Thursday, March 31, 2011

Weepy expectant moms, Psycho Chick and the Missing Berlin Tarts

I recently ran into an old acquaintance at a party. She is expecting her first child this summer. Her husband was busy drinking for three and whining - to anyone he could corner - about his wife's suddenly volatile temperament. "She's four months along and she's making me crazy. She cries all the time. She's always tired. It's so lame. I don't know if I can deal."

Puh-lease. If I hadn't been someone else's guest, I might have piped up and told the oaf that if he can't deal with what sound like normal pregnancy hormones, good luck with the whole parenting thing.

As far as I'm concerned, he should be on his knees thanking whatever higher power he deems holy that his wife hasn't suffered any complications. Of either the frequently discussed physical type or the less talked about but equally real emotional variety.

A few years ago Jenny McCarthy penned a popular memoir about pregnancy; I believe it was called Belly Laughs. Pregnancy transformed her into a person she refers to as Psycho Chick. Psycho Chick did things like assault her husband with the television remote when he complained of her choice of programming. She also peed in his car when he refused to stop at a restaurant so she could use the facilities.

All pretty normal stuff, in my experience at least. Some small percentage of women get really lucky. They go through nine months of pregnancy mentally unfazed. Sure, they experience the effects of tiredness and physical strain, but their personalities don't shift.

A significant number of women fall into the large group that encompasses both Jenny McCarthy and my old acquaintance. They spend several months on an emotional roller coaster. The pregnancy hormones heighten their reactions to everyday setbacks. Women who wouldn't think twice about minor culinary setbacks sob inconsolably if they burn their morning toast. Independent women find themselves feeling needy for the first time in their lives and crying over trivial or remote things.

Plenty of pregnancy books address these normal emotional changes. Most of their authors also assure readers that most women start to feel really happy around the fourth month.
Most contemporary pregnancy tomes also include discussions of post-partum depression and the less serious baby blues phenomenon.

Yet none of the mainstream pregnancy guides I encountered considered the possibility of PRE-partum depression or anxiety disorders. Which absolutely exist and which confound thousands of women with very much wanted pregnancies. I don't understand why nobody discusses this problem - not the books, not most obstetricians.

I know that pre-partum depression and anxiety are not rare. I've met MANY women who admitted to feeling deeply sad, panicky or resentful for pretty much their entire pregnancies.

Since I don't know thousands of people, and since some people are inherently very private about such matters, my small sampling leads me to believe that pre-partum emotional disorders serious enough to warrant professional attention might be almost as common as swollen ankles.

In most of their cases, their doctors shrugged off their emotional concerns with flip remarks like, "Be thankful you're not puking 24/7," as if that will make the patient say, "you know I am happy after all." Or advice like "Maybe you should talk to someone," as if talk therapy can cure a massive chemical swing in one's physiology.

Because that's what causes Psycho Chick behavior. It has nothing to do with whether the child is wanted or not. Pregnancy just doesn't agree with some women, and I think it's reprehensible that people feel it's alright to make them feel worse by telling them to buck up, or like the guy at the party, to stop bawling about everything.

And yes, I write from experience. I could have given Jenny McCarthy a run for her money by the five month mark and by the last trimester I was a full blown psychopath. I felt so anxious and unhinged all the time that I didn't sleep more than two consecutive hours EVER during the last six months of pregnancy.

Sleep deprivation of that caliber can make a person insane. Nothing helped. Not yoga, acupuncture, intense exercise, intense rest, prescription sleeping pills or soothing teas. I spent endless hours awake with my mind winding its way through dark and twisted places I probably could never have imagined before. And I'm a pretty creative person.

I became obsessed with getting the Grape out so that I could finally get some sleep. How insane is that? I contemplated performing my own c-section and once googled the instructions. Somewhere in the recesses of my mind, I knew this was crazy behavior. When I reported it to my OB, she assured me that I should let her perform the operation as she'd do a better job.

I also became paranoid about strange things. I hid all the family recipes, many of which came from my late grandmother and cannot be replicated. I cannot articulate why I did this, but I hid them so well I fear the Berlin tarts that melt in your mouth are lost forever.

Certain I'd never regain my faculties, I donated every single article of clothing that qualified as business wear to the Salvation Army. I ordered Christmas cards in July because I was convinced I wouldn't have time to do so in the fall. I never once considered whether I'd have time to sign and address the cards.

Now that I've had time to sleep on my ordeal, I believe my OB never took my emotional complaints totally seriously because I looked relatively good to a casual observer. Yes, an obstetrician who sees 50 patients a day after pulling an all-nighter at the hospital absolutely qualifies as a casual observer.

I had no appetite whatsoever. By forcing myself to eat (mainly to avoid fainting) I gained what she called the bare minimum of weight. I didn't hurl, nor did I swell or become puffy or sweaty. I dressed up for doctor's appointments (to get some wear out of my maternity wardrobe which I knew I'd never use again). I also had some serious physical complications that probably made my emotional ones seem trivial to my physicians.

So it's over now. My brain has returned to its baseline. Life goes on. Other than aging me a bit, the emotionally exhausting ordeal of pregnancy didn't cause me any permanent harm. So you might wonder why I choose to revisit an hour so far from my finest. Three reasons:

If one woman reads this, sees herself, shows it to her doctor and finally gets the attention she needs, I'll feel I've provided a valuable service.

Ditto if one woman reads this and realizes it's not crazy to feel depressed or anxious about a wanted child. Those feelings will pass when the hormones readjust to their prior levels, which can take time.

My final reason for sharing is entirely self-serving. If anyone has any idea where an insanely hormonal pregnant woman would lock away a stack of family recipes, please shoot me an email. I'll send you a batch of those tarts if you're right.

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