I took my last business trip of this pregnancy at 34 weeks, on Thursday, November 15. It was an uneventful, standard-issue overnight trip to Boston for an early-morning hearing in bankruptcy court. And on the flight home to DC that afternoon, I noticed a tickle in my throat.
Natalie and & had both been sick earlier in the week, feverish and coughing and low-energy. In all likelihood, any cooties I’d acquired were more likely spreading through my family than through JetBlue flight 691. But whatever their point of origin, the bugs had finally caught up with me: on Friday I felt lousy, Saturday was worse, and by Sunday I could hardly speak.
I’ve heard all sorts of horror stories about Rough Pregnancies. People who had miserable food aversions, chronic fatigue, vision problems, carpal tunnel, achy joints, skin conditions, unprovoked puking for months on end. None of this (with the possible exception of the fatigue) has happened to me. My second pregnancy has not been physically burdensome the way some people’s pregnancies are. If Natalie’s pregnancy hadn’t been such a start-to-finish blissfest, I might not even have a basis to complain about this one.
Except that, well, I kind of do. It’s been a tougher go this time than last time. I’ve had consistent issues with plummeting blood pressure (like last time) and difficulty breathing (unlike last time). My regularly-occurring spring allergies, perhaps amplified by our relocation to a woodsy neighborhood in prime season, gave rise to some unprecedented, godawful, hide-under-the-covers-and-moan migraines. And for some reason it’s just been more uncomfortable this time to have a baby on board. This kid feels lower, heavier, more insistently squirmy than her elder sister. Natalie measured small, moved late, and was generally behind the ball on her in-utero developmental milestones; not so with baby sister, who’s routinely been measuring a week to ten days ahead of schedule and has been palpably active since 18 weeks. I keep reminding myself that I’ll miss this internal dancing, but right now I want so badly to hold her and cuddle her and get her the hell out of my kidneys.
Over a week has passed since my return from Boston, and I am now on Day 8 of what is officially the Worst Cold I’ve Ever Had. On Monday I was running a fever. On Tuesday I fought it back with some Tylenol, only to run smack into underwater sinuses, swollen adenoids, irritated throat and the beginnings of a chest cough. By Wednesday the chest cough had grown so intense that I actually pulled a muscle in my back. And even once the nurse-practitioner at my thirty-five-week checkup gave me the all clear to take Sudafed and Robitussin as well as Tylenol, new symptoms seemed to appear as quickly as the meds beat back the old ones. Recurrent near-laryngitis. The sensation that my throat was lined with broken glass. Sharper, more percussive chest coughing. And most recently, a 4 am nosebleed and the resurgence of my June migraines. Is this a Sign of a Rough Pregnancy? Nah, it’s just a really bad cold. But being pregnant sure doesn’t help, where your immunity’s depressed and most drugs are off limits and you still feel guilty taking the few that aren’t.
Still, eight days (or nine or ten or however long it takes for this bug to lose interest in me) is but a blip in the long-term memory. By next month it should all be forgotten. And in other senses this pregnancy has been unexpectedly kind to me: at 35 weeks 1 day I still have wrists, ankles, collarbones, a jawline, and the ability to wear heels. I never got hit with the swelling that overtook me with Natalie. I’m gaining just as much weight as last time (if not more!), but, to the naked eye, the vast majority of it is concentrated in my giant Pregnant Tummeh. The rest of me is, implausibly, still reasonably cute.
The big elephant in the room, as far as this pregnancy is concerned, is the strange effect it’s had on my mental health. Starting in the first trimester, I felt … challenged. Mentally fragile. Uncertain in my cognitive processes. You know the feeling you get when you identify a correct answer on a test? I could not get that feeling. Nothing seemed right. I had no confidence in my ability to answer even the simplest questions correctly. I didn’t trust a single conclusion I reached. It was like I was actually getting dumber, before my own eyes. (And my boss’s. Oh, the embarrassment.)
It got worse: once it hit me that I wasn’t fooling anyone and my rapidly-progressing stupidity was probably self-evident even to random passersby, then I fell prey to the overwhelming paranoia. Not only could I not do anything right, but every little thing I screwed up was Just One More Sign that I had clearly gone altogether off the rails and was jeopardizing my entire career every time I put words to a page. I started losing sleep, startling awake at 2 am wondering how I’d beat back a particular legal argument. I had no idea what was going on. I was in my second trimester, which — I remembered from before — was supposed to be the most easy-breezy time in the entire pregnancy. And yet my ridiculous brain apparently hadn’t gotten the memo and was busying itself around-the-clock with coming unhinged.
For a stretch of time, from mid-August through the end of September, I fought my way through a dogpile of deadlines — the kind of work stress that would be taxing even under the best of circumstances — feeling impaired, hobbled and blindfolded, miserably reduced in capacity. The harder I worked, the harder things got. I tussled with huge, substantive briefs, praying that I wasn’t skating across thin ice. Silly occupational hazards that a thick-skinned litigator can normally ignore — irrational pro se parties, snarky anti-government briefs from unpleasant opposing counsel — got under my skin and left me feeling even less capable of dealing with them. It was like every time I whacked a mole, it would bite me anyway.
And then, suddenly, it was over. It was mid-October, the crush was past, and I could finally see the end of my funk. None of my putative screwups caused anything catastrophic, or even unusually embarrassing, to happen at work. Quite the opposite, in fact: in two separate cases, opposing counsel read my dispositive motion briefs and called me to concede the case. (This does not normally happen in my practice. One concession every few years is a blissful gift. Two in a month is astounding.) As the dust settles, I can now look back on the summer rush and my marathon September and realize: oh wait. you know what all that trouble really was? That was pregnancy, being difficult.
So that’s what it feels like.
It’s certainly no more fun than having a terrible cold. But it’s weirder, and less socially acceptable, to have your mental health fall prey to the vagaries of pregnancy. When you say you’re having a rough pregnancy, people are prepared to sympathize with your persistent nausea and epic cankles. They’re not quite prepared to understand why you’ve gone crazy and no longer make sense. “Well, of course you’re tired,” people would tell me, “you’ve got all this work and you’re chasing a toddler around.” But Natalie was her standard angelic self, no trouble at all, and her daddy (who is famous for his own high-energy personality) was an unqualified hero, semi-single-parenting her for days on end while I fought my way through the valleys. No, I was overwhelmed and destabilized not by the demands of my life, but by…hormones.
Which, I hope, is a good sign. My body has never been good at being hormonal. In adolescence this was nice, since I got to skip both the worst of the overwrought emotional angst and the acne; in adulthood it’s been somewhat less of an asset, requiring the intervention of science to produce live offspring, and then leaving me barely able to nurse them. Maybe the existence of The Second-Trimester Crazies, strange and chemical as they are, mean that other strange chemical things may now be possible for me. Like adequately breastfeeding my second daughter. Or (gasp) accidentally conceiving a third child.
Heh. We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.