New Mom, New Anxiety: Dealing with PPA

Acknowledgement: Special thanks to Erica for sharing her experiences in this post. She writes for her own blog, Mom Jeans, but was kind enough to contribute here. I found this post difficult to write due to the sensitive subject matter. However, I think it is important to talk about and I appreciate her willingness to be open on the topic.

Here we are, one month and counting into parenthood.

Matt’s already blown off some steam about the sleep deprivation, frustrations, and difficulties returning to work. Not going to lie, this is tough business. However, we knew that going in. Thanks to my mother and mother-in-law, we’ve at least picked up the tools to do this on our own. All night crying sessions have given way to trial and error routines that end with her quiet and us relieved.

Even so, like Matt, I’m struggling. A lot of my struggling, though, isn’t directly associated with sleep deprivation or frustration. Sure, I’ve been experiencing those, but I’ve surprised myself and taken them better than I thought I would. I haven’t broken down from exhaustion yet. However, I have broken down and cried from weird thoughts and scenarios that involve death and dying.

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The first night we were home, I did the classic new parent move of standing over the crib to make sure Zelda was breathing. I was terrified that she would just spontaneously stop. What with warnings about SIDS and such going around with no clear explanation, my fuzzy sleep-deprived head would start revving up. Eventually sleep won out, but that was clearly the first instance I can remember fearing for Zelda’s life.

In the coming weeks, my head would crowd with more vivid and macabre pictures of Zelda dying: dropping her when taking her to the changing table and splitting her head open, slipping out of Matt’s grip during a bath and drowning, seeing her strangle on some spit up or vomit and choking, being in a wreck and the car seat failing, or the dog suddenly turning on her. Then they got weirder, like someone breaking into the house and shooting her, someone taking her from me at the metro and tossing her in front of a train, or going to the store and her catching meningitis. Then I started to get afraid of Matt or someone in my family dying. It was like the snowball that jus gets bigger as it rolls downhill.

All of them sounded phobic to me, some completely irrational. I cried a lot, but I did it when no one was looking. I didn’t talk about the weirdness going on because it sounded so irrational, even to me. I wondered if I was going crazy, or if this was some strange version of postpartum depression (PPD). I wanted to be strong for Matt and Zelda, so I swallowed that fear and put on a brave face. I think the only time it slipped was when I asked my mom to stop watching so much Law and Order: SVU. All the episodes with children dying seemed to confirm all the fears in my head.

One day I offhandedly googled “I’m afraid of my baby dying.” Sounds like a cocktail for disaster, right? We all know what happens when you google symptoms. Turns out that was a good move. All the first page hits had names like, “Postpartum Anxiety and the Incessant Fear of Losing Your Child” or “Anyone Else Constantly Worried Their Baby Might Die?” After reading blog posts and forums from other mothers who had the same weird, horrifying thoughts I had in my own head, I relaxed a bit. This is, to a degree, normal. I’m not crazy.

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After realizing that postpartum anxiety (PPA) is common, I opened up a little more. I told some close friends about it, including a mother who has a one and a half year old. She related her own experiences:

Due to a history of depression and knowing an entire boatload of hormones is released just after birth, I assumed PPD would hit me hard. However, I didn’t get depressed, I started to worry. I worried a lot. You know that scene in The Joy Luck Club where the mother drowns her baby? To me, that’s what PPD was. I didn’t have PPD, so what the hell was wrong with me? I loved my baby. Every time she cried, I didn’t hate her, I hated my inability to keep her happy. The horrible and isolating thoughts about her dying crept in slowly. Images of horrific and tragic accidents, me sleep deprived and slipping down the stairs with her in my arms, SIDS sneaking up and taking her away from me in the middle of the night, our cats killing her for no reason at all. I couldn’t watch the news because every story made me panic.

It wasn’t until 6-7 months I told my doctor. When she asked, “Are you sleeping?” I broke into tears; I hadn’t slept more than 2-3 hours at a time since she was born. My heart was constantly in my throat and I had no idea why. Turns out I was suffering from PPD and PPA. I ended up getting a mild antidepressant and therapy. My moods still come in waves but they’re gentle, friendlier. It doesn’t feel like a constant storm. I no longer worry about my baby leaving me. Being able to enjoy my daughter and motherhood is the best feeling in the world. I can’t imagine if I hadn’t gotten help how different my life could have been.

