My experiences so far with pregnancy and mood

As a dysthymic person with a history of almost yearly dips into depression, and as a planner, I took many steps before getting pregnant to prepare myself. I read articles and spoke to numerous psychiatrists in my search for one who I felt knew as much as there was to know about managing mental health and pregnancy and birth.

I know the statistics. As one who has had so many incidences of depression, it is very likely I will have more. My brain is used to this pattern, and it takes careful care to keep it from slipping back into that state where bed seems like the only place to be and life looks like a long gray stretch of things one has to do, or is supposed to do, just so that one can keep living to do more of those things one has to do. So, as such, I am at increased risk for postpartum depression.

As one doctor told me, at this point it’s more a question of when I will have another depression and for how long it will happen than a question of if. The best thing I can do for myself is to stay in regular care, take care of myself and watch my moods, and get help at the first sign of any symptoms. Knowing myself, I know the best way to do that is to have a doctor I feel comfortable talking to.

So I am glad to say I now have a good doctor that I am very comfortable with. She’s a reproductive psychiatrist and a mom of young children, and I feel I really couldn’t have better care at this point.

She and my OB told me that there was really no way to know how my brain would react to pregnancy. Some women’s moods get better, some stay the same, and some get worse.

Well, at about 3 months pregnant, I’m thrilled to say that so far, I’ve been feeling better. I can hardly remember a time when I felt so calm, confident, and at peace. I am filled with anticipation and excitement for the future in a way I haven’t felt since we got married (almost 7 years ago!). I feel the best way to describe it is that I feel overwhelmingly content.

The low-grade, nagging worry that I felt for years as I wondered if and when we would finally have the children I’d been wanting desperately since my baby fever days (see posts in 2006 and 2007!) is gone. I worried we’d never have the stability or health we were waiting, I worried we’d have trouble and I’d worry it was because we waited too long; I worried I we would be one of the 10-15% of couples who would have fertility troubles.

The sane side of my brain knew that I was and am lucky, being in a committed and strong relationship, with two capable individuals on solid career tracks, who earnestly look forward to having children together. Still, while I might bury it at times, it was hard to completely rid myself of those worries.

Until now. At nearly the end of my first trimester, with Husband recently starting a new, salaried job with great pay, and with me a year into a job that is my favorite yet and where I’ve earned recognition for my excellent work, all of those concerns are gone.

The anxiety that I wrote about in the trying to conceive and early pregnancy days has faded. Women in my forum groups write about their worries and nervousness, about their screenings and the baby’s health, and I don’t feel it. I know the odds and am confident that we are making a healthy baby. Our healthy baby.

I feel happy, healthy, confident, and excited. I know I am extremely lucky, and I am thankful.

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I’m in awe, and in love

On Friday, at nearly 12 weeks, we had our second ultrasound. Everything is going great so far. All of my results are normal and healthy. We get the final results of the NT scan screening in 2 weeks, but the ultrasound portion looked good, and I’m not really worried. Feels great to say that, by the way. Pregnancy and me are really getting along. I am just so thrilled and content that many of my usual anxieties and sadness have drifted away. It’s wonderful!

We will be delivering at Columbia Presbyterian, and they invited me to do a research study on first time moms. They are trying to find out what signs during pregnancy may be used to predict pre-term labor risk in women with no pregnancy history. As part of it, we will get 3D images at 12, 20, and 28 weeks.

We had the first ones on Friday. It was magical watching the little one move around. It kept straightening its back and nodding its head with gusto, causing it to bounce off my uterus like it was a trampoline!

A few times she caught a pic of the fetus mid-bounce, with its back straighter, and measured the crown-to-rump length at 5.54 cm (2.18 in). When the little one was more curled up, it measured 5.3 cm (2.08 in). Either way, it’s right on track. It’s amazing to think it was just 1 cm only 4 weeks ago!

I will try to share more of the pics soon, but want to share this one now. It’s my favorite picture from the day:
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After looking at that little round head, those little arms, the thick belly and those chunky thighs, I’ve fallen even more in love with our baby-to-be!

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Can I keep my sanity during the two week wait? Episode 1

In my last post I talked about my first cycle charting my fertility signs. At the end I felt more confident in my fertility than I ever have, knowing that I was lucky to ovulate and have a normal length cycle in my first cycle after birth control pills.

