I like memoirs. In fact, when I have the time, I read them voraciously. Because I need them. I need to know someone else’s story to better know my own. I need to know that someone else, somewhere, has experienced some part of what I am living. Has experienced it and come out on the other side. So I read memoirs. And I read them with a hunger akin to desperation.
Because I had read memoirs about depression, I feared the combination of depression and motherhood. Or more aptly, I feared the combination of depression and pregnancy. Years before I conceived, I read an essay in Nell Casey’s Unholy Ghost: Writers on Depression. The author described needing to make the difficult choice about taking antidepressants while pregnant. She didn’t know how the medication would affect her unborn child, but she had a sense of how not taking the medication would affect her. Considering the viability of her life and her baby’s, she chose to take the medicine. If I recall correctly, everything turned out fine. But she didn’t know that as she swallowed her pills those nine months.
I feared having to make a similar choice knowing full well that there are no studies on the effects of the medication I take and fetal development. What they do know, isn’t good. The fine print from the pharmacist said things about underdeveloped lungs and brains.
At pregnancy, I went searching. Searching for other women like me, and their pregnancy stories. Were they working, anemic and exhausted? I found Anne Lamott’s Operating Instructions, but that was about the baby’s first year. I needed something for the long months of my widening waist. I dare not read the books about motherhood and depression. I already had a sense that sleepless nights were anathema to the healthy tools of living with a depressive condition. I was preparing for a vicious postpartum depression – seeking out a psychiatrist to have on call, preemptive prescriptions, a support group if needed. I just wanted words from another pregnant woman.
I turned to Rebecca Walker’s Baby Love, and discovered a gem hidden from the reviews and critiques. I found another black woman sifting through the decisions that lay before me. Yes, Walker writes about how feminism shaped her desire (and fear) of motherhood. She recalls her past romances and marvels that this is the one with whom she has a child. She talks about the other child she has loved as her own, and dares to tell us how different love is from one kind of mothering to another. And yes, Walker writes about her relationship with her mother.
But Walker also writes about being tired. Bone tired. And working. And nausea. And then being hungry. All the time. She writes about the sometimes-overwhelming options of healers and helpers available for pregnant women. She tells us about her choices. She talks about what she gives up.
Rebecca Walker also writes about being depressed and pregnant. And making that decision about whether or not to take antidepressants. She hears the doctors who give contradicting advice. And she writes about being anemic. And the pernicious combination of low iron and depression and pregnancy.
In Baby Love, I found a writer honest and sagacious enough to offer the minutiae of what makes up a contemporary woman’s pregnancy. At least, it resonated with mine. Between trips to the therapist who was “watching me closely” should I need to return to medication, I read paragraphs of Baby Love. In the hours I lost to fatigue and inertia, I read a chapter or two of Walker’s story. While my imagined ideals of prenatal yoga and adorable maternity clothes circled the drain to the quiet whispers to myself to “just get up and work through how you feel,” Walker’s book sustained me.
With only a few friends willing to share with me their stories of depression and pregnancy, Walker’s book let me know I wasn’t as alone as I felt. That was a gift of sanity.
And while Walker rarely mentions faith, the book is drenched in it. If I’ve ever had to trust in things I cannot see, it was with the uncertainty of pregnancy. As the doctors ran tests, took blood, examined ultrasounds and gave odds of good and bad outcomes, I had to have faith. As my hormones ran roughshod over brain chemistry, I had to trust. At an early point, I decided that everything would be okay, even when it felt like it wouldn’t. When I needed solace, I found this memoir.
So this is a recommendation and a thank you. For saying that depression and pregnancy can kick one’s ass, and to conclude that she “has no regrets.” Nor do I.