 My thoughts still stray from time to time, like my friend’s, but they’re not as bad as they were those first couple of weeks. I think it might have been a perfect storm of sleep deprivation and the uncertainty of being a new mother, mixed in with those boatloads of hormones. Once i opened up about it, the thoughts got way more manageable. What blows my mind is that no books about having children really cover this sort of thing. Yes, some mention PPD and to keep an eye out for symptoms, but I had no idea PPA existed until the night I did my google search.

I’m sharing this information in hopes that someone comes across it and it eases his or her mind. You’re not alone. Talk to a friend, see your doctor, voice your concerns. It may be difficult for fear of stigma, or people judging your ability to be a mother. Speaking up is a brave thing to do, and the more women that come forward and talk about their experiences, the more other women may feel inclined to speak up.

Hang in there.

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“This is No Dream”: Rosemary’s Baby, My Agency

I’ve got a confession to make. I love the film Rosemary’s Baby.

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Beware the chalky aftertaste.

I saw it for the first time when I was in my early twenties. I was a senior in college and taking a class called American Gothic, a course that would shape my academic trajectory through my MA and even my Ph.D. Rosemary’s Baby was on the required viewing list, and I went into it not knowing what to expect. I think all those feminist and women’s studies courses did a number on how I approached the film. It was not Rosemary giving birth to a demonic baby that bothered me, or even the deeply disturbing imagery of the conception scene. What bothered me the most was Rosemary’s lack of agency throughout the entire film.

Now, one week away from my due date, I feel that theme resonating with me more than ever.

Before I explain, if you haven’t seen the film, here’s the quick version: Rosemary Woodhouse and her new husband Guy move into a swanky New York City apartment (the movie was actually filmed at the Dakota), and soon talk about having children. They become friends with their elderly neighbors, Roman and Minnie Castavet. Unbeknownst to Rosemary, her husband makes a pact with the Castavets: promising their firstborn child for a successful acting career. It turns out that Roman and Minnie are members of a Satan-worshipping witch coven, and they want Satan to impregnate Rosemary. Needless to say, their scheme works and the film follows Rosemary’s painful, complicated pregnancy and her quest to find out the truth.

A popular reading of the film is that it is a commentary of patriarchal culture regarding pregnancy (Berenstein, Skal). Many scholars also attribute this desire to take control of the body as a reaction to the advent of the pill in the 1960’s. On the surface, those readings are completely accurate. At every turn, Rosemary is told what to do, what not to do, what to eat, what medications to take, and is not expected to question any of it. She tries to resist the forces that are building up against her. She attempts to reclaim ownership of her body in a multitude of ways: throwing out the daily “health drinks” Dr. Saperstein prescribed her, getting rid of the pendant with tannis root Minnie had given to her as a gift, and speaking up to Guy about wanting a new obstetrician because she doesn’t trust Dr. Saperstein. Two interesting points raised in an article about the film mention the commentary Rosemary receives about her appearance and her decision to cut her hair (and to be fair, I adore that pixie haircut and rocked it a few times myself). The commentary about her gaunt and pale appearance, Smyth comments, is indicative of the societal notion that the pregnant body is under constant surveillance. She views Rosemary’s haircut as one of her many attempts to reclaim her body.

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Flawless, beautiful hair.

All of these points resonate with me. I do not necessarily feel, though, that this is a product of patriarchal society alone anymore. I agree that the film reflects anxieties about female agency and the pregnant body, but I think it goes beyond patriarchal forces. Adrienne Rich published Of Woman Born in the late 70’s, before my time, and she clearly shows how pregnancy and motherhood have been institutionalized by these forces. In one example, she examines the tool of the forceps, a tool that involves “the effective displacement of the midwife through the male monopoly of that invention” (p. 142). However, in our recent childbirth class we learned that forceps are more or less a last resort, and used when only all other options have been exhausted. In another example, Rich contrasts labor with forced labor, and declares that the availability of anesthesia in childbirth makes the female more passive in her experience (pp. 158-159). I’ll be the first to come out and say it: I plan on having an epidural. The thought of the pain frightens me. That fear is reinforced by the literature and the stories around me, and the stories are written and told by women themselves. Sure, there’s a push for natural childbirth, but the midwife in our birthing class rather wryly said most women can’t stand the pain and ask for drugs, an offset of “I told you so.”