So that was last month. This month, after finishing my plan to transition to just one, more baby-friendly antidepressant (Zoloft), and after saying goodbye to the last symptoms from my most recent depression (which occurred fall/winter 2012), we decided we were ready to actually try to conceive, or TTC as it’s called by many.

After last cycle’s experience, I’d gained a better sense of how to classify my cervical fluid, so the waiting to ovulate part of the cycle wasn’t too stressful. If you’ve never done this, just imagine rubbing mucus from your hoo-ha between your fingers and trying to stretch it, and then asking yourself, is this more like lotion, raw egg whites, or overcooked rice? Or, when it doesn’t clearly fit any, searching the Internet for more examples, descriptions, or pictures. Oh, the things we do when we want a baby!

So I was excited this cycle to see my first days of fertile cervical fluid. My temps are still fluctuating so without that and an ovulation predictor test, it would have been harder to say which day I ovulated, but I was able to determine it was likely day 18 (with a chance of day 20).

After a number of raised temps confirmed ovulation, I found myself in my first two week wait (2WW) – the time between ovulation and either a positive pregnancy test or your period. We had very well timed intercourse and I had some fertile cervical fluid, so the possibility of conception was very excitingly real.

While some pregnancy symptoms can show up before a test would turn positive, they are mostly caused by progesterone, the same hormone that causes many PMS symptoms. It’s almost impossible to tell in any given cycle if what you are feeling is because you have a tiny little blastocyst in you or because you are about to menstruate in full force. And there-in lies the rub.

Basically, the two week wait is like PMS in a pressure cooker!

I have felt daily cramps and lower backaches all week, and I haven’t had a lower backache from PMS since I was a teenager. I’ve had headaches and some nausea and some serious irritability. Add to this the fact that I’ve wanted a baby for years and am ecstatic to finally try, and you get an over-sensitive woman who is somewhat in pain yet hoping that every little twinge is a sign of possible pregnancy rather than the return of unregulated menstruation.

I found myself looking at my chart multiple times a day, going back to note whenever I felt a new symptom, and talking with others online in the same situation.

These days, many tests turn positive before you would miss a period, so based on the advice in some books I read and having experienced these symptoms more strongly than I have in years, I tried to take a test on Saturday. That was ten days past ovulation (10 DPO) and 3 days after a temperature dip which if I was pregnant would be called an implantation dip. I say tried to test because I basically failed at peeing on a stick properly. I got no control line, because I had soaked it. Who knew it was so easy for one’s first TTC pregnancy test to end comically?!?!

I talked to husband about the situation in general – how crappy I was feeling and how while he’s trying to think of it in terms of months and cycles, I am feeling these things in my body every day. He suggested we take a more chill approach and assume always that I am not pregnant, until one day my period doesn’t come and we realize that I am. I am thinking that approach may be less of a roller coaster, so I want to aim for that, but I live in my body with my mind and I’m not sure how well I will achieve that state of mind.

So after Saturday’s invalid test, I tried again Sunday morning (11 DPO). It was negative. 11 DPO is during the time in a cycle when a positive always means a positive (though could become a very early miscarriage) and a negative sometimes means negative and sometimes means you tested too early. Still, I managed to change my thought patterns from “I hope I am” to “I’m probably not, but some day I will be” and that made it easier. But I held out hope for this cycle, because my temps were still rising and last cycle at this time they were falling already.

This morning, my temperature dropped .5 degrees, which usually signals menstruation is on its way. At this point I’m looking forward to the end of this cycle, this two week wait, and ready to try again next time, which is probably about 3 weeks away. Oh, and I’m shamelessly popping pills for the PMS. If I can’t escape it, I’m at least going to dull it!

We’re finally ready to start a new journey

It’s been a while since I’ve posted here, but I’ve been feeling the need to write again lately, and today feels like a great day to start.

So much is different from the last time I wrote. About a year ago I got my energy up and my resume together and started applying to jobs. I got a good amount of interest and interviews and ended up with opportunities at several places, most of which were great and 2 of which seemed like dream jobs. After consideration I picked one, putting the opportunity to work on a team of people who I could learn from above my initial interest in the industry, and also keeping in mind how well the role and culture would likely work with our plans to start a family.

