Pretend your womb is empty while you listen to the tick-tock, tick-tock, tick-tock marching in the dark. Lie on your stomach. Squish your sprawling fetus, your tangled up intestines, your lungs. You can’t breathe anyway.
Take Tylenol to help with the sciatic pain shooting down your right buttocks, thigh, tingling your toes. Curse Robert McNeil, who made the drug, and dream of when you can once again guzzle Advil's blue gels, your liquid ecstasy.
Find escape in the suffocating darkness, in the living room, in the brown, fuzzy recliner. It squeaks to the beat of your repetitive, restless, redundant rocking. But sitting up makes your heartburn less a raging wildfire, more a bonfire with toasted marshmallows or esophagus lining.
Realize that this isn’t just a pregnancy thing on the fifteenth night of listening to the owls hoot and the raccoons hiss over the banana peels in your trashcan. Feel anxiety tighten around your gut, ringing it like a wet washcloth. Your heart hammers. Heat flushes your cheeks and chest. Run! Where? Hide! Where? Cry! Now? Your first panic attack.
Write out your fears in your journal. That should help:
Miscarriage, maternal death, mental disabilities, still birth, birth defeats, birth, breathing problems, blood tests, blood, labor, delivery, contractions, retractions, C-sections, epidurals, perineal tears, COVID-19, RSV, NIPTs, NSTs, and NICUs. (Is this all still A?)
Your toddler may hit, bite, kick, scream at the new baby. And where will he stay while you’re delivering?
The $1,300 ultrasound bill. And other bills that are yet to come, totals circled in red ink.
The lack of friendly text messages or movie nights with butter-basted popcorn or just a few good friends with which to gab and gallivant and whisper.
That thing you said one time in high school to that one red-headed girl. That you didn’t mean. That you shouldn’t have said. That she hated you for. That you didn’t have any friends to go with to prom, just a chubby date with oversized glasses. (Okay, these racing thoughts are getting out of hand.)
Tell your gray-headed OB you’re “suffering.” Feel like an overdramatic middle schooler with pimples and grease-smudged glasses. He recommends you try Unisom, get a therapist.
Try Unisom. Feel the darkness enveloping you, not like a warm blanket, like the eerie darkness before the bloody show in a horror film or at the beginning of labor. Your eyelids can’t stay open, yet your mind cannot stop, your brain won’t stop buzzing like a moth to the light, the light that will zap it, kill it, but its curiosity won’t let it stop moving toward the light, the light. Maybe you want to be like the moth. At least, he’s at peace.
Get a therapist. She smiles with perfectly white teeth, asks if you’ve ever been depressed. You say, “No, just anxiety,” trying to keep your lips closed while talking. She makes you take a test, answer questions about how you’ve felt and how you’ve slept and what you’ve eaten. You read the results later on the glow of your iPhone screen. Congratulations, you have anxiety AND depression. Your giant u-shaped pregnancy pillow is now an octopus with arms made of burning coals, enveloping you, swallowing you with its tentacles, tightening around your neck, burning, burning, suffocating.
Spend a week at the beach with your extended family. The sunshine, sandy toes, and salty air should heal your mind. Have a panic attack at 3 a.m. At 29 years old, cry in your mother’s lap while she holds you, her salt-and-pepper hair cascading down above you while she rocks you like you are the infant rolling inside your womb.
Call your OB. Nicely request (demand) an antidepressant. Doubt the efficacy of the tiny, sky-colored pills as you roll them around between your index finger and thumb. Plop one in your mouth, swallow, breathe.
Wait for the pills to work. Buy “sleepy lotion” from a Facebook ad. Breathe deeply of the lavender scent as you rub it on your bulging, stretch-mark infested belly. Imagine an inch-tall version of yourself lying in the center of the tub of lotion, slowly drifting out of consciousness, sinking beneath the white, buttery surface.
Cross days off the calendar with a thick black sharpie. Six weeks now with oceans of anxiety, puddles of sleep. Pray. Pray on your knees, on your bed, while you’re driving, in the shower, under your breath. Pray until it’s easier than breathing. Ask your hairstylist, your aunt, your mailman, your pastor, that one red-headed high school ex-friend, ask anyone who knows you to pray that you will sleep again one day, some day, someday soon, maybe tonight?
FINALLY, sleep! For now. Until your water breaks, gushes down your legs. Until you have to push a chubby, screaming alarm clock out of your vagina.
About the Author
Bethany Jarmul is a writer, essayist, and poet. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Literary Mama, Sky Island Journal, and Allium, A Journal of Poetry & Prose among others. She earned first place in WOW! Women On Writing's Q2 2022 essay contest. She grew up in the hills of West Virginia and lives in the suburbs of Pittsburgh with her husband and two kids. She loves drinking chai lattes, reading memoirs, and taking nature walks. Connect with her atbethanyjarmul.com or on Twitter: @BethanyJarmul.