What I would tell myself

When I first found out I was pregnant, my first reaction was to laugh. My husband was at work. Our NFP charts were showing several days of high temperatures, and I was starting to suspect that something was going on. I took a test and peed all over my hand. When I saw the test, I absolutely was not expecting to see a plus sign – but there it was. Positive. I said, “holy shit,” put my hand over my mouth, and started laughing hysterically.

 
And then I had a full-blown panic attack.
 
Let me explain.
 
In 2009 I was diagnosed with PTSD after a medical incident I had when I was studying abroad. It’s a really long, complicated, complex story and one that I don’t really like getting into – mostly because it’s just so long and, thankfully, I don’t really feel the need to talk about it like I once did.What I will say is that for the next three years, anything that my body did was a major PTSD trigger. If I had to pee and couldn’t get to the bathroom fast enough, I would have a panic attack. If I suddenly had a cramp or a twinge or a headache of any kind, I would immediately panic and start crying uncontrollably. Any situation where I didn’t feel completely in control of myself would send me spiraling into an anxiety attack, and it was a living hell.
I studied Edvard Munch in a college art history class, and when my professor showed us The Scream, I almost had to leave the room. It looks exactly like how an anxiety attack feels — like you’re inside of a nightmare.
So in October 2010, when I found out I was pregnant, one of the first things I felt was abject terror. Make no mistake, I wanted that baby. Ever since I was a little kid, I’ve always wanted babies. Lots and lots of them. But for the next four months I lived in this weird space where I very much wanted a baby and, at the same time, desperately did not want to be pregnant. I woke up every morning and felt angry, simply because I was awake and I didn’t want to be. Every time I felt that lurch of nausea, I would shake. Forget about the actual birth — just thinking about birth gave me panic attacks. Any kind of brush with the medical establishment – even if it was a nurse just taking my blood pressure – made me start crying. When I got to 36 weeks pregnant and my OB started doing internal exams, my husband had to leave work early and come to the doctor with me and hold my hand so I wouldn’t run out of that office. I’m not exaggerating.
 
In my weakest moments, when I was desperately sick, when I felt trapped and desperate, I thought of the Planned Parenthood down the street and I mulled over how easy it would be to just make everything go away, in an instant. I hated that I had those thoughts, because I loved that baby, and I fought for her. But I had them anyway. I am anti-abortion, but make no mistake that I understand, first-hand, the appeal of abortion. I understand intimatelyhow it feels to be plagued by mental illness and how someone would want a problem to just disappear. In those weak moments, those moments when I literally could not leave my apartment and failed two of my classes and had panic attacks every day, I would plead heavenward: Please, God, let me love this baby. Please help me to love her. Because I don’t feel anything but panic and anger.
 
There’s so much more to this story – all the therapy I had. The medicine. The shame. The hypnobirthing classes I took to calm my ass down. The heroism of my sweet husband, his patience. The times I would sob into his shirt that I hated being pregnant. This is my body, given up for you, indeed.
 
Giving birth was the culmination of nine months of constant mental anguish. Actual labor was the biggest anxiety trigger of all, since I was vulnerable, isolated, and in a high amount of pain – much like what I experienced when I studied abroad and had the traumatic experience that triggered the PTSD in the first place.
 
When she came out, I didn’t hold her. I had the doctors take her away and give her to my husband, while I laid on my back, in complete exhaustion, and sobbed. Out of terror. And triumph. And relief. This is something that’s hard to admit, but I have to keep it real: In that moment – when June was born, when the doctor was holding my red, screaming baby and saying sit up and look what you did!, I was so wrapped up in panic, I didn’t react at all to the baby. I lifted my head up, muttered something like great okayand plopped back down again. I remember hearing her cry and — distantly — feeling satisfied. She was out. We had done it. We were safe.
 
