This has been a difficult post to write. I’ve shared some of my pregnancy journey on my personal Facebook page, but I’ve left out plenty of details. Details, perhaps, that might be better off kept to myself and not confessed to the wide web. (Not that there are many beyond a couple dozen who actually read my bitty blog.). But I’m compelled to share for two reasons: 1) Writing is cathartic for me. It heals me to transform feelings into words. 2) On the off chance that a pregnant woman googles a combination of symptoms or fears or feelings in hopes that someone else has experienced a similar misery, I want her to be able to find this blog post. Because part of this struggle is feeling utterly alone in it. And so, I share.
My body, my brain, and my spirit feel broken. This baby — a girl, we’re told — is literally sucking the life from me. According to ultrasounds (of which I’ve had many), she is thriving and is as healthy as can be. Whereas I feel like I’m dying. It’s hard not to think of her as a parasite, stealing all that is good from me and using it for herself.
Doesn’t that sound crazy? What kind of mother thinks of her baby as a parasite? What kind of horrible person has actually fantasized about having a miscarriage so that the nightmare of pregnancy can finally be over? What kind of monster has actually wished for a premature birth so that she can get it over with faster?
Me. I’m the crazy, horrible monster who has thought those things. No need for pitchforks; I beat myself up enough over these feelings more than an angry mob ever could.
In my 16th week of pregnancy, I was taking Zantac daily for my excruciating GERD. And we’re not talking heartburn — I have crushing pain in my sternum from esophageal spasms every time I eat, no matter the food. It radiates up my shoulders and straight back to my spine. Food will literally regurgitate itself and sit in my esophagus while it painfully contracts (imagine a vise or a strong fist squeezing your esophagus over and over) until I either live through it or force myself to vomit it up to make the pain stop.
The Zantac managed things okay, but during the two weeks that I was taking it, I began to have severe panic attacks and manic-level anxiety. I called a suicide hotline one day. I visited the ER three times in one week. My heart rate, usually around 50-60/bpm would climb to over 100/bpm. They had to give me oxygen in the ER when this happened. I would shake violently and uncontrollably. I had horrible, stabbing chest pains, which scared the doctor enough to think I was experiencing a pulmonary embolism. I had a CT scan of my chest done, for which I’ll feel eternally guilty over exposing my unborn child to radiation. I left with no answers, and was terrified to face another day living like this.
On a hunch, I looked up the words “Zantac” and “anxiety.” Well, who’d have thought that yes, Zantac CAN trigger wild panic attacks, rapid heart rate, chest pains, and a whole slew of other (uncommon, but completely real) side effects. I tossed the remainder of the pills in the garbage and like magic, the symptoms stopped.
But the damage to my mental health was done. Spending two weeks in the throes of the highest level of anxiety I’d ever experienced had changed the pregnancy for me. I lived on edge, always afraid of the symptoms coming back. I didn’t sleep. I was a zombie by day, snapping at my kids and obsessively googling every ache or pain that popped up, convinced I needed to be back in the hospital.
It tore my soul in two to do it, but I made an appointment with my doctor and got back on Lexapro, albeit at a very low dose of just 5 mg. I exhaustively researched the risks of SSRIs in pregnancy and felt confident that “no data” did not necessarily equal “bad outcomes.” I was also reassured by the fact that I was well into my second trimester and far out of reach from the delicate early formation stage of the pregnancy. I found comfort in knowing that my low dose of 5 mg was unlikely to cause any withdrawal symptoms in the baby after birth. Above all, I leaned on the words echoed by nearly every reputable medical source I read: When the benefits clearly outweigh the risks. And boy, did they.
Now on Lexapro but off Zantac, I was treating one illness but not the other. I resorted to an all-liquid diet to manage the GERD. I subsided on Ensure and chicken broth. I starved. And I was still in pain.
This went on for a couple more weeks until I managed to get an appointment with a GI specialist, though her office was 40 miles away. Nobody in my immediate area would see me for five weeks, if at all (one place told me they don’t treat pregnant women). I was put on 40 mg of Protonix, twice daily, as well as a liquid called Carafate that I was to drink before each meal and at bedtime.
After the Zantac nightmare I was quite nervous to take another anti-acid medication, though I was assured that Protonix was in a completely different pharmaceutical category and is generally well tolerated.
The GERD is slightly improved with these medications, though I can’t eat anything after 4 pm and still rely mostly on liquids. Additionally, my gallbladder has begun acting up (another ER trip) so I’m even more limited as to what I can eat so as to not aggravate THAT problem.
I vomit almost daily and am nauseas most of the time. My sternum still throbs in pain, though it’s not as severe. When I crave food, I chew it up to get the taste of it then spit it into the trash so as not to actually swallow it. Yesterday morning, I had an absolutely terrifying spell of hypoglycemia where I almost lost consciousness and couldn’t see or hear anything for nearly 20 minutes while my husband helped me to the sofa and fed me Ensure. My bloodwork is terrible — all levels of everything are “low” and I’ve developed iron deficiency anemia. And guess what happened when I tried to take an iron supplement? Yep. GERD attack. Because iron and GERD don’t mix, apparently.
Oh, and I have a hernia in the middle of my stomach, a few inches above the belly button and to the left. Right over the bowels, where possible strangulation can occur. And it hurts like a mofo and there’s nothing anybody can do about it.
I’m starving and live in constant pain. I’m anxious all the time. I feel disconnected from this baby and fear that I won’t bond with her when she’s born. I feel tremendous guilt for all the medication I’m taking when I never took so much as a Tylenol with either of my other pregnancies.
And nobody gets it. I’m supposed to be grateful that I get to have a baby and that’s the only emotion I’m allowed to have. I’m supposed to put myself before my child and think of her needs above mine, so taking Lexapro and the other meds is very selfish of me. Not to mention, as noted above, that I’m a monster for wishing that it would all just go away.
I want this baby. I do. But my God, I do not want to be pregnant anymore. I am miserable and I feel like I’ve lost myself.
I am 21 weeks, 2 days pregnant according to an early ultrasound. I am 22 weeks, 1 day pregnant according to the conception date.
40 weeks can’t come soon enough.