Reg­u­lar hys­te­ria ver­sus pre-na­tal de­pres­sion

Ev­ery­thing, from pork and bras, to ar­chive footage of Brian Cowen, is leav­ing me in tears

The Irish Times - Tuesday - Health - - Family Motherhood - Tanya Sweeney Mammy-ish

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 preg­nan­cy­can­be­ex­plained­byafluc­tu­a­tion­in­hor­mones; specif­i­cally pro­ges­terone and oe­stro­gen, which sky­rocket in the first trimester.

Baby brain

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 ter­ri­fied­of­giv­ing­birth,thatthetaskof­keepingan­other 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).

The big show

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

But where does reg­u­lar, hor­mone-fu­elled hys­te­ria end and proper pre-na­tal de­pres­sion be­gin?

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.

PHO­TO­GRAPH: NICK BRADSHAW

Tanya Sweeney: Peo­ple who know and love me have never seen the like. ■

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