Lou brought her to me when she was cleaned and wrapped up and when I held her I felt nothing. Perhaps it was the fentanyl cocktail they had given me, perhaps it was because I had a postpartum hemorrhage and I was a little shaken from it. But I felt numb. Was this love? Was this the instant, animal-attraction I’d been hearing about for nine months? I didn’t feel love at all. I felt relief. And abating terror. And a low, feral kind of possessiveness when the nurse stepped in and took the baby out of my arms. I was woozy with fright, but when the nurse took the baby out of my arms, I remember thinking bitch, that’s MY baby. How do I know you’re not some baby-snatcher, like in that Lifetime movie? You try to snatch my baby, bitch, and I’ll come for you. It was love. But it felt like anger. It worried me. I remember thinking, I WORKED for that baby. She’s MINE.
 
I remember pleading in the back of my mind, for what must have been the millionth time since I got pregnant, Please, God, let me love her. Please, please don’t let me feel like this forever. 
 
All this to say that if I could go back in time and tell myself one thing, I would tell myself that you will love her. It will be a purifying, sanctifying love, because you had to walk through hell to earn it. But you will love her.  
 
 
 
And I do.

Battle Hymn of the Elephant Mother

Things that are new around these here parts:

1.Non-fiction. I’m on a huge non-fiction kick lately, and I’m getting so much reading done ever since I gave up Facebook for Lent. I just read Amy Chua’s Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother and it is intense. It is exactly like this sterotypical Asian meme, except it’s written by a woman and these things actually happened in real life.

Amy Chua is seriously scary, and I love it. Her book basically is about the difference between Chinese mothers and American mothers, and how American mothers are soft and permissive, and Chinese mothers produce smart and capable children because they’re not afraid to tell it like it is. Chua herself has two exceptional daughters who are musical prodigies and attend Ivy league schools, probably because she would chinese-water-torture them if they didn’t practice for hours a day (is that racist?). I’m not going to lie, parts of the book had me cheering for her, and parts of it had me cringing in horror on behalf of her kids. In this one scene her daughters made her homemade birthday cards and Chua tossed the cards back in the girls’ faces and told them to get back to her when they had a real present to give her. OWNED! I mean, the girls probably didn’t have time to go buy her a present, considering how they were forced to practice violin for six hours every day, but still! You tell ’em, Amy!

How do you get to Carnegie Hall? CHILD ABUSE

I’m going to write a book called Battle Hymn of the Elephant Mother because I’ve got 10 pounds of baby weight to lose, and if my kid ever mouthed off to me I’d probably just swat at it with my giant trunk and lumber off in search of food.

2. Whining. June is a delight lately. She’s been taking naps like a champion, and is just generally a bright, cheery little girl. Or, you know, whatever is the opposite of that.

Lately, she’s turned into a huge whiner. About everything. Whenever she wants to be picked up, she whines. Whenever a toy is not doing what she wants, she whines. And of course, if I’m not near her at all times, or if any one of her zillion toys is obstructing her view of me, she whines. And God help me if I have to leave the room for a split second. Girlfriend is NOT having it.

Her reaction.

At first I was like, you don’t own me, baby! Dobby is a free elf! And then I couldn’t stand one more second of whining so I picked her up and just did whatever she told me to do. When I have to pee I just take her into the bathroom with me, and she stops whining and just stares at me, and believe it or not, that makes it really hard to go. Awkward!

Oh, but that whine. THAT WHINE. I’ll do anything to avoid it. Including pee while she’s watching me. Or try to.

Makes me want to go back to the newborn stage.

Almost.

Sickness. June is still sick. I don’t know if it’s a cold, or allergies, or maybe even teething, but whatever she’s got is making her irritable and congested, and she’s got this cough that is giving me grey hair.
I phoned the on-call nurse at our Pediatrician’s office, and she told me if it was a “barking cough” then they’d need to see the baby right away. Right away? RIGHT AWAY?! You’re supposed to laugh me off the phone and tell me what a silly first-time mom I’m being! So, panicked, I had my husband come home early and we took her immediately to the doctor and I had tears in my eyes as I recounted the awful, horrible, probably-pertussis-like barking cough she was emitting the night before.