I’ve found that the suppression of bodily autonomy does not just come from doctors, but from peers. I’ll say that I don’t think this is a conscious act; I believe that peers mean well and believe they are helping as opposed to hindering. And in many ways, peers have helped. Rich emphasizes the importance of the informal network of women, and she’s right to do so–it’s crucial. At the same time, the voices turn into a litany of  “do this” and “don’t do this.” It turns into an overwhelming barrage with many different voices, and it’s hard to discern what is right and wrong. In some cases, the assumptions made are belittling and harmful. I do see the inverse, the “in my pregnancy” comments a little differently. In a way, I think they are a way for women to fight back against these forces, a way to declare some kind of autonomy in their pregnancy because they were brash enough to go against the doctor’s rules. It’s a way of saying, “I broke the rules and I did ok,” which is another way of saying that some kind of control was taken back.

As for the surveillance angle, I have felt it ring true more since I only started to show at seven months. Various individuals are all of the sudden telling me what activities I should and should not take part in, where I should and should not be going, and the things I should and should not be ingesting. People comment on the size of my bump, ask if the baby is doing ok because the bump is on the smaller side, and question whether or not I am going to breastfeed. Once again, perhaps it’s well intentioned or done unconsciously, but sometimes I feel like Rosemary, just swimming in a sea of intentions that makes me feel disconnected from my own experience.

The common theme, and the link between Rosemary’s Baby and Rich, is that the woman’s body is a battlefield. Things are done to a pregnant or laboring woman’s body, and in the end her voice is not the one that rises above the others, it becomes diminished. We are told that we can have a birth plan, we can say no, and that we can make our own choices, but we are not the final say. Rosemary tries hard to reclaim her body and make her own choices, and the true horror of the film lies in the fact that she ends up giving in to those forces instead of continuing to fight.

 

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Keeping an eye on Minnie

 

I have not watched the film since getting pregnant, and Matt hated it. I joke about watching it sometimes, especially since birth is right around the corner, but I’m not so sure Matt finds it funny. I will rewatch it sometime soon, though, mostly because Rosemary’s lack of agency is the most terrifying thing of all, and the most real.

Fighting the Dampness

Today marks one month until the official due date.

I’m in the home stretch and boy do I feel like it. The acid reflux is so bad I wake up in the middle of the night to vomit. If the reflux doesn’t get me, I’m up in the middle of the night to pee. My feet are swelled so much you can’t see my ankles.  I’m chronically tired, and walking from one end of the room to the other is enough to both wind me and make me want to take a nap. My back aches worse than ever. Bending over is agony. I’m grateful for the ability to get pregnant and have a baby, don’t get me wrong, but losing some of my autonomy has made me look forward to when my body can be my own again.

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Bodily changes are one thing. Emotional ones are another. I’ve often posted on Facebook about the odd triggers that would make me get weepy. A lot of times I found them amusing. I mean, come on. Getting weepy at the Soarin’ music? But then, sometime in late October, that weepiness started to shift. It got more frequent. Sometimes I didn’t even know why I was crying at all. it happened everywhere, without warning: in the middle of the night, first thing in the morning, at work in the bathroom stall, on the metro ride home. It wasn’t just sadness affecting me, either. It was irrational anger and an almost crippling anxiety. According to The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, between 14-23% of women will struggle with some symptoms of depression during pregnancy. I decided it was time to do something about it and spoke to my doctor about options.

Matt and I decided to avoid medication and explore other avenues of treatment. I don’t know how, but when I was talking to a friend about the depression and what course of action I thought I would take, acupuncture came up. I did a little research and found acupuncture is actually used to treat a variety of pregnancy-related ailments: infertility, morning sickness, depression, headaches, sleeplessness, and many others. I decided to give it a try. I didn’t relish the thought of getting stuck with needles, but crying and feeling like a bag of snakes was in my chest every day wasn’t a picnic, either.