Almost a year ago now I started there, and I couldn’t be more happy about it. I’ve grown tremendously, get to do important work for the company, and really enjoy the company of my coworkers, who are smart, hard working, and fun. On top of that my income has nearly doubled! (I’m still amazed to be able to say that!)

It’s the best job I’ve ever had, and I feel so lucky.

During this year, we continued working on lowering my antidepressants, because we wanted me to try going off them before getting pregnant. At the time I was on a significant dose of both Wellbutrin and Prozac. All told I think I’ve been working on reducing that for over 2 years! As I got to a minimal dose of both and then just one, I realized I was struggling again. But when I saw my doctor in the fall in that state of mind, I didn’t have the strength to tell him no when he, not bothering to ask how I was feeling, suggested we take the final step and drop it altogether.

As the fall continued I slipped further, having a harder time talking to my husband about what was on my mind, worrying more and more, ruminating often. Life was stressful as we filed to sue his former client and my former employer for nonpayment of a considerable sum, and as he worked less while dealing with the case money was getting tight again, but I didn’t share my fears of being broke again. Instead, I stayed in my head, worried and sad.

As fall turned to winter I stopped getting up to go to the rink. Still loving work, I managed to keep it from affecting my job performance more than a little, but it definitely affected my relationship and my marriage.

One day it came to a head, and I realized I could and should do something about it. So I went back to the doc and told him this wasn’t working, and I wanted some meds again. He gave me meds but sighed and acted like he didnt want to, and he didn’t consider that we should try the safest one because I might need to stay on it. He just said, “This is going to delay you further. You will need time to get this out of your system again before you start.”

I started crying, quietly, and he either didn’t notice or didn’t care, because he said nothing. So I left with my prescription and a plan to find a new doctor, crying on the train and in the park before collecting myself to go back to the office.

That’s when I found a reproductive psychiatrist – someone who specializes in mental health and medication during events like pregnancy and breast feeding. She has deep knowledge in the area and gave me lots of information about all of the studies on both SSRI’s and Wellbutrin during pregnancy. I am so glad to have her to work with me, and with her guidance we’ve switched me to Zoloft, as it has less accumulation in the baby’s system than Prozac and is better for breast feeding than Wellbutrin.

If you check my archives you’ll see that I had baby fever over 6 years ago, and I’m elated that everything is in place now. I have no depression symptoms, am happy with my job, we moved to a nicer, more baby-friendly apartment and neighborhood, and husband is ready and excited too.

So, I’m super excited to say that as of tomorrow, I will have completed my medication transition plan, and we are ready to try to conceive!

