“You’re absolutely glowing!”
“Have you felt him kick yet?”
“Lookin’ good momma!”
I shudder as I look into the mirror. I try to put the words others have said on top of the image I see in the mirror, but they just won’t fit. I think of the more intimate words of my husband.
“I love your body.”
“I love you. All of you.”
I try those phrases out, but they all fall short as well. I then land on the two statements I have heard the most and hate the most.
“You don’t look pregnant!”
“Look at that beautiful baby belly!”
You would think one of those would fit, but neither does. I can clearly see where my belly has started to grow, but it looks oddly squarish. Logically, I know it’s baby growth. So why do I feel like it’s all fat worthlessness?
I feel guilty sometimes when I eat. Even when it’s my morning fruit and coffee.
“You’re eating for two now.”
That phrase isn’t even true. While you may need to add a little to your caloric intake, it’s not nearly as much as people think. In fact, some people still need to cut back a little when they are pregnant. For me, pregnancy has been a wake up call on how much pizza I eat. Pizza never used to be a problem. Not until my stomach started growing.
I take a break from shaming my outward appearance to feel the pain shooting from my lower back all the way down to my calf. I didn’t know how much I would miss hot baths when I got pregnant. The warm baths do little to soothe my aching muscles.
I shouldn’t be here, I think to myself. Selfish witch.
I am in a motel on the beautiful Traverse City Bay in Michigan. It’s beautiful outside my motel room. Somehow that makes me regret my own appearance even more. I know no one can compare to the beauty of nature, but today I’m feeling like I have fallen a little further than usual.
“I can go with you,” my husband offers.
Why did I hate him so much lately? Okay, I don’t and never will hate him. Yet, I have been so mean to him. He tries to encourage me and I snap. I cut him off the second a compliment starts to come out of his mouth because I don’t want to think him a liar.
“I understand if you want time alone. I’ll buy you a book for the trip.”
Why did that kind statement feel like a knife in the chest? I don’t deserve his kindness. Books. He knows that they are my escape from anxiety, the heartache, and the muchness of the world. Sitting with a book, I can just be. He knows this about me. He took the time to learn this about me. I don’t deserve it.
The smallest thing will set me off and I snap. Yet, he patiently draws me a bath, puts on an audiobook, or rubs my back. That’s when the guilt sets in. It spreads like a poison from my heart through my body. I always try my best to apologize, but I know they don’t fix it. I know he wonders why I have been treating him so differently lately. I have been wondering that too.
I take one last look at my body in the mirror. I regret the choice of the bikini, even though nothing else would fit me. Then, I walk out the motel door and onto the beach.
It’s dark outside, but the beach is lined with tiki torches. I’m happy to see no one else has decided to stay out this late. I make my way onto the sand before attempting to sit down. I get about half way, before my large stomach throws me off balance and I land harder than I mean to onto my bottom. I let out a curse under my breath.
I focus on breathing. I try to time it with the waves as they splash on the shore. It’s a trick I learned to help me deal with anxiety, but I’m hoping it will help my long-lasting bad mood.
To my surprise, it works a little and I finally feel ready to open the journal I’ve brought with me.
I let my hand slide over the cover. It has the single word “mama” written on the cover. Like this weekend getaway, it was a gift from my mother-in-law. I was beyond angry to hear my husband had told his mother I needed a “break” from everyday life. I was mortified that someone else knew I was cracking under the pressure of becoming a new mom before the baby was even here.
I’m surprised to see the first couple of pages already have writing in them. At first, I think my mother-in-law must have given me the wrong journal. She had mentioned she had a similar one. Then, I read the first line and realize it’s a letter to me.
To my beautiful daughter,
I’m so thankful my son felt the need to tell me that you weren’t feeling yourself lately. Please know, he didn’t go into personal details. He did his best to reach out for guidance without compromising your privacy. Still, I know all too well what is plaguing you because I have been through it.
I can see it when you smile, that it doesn’t reach deep into you like it used to. I can tell by my son's voice that he’s worried about you. I know that you are under an extreme amount of pressure that you could have never imagined. This is the symptom of new motherhood that they never tell you about and it comes before the baby is even born.
I don’t know the extent to which your emotional health has suffered. I know for me, it was great. After some recent research, I now know I suffered from “perinatal depression”. At the time, I felt so guilty for my sadness. I was having a beautiful child and I somehow was still sad. It didn’t feel right to me. I thought I should only feel grateful. I did feel grateful, but I was also sad.
The more guilty I felt, the more angry I became. I began lashing out at everyone around me. I remember literally crying and yelling over spilt milk. I remember screaming over the fan not being on the correct setting, when I could have just changed it myself.
All of this to say, that while I don’t know exactly what you are going through. I don't know what hurts you are feeling. I do know that you are hurting. You’re not the only one to have gone through this and you aren’t alone now. It won’t get better right away. All you can do is forgive yourself and take steps to get help. I hope this getaway and this journal will help.
Remember, the first step is to forgive yourself.
The tears started to fall after the first paragraph and didn’t stop even after I had reached the end. I had been so embarrassed that my mother-in-law had found out the secret that I was breaking. I would have never imagined she had been through this too.
Perinatal Depression. I let the words roll around in my head. I had some depression in high school. This felt so much worse. Yet, I couldn’t help comparing my terrible teenage body image to the way I was feeling now. It was easy to relate the teenage feelings of worthlessness to the way I felt now.
Forgive yourself. Those words are harder to consider. I think about the baby in my stomach. The reason why my stomach is growing. Can I forgive my body for changing shape in order to give me the greatest gift I’ll ever recieve?
I think about the feelings of worthlessness. The way my body has become clumsy and tired. I think about all the daily tasks that go undone because I just don’t have the energy. Can I forgive my body for using my energy and causing my pain to create my beautiful baby?
I think about the sadness and the anger. I think about the hurt I have caused my supportive and loving husband. I think about every time he has had to forgive me for my outbursts. Can I really forgive myself for the emotions and the actions I have taken because of them? Can I be more understanding of the hormones that affect my emotions which are a key ingredient in creating new life?
I forgive myself tonight. I know when I wake up I will still face these feelings and hurts. But tomorrow I will be honest with myself and others that I need help with this pregnancy symptom I never saw coming. There will still be bad days, but I will look for the help to have a good pregnancy.
I send a quick text to my husband telling him I love him and appreciate him. I know a long conversation is overdue, but that will have to wait until I get back home.
I then google “counselors near me”. And to my surprise, I feel no shame in it.