I was raised a feminist by a man who fought for Title IX and a woman who burned her bras. I never took kindly to the thought that hormones were to be the cause for emotions; when I was accused of PMSing or being told it “must be that time of the month,” I’d dress the person (almost always male) down. I have been fighting that trope since I was 11.
Throughout my pregnancy with Oscar, I did not feel “hormonal.”
I experienced the stereotypical crying at Hallmark commercials, but this didn’t feel like a major change for me. I had always been emotional; my parents found this confusing, as they were more reserved, and from the generation that embraced “better living through chemistry,” when advertisements for things like Prozac appeared in the subway trains and on TV during “60 Minutes.”
I felt as if the world around me was changing, not myself. I did not hear the changes in my sense of humor, which has always been dark and sarcastic. I did not hear the difference in my tone of voice, so quick to come out sharply. I did not feel the increase of frustration trapped in my body as it grew and swelled to constant discomfort. All my feelings were valid and I would not let anyone tell me it was due to hormones. I refused to believe in “pregnancy brain.”
My wife, who was not pregnant, noticed all these things.
If she pointed them out, she quickly changed from saying I was being “hormonal” to likening my state to having to go through the challenge of growing a human. My wife is a beautiful person who knows me better than I do most days.
Those feelings were as much of a roller coaster as the concept of time. I often didn’t realize I was on the ride until it hit that final jarring stop, where the cart clicks back into the mechanism that pulls you forward and hits the brakes. My experience of my emotions was always a delayed surprise.
After Oscar was born still, I began to take antidepressants and something for anxiety when things got to be “too much.” I weakly argued at first, but accepted; it was a good idea. I still fought against the suggestions to take the Ativan, believing it was proof of failure somehow – which I acknowledge is in direct opposition to how I feel about mental health medications generally. I didn’t like feeling altered, and still had trouble recognizing that my emotions had been, effectively, in some altered state for about 35 weeks.
It wasn’t until this pregnancy that I found the peaks and treacherous trenches of this volatile landscape.
I was more prepared for the overwhelming sadness, the discomfort, the sheer anxiety of carrying a pregnancy after loss. I never saw the rage. Again, I felt like the world and everyone around me changed. People looked at me differently, deliberately got in my way, physically and metaphorically. My wife’s jokes became jabs that I would return, never pulling the punch. My former boss became a personal enemy. I did not see the confluence of my grief, anxiety, and yes, hormones presenting as rage. It was a forgotten percolator, never turned off, just left to burn and burn until the water was gone and the glass shattered. No one could point it out without having it directed at them.
The past 22 weeks have been some of the hardest I ever hope to encounter. This is a difficult time to learn to hold a mirror up to myself and truly see the reflection of the chaos emanating from me. I am learning to recognize and manage all these different emotions, which are certainly influenced by hormones – I can admit that now. This is an open apology to everyone who I have inadvertently hurt with the cutting edge of my emotions.
I don’t have any words of wisdom for anyone else dealing with these levels of grief and rage; but I can tell you, there are no empty seats on this roller coaster.