Aug 21, 2018

Why I Wasn't Anxious During Pregnancy

This post is not about clinical anxiety, antenatal or postpartum depression, or antenatal or postpartum anxiety. Those are chemical and hormonal imbalances that that you can’t control and that often require medical support to treat. If you think you might have any of these disorders, please contact your doctor or reach out to a friend or family member who can help you seek professional assistance. You can learn more about anxiety disorders here, postpartum depression here, and postpartum anxiety here; antenatal depression and antenatal anxiety have only recently been recognized as distinct issues and there isn’t as much online about them, but please talk to your OB if you’re concerned you might be susceptible or affected.

I’m afraid of heights – like, really afraid of heights – but flying doesn’t scare me. While taking off and landing make me nervous, I'm unfazed when actually cruising at 30,000 feet. I realized why few years ago: it’s because I cannot comprehend the physics that are keeping us aloft, so I have no technical appreciation of what could go wrong and lead to my death (or, at the very least, my severe injury). Rollercoasters, zip lines, and the edges of super tall buildings, on the other hand, I get, so I can vividly imagine the failures of technology, structure, or balance that would cause extreme pain were they to be realized. (Ask Jon what it’s like to go on the Ferris wheel with me. I’m definitely the friend you want to bring to the amusement park who will hold your bag on the ground while you do all the terrifying rides!) But airplanes... we might as well be orbiting the Earth, for all I understand about how we're staying up.

Pregnancy for me was like flying in an airplane. Many women talk about conceiving and growing a baby as a miracle in a spiritual sense, but – and maybe this just has to do with the way I experience my faith, though that’s a different post for another time – it seemed more like a marvel of biology to me, and I could not begin to wrap my head around the science of what or who was developing inside me.

What I did know is that there’s so much that can go wrong during pregnancy. But, because I didn’t understand what was happing either to my body or to the embryo/fetus/baby and yet because I knew there was so much potential for... well, anything, I felt like I couldn’t control much of the process. Sure, I could try to be as healthy as possible, eating as well and exercising as much as I was able to, but, on a cellular level, I was helpless. After the fears of miscarriage in the first trimester passed, I felt pretty fatalistic about my pregnancy. Maybe fatalistic isn’t quite the right word, even used in the sense of “inevitable or predetermined.” There are just so many things that have to happen exactly right for a zygote to become a blastocyst to become an embryo to become a fetus and then, of course, for a healthy baby to be born, and there’s absolutely nothing that we as women can do to ensure those right things will happen or even to minimize the risk of the wrong things happening at each stage of development.

Sometimes, during my pregnancy, I felt like I should worry more. Did my lack of anxiety mean I didn’t love my baby?

Rationally, I knew the answer was no. I knew it then, but I am even more confident of it now that Robbie is here and that love has form and expression. I've heard women say, "I wish I could put him back - I could protect him when I was pregnant!" I never thought Robbie was safest when he was in utero because I had no real comprehension of what was actually happening within me beyond what the books and apps said should be happening and I couldn't do much to effect his development.

It's possible that, had I suffered a more complicated pregnancy that required more medical interventions, I would have thought differently. For whatever it's worth, despite my mostly healthy pregnancy, we did have a few scares right after Robbie was born: he had a ventricular septal defect, a sacral dimple, and a worryingly fast respiratory rate. (And that list doesn’t include jaundice severe enough that he had to be kept in the special care nursery for an extra day and a half.) Happily, everything turned out fine; scans showed that the hole in his heart had closed up by the time he was six months old, an ultrasound confirmed that the indentation on his back was too low and shallow to have anything to do with his spine, and his heart rate and oxidation levels were always perfect despite the rapid breathing, which slowed to normal after a day or so anyway.

Perhaps because of all that, I also know that there's still so much I can't control. I do feel like he's safer out here because I can prepare him for the world to the best of my abilities, but I can't protect him from everything - including, for the most part, not from his own body.

I don't share this smugly or with advice on how to not be anxious; I'm usually the queen of worrying about things I can't control in other areas of my life, so I'm at a loss as to how I came to have this mindset while pregnant. I share this because I know I can't be the only mother-to-be who felt this way and it's helpful, I think, to know that we're not alone in it, especially now that we're (finally, thankfully) in an era where most of the conversation is about rejecting the stigma of anxiety. If you're in the same boat, please don't worry about whether or not you're worrying enough. I know this is easier said that done, but enjoy what you can and manage what you can- and ask for help on the rest!

Aug 1, 2018

Cape Clear, Ireland

When we were in Schull with my in-laws, Jon and I had a long talk on our date night about family vacations - and what they'd look like for our new family. My parents and sister and I would go to my grandparents' country house in Connecticut for a week over winter break and two weeks in August every year; Jon's immediate family always spent a few weeks during the summer at his late granny's cottage on the southwest coast of Ireland. Jon and I are incredibly lucky to be able to fly to the UK every year for Christmas but, as privileged as we are, we only have so much disposable income and vacation time we can spend on holidays and we know we'll have to make some difficult choices. While it's exciting to imagine the new traditions that we'll develop, it's disappointing to know that our son probably won't experience the ones that Jon and I grew up with.

I mentioned in my last post that our trip to Schull was an opportunity for me to catch a glimpse of what those childhood summers looked like for Jon and, especially if we don't go back regularly, I'm glad to have the memories and photos with Robbie.

Below are some from our day out to Cape Clear, Ireland's southernmost inhabited island. We took the ferry from Schull in the morning and, after a restorative tea by the water, set off on a hearty 90 minute trek from the North Harbor to the South Harbor. (It's the route in red on the map.) The distance between the two can be covered in five minutes if you walk directly (as you can see from the blue line on the map), which is how we got back, but we wanted to see the spectacular views to the mainland and across to the Fastnet from the center of the island, which is at a much higher elevation than the shoreline. Along the way, we stopped at a farm selling goats' milk ice cream and chatted with the owners, who had moved to Cape Clear from London to escape the rat race. It was delicious, and not just because we felt like we'd escaped, too! It was such a beautiful day - barely a cloud in the sky and unusually hot. A few relatives took a dip in the Atlantic at the South Harbor, which must have felt divine, but Jon and I completed the circuit so we could change and feed Robbie at a café at the North Harbor before hopping on the ferry back to Schull. We definitely earned our pints at the pub later that evening!