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With the blessing of my doctor, I looked up the number of some fancy wellness center in Old Town and tried to get an appointment. Unfortunately, the doctor only saw new patients at certain times during the week, and my leave is more precious than ever now. I wrote that doctors off and made a list of doctors that stayed open past 5. I got lucky my second try. There was a Chinese acupuncturist and herbalist nearby that stayed open till 7. He could even see me that evening.

I’m not sure what I expected. The doctor didn’t speak much English and he didn’t explain much, but he went right to work asking me questions about my emotions, my diet, and my habits. He took my pulse and started to hit pressure points with this pen-type device. Then he took several needles out and inserted them at different points in my feet, hands, and arm. Some stung a little, some I hardly felt. He turned on a heat lamp and left me to my own devices for awhile. And that’s how every visit goes.

He did tell me that first visit that I’m “out of balance.” He said my lung qi (pronounced chee) is low and my liver qi is high. The goal is to get me more balanced out. I looked up some of the terms he used when I got home to try and wrap my Western head around the ideas of qi and imbalance. According to one source, the lung is associated with the emotions of sadness and grief (funny enough, the liver is associated with anger). The lung is partnered with the large intestine, and both work together to take in and expel. When the lung is out of balance, there is a prolonged grief that leads to depression (which is, the article points out, Western term), or dampness.

It was easy enough to wrap my head around it, honestly. And I’m really happy to say that the treatment has helped. I don’t get weepy anymore, even when there are triggers. I don’t dwell on the things that have been making me anxious, but the anxiety still manages to creep in here and there. Yesterday, I was even able to purge a monstrous amount of things I’ve been holding onto (since the lungs are also associated with emotional attachment and letting things go, apparently). I’m hoping that this fresh, more balanced feeling lasts into the postpartum period, as I know that’s also a time for depression.

I’ve wanted to talk about this for a long time, but as it seems with most things pregnancy related, it’s more acceptable for women to keep silent about the issues and the problems related to pregnancy. One things I’ve learned the hard way is that no one really cares about your morning sickness, or your debilitation, or your depression. Some do, but those are the people who are close to you. In other situations, you’re supposed to, in the name of what people view as equality, be tough and act like nothing is wrong.  I’ve seen women bravely declare that they’ve gone through these things, not for sympathy, but for the simple fact that they are sharing an experience with the world in hopes others might see it and relate.

I’m sharing this as a way of saying, yes this does happen. No, you’re not a terrible person for admitting it. There are options. I’m lucky; I know my experience is not as bad as some. I’m lucky that the acupuncture has worked. I’ve got an amazing husband and friends willing to listen and help me though it.

And as I feel Zelda kicking around in my stomach, ready to make her debut sometime in the not too distant future, I know the decision I made to get help has been more than worth it.

Registry Roulette

I kept on meaning to write a post-Disney World reflection, but time and the vapors and megrims got me. Ready for the quick version? Good. I had a ball, realized I could still have fun and not drink/ride thrill rides/be in the parks 13 hours a day, and realized I absolutely cannot wait to experience it all with Zelda.

Matt and I have pretty much settled back into our pre-Disney lives: up before dawn, commuting to work, back when the sun is setting. I pretty much only want to sleep on the weekends now. I hear I need to enjoy it while I can. However, one major task loomed ahead last weekend: the baby shower registry.

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Legit strategy, right?

Talk about feeling like a stranger in a strange land. I had solicited some friends and family for advice and got some pretty good tips, but I was still feeling quite overwhelmed when Matt and I stepped into Babies ‘R Us and requested the fun little price gun for making the registry (I’d only seen them in the movies until now). The lady helping us handed me a list and said, “Good luck!”

We needed it.

We decided to be strategic about it and start in one corner, then work our way around. The first thing we came to was all the breast pumps and nursing gear. Matt looked in horror at the hands-free pump, and I was consulting the list, wondering if I could put something like “nipple cream” on our registry (we decided we’d buy it ourselves). We ended up skipping the section because I still have some research to do. Matt amused himself by playing with all the training potties, until I told him one day he wouldn’t find it so amusing.