Random bullets

  • I am having a very negative day inside my head.  It is one of those days where the tasks of being an adult and taking care of oneself and a small household of two adults seem overwhelming.  One of those days in which I think, godD*MN, there are just too many things to be done!
  • It goes something like this.  Flicka Mawa lists off stressors in her head, and then feels tense and irritated.  Flicka Mawa thinks of Husband, and how he would tell her not to give in to those feelings, and wills her brain to busy itself with other topics, mostly through meditation.  Thoughts turn to stuff like: “It will get better. It will not always be like this.  Focus on your breathing. Let the calm flow through you…” you get the idea, right?
  • Shortly, Flicka Mawa’s brain distracts itself with thoughts of impending doom and lists of things to do or things to be upset about.  Flicka Mawa either 1)gives in and sheds a few tears while she cuddles in a blanket and tries not to disturb Husband who is very busy prepping for his first business pitch to his older brother tonight, or 2)manages to be strong for some period of time, meditating and willing self not to dwell on the negative thoughts.  Switching between 1 and 2 ensues for the remainder of the day.
  • Primary reason for today’s stressing? The sudden realization that in the past 2 days our bank account went from low to -$500, and all of a sudden that $1k check that Husband FINALLY got his freelance boss to send is going to be cut in half before we even see it.  This is the bank accounts first dip into negativity since, oh, February of this year.  It has probably spent more than 30 days in the past 6 months in such a state.
  • I am getting kind of sick of it.  But I know it’s almost over, Husband and I have agreed and things really ARE going stellar for him right now, but it’s just, well…I just DON’T want to deal with this right now.  I have $5 in my purse, he might have up to $10 in his, and among things like having to pack something for lunch and dinner tomorrow from the limited food we have here, this also means that I can’t even afford to buy your basic over the counter medication for the d*mn yeast infection I seem to have gotten…
  • The yeast infection is probably from all that sex I’ve been having.  At least this is a positive point in my list of random bullets.
  • This morning’s realization led to another one – tax day is less than a week away, and now we don’t even have enough funds to pay someone to help us file, let alone to pay anything that we might owe.  And they’re going to be uber-complicated this year, because neither of us got W-2’s, I got paid via outside stipend for part of the year and internal university stipend for part of the year, and of course cash for my babysitting, but then husband, his is more complicated, as he had no full-time job all year – just a few of those MISC forms for some freelance work, and some cash investments in the company that went towards paying for Husband’s time as he worked on it.  Then there were some company expenses paid for out of our own accounts, and he works at home so we have can factor in home office costs.  All this leads to the taxes being much more complicated than last year and likely taking 10 times more time to do than either of us has to give in the next 3 weeks.
  • And my Dad is about to drive past our corner of the world as he moves from my childhood homestate of MA to Myrtle Beach, SC.  He wishes to visit and take us to dinner and see us before he moves further away (SC) than he is now (MA).  But the best part is he’s planning to pass by in 2 weeks and my quals are in 2.5 weeks which means he should be planning to move a few days before the quals.  Now, if visits with my dad were all fun and no stress, I’d definitely say I’d make a way for it to work, but it’s not like that.
  • I think that’s enough random bullets of consciousness (Is that what RBOC stands for when I see it on blogs?). I’m going to go watch some CSI:NY.
  • Speaking of CSI:NY, at times like these, I find myself thinking of all the myriad of things I could go and do with the training I have up to this point at time.  One of the things I think about sometimes is forensic science.  I love solving mysteries, and chemistry, and if it weren’t for the danger and the crime involved, this would be an ideal endeavor for me, I think.
  • Other things I think about doing instead of or after finishing grad school: science writing, like trying to go get a job at a science magazine or working as a freelance science writer.  Working in a paid position in a lab somewhere.  Being a professor who specializes in the interaction of science and the public, and maybe writes popular science books.  Finding some way to be a full-time mentor to aspiring women in science (mentoring the undergrads is my FAVORITE part of my current job).
  • Or I could just wait for Husband’s company to sell for 10 million (not a completely unreasonable amount for an innovative website company such as the one he’s creating) and then play computer games all the time. And have a second home in Amsterdam.
  • And have kids.
  • Really cute kids.
  • Like the ones I watch part-time, who love me so much it totally warms my heart.  The mama told me the other day that older toddler asks her if I’m coming over on days that I’m not, and that he’s even said “Mommy, I love you…and I love Flicka Mawa” when I wasn’t even there.  Kid, I love you too.
  • Seriously, I’m off now.  Hope you all are having a better day than I am!

Links to check out

Tara Smith writes on her Scienceblog “Aetiology” Damn those women, out there ruining science and being lazy and depressed.

She pointed me to Christiane Nüsslein-Volhard’s Women in science — passion and prejudice.

I’m feeling some atheist pride after yesterday’s Dawkins talk. I came across this amusing T-shirt: Godless and Proud Ringer T says “GODLESS & PROUD — I outgrew the need for imaginary friends as a child.”

I’ve also been eagerly checking out a K8, a cat, a mission often since she’s expecting a baby pretty soon!

