I'm not sure how old I was when I started worrying about everything. It might've been in middle school, when my fascination with Girl, Interrupted first took root. Or maybe it was earlier. My mother, with her own mishmash of both diagnosed and undiagnosed mental disorders, instilled a sense of dread in me from early on. Would I be kidnapped if I traveled to visit family in Colombia alone? Would I be sexually assaulted if I wore short shorts? Would my sister's adolescent friends slip drugs into my hot chocolate if my mug was left unattended at the table? These were questions she posed with utmost sincerity, and ones that didn't make coping with my prenatal anxiety much easier.
I've been on selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) at various times throughout my adult life: a little Prozac here, some Lexapro with a side of Paxil there. I've participated in all forms of therapies with all sorts of doctors. The greatest remedies I've found for my anxiety have not come from bottles with twist-off caps or $250 checks to psychiatrists. They've come from practicing self-care: from making sure I set aside at least 90 minutes to read for pleasure every day, or taking regular walks outside, or watching TV shows that make me feel like the characters are even more effed up than me (thanks, Game Of Thrones).
Before my third trimester (and before my pregnancy, in general), I'd started taking steps to make sure that I was utilizing all of the above methods for anxiety prevention. They didn't always work; and when they did, they weren't guaranteed to curb every panic attack. But they helped.
Unfortunately, paralyzing back pain hasn't been the only symptom of the third trimester blues for me. As I approach my last month of baby-in-belly-dom, I find that my anxiety is back with more vengeance than that of Cersei Lannister when she blew up the Sept Of Baelor and murdered half of King's Landing. And my body, like my mind, isn't enjoying it in the least.
This breed of anxiety is a combination of both real and made-up concerns. For instance, as the child of a serial debtor and someone with her own history of credit card irresponsibility, I've always worried about money a bit. But now those fears are ever-present. I wonder just how much cash this baby is going to cost us. I wonder whether my partner will make enough to allow me to take some time off after our daughter is born. How will we ever save enough for her future education and our future pensions? Will we ever be able to travel? Will I ever be able to shop at ASOS again? These questions keep me up at night.
But it's not just money. As an internet writer who frequently covers fat-positive activism, I find myself more meticulous with every word I type onto my laptop. I constantly worry about how my words might be misconstrued, or about offending the people I'm most trying to reach. I'm anxious about coming across as self-righteous or melodramatic or uneducated. I read and re-read every draft of work I submit until my eyes hurt. Then I stare at the bottle of red wine I so want to chug, but know I shouldn't touch for at least another month.
Since finding out that my baby would be assigned female at birth, I've been excited beyond belief, yet simultaneously petrified. Growing up a girl is hard. Growing up a girl in a world where the president-elect of the United States is a misogynist will be even harder. What will her body image be like? Is there anything I can do to improve her self-esteem? How can I make her believe that there is beauty to be found in every single aesthetic deviation out there, even if her body type isn't being celebrated by her favorite shows, films, or magazines?
I wasn't planning on spending my late 20s covered in swaddle blankets and poop and listening to the sounds of infant tears at 12 a.m.
And then there's me. I'm only 25. I wasn't planning on becoming a mom for another 10 years or so. I wasn't planning on spending my late 20s covered in swaddle blankets and poop and listening to the sounds of infant tears at 12 a.m. It's all been a surprise, and I cannot help but wonder where I'll be in a year. How will motherhood change my plans? Will I have to give up some old dreams in exchange for new ones? Will my friends still want to go dancing and drinking with me, even if I have a baby-appointed curfew? Will I even want to go dancing and drinking to begin with?
I realize that these things are worries many parents-to-be probably have, and I take comfort in that. But nonetheless, they're keeping me up at night. The lack of sleep causes more back pain, more overall aching, more migraines. The anxiety is making me lash out at my partner, avoid my friends, and become more reclusive. The last time I felt like such a hermit was in the year following a major death in my family, when the only joy I could find was in an L-shaped spliff and marathon viewings of Breaking Bad.
Now that I'm pregnant, though, there is no spliff to be had.
As I sit and think about my anxiety in the third trimester, I grow even more anxious about how long it will last. Is the change in my hormones bringing on these levels of panic? Or is my anxiety simply manifesting itself in new ways?
I'd like to believe that it's the former, that hormones and regular-pre-parenting woes and the stress of preparing for a major life overhauls is a perfectly justifiable reasons to be anxious. I'd also like to believe that this anxiety will dissipate the moment I hold my kid in my arms for the first time and feel, if only for a second, that everything will be OK.
But this anxiety also makes me worry that I won't even be able to have that moment: Fueled by dread and lack of sleep, the thought of feeling only bliss and enjoyment after our daughter is born feels unlikely. Subsequently, allowing myself to enjoy these final weeks as she grows, kicks harder, and responds to Joanna Newsom songs is difficult.
I'm going to try, though. I'm going to set aside the time to read, go for countryside walks, and connect to the friends who help me feel like myself. And I'm going to spend a good amount of time hoping that this paranoia will subside.