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Everything else we worked through slowly and methodically, but it felt like we were just haphazardly shooting that gun at anything and everything. Receiving blankets? What the hell are those? Crib sheets? Are they all fitted? SO MANY NIPPLES. WTF. A couple of ladies nearby heard our frantic tones, and, after telling us they were adopting, assured us they were just as overwhelmed and lost as we were. Solidarity. Registry roulette, anyone?

We got some “unsolicited advice” from another lady about toys, but I didn’t mind. I told Matt to get over it and added the suggested item to the ever-growing list. By then I was kind of feeling like I was in the Twilight Zone. Entering another dimension. I had no idea if we were doing this right, and I got the feeling that is going to be a common theme from here on out. I mean, we were just buying the stuff. What about when we have to use it?

I’m guessing I’m not alone in this feeling, and that all seasoned parents encountered this cluenessness at some point. I think Matt and I have kind of put off REALLY thinking about what it will be like when she comes. Putting that registry together made it more real, somehow. I’m six months along. In the grand scheme of things, three more months isn’t that long. It’s a reminder that we still have so much more to do. But, one day at a time, right? We’ll get there.

Even as I write, I can sense the mounting panic. I’m thinking one day I’ll also look back on this post and have a good laugh.

Daddy Issues

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There likely comes a time in every father-to-be’s life when he has a few questions. These questions can be about pretty much anything. They ARE about anything. I won’t say they are random thoughts that pop into my brain because the same ones keep reappearing. I find time in my day to think about everything from my ability to be a father to the amount of poop I will get in my mouth in the first year of Zelda’s life (I guessed 20 ounces, or roughly the amount you can fill in a bottle of Diet Coke). Then there is the big issue of money and finances. Obviously, having a baby begins the slow drain on my already draining bank account (DC living, right?). But that’s okay. That was the choice that Angela and I made when we wanted to move away from Virginia Beach and as far away from the Douchebaggery of Norfolk (if you don’t know about it, imagine hipsters from Brooklyn with three times the complex and half the creativity and/or beard oil). We both have jobs now and are beginning to settle into our life up here in the area, except of course, with the added bonus of caring for a child in less than half a year. No pressure.

The thought honestly blows my mind, and I certainly don’t know where to begin with the many answers to my mounting questions. That being said, there are certain things that I have come to find that I certainly don’t want to hear. Facebook is the worst culprit for this, as it is a direct injection into the vein of unsolicited advice. It’s like water cooler talk with a group of guys who just want to talk about their tribal tattoos. Nobody wants to hear it but the people who are saying it. Now I cannot inject the right kinds of questions into the mouths of friends, coworkers, and acquaintances. What I can do, and do often, is filter them like spam email. I don’t want a miracle cure for my erectile dysfunction, nor do I want to hear about why we are already damaging Zelda’s life by living in this particular school district in Northern Virginia.

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I’m not trying to be mean here. This is real talk, and given the growing belly of Angela and my growing concern for my own ability as a father, it’s as real as it gets. I think this kind of stuff is why I wanted to start this blog in the first place – I want to keep it as real as possible and chronicle the experiences I am having, such as they are, while the real work is being done by my wife-turned aircraft carrier. I want to preface by saying that I appreciate all of the help and advice everyone has given Angela and I over the past few months. There are only so many ways I can present a shit-eating grin to someone before I begin to snap. There is a lot of stress floating around right now, and I have to try to remain as calm as possible for the safety and sanity of our growing family. So I write….and I keep it real.

The dialogue of any true unsolicited comment goes something like this:

Me: “So, Angela and I are having a baby.”

Person: “Oh, wow that is fantastic! Are you excited”

Me: “Yeah, it’s great, it’s all I have ever wanted.”

Clearly the conversation is going well here. Solid theme. I like the hypothesis. But we are slowly reaching the climax, and I know already that it’s about to come like a Coen brothers movie. Let’s keep the explosions going, right? The action is high and the tension is low. It’s a recipe for a perfect conversation, or a terrible Michael Bay movie.

Person: “So how is everything going with you two?”

