Squeezable Companion learned to drive from his Phys Ed teacher. Mr. Gilbert, who also doubled as the Drivers’ Ed instructor, taught SC to “cover the brake”, that is, keep his foot over the brake pedal whenever the car is not actively accelerating.
This is what SC does when he drives; he’s ready to stop.
I try this and realize for the first time that my foot has always hovered over the accelerator, moving it to the brakes only when absolutely necessary. I don’t anticipate sudden stops.
When I’m driving, I’m always ready to go.
* * *
Not that I’ve been going anywhere much lately.
SC and I got a car shortly after my surgery. It’s a zippy beat up Corolla. I’ve driven it to Logan Airport, Ikea, Targets, Bed, Bath, and Beyond, T.J.Maxx, Market Basket, Costco, Home Depot, Rick’s Garden Center, Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s, Armando’s, Hi-Rise, MGH nearly every day, Masse Hardware Store.
This is an exhaustive list. And they all have one thing in common: trips for getting our life ready for the baby.
It’s as if I’m not going anywhere other than right back to our new apartment, the place where I will bring my new baby once its born, the rooms I’ll spend almost all of my time as I take care of my baby nearly alone for the next year.
When I leave the house these days, the excursion’s only purpose seems to be for the home, to come back home. Round and round, going nowhere and the same. It’s like driving on a mobius strip.
* * *
What am I saying? That home isn’t where my heart is? That’s not it exactly. And not exactly’s been sort of the problem.
Since my emergency surgery, I’ve been depressed. My low grade depression or dysthemia became higher grade. I haven’t been able to write, often weepy, sleepless, needy. I can’t concentrate long enough to finish a short story, I dread and avoid leaving the house, I watched all eight seasons of 24 within two and a half weeks and now working through Law & Order SVU because it filled the silence of the apartment and silenced my thoughts.
“So what are you doing tonight?” SC asks me as I drive him to MGH.
I never know what to say. Anxiety makes me freeze. But I want to reassure him. So often, I make something up like I think I’ll go for a walk and read and work on my blog and sometimes I even think I’ll follow through. Sometimes I say nothing. Once when I said nothing he asked me what was wrong. The day intimidates me, I told him. It sounded stupid but that’s exactly how I felt. I feel the day light hours looming over my head leering at my vegetative existence ready to beat me with accusations: lazy, worthless, slug.
“Why don’t you go outside and get some Vitamin D,” SC suggests. If only the days felt like opportunities rather than diurnal rebukes.
* * *
Depression during pregnancy afflicts about 14-23% of women. Symptoms include:
Going through the list reads like a large hair ball, each symptom a strand of hair, all balled up into a tangled inextricable mess, lodged in my throat. Let me illustrate.
When I tried to write or read, I couldn’t focus. Everything I came up to write about seemed inane and embarrassingly trivial. Because I wasn’t reading or writing, I started to feel worthless. So to escape myself, I kept the TV blaring from the moment I woke up till I couldn’t keep my eyes open, up to 20 hours a day. My couch potato existence encouraged eating from ennui. This also contributed to my feelings of guilt and worthlessness. All this self rebuking and lowered self esteem leached into my relationship with SC. We fought and I would feel worse and watch more TV, feel more hopeless. I felt sad about my life, including the pregnancy, sometimes on the verge of tears from the moment I woke up. This would end with me becoming overwhelmed with guilt and then stricken with anxiety about the health of the baby. I was choking and immobilized.
I thought if I could just start writing again, if I restarted my running routine, if I spent an hour a day reading, I could fix myself. These strategies have worked in the past. I’d feel blue, I’d go for a run, get back to a routine, and slowly feel better.
When you can trace the actions that lead to feeling good or the inactions that lead to depression, you think you can stop it, that it’s up to you. Just get up and get out, you tell yourself. Go for a walk, get some vitamin D. Make a routine, go sit in a coffee shop for a little excursion, see a friend, read a book, volunteer. So says your best friend, the mother of a friend, your sister, your mother, your husband.
Maybe it’s the hormones. This time I can’t seem to fix myself.
* * *
The habit of leaving my foot on the accelerator as my resting state–invariably ready to speed up rather than stop–illustrates my ingrained modus operandi.
When, for instance, I announced my unplanned pregnancy and held a shotgun wedding within a span of a week, friends and family were surprised, but accepted them as events well within the scope of my character. There she goes; there she goes again.
A friend put it best when she said with matter-of-fact affection, “You’ve never done things in the right order or when you were expected to. This is so you.”
