NINE MONTHS AND COUNTING
The double standard of tears:
If a woman cries in public and has a fat stomach people instantly get it. They warm up to her and insist on sharing how Hallmark cards and commercials get them weepy, too. They are all too understanding of her out of control hormones. Our society thinks it’s cute to poke fun at pregnant women and their seemingly irrational tears.
But mental illness? It’s suddenly not cute or okay if you spontaneously leak for no reason. When that happens, you’re told you’re not normal and you need more medication.
Well, with this pregnancy I am prone to leaking. For no reason at all! I was walking down a long Chicago block, admiring Lincoln Park’s architecture (Is that a gargoyle or a grotesque?) when the tears came. Architecture doesn’t make me sad. And it’s not like it moves me with utter beauty. Later, writing a short story in a coffee shop and hitting the perfect ending the tears came again. WTF?
Crying in public is never gonna get any easier. But I will admit, it’s nice to have an excuse people understand. It’s nice to not be chastised for not trying hard enough or be made to feel like you could suddenly turn the leaky faucet off.
Before I left for Chicago, I stopped off to see my jeweler at the antique mall. My wedding ring stopped fitting me and I needed a replacement band. I consider the jeweler a friend, so I told her I was pregnant immediately following up with how I felt unsure about it. She did not miss a beat.
C: When I found out I was pregnant I hid it for a long time. I wanted to work on my career and I couldn’t accept it. It’s okay to feel the way you do.
Later, after I left the store she sent me a text: It was good to see you. Congratulations on finishing your book.
Yes! Finally! Thank you! Someone who knows I am still me and not just pregnant. Someone who doesn’t look at me with pity or anger. Someone who got it.
It terrified me to tell another good friend about the situation, being that she was undergoing IVF treatments to have her own children and the process had been rough. I felt absolutely criminal to have this fetus and consider giving it away when she wanted one so badly for her own. But she was one of the people who unexpectedly touched my stomach and sent me bursting into tears, so we had to talk about it.
She was real and upfront about parenthood as her first child has Downs. She was the first person to tell me that motherhood was complex, that while she loved her child, she didn’t love the Downs, and did that mean she didn’t love him wholly and fully for who he was because without Downs he would be someone else? Motherhood wasn’t easy.
She’s a therapist. So, she has some holy type of understanding of others, some strange ability to put her feelings and situation aside and give clear facts based on experience. She also reads a lot of childhood development books.
After that horrible fight with my best friend,* I got the chance to spend another long afternoon lunch with one of my New Age aunts. Her hundred pound Rottweiler rescue dog greeted me at the door, and before I made it to the kitchen, she told the story of all seventeen million stray cats that lived in her yard, which the community banded together and had neutered. She named them all and fed them regularly…
When it came time for salad, I readied myself for the pregnancy topic. We had a really good conversation, one that gave me a lot of depth and insight into my childhood. Although, I couldn’t ask everything I wanted to ask, she told me just what I needed to hear.
NAA: Char, you aren’t going to know what to do until the baby comes. I believe everything happens for a reason. And these choices that you make now might not be clear to you until much later. But there’s a reason you chose to have this child if it’s clear to you now or not. However it goes, try not to worry until it’s here. Make your choice then.
It’s hard to remind myself to take this one day at a time. Once, when I was in the heat of a full-blown depression episode I called my mother, crying. I try so hard to not call her when I’m not feeling right. I don’t know how much she can handle.
ME: (sobbing) I feel like this million dollar race horse that everyone bet on who just decided to stand next to the track mid-race and eat the grass!
MOM: Honey! That’s what horses do! They eat grass!
I want to be the type of mom that always knows the right thing to say because in that moment, all the things my mom ever did wrong by raising me didn’t matter. It was just what I needed to hear.
My Tough-Take-No-Shit-From-Anyone-Level-Headed-Airforce-Physican’s-Assistant-Friend and I had a long talk when I was home about the situation, too. I sat on her bed and laid it all out, pretty much all five installments of this blog while she listened patiently.
TTNSFALHAFAF: I have to admit when I got the news I was livid. I thought, how could she let this happen?! How do you bring a child into this world that you don’t want? It has no choice in the matter; it didn’t ask to be in the situation. But after listening to you, I better understand it now.
ME: I’m afraid you know? I’m afraid to want it…I have some plans, like, instead of plastering Disney Princess on the wall I want to hang up pictures of really strong women, like Frida Kahlo, Amelia Earhart, Eleanor Roosevelt, Michelle Obama…women from all over the world…and in the center of that wall I want to put a mirror for her to look in, so she can see herself up there next to all these strong women. But tomorrow? Tomorrow I might be scared again. Afraid that photographs on a wall aren’t going to be enough…
I had to think long and hard about being this open and honest about my struggles on a public forum. These are controversial topics that involve people who are still alive. My brand of humor can sometimes get mistaken for meanness or passive aggressiveness. And people, well, people like to judge.**
Plus, my family likes its secrets. Generations before me feel strongly about not “airing all your dirty laundry.” There’s something uncivilized about it, some fear that it will show ill breeding or low-class. For a long time I agreed with that philosophy, but living in a make-believe world where my family and life are perfect, wasn’t solving any problems. It created more. It made me feel lonely, isolated, and outrageously insecure about myself. Growing up, adults kept secrets from me to protect me. The idea being that there are things children shouldn’t know.