Me: “It’s great! To be honest, I am a little stressed out about it. It’s a lot to think about – the finances, the food, etc. We are even trying to look for a home. I don’t know if it’s a good time for that because there is so much going on.”

As a response to this   It may sound like I am fishing for some sort of complement. In most cases, I might be. If I said I was stressed about work or an upcoming lecture I was about to give, I might need a little encouragement. A metaphorical pat on the back if you will. I don’t think that applies for baby advice. Either way, the person will give one of the following responses that I really do not want to hear.

1. “You’re Going to be Fine”

2. “Everything Will Work Out”

3. “Just Relax”

4. “You can do it”

This is always followed by:

“Just make sure that….”

“Just remember to….”

“So long as you…”

“Don’t forget…”

Here is where you insert your unsolicited advice. Topics so far range from the CORRECT choice of a baby’s name to the right kind of crib or the dangers or rocking your baby too hard. Oh, don’t forget that the stress environment of a father can seriously impact the health of a baby….what?

This conversation is ALWAYS bookended with:

“That’s what ( ) and I did…and it worked out great…just a thought.”

Fin.

Congratulations. You just gave me the verbal equivalent of a fish handshake.

It’s not JUST A THOUGHT. This is a command from the gods of parenthood. We can only strive to be Hercules when Zeus and Athena are in control. I’m not going to forget anything. Why? Because I am CONSTANTLY thinking about it, day and night. This only adds to my growing fear of not being a good father. Is this what all fathers-to-be think? Apparently, yes. Good.

These incomplete sentences mean about as much to me as the quotes with a minion poorly photoshopped on it that you reposted on Facebook from a random country station in the Midwest. Inspirational quotes are for people without inspiration. I am inspired…to be a good father. There isn’t a quote out there that says “You are going to be a terrible father.”

TERRIBLE FATHER

Okay. So I made one. It’s comforting.

What would I really want to hear as a response? Keeping with the Michael Baysian philosophy of conversation, it may go something like this:

“Yeah, I feel you on that. We were scared shitless when we had our first kid. It does get better though…and then it’s shitty for the first few months…like really shitty…and then it’s rad.”

We have some amazing friends back home who gave us that exact advice. They have an adorable little girl who is a perfect model for Zelda. I personally can’t wait for them to play together.

I want to hear that it is great and that it is terrible. Nothing great ever comes easy. And that’s why this is STILL the best time of my life, unsolicited advice or no unsolicited advice.

So, in summation, less Coen Brothers, more Michael Bay.

via showmetech
via showmetech

It’s Not You, It’s Me: Not Feeling Frisky

I’m sure you’ve heard it before: having a baby kills your sex drive. Truthfully, I thought that sentiment only applied post birth. Turns out, I was completely wrong. I’ve got my copy of What to Expect When You’re Expecting handy for enlightening me on such matters, and it’s pretty frank about sex during pregnancy; the libido waxes and wanes, or, in some cases, wanes and is lost completely. I’ll admit it: I’m having a hard time.

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What I don’t agree with, though, is the advice that “you’ll have to learn to accommodate some of the negative effects [of pregnancy] so their interference in your sex life is minimal.” How easy it is to chalk these feelings up to “negative effects,” right? How convenient to say “learn to accommodate,” because heaven forbid your sex drive is down to zilch. Let’s see exactly what I need to learn to accommodate to, yes?

Nausea and Vomiting

Please, tell me how you accommodate yourself to feeling like you have one prolonged, gigantic hangover? I sure as hell felt sexy when I was bent over a toilet puking my guts out. Bonus points for the urine leakage because my bladder control decided to take a vacation. I’m sure I looked super sexy when I caught a whiff of garlic and make the I’m-Going-to-be-Sick-Right-Now Face. I could just picture being in the middle of the act and barfing everywhere. All I wanted to do was lie in bed with my favorite blanket and cry. Sex was the furthest thing from my mind. Luckily, I’m just starting my fourth month and the sickness has eased somewhat.

