When you tell people you are pregnant, they are usually excited for you. Especially when you are a 31 year-old married woman. Friends' voices rise several octaves in shrieks of congratulations. You are expected to respond with similar enthusiasm, jump up and down a little bit, and grin unreservedly.
For the first couple months I told people I was pregnant with my first baby, when they shrieked, I had the instinct to cry and tell them to go screw themselves. I would want to scream, no, I don't want this baby. I'm not happy about this. Somehow, I'd fake my way through it, and then go home and mope around the house. Sometimes I would sob uncontrollably. I was mean as a snake to my husband (his exact words). I felt the baby was the end of my life. I had just finished graduate school and in summer of 2008 the world economy was going to hell. I had no job, and was in the middle of a career transition. I blamed my fetus.
One day when I was about five months along I went to prenatal yoga. Lying in the yoga studio, looking up at huge glossy photos of newborns that adorned the walls, I felt a surge of anger towards the babies in the photo. I hate you, I thought. I hate all of you. I said to my mom, I don't want it, I don't want this baby.
I was clinically depressed. I was literally not myself.
My therapist called a summit with my husband and my mom. We discussed antidepressant medication and decided I needed it. We made detailed schedules of my day so I would feel less anxious. I was told not to think of when the baby was born, but only to focus on the here and now. But when you are depressed and pregnant, thinking about attachment is terrifying. Doctors tell you that your chances of post-partum depression are so high that you may not attach to your baby. And because you feel so awful, so unloving, you can't imagine loving your baby like you know you should. And you feel terribly guilty because a mother must love her baby. That's what has to happen.
So what happened to me? The months passed, my pregnancy progressed, and I grew more at ease with the idea of being a mother. Slowly, the depression lifted. I was able to start buying things for the nursery, to attend birth preparation classes, and to think of life after the due date.
The minute my son was born, I fell madly in love. Literally, as I felt his shoulder pop out of me after a natural childbirth and 52-hour labor, I knew it was going to be ok. I felt such joy. I had that euphoric feeling that I was unstoppable and could climb mountains with him attached at my hip. And indeed, since was born, I have not had more than a fleeting moment's depression and trust me, life has not been smooth sailing. But we get along great, him and I. He is the love of my life and I also think it's fair to say in the first year of his life, I have been one of the happiest and most functional new moms I know. Our son is happy and healthy and hilarious. I started a successful new business and somehow manage work and home. As I'm writing this I hate myself for thinking of my beloved son as the "it" I once resented. How could that have been?
I blame hormones and the many mysteries of depression for creating that awful person. I thank my loving husband, my mom, my amazing support system, and Prozac for getting me through.
Now I am pregnant again. When I told my husband he was happy, but nervous. My pregnancy had been traumatic for him. We had a false alarm and my mom admitted she was glad I wasn't pregnant (even though it turned out I was) -- "it was tough, honey, maybe you don't remember."
And you know what -- I don't really remember! I think Mother Nature has blocked out the painful memories, just like you can't remember what labor feels like. Nature is smart. But I know I'm ok, because I know that attachment is the gift Nature gives to new parents. I know that depression is a disease that we can thankfully treat, but that the love between a mother and her baby really can trump everything. The cliché that a mom would jump in front of a bus to save her child: that is really true, and that is attachment.
I wish I could go back and tell me at three months pregnant that it would all be ok. I hope a pregnant woman reading this who is struggling with the incredible alienation of antenatal depression reads this and feels some hope. You can't go it alone, and you need to feel allowed get the help you need. Don't be ashamed.
And at the end of it all, you will get the greatest gift in the world.
Are you a new or expecting parent, or do you know one? Get a copy of the Early Moments Matter toolkit at www.earlymomentsmatter.org and learn about an exciting public service effort to promote early childhood attachment. Help give our next generation the best chance at a life of emotional wellness.