Your womb belongs to us: Depression, Helplessness, and Pregnancy

It can come from so many places. One at a time, or all at once. The second the word is out that life is stirring in your womb, your body shifts ownership, or so the world thinks. On the front lines is usually your partner, if they’re in the picture.

You talk it out… maybe. Maybe they’re excited, maybe they’re terrified. Maybe they decide this isn’t for them, and they walk. This amazing ball of cells growing inside your body has suddenly taken control of your relationships.

If you choose to go ahead with your pregnancy, you then put your body in the hands of a professional. Literally. Whether it’s a doctor or a midwife, that person is meant to check in with you, inform you of what’s taking place in your body, and give you options for whatever the next step is. Ideally, you trust them. Ideally, you trust their advice, their judgement, and their abilities. Ideally.

I remember my first couple OBGYN appointments. 9 weeks, a lot of questionnaires, few smiles, many nurses. Then there was the state-mandated STI testing. “And because you’re under 25, you have to have another test at 24 weeks,”… Excuse me? And I have to pay for this? After being left in the room alone, which was the only signal to the end of my appointment, I had more questions about… pregnancy in general. They tell you not to Google everything and trust them. “I’m very busy. Are they pertinent questions?” Are you kidding me? At the next appointment, the doctor came in and rattled off a series of questions I’d just spent 10 minutes answering on paper. He paused, so I chuckled, “Ok, now I have some questions for you!” I said. “No. YOU don’t get to ask your questions until I’M done,” He said without looking up. That’s when I walked. I was not going to be treated that way throughout the most important and difficult months of my life thus far. Right there, in that room, is where the pregnant mother begins to lose control.

Then there’s the family-factor. You make the announcement, a grand gesture or an intimate reveal, sharing your new vulnerability with the world, opening the floodgates for love, hate, and everything in between. Family member opinions can really start to embed themselves in your psyche.

“My mother thinks it’s disgusting that I wear a fitted shirt with my big belly. I just got some looser blouses,” She said.

“My dad freaked out every time I ate sushi. He actually micromanaged and criticized every meal we ate around them, it was unbearable,” She said.

“My grandma wouldn’t talk to me for a week after she saw me have a glass of wine. It really hurt,” She said.

Sometimes they’re genuine concern and love, combined with some rusty communication skills, but mostly, it’s a LOT of control and entitlement. As you progress – or sometimes, right from the start – the discussion starts centering around birth. When, where, how, who??? And then, inevitably, no matter what you say, “WHY?”

When are you due?” Then, until you’ve made an official world-wide announcement, it’s Why aren’t they here yet???” and “Why didn’t you tell me first?”

Then there’s location. “Where are you giving birth?” For the vast majority of the population, it’s X hospital’s maternity ward. You’d think that would be enough, but no.

Why don’t you go to the hospital I went to?” or “Why that one? The other one is nicer.”

And heaven forbid you choose anything other than a hospital, because the questions will multiply. “Why wouldn’t you give birth in a hospital? Why would you take that risk?” For me, it was because, once I walked from my doctor’s office, I delved into the research world of birth, and once informed, it was ultimately MY “risk” to take, and I liked my chances.

Of course, there’s the intimate detail of How. “How are you going to deliver? Are you going to get an epidural? Are you going to have a c-section? Are you going to birth in a tub? Are you going to walk?” The amount of interest and stress family members invest in this process can get overwhelming, and discouraging.

“My mother-in-law thinks a VBAC is a terrible idea, she says I’m risking her grandchild’s life. Now I’m not so sure I can do it,” She said.

“My sister told me not to be a ‘hero’ and just take the drugs,” She said.

“My dad keeps sending me these articles about the risks of water-birth. My hospital allows it, but he thinks it awful,” She said.

“I really want a c-section because I tore so bad last time. I’m TERRIFIED of what will happen this time, but my Mom said she had all natural births, and that major abdominal surgery will ruin me forever. She calls every day to remind me,” She said.

Why don’t you want an epidural? You know birth hurts like hell, right? You’re not strong enough for that! We know you! Don’t be a martyr, you’ll never make it!” Was what my family told me.

Forget the media; family members can harp enough to scare the baby right out of you. No joke. But it gets worse.

The matter of WHO is the #1 biggest source of stress I’ve heard from pregnant mothers. Who is going to be at the birth?

“I have no idea who my doctor will be during delivery. I’m afraid I’ll get the ones I don’t like, but there are so many in the practice, there’s no way to know who I’ll get,” She said.

“My doctor got really upset when I said I was considering a doula. She kept telling me how they weren’t medical professionals, and they’ll just get in the way,” She said.

“My mother-in-law insists she’ll be there. I’m really not comfortable with that, but it’s a [tradition, cultural thing, personal thing]. My husband won’t say anything, my anxiety is through the roof…” She said.

During my first pregnancy, I was repeatedly told by family and friends that I was selfish for wanting it to be simply my midwives and husband there when I delivered. Too bad. I was told I’d be a monster if I didn’t let my mother be there with me. Too bad. I was told she’d been there for the birth of all of her other grandchildren. Too bad. I was laughed at and told my wishes would be ignored, and she’d be here as soon as she found out I was in labor. Nope.

“Then I won’t tell you,” I said. And I didn’t. I called hours later to announce the birth of a healthy, happy baby.

I say it now like it didn’t take months of therapy, panic attacks, and sobbing trying to sort out what it meant to be an adult with boundaries. Even with family. Especially with family. Pregnancy is the most important time to define yourself as an individual, funny enough.

We either talk about peripartum and post-partum depression as though they’re simply out of our hands and require drugs, or they’re completely in our hands and we just need to ‘get outside and walk a little more’. Right. Hormones end up being the scapegoat for everything, when they’re really just following the blueprint. Of course they play a role; they’re meant to make you more protective, more alert, and more connected to this creation your body is working so diligently to grow. Sometimes, yes, the hormones get knocked off-kilter by the environment, or were genetically predisposed to go haywire, but there’s so much more to this level of helplessness pregnant women (and new mothers) feel. It involves so much more than sticking a diagnosis on it and throwing pills at it. When there’s a loving, encouraging support network in place for a pregnant mom, so many of these stresses can be alleviated.

And of course, when a woman is expected to put in the time and effort to grow another human for 9 months and somehow get it out of her body and into the world, she gets a little anxious when you say she only has 6 weeks of unpaid time off of work before she need to drop said helpless human off with strangers to take care of it for 8-10 hours a day. Imagine toiling over a work project for 9 months, only to be told that, a few weeks after its deployment, someone else would be taking over primary responsibility. Someone who’s multitasking 5 projects at once, who may or may not be skilled in the field, and who has zero attachment to your project, other than they’ll get in trouble if they let something bad happen to it. Oh, and you get the night shift. Just imagine.

So, what could it be like? I’ve heard it. I’ve seen it!

“He asked me, ‘What do you want to do?’ I said, what do you mean what do I want to do? It’s what do WE want to do?'” She said. And they were excited.

“My doctor told me I could birth in whatever position I wanted, and that she’d be there no matter what,” She said. And she was relieved.

“My in-laws said they’d give us time to bond and come over 2 weeks after the baby was born, to help out around the house,” She said. And they did.

“I had my baby at home, and my mom and sister were both there for the birth. It was perfect,” She said. And it was.

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Author: Barb Machina

I write a blog prompted by my wandering idealism, and relentless pursuit of justice. At best, I write evidenced-based pieces that focus on health, medicine, human rights, politics, science, parenting, and history... At worst, it's a stream of consciousness, fueled by wine and other.

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