A few days ago, I was reading a post about “The One Thing to Tell Pregnant Moms: Congratulations.” All moms-to-be, the author says, should hear congratulations. Teen mothers, older mothers, those with many children: these women all deserve to hear “congratulations.” They do not need to hear our commentary on their size, their age, their family’s size, the age of the other children in the family, or any other random comment that emerges from our open mouths.
I understood her point. I agree with her point. But I chafed a little, too.
When I meet a pregnant woman, “congratulations” is not the first thing that comes to mind. “Happy” is not the adjective that comes to mind, either.
The reason is simple. Neither of my pregnancies were happy times in my life.
I wanted them to be. Believe me, I did. I love my children!
But I spent much of my first pregnancy wondering what was wrong with me that I wasn’t happy. Why I was swinging, endlessly, relentlessly swinging, from irritability to despair. Why I was so frightened. Why I couldn’t keep my moods under control. Why I couldn’t trust my own mind to tell me the truth. Why none of the pregnancy manuals mentioned this particular symptom of pregnancy. Why I wished–often thought–my life was over. Why my husband was afraid I wouldn’t be alive when he returned from work.
Why, when I hinted to outsiders about my inner turmoil, they dismissed my feelings.
“That’s just normal. Pregnant women are always moody,” I was told. “Dreary, cheery, and weary! Those are the three trimesters. You’ll hit cheery soon enough, so cheer up! Congratulations!”
Instead, I hit week 29.
In both pregnancies, week 29 was when my moods hit a sharp curve and careened headlong into the mountain of mental illness. With the first pregnancy, I got a diagnosis (bipolar II), proof that my moods weren’t “normal,” medication, a stack of literature on the subject, and a church that rejected me. With the second pregnancy, I got more medication and more sympathy. (Different church, different attitude.)
“Congratulations”? That was the last thing I wanted to hear.
Now that my pregnancy days are finished, I look at other pregnant women and wonder if “congratulations” is what they want to hear. For most of them, it is. But for a few, it isn’t.
I look in their faces and I wonder how many of them are frightened, just like I was; depressed and out of control, like I was; vaguely aware that something is wrong but not knowing what it is; trying to say the words but not being understood; wondering if anyone will understand or if they will suffer alone. Just like I was.
I wonder, too, what question I might ask that would enable that woman to answer honestly and freely. Yes, I’m depressed. Yes, my thoughts scare me. Yes, my moods are uncontrollable. Yes, I need help, and I don’t know where or who or what might help me.
For those of you who haven’t experienced this, congratulations. Have happy (or at least) normal pregnancies and consult What to Expect When You’re Expecting all you want.
For others, though, my experiences feel uncomfortably familiar. It may be mental illness. It could be many other things leading to a tumultuous pregnancy.
I want you to know that you’re not alone. There is help available. There are people who understand, who will not dismiss your feelings and thoughts, who will love you and your baby.
Here’s some resources to get started:
Kitt O’Malley has gathered a list of great organizations that help those with mental illnesses. NAMI has some pages dedicated to information about mental illnesses and pregnancy: bipolar disorder; depression; other pregnancy considerations for women with psychiatric histories.
Please feel free to suggest other links in the comments and to share your story.