A certain romantic idealism, which I concede could be interpreted as narcissism, is afoot in the above self image. And as with all idealizations it’s flawed in reality. This self allows things to get out of hand, do too much of a bad thing until it reaches critical stages. Operating my life the way I operate a car results in me wanting to see, with perverse curiosity, how far I can push things, see how bad bad can get. It’s hard to know sometimes, if I stop on time. Covering the brake isn’t how I think or act, and at the moment, rather than my M.O. being a point of impish pride, it’s a pain in my pregnant ass.
* * *
It seems like a ubiquitous domestic vignette: a couple driving in a car and the passenger gives the driver advice about how to drive better.
A common ho-hum scene. Of deep trust and love.
Friends will confide secrets. Lovers share deep personal thoughts and feelings. People get naked and have sex with virtual strangers. Yet most people hesitate and often abstain from telling someone to stop talking with their mouth full, to not pick through a bowl of mixed nuts for all the cashews while fingering all the other nuts, being chronically late.
It’s easier to tell a boyfriend (or girlfriend) that you love him than to ask him to cover his mouth when he yawns or to use the napkin at the dinner table rather than lick every finger with loud smacking noises or give him driving advise.
The finer niceties of good manners should, I think, ideally be left to family members to teach and enforce. It’s one of the most difficult things to do, telling someone who isn’t your family, that they’re showing poorly, pointing out habits that have probably gone overlooked by people who care about them the most. It even seems to me like a breach in good manners to point out such shortcomings or cluelessness.
I’m sure there are people who have no qualms about pointing out deficiencies in others. Cough, cough. I do. As does SC. So when he told me about Mr Gilbert and “covering the brake,” he was trying to constructively inform me that my driving was making him anxious, that he felt it was inconsiderate to his sense of safety and peace of mind. He criticized and I listened because he showed me he loves me and most importantly he showed me that he knows I love him.
* * *
When dealing with depression during pregnancy or antepartum depression, people in my life have offered advise about how to deal with it. Often my first impulse is to rip their heads off. But I haven’t because I’ve been just wise enough to recognize how much easier it would have been for them to quietly avoid a possible lashing out, to pretend not to notice, to convince themselves that it was not their place to say.
* * *
Mother put it like this: I’m married to the man I love and he loves me; I’m pregnant when pregnancy is not easy for most women my age; the baby is healthy and thriving; I had surgery but it was perfectly successful; I live in a beautiful apartment in a nice part of town; I have a mom and sister who will support me through anything; my mother in law is willing to drive up from NJ at the last minute to help me with the baby.
“You’re the richest person I know,” she says.
* * *
In my research into antepartum depression, I discovered that I might not be the only one who would have to deal with it. Left untreated, depression can lead to premature birth, low birth weight, and developmental problems. It could also aggravate baby blues, a common and short lived depression that many women experience, to become full blown postpartum depression which can seriously disrupt mother and baby bonding and all the corresponding issues that follow.
I haven’t had a drink since early January. I haven’t smoked since last August. I gave up using my sky-diving Groupon just in case the G-forces caused the placenta to detach from the uterus or in case I landed on my belly. Woops. I was told not to ride my bike in case I got hit by a car, so I stored it in the basement. I, who has never cared enough to be conscientious about taking pills on a daily basis, ingest daily doses of prenatal vitamins and Omega-3 tablets because I heard it’s good for the baby. During post-surgical recovery, I stopped taking oxycodone after the first day because I figured narcotics while pregnant with my history with drugs wasn’t the best idea.
In spite of my lifelong bent to go faster, I’ve stopped and covered the brake every way I know how since becoming pregnant.
But I think the sudden hard stop of my surgery during pregnancy, a surgery every doctor right up until I was wheeled into the OR said was too unlikely to be a concern, gave me psychic whiplash. Then–just to make sure I was really and properly stopped and got the message that bad stuff happens to people indiscriminately, including me–two days later, I couldn’t make my own way from the cab to my apartment without the help of two good Samaritans who carried me up to my door.
It might be why I’ve been having such a tough time getting going again–writing, reading, running, and feeling alive and embracing my pregnancy.
In the past, I’ve managed to pull myself out of periods of depression on my own. I thought I could deal with the mental and emotional changes, upheavals even, in my life over the past five months–unemployment, engagement, pregnancy, marriage, surgery, change of residence. And several times since becoming pregnant I’ve been able to come out of the blues for a few days’ stretch only to fall back deeper into it.
This time, with someone else at risk, I decided I needed help to keep my foot covering the brake rather than leave it hovering threateningly over the accelerator.
* * *
It’s a boy. A week ago I felt him kick for the first time.
They say pregnancy is a magical time in a woman’s life. “It’s a spiritual experience,” said one friend. “You’re the richest person I know,” said my mother.
“But O, how bitter a thing it is to look into happiness through another man’s eyes,” said Shakespeare’s Orlando.
Since feeling him move, though, I finally believe some of that magic and richness.