Fatigue

I’m constantly tired. All the time, from the second I wake up to the moment I go to bed. I get up in the morning, and I feel like I don’t even have the energy to put my shoes on, much less drive out to the metro and ride the train to work. By the afternoon, I’m fighting to stay awake on the ride home. I want to sleep when I get home, attempt to eat something, and go right back to sleep. How am I supposed to muster the energy for sex when even putting my shoes on is a chore? “Try lovemaking during the day!” What to Expect suggests. A great idea, if I didn’t feel like every time of the day was midnight.

Your Changing Body/Emotions

I’m not big enough yet to deal with the belly getting in the way, but I definitely feel bigger. This is hard to explain, because in feeling bigger I feel fuller. And because of that constantly-full feeling, I definitely do not feel sexy. it’s hard to enough to eat because my stomach constantly feels full. Part of that, from what i understand, is from the constant buildup of gas and constipation. In between sounding like a trumpet and infrequent sneak-attack evacuations, I can’t say I really feel like getting frisky. Also, there’s a lot of aching and cramping going on down there, which I was told is my uterus stretching and moving. Ye gods.

And let’s talk about breast swelling. I’m pretty well-endowed to start with, and I always joked about the fact my breasts would get comically large when I got pregnant. We’re beyond comical, people. I’m talking horrifyingly massive. Matt likes it, but what neither of us really knew was how painful they would get. I assumed “breast tenderness” meant like, a premenstrual ache. That’s like saying Mount Vesuvius was a volcano. The slightest movement hurts. A small bump is enough to make me scream. While all my husband wants to do is love them, all I want to do is rip them off. Emotion wise, I’m apt to go from happy to angry to sad to bawling my face off in three seconds flat, so even if I do feel sexy, it’s a pretty fleeting emotion.

Anxiety

What with all the buildup of having a “high-risk” pregnancy and being at an “advanced age,” I’ve had a healthy dose of anxiety mixed in with all the physical feelings. For some reason, I’m constantly worried that something will be wrong with the baby or that I’ll somehow magically miscarry out of nowhere. I’m worried the heart will stop beating or there will be some major deformity. I know these anxieties are normal, but they creep in often. At least I’m not worried about the baby feeling it or knowing somehow. Aside from those things constantly banging around somewhere in my head, I’m worried about the bleeding I have afterwards and the possibility of infection. “Stop worrying!” What to Expect chides. Well, that sounds easy, right? Just like stopping the worry of a plane crash when flying. I can just switch it off, right? No.

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I think, by the list I’ve compiled here, it’s pretty obvious that my husband is not the problem. I’m the problem. Somehow I’ve gone back to this kind of pseudo-teenage phase where my body feels unwieldy, I’m emotionally out of control, and I have no idea how to deal with this kind of anxiety.

Here’s hoping the second trimeter is this “golden age” I’ve heard so much about.

Don’t Be a Dick

I expect you

You are about to witness the strength of suburb knowledge.

The first book Angela and I bought after we found out about the pregnancy was What to Expect When Your Expecting. Heralded as the “Pregnancy Bible,” the book has sold over eighteen million copies since it first debuted in 1984. Every couple has it. LITERALLY everyone that is pregnant owns this book, and I only use the word “literally” when I am being completely serious. It is truly the Tide sample/Frampton Comes Alive of pregnancy books. Double Live Gonzo, dude.

As one would assume, most of it provides an overview of what women will experience during the course of their nine month pregnancy. Angela read it almost cover to cover within two days, commenting that it was both “straightforward” and “no nonsense.” Most reviews of the book say the exact same thing. What to Expect serves its purpose without pretension.

I wanted to be “in the know,” so I started to read it the moment she put it down. I was delighted to find there was a special section just for expecting fathers towards the end. The “Fathers Are Expectant, Too” chapter gives several pointers and suggestions about what men should do when their lady is preggo. As Angela said, it’s fairly straightforward, with such discussion titles as “Dealing with Her Symptoms,” “Feeling Left Out,” and “Surviving Her Mood Swings.” I read it quickly and put the book down feeling no less smarter about pregnancy than I was before I began.

