By Emily Dagostino
There was a brief bout that began around week 10 of my pregnancy when I cried for a week. Even a weekend getaway couldn’t quell the desperation: For two days in Door County, Wisconsin, I took long baths and lay in bed, not embraced by my husband’s arms but by the once-familiar dull gray weight of depression. An increased regimen of daily gratitude and exercise pushed me through it, and I smiled through the next couple of months as my belly swelled.
At the apex of my pregnancy, as I prepared to enter the last leg, I left the world as it was—the simple but expensive home with the high taxes, the stable but sometimes silly job, the family and the familiar—for a writing retreat 800 miles away in a bucolic estate amid the luscious country of Northern Virginia. I purposely placed myself off the digital map: no cell phone, no TV. I checked email sporadically but spent every other moment for five days writing, reading, eating, walking, sleeping, speaking to my in-utero son, and critiquing or having work critiqued by 43 strangers, including three of the best contemporary American poets. I vibrated with the excitement and fear the retreat culled from my depths, grateful for the high-resolution experience.
Then it ended. I left the workshop. I arrived home. Our foster daughters called for the first time since they had moved back to their permanent home. That week my uncle died. My grandma was dying, bouncing between the hospital and nursing home after breaking a hip then suffering another stroke. In gloves and a gown, I combed the silvery threads of her hair and held her hand as she weaved in and out of consciousness, when awake crying blindly without her glasses but looking for me—petrified—as she asked how she’d gotten there. I left her there in the ICU to head straight to my uncle’s wake. In the depths of grief-related stress, my family’s same tired fractures broke open as predictably as ever and, when they did, despite every recent effort to repair them, I again plunged into depression. This time, I couldn’t shake it.
With my due date nearing, I despaired of my growing belly because—although it meant a healthy, growing baby—I suddenly could see in it only fear and doubt at the prospect of somehow having to deliver that baby out of my body and into the world. I grieved my inability to patch family relationships; to remain calm and collected in the face of a worn family system. I sobbed for my dead uncle and dying grandma, and for our missing foster daughters: for having to lose them and for everyone else suffering loss. And writing. I missed it and the life I wished I had: one in which I could stay in Virginia—or anywhere, really, it didn’t matter where—and write all day, every day, instead of having to find time for writing among the far less compelling, though more monopolizing responsibilities of making a living working full-time.
What started as persistent but relatively normal sadness triggered by death, dying, family dysfunction and dreams deferred devolved over a few weeks as my due date continued to near and my grandma’s health continued to deteriorate into daily meltdowns about the quotidian nags of life that healthy people can manage: traffic, a heavy workload, a hot day, a bad haircut, an insensitive comment about the size of my seven- or eight-month-pregnant belly.
The weather had streaked with intense heat, hampering my ability to walk to work every day. Meanwhile, my stash of gratitude was being ransacked by the overwhelming challenges of losing so many people I loved and of knowing that sometime soon I’d have to be admitted to a hospital for the first time in my life and surrender all control over my body to strangers. I had never broken a bone. Not once made a trip to the emergency room. The prospect of the hospital stay was scary enough, but the current rates for caesarean delivery were downright terrifying. I did not want to undergo surgery. I was angry to have to accept—for the first but not the last time—that I had only so much voice in the matter.
One Sunday in early July after visiting then leaving my depressed 94-year-old grandma at the nursing home—watching her Czech blue eyes well with tears as she lamented how hard the two months in the hospital had been since she broke her hip and that she just wanted to go home and that she wished we would stay with her longer—my husband and I escaped to a movie that lifted my ragged spirit. When we arrived home, however, our power was out. It was 97 degrees outside. My blood pressure and nerves spiked with the temperature and my mind cracked. After hours of hysterics, I finally crouched in a cold bath at 1:00 a.m. shaking through riotous sobs, driven further into fury by my husband’s inability to steer me through my temporary madness to a calm, safe space.
A few days later, the heat broke. I started walking again. My grandma went home. I began to realize how much I missed my husband and how exhausted I was from being apart from him. One evening soon thereafter, I finally told him how scared and angry I was. He pressed the palm of his hand to my cheek while we sat beside one another on our purple couch. His thumb brushed away tears pooling beneath my eyes and running down my face.
“You’re going to get through this,” he said. “You can do this. I’m going to help you.”
A few hours later, beside one another in bed, I cried some more—though more calmly now—expressing my fear that my disconsolate mental state and its itinerant stress had somehow harmed our child. I apologized and told my husband I’d get better. He deserves better from his wife; our son deserves better from his mother.
He soothed me again: “Our son’s going to be the luckiest kid in the world.”
I shuddered with gratitude, feeling like the luckiest woman in the world, and rested my cheek against his bony shoulder.
About the Author: Emily Dagostino lives and writes in Oak Park, Ill. Her work is forthcoming in the anthology My Body, My Health: Women’s Stories, and has appeared in Notre Dame Magazine, U.S. Catholic and numerous newspapers throughout the country. Read more at emilydagostino.com.
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