Numbers tell a story

5 – minutes that I just kneaded pretzel dough for
45 – minutes that I must let it rise for
2.5 – hours I spend in class each week
11 – hours I spend on the subway in an average week
18 – approximate hours I spend while listening to my iPod in an average week
14 – hours straight I slept last Friday night
17 – approximate hours I babysit during the average week
2 – children I watch during aforementioned time
55 – total months old they are, combined
19 – months separating their ages
11 – months I’ve been working with this family
30 – number of times I wiped the wee one’s nose today.  Poor thing, he’s sick!
1 – month since I was awarded my MS degree! Yay!
45 – days until my qualifying exams (gulp)
3.5 – theoretical number of years until I get my PhD (my program sets a five year limit on funding for grad students)
1 – number of years until I think we might be around ready-ish to maybe start trying to conceive (with the huge variable of Husband’s start-up company…)
3.75 – years since I met Husband
17 – months I’ve been married
14 – months since Husband quit his salaried job to build a really awesome (and well-developed) website
3.5 – years since the first time I encouraged Husband to quit a salaried job in order to pursue his dream career path (which he was not on when I met him)
20,000 – dollars our angel investor promised us to start the company with
12,000 – dollars we actually received
5,000 – dollars we need to raise in the very near future
150,000 – estimated dollars we hope to find investors for in the not so far off future
3 – number of cofounders with my Husband
38 – days until Comic Con 2008, at which Husband and I hope we will have a booth, which will be a big step for us as we prepare to launch his website.  Check out the huge list of exhibitors already! It would be an awesome venue in which to start getting people excited about our website (which I won’t describe here but is relevant to the comic industry), which we then hope to pitch to investors (friends and family first, then angel investors).  I have a ton of confidence in Husband’s business plan and the applicable skill set of him and his co-founders (although Husband is the one who came up with the idea and the only one who works on it full-time, at least for now), as well as the amount that the market it’s targeted to is thriving right now, so I really believe this could happen.

Random thoughts (of varying length)

Do you think my cat understood when she meowed at me and I told her “I’m sorry, Fluffy, but we only have enough wet food for one can a day and I gave you your can this morning”?

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When I’m feeling alone about my work-life balance concerns, in particular my strong strong STRONG desire to become a mom and how I might manage to still become a scientist, I find my blogosphere friends to be so comforting. In particular, I love to read the archives of PhD Mom, because she had her first children in grad school and her husband, like mine, is in computers, and I like to read about how that worked out for her. Thanks PhD mom, for having written so many great and honest posts that help me feel less alone!

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My husband rocks. I had already talked to him earlier about how I was feeling down, but now I talked to him again for a bit more, and he’s just so supportive, I couldn’t ask for anything more. We talked about the different options I have (I’ll be getting my master’s in January), and basically about how it’s up to me what I want to do. If I want to drop out of school, get some other sort of job for a while, and work on having the baby as soon as we are healthy enough, fine. If I want to stick it out until I get my PhD, that’s fine too. If I want to try and have a baby before finishing the PhD but stay in the program, fine, but I just need to make sure that I’m not putting more on my plate than I can realistically handle and setting myself up for a major meltdown. If I want to stay at home with the baby after I graduate and take time off from the work force, we’ll work it out. If I want to find a part-time job, we’ll work that out. And if I want to stay in academia full-time and continue to pursue a professorship, he’ll be there for me as well, my teammate and coach and best supporter. But it’s up to me, and I need to do what makes me happy, and that’s what he thinks too. And it’s so great, to know that I have this wonderful partner who will do whatever he can to help me achieve my dreams and my happiness, while I do the same for him. I love you, Husband.

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On this week of last year, I had just gotten over the scariest incident of my life as of yet – that in which my fiance didn’t return home from his bachelor party. It was 9 or 10 am on Saturday, and finally I gave in to my inner desire to stay calm and hope he’d call me back, and decided to call his friend. “Friend, is Husband crashed there with you?” “Flicka, is this a joke?” “No, Friend, he’s not home yet” “Oh god. I put him on the subway to go home 4 hours ago. Oh my god, flicka, where is he?” …silence, as I begin dry-wretching.

A long, long 45-60ish minutes later,

  • after a visit from some cops who think I’m some dumb wifey whose husband-to-be got cold feet,
  • and after our male friend took them in the hallway to explain that yes, even he who had been at the bachelor party with the husband-to-be is worried about him and that he wouldn’t have just run away,
  • and after those same cops, incidentally, while they were here, found some smoked…ahem, illegal substances… and then hid it in the corner for me, telling me I shouldn’t leave that stuff out when I invite cops over, (Yes, Officer, I’m so very sorry, Officer, I was just so stressed out about my fiance who disappeared, very drunk and alone, in New York City during the night that I didn’t think to hide that, I’m so sorry, Officer),
  • and after yet another winning moment wherein we think we’ve found him at a hospital but it turns out it’s his father (who shares his name) who’s in their records,

finally, finally, my husband-to-be arrived home. With a bag. In which was a toasted bagel. Yes, toasted. Because it hadn’t occured to him that me and his friends were all freaking out, and he thought, mmmm, yes, please do take the time to TOAST that bagel for me. As it turns out, and as we had suspected after many hysterical moments, he had fallen asleep on the subway. On the wrong subway, as he was too drunk to notice that the express was running local. And he had been robbed, of his cell phone and whatever money he had (he got the bagel with a few quarters from his back pocket), so he couldn’t call when he woke up, 3 hours after boarding the train, about an hour and a half from our home and on the wrong subway line.