Other books of a similar subject offer little help. The unofficial What to Expect for fathers (What to Expect While Your Wife is Expanding), is more humorous than informative. The first item brought up in the book’s main section (“What You May Be Concerned About”) discusses the horrific possibility of NOT having constant sex during the pregnancy. It’s as if they assume that a man’s genitals shrivel up when the blue line crosses the other on the pregnancy test. Worse than that, these authors have probably convinced countless men in the process. No, just no. I don’t want to be a punchline, just a good father.

There are good books on the subject out there, I just haven’t found them yet. And to be honest, I don’t know if I need to choke down the generalities anymore. Too basic. Too straightforward. The pumpkin spice latte of fatherly advice. To make matters worse, I think what these authors are basically trying to say to every expectant father is to NOT BE A DICK. That’s what it all boils down to, really. Why couldn’t they just say that and save 20 pages of material? How many trees can we save if we just said what we are all thinking? The earth mother weeps for you, mom and dad.

If I had to write my own book on expectant father’s, it would be one page long and simply read “Don’t Be a Dick.” Done.

It’s pretty simple. It has become my guiding principle since I first realized it. I have found over the past two and a half months that my needs are far outweighed by Angela’s. She is the one carrying my child, so naturally I should be the one who should shut up and focus on her issues from time to time. Let me first say that I’m not submitting to becoming a doormat. I am simply recognizing that life is far more difficult for her than it can ever be for me at this point. If I follow this one guiding principle, my reward is pretty sweet: a healthy baby girl. Why would I not make sure she is taken care of?

As a rule of thumb, I always make sure our conversations do not sound like I’m complaining about something, because she has a fetal trump card that is Aces high ten times out of ten. For example:

Me:  “Oh man, I am really tired. I worked really hard today.”

Angela: “I know you do. I’m sorry you’re tired. I love you.”

And the full translation:

Me: “WAHHHHHHHHHHHH WAHHHHH WAHHHHHHH.”

Angela: “SHUT THE FUCK UP.”

Don’t get me wrong, there is a time and place when I can vent about my troubles with her. I think what is important is understanding WHEN to lay down those cards. I made the mistake very early on in the pregnancy of attempting to get frisky. I think I said something along the lines of “love making” or “physical connection” (maybe I was worried my testicles would shrivel up?). She shot me a look like:

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From then on, I understood: DON’T BE A DICK (even when she doesn’t want it). And the funny thing is, she doesn’t have to be. I know she is interested in it. How the hell did we get into this mess in the first place?

I don’t think Angela want’s to get sexy. I think she wants to hear things that make her feel sexy, and those words usually don’t relate to how she looks or feels. Those words can include, but are not limited to:

  • “I’ll do the dishes and cook dinner”
  • “How many McChicken’s do you want?”
  • “I want you to get your rest”
  • “Let’s go shopping for makeup!”

You might not want to do these things. I can honestly say that the thought of fast food makes my stomach turn because of the frequency in which I have procured such vittles over the past two months. The most valuable things I learned thus far about pregnancy are not in any book that I know of. Here is my short list:

1. Make Her Laugh

We have been through a few rough patches over the course of the pregnancy. That doesn’t mean that I can’t take a few moments to do the “Mike Dexter” dance from Can’t Hardly Wait in my underwear to make her smile a bit before bed. A little smile goes a long way, especially after she spent the course of the day eating laxatives like candy and throwing up every hour.

2. Leave Her Alone

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Let me be clear: I am still TERRIBLE AT THIS. Whenever she wants to be alone, I feel the need to attach myself to her like a lamprey. I tell her I am restless and writhe around the bed like a chicken with its head cut off. I know now that the time she spends along might be special time with our growing daughter, and I want to respect that. It’s not all the time, but painfully obvious when it does occur. I think the best thing any guy can do is leave enough space to be heard but not seen. She’ll let you know when she wants you there.

3. Know When to Smother Her

As much as I want to give her space nowadays, I have found that there are times when she wants to be bombarded with affection. No, I am not talking about sex. A peen does not affection make. I am talking about kisses and snuggles and the magic that comes with watching a child develop before your eyes. I can’t describe it any better than that: it’s magic. I have to keep asking Angela if she is a wizard.

Above all, it is important to not be a dick to your partner. Make her laugh and feel special. Let her know that you will always be there and can’t wait to meet your child.