her reading a well-respected childbirth expert who stated that "depression is a common reaction to pregnancy in the first trimester."

When I googled "depression in pregnancy" four years ago, pregnant with Elan, all I found was references to post-partum depression. But it seems that this area has been studied more since then. It is now thought that 10-20% of women experience some level of depression during pregnancy.
"For years, experts mistakenly believed that pregnancy hormones protected against depression, leaving women more vulnerable to the illness only after the baby was born and their hormone levels plunged. They now believe that the rapid increase in hormone levels at the start of pregnancy can disrupt brain chemistry and lead to depression." (
Here are common symptoms of depression, all of which I experience in the first trimester of pregnancy: sleeping either too much or too little, lack of interest in activities you previously enjoyed, difficulty concentrating, changes in appetite, loss of energy or slowed movement.

It could almost make me laugh, except it more makes me want to cry. [Cue concerned family members calling me, to check: are you all right?]

That's the kicker. I am all right. In fact, according to the experts, I am perfectly healthy, exactly where I want to be, stewing in a rich broth of hormones. In my last pregnancy, I took comfort in this, the old wives' tale respected by the mainstream medical establishment - that morning-sickness and other symptoms indicate high hormone levels and therefore tend to coincide with good pregnancy outcomes. Of course, that wasn't the case for me last time, and this was part of what made me feel so betrayed in dealing with the fall-out from my partial molar pregnancy.

But now, I have the image of that tiny little bean with its beat-beat of a heart. I have that to hold onto, and I have my awareness that this is a temporary condition that just feels never-ending. And so I grit my teeth and try to stay in motion as much as I can - getting some exercise, fresh air, eating as healthfully as I can - until the moment comes everyday, usually about thirty seconds after putting Elan down for the night, when I collapse into my safe place, my haven: bed.

Hibernation. It's the way to get through, at least for now.

1 comment:

  1. Merry Welker-TollaMarch 25, 2010 at 12:14 AM

    Congrats on the parasite!
    Oy vey Becca! I hear you on this one! I am now 31 weeks pregnant and still feeling like shit. But nothing compared to the first trimester (which gets worse each time). It's like a brick hit you in the head. Oh and I DID throw up all over Yolo county: in the bushes outside preschool, on a walk in the arboretum, in the Target bathroom, in my piano students' bathrooms, you name it! And it IS very isolating to feel that you can't tell anyone. We ended up telling Ronan earlier than planned because we wanted him to understand what was "wrong" with Mommy. I went into full blown hibernation then (no answered calls or emails, going to bed at 8pm, etc.) And am still in partial hibernation. I feel like the only thing I'm capable of doing right now is growing this person and keeping my other 2 kids fed and at least partially clothed. My level of functioning is amazingly low. But shit! We're doing A LOT right now! You are forming hands, feet, eyes, a heart, a brain, etc. As soon as the nausea of the first trimester passed, in came the vulvar varicose veins (AWEFUL!) and the back pain, and the fatigue dragged on. I feel guilty, like I am supposed to enjoy this "blessed" period of my life. However all I can think is "are we done yet?" I'm often depressed and at best frustrated. And, although for different reasons than yours last year - I feel betrayed by my body which expelled my IUD without telling me. Like this wasn't even SUPPOSED to happen! Having a kid while being pregnant also makes it a million times harder. I just love when people with only one kid tell me how much they enjoyed pregnancy. I think, "yeah, well I enjoyed my first pregnancy too..." Hang in there! It's ok to think of it as a means to an end and not itself an enjoyable process (I should take my own advice). I'm wishing you a healthy baby and an easier 2nd and 3rd trimester. And hey, at least we have relatively easy labors! :)
    Merry Welker-Tolla