People who know and love me have never seen me like this before
I'm pregnant and everything from pork to Brian Cowen is leaving me in tears. Don't get me started on the pelvic girdle pain.
Tanya Sweeney: People who know and love me have never seen the like. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw
Here’s a list of just some of the things that I have cried uncontrollably over within the space of a few weeks:
- An episode of Reeling in the Years (look, it was 2008. It was a pretty bad year for us);
- A social-media video of a rescue dog looking for a forever home;
- A heated debate on whether sausages should be baked or fried;
- A moment in a crowded pub when B made a joke about his “other girlfriend”, despite that being a running joke created by me;
- Putting my bra on wrong (somehow, this is possible);
- Someone asking me how I was;
- A moment where I spent a Sunday afternoon with B’s lovely family, and he told everyone that I would need to take a bus home early so as to avoid wandering home in the dark. “Oh, someone’s trying to get rid of me,” I warbled, my voice cracked with emotion, as his family politely tried to ignore a fully grown woman crying silently in front of Dragons’ Den. Poor B’s family.
People who know and love me have never seen the like; this grown woman breaking down and busting out fat, hot tears apropos of nothing. Going from zero to hysterical is discombobulating, alarming and embarrassing. Oddly, the really big, awful moments of recent weeks – a parent in hospital, a graveside visit – have left my tear ducts entirely unmoved. Nope, it’s been pork, bras and archival footage of Brian Cowen.
In the weeks after I found out I was pregnant, B and I were high as 1990s ravers in love; snuggling and cooing away like two complete insufferables. I know now that this is merely a human design feature, created so that the bloke won’t bolt once he sees you blubbing out of nowhere on the 46A.
According to the experts, crying in pregnancy can be explained by a fluctuation in hormones; specifically progesterone and oestrogen, which skyrocket in the first trimester.
Apparently, “baby brain” can be attributed to same, or at least that’s how I’m explaining the situation where, on a recent holiday, we were unceremoniously kicked out of our Lisbon Airbnb early because I’d mucked up the booking.
According to some outposts of the internet, weeks 20-22 can often present a red flag zone when it comes to feeling emotionally haphazard.
But hormones only make up part of the story. How can it be the full story, when so much else is afoot? There’s the anxiety involved in anticipating the “big scan” – the appointment at 20 weeks where the anatomy of the foetus is examined via ultrasound.
Another factor has surely played havoc on my tear ducts: lack of sleep. Settle in now with a warm beverage of your choice for an incoming moan: by week 15, I had developed an unfortunate condition called SPD (symphysis pubis dysfunction), as befalls about one in 5 pregnant women. Also known as pelvic girdle pain, it’s a physical condition where the cartilage of the pelvis softens and loosens, resulting in a misalignment of the pelvis. It also means a whole new universe of discomfort and a really dramatic waddle (swear I’m not putting it on for effect). Pain-wise, SPD goes from an “oof” to an “eek” at night, especially when trying to turn in bed (physio, pelvic belts and cold compresses help, but not much). I’m lucky if I manage three hours of sleep a night. Which is all well and good in preparation for the exhaustion marathon that is motherhood, but less than ideal if you are trying to stockpile the winks and stay a bit compos mentis.
By week 20, the reality that life is about to change beyond measure is also likely to be landing for many women. Worrying about this is as exhausting as a part-time job. Recently I was surprised when I admitted, out of nowhere, to a friend what I could barely bring myself to articulate before: that I was terrified of giving birth, that the task of keeping another person alive overwhelmed me to the point of weakness and that it sometimes felt like I was carrying a sort of bomb inside me (the molten guilt of referring to a baby like this set off another two-hour crying jag).
Usually I can blur the edges of unease, upset and anxiety with a soporific glass or four of decent red wine. But these days, when it comes to assimilating my feelings, I mainly have to go it alone.
But where does regular, hormone-fuelled hysteria end and proper pre-natal depression begin? It’s thought that 10 to 20 per cent of expectant mothers can feel dread as they count down to The Big Show. While post-natal depression is talked about openly, a strange conspiracy of silence still shrouds a pregnancy marked with distressing, even suicidal thoughts.
It’s been said that if you find yourself googling whether or not you might have depression, it may well be time to call in the professionals in order to reach a right and safe diagnosis. As with all other kinds of mood disorders, women experiencing pre-natal depression are treated using a reassuringly wide variety of solutions.
Self-care and mood management are paramount. It’s not often easy when bumps get in the way, but exercise is effective at managing depressive symptoms. Yoga and mindfulness are advised, while psychotherapy, incorporating cognitive behavioural techniques (CBT), might also be explored. While professionals often hope to treat pre-natal depression with non-pharmacological treatments, there are a small number of cases in which medication, usually a low-grade SSRI (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor), is prescribed.
I’m one of the lucky ones. I still go for sporadic therapy sessions. Through them I realised I’m not one of the 10-20 per cent who experience pre-natal depression, but having someone to talk to is good for warding off loneliness and uncertainty at a time when everyone assumes you to be luxuriantly bathing in fulfilment and euphoria.
Yet for every instance of terror and I-might-never-get-to-Electric-Picnic-again moment, I have another where I get giddy with excitement. I can’t wait to meet this new person; to find if they have my humour and B’s kindness. My weirdness or B’s blue eyes. My fat knees or B’s crazy laugh.
Some days I even feel ready for all that lies ahead. Only after four or more hours’ sleep, mind.
Tanya Sweeney is writing a weekly column about her pregnancy.
Part 1: More chance of Bosco getting pregnant
Part 2: First came the shock, then the advice
Part 3: I’m pregnant and have the odd glass of wine
Part 4: People have never seen me like this before
Part 5: Having a baby bump makes a woman so visible
Part 6: Please, no more well-meaning advice