By Caroline Royce
I was crying — alone at home — for what felt like the thousandth time.
It was a few weeks before I was due to give birth to my first child, an occasion I had waited and planned for and wanted for a long, long time. Why was I crying during this happy time? Boy … take your pick.
My time being pregnant was one of eager anticipation but also cold, hard depression. It was both the most creatively stagnant period of my life, and the loneliest.
About four months into my pregnancy, I was let go from my contract job at General Mills, where I was a graphic designer. It was well paying, and I had a flexible schedule. Most importantly, I enjoyed the work. Suddenly unemployed and pregnant, I wasn’t sure if I’d be able to find another job before my October due date. Finding a job, in my experience, was a demoralizing task, even without the added pressure of pregnancy.
Long before I was pregnant, or even had a regular job, I still knew that when I had kids, I would be a working mom. I am a feminist, and while I know that doesn’t mean you’re obligated to work when you have kids, it’s been a motivation for me to be my own person; I don’t want to be solely defined by being a mother. I want to show my kids that there is value in working, and that both mom and dad have an equal role in providing for the household. Plus studies show that mothers who work are generally happier, as they have social interactions outside the home, and aren’t totally bogged down by the stress of raising children full time.
The decks are stacked against women no matter what. Mothers who work, on average, make less than women without children. And we already know women make less than men. Truly a damned-if-you-do scenario. Even though I’ve always wanted children, I’ve never been totally sure what it means to be a mom. The image that seems most prominent in our culture is that of the mommy blogger; the woman who quietly puts aside her job and hobbies to become fully devoted to her “LOs” (Little Ones) and writes self deprecatingly about how hard it is (ok, guilty). On the flip side, there is the super cool, J. Crew-wearing mom who continues her fast-paced marketing job and somehow is wearing skinny jeans three weeks after giving birth. I was worried about becoming the mother whose life became completely dominated by being a mother.
On top of all this--losing my source of income, and my main creative outlet--I’d lost something that could’ve kept me sane: a social life.
Not only was I unemployed, but pregnancy had profoundly changed my circumstances. As someone who already has suffered from lifelong depression and anxiety, this new element to my life was crippling me socially. I didn’t know how to relate to people. I couldn’t go out drinking. I was usually too exhausted even to hit up an early trivia night. Here and there, I would do the occasional lunch with a close friend, even once or twice going out after 10 for dancing. The buzz you get from seeing friends sustained me for a while, but eventually I slipped back into a deep despair, feeling guilty that I had all this free time, and no earthly idea how to enjoy it.
I would think back to what I would do with days off from work, and the answer was usually along the lines of lunch, movie, shopping, errands. If every day is a day off, those once-enjoyable activities become tedious, almost an obligation (i.e. “Maybe I should go see a movie, but I don’t want to, ugh”). Then I would start to think how pitiful it was that I couldn’t come up with any ideas for how to spend my time other than to go to the mall again. One particularly difficult night found me hunched over my desk at home, sobbing into the crook of my arm while my husband stood next to me, totally helpless to console me. I was stricken with self-pity. I didn’t know what to do with myself, and that made me depressed.
I was trapped between two lives. There was the happy, creative career gal, who went out drinking and smoking with friends--some great days to be sure. Then there was the woman with great days ahead, raising a child and getting to know the little person that I made. The time between these two lives though was agony. It felt like a life without purpose.
In my third trimester I began to see a therapist--a cool, compassionate woman specializing in Postpartum Depression. I had a feeling that I would be extremely susceptible to this form of mental illness, but what I had not anticipated was that I would suffer greatly from Prenatal Depression, which I’ve hardly ever heard anyone talk about. Have you? Would you want to listen to a woman complain about how sad she was all the time? Basically nobody does. People asked me all the time during my pregnancy, “How are you feeling?” Lonely, existentially conflicted, in constant discomfort, waiting for my life to have purpose again. I was pretty sure nobody knew how I was feeling--and I didn’t figure they were actually interested in the messy truth--and that is the worst, loneliest feeling of them all.
Now that I’m on the other side — blissfully exhausted and constantly overwhelmed with new motherhood, I think about all the things I should’ve done. I should’ve reached out to my friends. I should’ve gone swimming more. I should’ve reorganized my kitchen. I should’ve written a ton of blogs or done some photo projects. It’s easy to look at a time of depression in hindsight and solve your problems. Harder to see when you’re in it.
Caroline Royce is a freelance graphic designer, photographer and blogger living in Minneapolis with her husband Alan, son Alexander and cat Arya.