Up And Down: Navigating Through My Pregnancy Depression One Kegel At A Time

“Imagine you’re peeing,” she said. “Now squeeze to stop the flow. When you squeeze say, ‘I love my body.’”
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Andrea Askowitz
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“Imagine you’re peeing,” she said. “Now squeeze to stop the flow. When you squeeze say, ‘I love my body.’”
Illustration by Bonnie Dubbin Askowitz

Illustration by Bonnie Dubbin Askowitz

We took the kids to a trampolinatorium -- an auditorium filled with a hundred trampolines lined back-to-back. My eyes bugged out when I saw how much fun it looked.  

We got suited up in slick-soled shoes and helmets, like crash-test dummies. I also wore an overnight maxi pad with wings. I didn’t have my period. This was a pee-caution.  

I told my wife, Victoria, we can’t go up and down anymore and handed her a pad. She said, “I don’t need a diaper.” 

When I was pregnant and approaching my second trimester, my midwife said it was time to strengthen my pelvic floor. She prescribed vaginal squeezes, called kegels: three sets, twelve reps each, three times a day. 

I had no idea my pelvis had a floor and thought kegels were tantric sex tricks you did with a mini barbell stuck up in there.

My midwife said, “No barbell necessary.”  

She said kegels would strengthen my pushes when it was time and in the meantime and forever after, help prevent urinary leakage.

Leakage? Good God.

Two weeks later when I went in for a routine exam, she asked if I was doing my kegels.

“No,” I said.

She said, “Let me teach you a way to make them fun.”  I thought she was kidding.

“Imagine you’re peeing,” she said. “Now squeeze to stop the flow. When you squeeze say, ‘I love my body.’”

She wasn’t kidding.   

“Squeeze a little harder,” she said. “Hold, four counts… two…three…four. Now squeeze around your anus. Hold. When you release let’s say this together, ‘I. Love. My. Body.’”

“That does make it fun,” I said.

The day after my kegel lesson, I pledged to do them. I woke up thinking: Today is the day. Three rounds at breakfast. But instead of kegels, I had bagels. The morning was shot, so I gave up on the day and took a nap.

The next day I resolved to do my kegels again. I promised myself I’d do twelve at every red light on my way to work. But I only got green lights. That was just my luck.

The next day, the same thing; a false promise and then any excuse.  

Before I got pregnant, I exercised every day. I’ve exercised hard my whole life. I spent my preteens training for tennis tournaments and did twenty minutes of jump rope every day because my coach told me to. I did three hundred forehands and three hundred backhands on the wall just for warm up. 

I spent my high school years training for cross-country. When my cross-country coach barked out orders like “Fartlek,” which is a Swedish word that means interval training, I sprinted faster and harder than all the other girls on the team. I was always the coach’s pet.  

But when my midwife told me to do kegels, I didn’t feel like it. I didn’t care about being the midwife’s pet.

At about twenty weeks, right in the middle of the game, I went to see my gynecologist. She patted my knee and said, “How are you?”  

I cried. I couldn’t stop. Finally, I said, “I’ve never felt worse. I’m not myself. I can’t do my kegels.”  

Thank God, she didn’t say, “You should be happy, you’re having a baby.” Enough people had already told me that.

She told me I had hormone-induced depression. She said 20% of all pregnant women experience depression during pregnancy. Postpartum depression, I had heard of. But depression during pregnancy? Twenty percent? That’s one out of five women. That’s a lot.  

All I’d heard about was pregnancy bliss and the prenatal glow. And I’d read every book in the motherhood section of Barnes and Noble, including What to Expect When You’re Expecting. I also read the mommy blogs: Dooce, Mommy Needs Coffee, Whiskey in My Sippy Cup. I read them all.  

Why didn’t I know depression during pregnancy was a possibility? And at such a high probability? I felt lied to. 

A warning on the wall in the fertility clinic would have been nice. They had other posters: the food pyramid, the fetus at different stages of development, how to prevent AIDS. What about “Warning:  Pregnancy may cause weight gain and a very bad mood.”

If I wasn’t able to summon the strength to squeeze in a few rounds of kegels, I sure as hell wasn’t steaming broccoli, or playing Mozart to my belly. If I had known depression was a possibility, I still wouldn’t have done my kegels, but maybe I wouldn’t have felt like a failure of a mom before I even started.  

My doctor prescribed Prozac, which I was afraid to take, because my brand of depression came with mind-spinning anxiety: What if I drug my baby? What if my baby’s born with flippers or wings or three eyeballs? 

Just in case, I kept the Prozac in the drawer of my bedside table like a gun, or a vibrator.

In the eight years since giving birth, I’ve heard more people than I can count say that medication for depression is over prescribed or that depression is over diagnosed. If I were still pregnant, I’d bonk these people over the head. I know that when serotonin levels are low or when hormones go berserk or when whatever mysterious physiological thing happens inside the body, a happy-go-lucky girl can turn into a brooding, sad sack.

I know that no matter who you are, no matter how good the news, (a baby!); depression can come on like the flu and take you down. I know, because I was down as soon as I got pregnant, even before I knew I was pregnant. Then, the day my daughter was born, the depression lifted. 

Now I’m back to myself, but it’s too late. Sneezing is dangerous. So is hanging out with someone funny. And jumping on a trampoline -- that’s over.  

The trampolinatorium was a hard, sweaty, hour-long workout.  It was not fun. The pee came out uncontrolled and random and made me feel like a very old lady. 

Victoria peed too. When she was pregnant, she didn’t do her kegels. She wasn’t depressed, she just didn’t believe in kegels. She didn’t believe in wearing a pad either.  

On our way out, I noticed the girl behind the return counter. She wore skinny jeans and her uniform polo shirt was too tight. She had pimples across her forehead and instead of metal braces, hers were pink. I handed her our shoes and crash helmets and said, “Listen, when you’re pregnant, you might get depressed. They’ll tell you to do your kegels, and you should try your best to do them. But if you can’t, forgive yourself.”