The exchange with the doctor went like this:

Dr: So you say it’s a barking cough?
Me: Yes, it is!
Dr: What kind of bark?
Me: Like…a harsh…like…you know…a bark.
Dr. Like a dog bark? Or a seal bark?
Me: Well, I don’t know the animal…it just sounded like a barking noise.
Dr. Well if it’s croup or bronchitis it’s going to sound like a seal bark. A dog bark just means she has congestion.

My reaction.

Well, shit. Apparently your run-of-the-mill barking cough isn’t dangerous, but a seal barking cough is what you need to look out for. I should have asked him if he meant a wild seal or like a circus seal. A leopard seal or a harbor seal? Surely we can diagnose this if we just pinpoint the right animal.

So anyway, her lungs are “clear” according to the doctor, even though she still has a barking, phlegmy cough and I’m starting to suspect it’s allergies. At least it’s not pertussis. Probably.

3. Increased Mobility. My tiny little girl has gone from sitting quietly on the floor like this

to now licking things, picking toys up and throwing them, and trying to pull herself up with some disastrous results. And she’s starting to get into things now. I looked away for one second yestereay and when I looked back at her she was eating a baby wipe. I probably should have calmly taken it out of her mouth but instead I screeched like she was on fire, tore the wipe out of her hands, and scrubbed out her mouth with the edge of my shirt. The other day she also tried to hoist herself up on a standing toy, and then fell and conked her head when the toy gave out from under her, not unlike Miss Blankenship beefing it on Mad Men:

That was my reaction too, Peggy.

So pretty much at this rate I’m going to have a heart attack, with all the things she’s not supposed to be eating and the concussions she’s probably getting as she learns how to crawl and stand. Seriously, she falls down and cries at least once a day, and it’s starting to fray my nerves.

4. Baby-moon. Despite the whining/crying/teething issue we’ve got over here, I’m enjoying June so much more than I did when she was a yowling, formless infant. I think I actually like her now. And that’s quite a relief because when I had an infant and people would mention the term “baby moon,” I had no idea what they were talking about.

Apparently a “babymoon” is the time after birth when you and your husband and your new baby get to know each other and just bask in each other’s love or something. I got the impression that it’s supposed to be this peaceful, glorious time where you revel in your baby and in each other, a lot like the self-absoprtion you and your spouse would experience during your honeymoon. So evidently, having a new baby is supposed to be like your honeymoon.

Really? Really? Hold on imma let you finish but a “baby-moon” is nothing like a honeymoon. I remember my honeymoon and it didn’t involve leaking breast milk onto my adult diapers and crying because I couldn’t remember what day it was. So either I didn’t have the whole “baby-moon” thing when she was an infant, or I was too exhausted to notice it.

Furthermore, the love you have for your husband (like on your honeymoon) and the love you have for your baby are just two vastly different things. I am in love with my husband. I’m obsessed with my baby. Sometimes I just stare at her. Or I smell her. Yesterday in the car she was starting to fuss because her hat had drifted down over her eyes and she couldn’t see, so I reached back with one hand and popped the hat off her head. Without thinking, I put it to my face and inhaled — like a crack junkie.

I haven’t held the baby in ten whole minutes!

You are consumed by your baby — so much so that your baby can shoot diarrhea all over you and your only response will be “Oopsie! That’s okay!” Which is very unlike “honeymoon love” unless you and your honey are involved in a disturbing level of enmeshment. (I can’t say that I love June more than my husband, but I will say that if my husband ever sprayed poop on me I’d throw him under a bus.) You’re so obsessed you start missing her when she sleeps — even if you’ve been praying for her to sleep for hours. You will sneak in her room to watch her sleep and then the floor creaks and she wakes up but you’re not overly upset about it because that means you get to rock her back to sleep and secretly that’s what you wanted to do anyway.

What’s that, June? You want to wake up and play with mommy?



Now, though, “baby-moon” is a different story. She is hilarious and making all sorts of cute sounds and faces, and now I catch myself sighing and swooning over her. Maybe this is the baby-moon, now that I can finally catch my breath and sleep for more than two hours at a time and I’m able to actually enjoy her.

I’m the baby, gotta love me!

Look at her, can you blame me? How can I not enjoy that face?

Oh, it is love.