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Also, at this time in general of last year, I was in twice as many classes as now, but doing less research, studying for midterms, managing to turn in homework sets, and putting the finishing touches on a very do-it-yourself wedding. Our anniversary is coming up this Sunday. Imagine, a whole. year. of marriage. Wow.

Women in science clubs

I went to a meeting today for women grad student scientists at my university, and I came away feeling a bit down. Somehow, I’d gotten it into my head that I might actually meet people there who were also concerned about work-life balance and were maybe thinking about having children. Jangor (a fictitious lobster god my friends and I all pray to) only knows why. For some reason, I thought: Hey, I’ll be meeting grad students from other science departments, even departments that are part of the larger university but not part of my particular school. Surely in this larger, more encompassing community, someone there will also be thinking and wondering when she might have a baby soon, and how that might work out, and what the school/program/adviser’s response will be.

Well, silly me. A whole new group of scientists, but why would they be any different than the ones I’d already met in my own school? Of course none of them have children, or even know any others who have children (I asked the group’s leaders if they knew anyone who had a baby or child at home, and they thought and thought and all they could come up with was a pregnant post-doc.)

I’m at a top research institution, and most of the women here are completely career-oriented. And anyone who’s not (like me!) probably hides it when they are on campus, so realistically speaking I shouldn’t have thought I might even find someone there with whom I might have this baby fever in common. Just because the group was unknown to most students of my own school, to them they were still with colleagues and coworkers amongst whom the professional appearance is important, and the decision to have a baby is a private matter. Even if any of them there were thinking about such things, it wouldn’t necessarily come out at the meeting. And if there are any female grad students at my school with a baby, they certainly wouldn’t have been at the meeting, since they would have rushed home after the day’s work to see their child!

So in retrospect it was silly of me to feel sad about not having found a new instant friend at the meeting, but the clear career interests (workshops, job panels, etc.) over enthusiasm about the work-life balance programming was enough to sadden me. I know I’m not the only person who cares about work-life balance in the women in science community at my school, but no one wants to talk about it much, and in the end I just felt so completely alone. Late this evening, I found myself staring up at the building I work in, thinking about what the university was for and whether I belonged there. I felt like in this large research institution, there was little old me, stuck in the wrong place, perhaps fooling myself into thinking I might be able to have a family with multiple children and a career in science.

I do feel better now, that I’ve had time to think about it, and I have not given up on the idea that I can have a family and a science career. I just don’t know how to go about finding a community of people with whom I can talk about my concerns and we can help each other through the decisions and the work involved. I mean, aside from the lovely blog community, which is great. But it would be nice to know some real-life women at the university too, the kind that I could see in person and smile at and even get a hug from on a tough day. How do I find these people? Any suggestions?

The kids are adorable

Today, I am feeling so tired. I just need a break, but it is Friday night, and now I get one. I’m still feeling down, but I’m looking forward to the weekend.

And I am overwhelmed with one feeling – love for the kids I take care of (Today, anyhow. Much of the time it is a really strong urge to have a baby, but I saw the children this morning, and they were so cute today that I feel content just having them in my life at this point.) They are so adorable! The baby turned one a few weeks ago, but, perhaps because he’s a second child, he seems rather advanced for a one year old. He walks really steadily and he’s been showing clear preferences nowadays. Also his language is really developing; he hasn’t quite been speaking words yet, but he he says all sorts of different sounds with different intonations like he means something, it’s just not quite English yet. And the toddler, oh how I love the toddler. He’s just so much fun; he loves to play with me, and I play with him, and he comes up to me for hugs and to sit with him and I tickle his feet and it’s just so….lovely. Mmmm…children.