I’d hate for my child to read this essay at too young of an age, but when or if she does, I’ll give her a hug, make us Shirley Temples, with extra grenadine, because we all know the pinker the better, and explain to her that I love her, and these were my fears of having a child, not her in particular—I didn’t even know her yet—but a child before I was ready. If she’s anything like me, she will understand. I won’t end the conversation before she does or before she’s asked all her questions.
I choose to write this essay to open a conversation about mental illness, parenting fears, neglect, and abuse, not for the average person who finds pregnancy amazeballs, but for the outliers who are made to feel like they are inadequate by societal stigmas. By opening the conversation, I realize how vulnerable I make myself to complete strangers. I also open myself up to criticism. To this I say:
Come at me with your hate. My love is stronger than it. I’m a writer, getting my licks in the trenches; it’s my job to see past hate for what it really is: misunderstanding.
What I’m most afraid of, is if my child gets bullied at school for having a ‘crazy’ mom or, god forbid, being ‘crazy’ herself. She should not suffer the judgments made of ignorance by people with either a lot of privilege or no clue about the real world because I didn’t do my best to open those hard conversations for her. But her knowing the truth? No. I’m not afraid of that.
Does that make me a bad parent? Agai—No. No it doesn’t.
My copy of What to Expect When You’re Expecting is an old, tattered, worn, possibly out of date thrift store copy. I have to admit, as much as the pregnancy bible helps me, it also scares the shizz out of me. There’s absolutely no effing way I’m gonna read the delivery chapter. In the introduction, Heidi Murkoff says she wrote the book to help ease the worries of mothers and fathers so they could better enjoy the pregnancy and celebrate it. I respect the courage it takes to recognize that the world needs a book like this and the dedication Murkoff and co-authors, Arlene Eisenberg & Sandee Hathaway, had to pull it off.
Every pregnancy is different. No book out there will ever genuinely capture the fear, uncertainty, love, and sometimes loss that accompanies this time. If there were, I’d sure read it, if only not to feel so alone sometimes. While there are some things you can expect when you’re expecting, I’ve learned that you can’t prepare for it all.
During those nine months there will inevitably be arguments with friends and spouses, disapproval of family over your choices or inability to make choices. You got to change the diaper this way! Strangers who want to tell you their whole pregnancy from conception to delivery—look at my stretch marks! And while it’s good to talk about it because talking helps others, it’s also good to set those boundaries—I’d rather not look at them thank you, I just had lunch. And most importantly, not to judge yourself in the process. Whether you are fourteen or forty, keeping the fetus, aborting, or giving up for adoption don’t beat yourself up for your choice. Take my New Aged Aunt’s advice, you made that choice for a reason if it’s clear to you now or not. And know if you feel totally misunderstood or worried over the matter, I get it.
Yesterday I received a text from a good friend about the baby and I had the strength to reply:
F: It’s a girl? That’s great! You’ll be best friends.
ME: I hope not.
F: You’re going to be the slightly older guardian soul to look out for her new earth soul?
ME: I want to be sure her molecules are safe and experiencing as many other molecules as possible. The soul part is up for debate when she turns fourteen.
Do I care that Husband will roll his eyes at my molecule idea and both our mothers will be falling over themselves with worry if the child is not baptized in the Catholic church before it’s a month old because GOD FORBID it dies before the original sin of Adam and Eve can be removed? Everyone knows God sends babies to hell if you can’t get them to the church fast enough…
No. I don’t care about that today. That can be brought up in marriage therapy.
Today, I have a healthy baby girl growing inside of me. And the hassle over miracles or molecules is not one I have time for.
I used to have nightmares about a train. Sometimes I’d be on the track and it would come barreling down at me and I couldn’t move. Other times I’d be riding it and the track would end, dropping me over a cliff. I’d wake up, sweaty and shaking, startled at my brain’s ability to make me afraid of something I love.
Because, yes, I love trains. I cannot get enough of their low whistles. There were train tracks in my South Side neighborhood that I often played on, so unsafe I know, but I had a pretty sweet collection of squashed pennies… and there was this bar, long closed, called I think, Traxx, that I used to imagine buying and re-opening as an original station that sold candy and fountain soda. For like three years, I was sure I would spend my adulthood as the proprietor of this store, and I would somehow convince Chicago to re-open a passenger train that took people into the city for sightseeing. Those childhood dreams now make me laugh, but every time I hear the sound of a train, I feel twelve again, but in the best sense.
One doesn’t have to be Freud to attribute my train nightmares to my life stress and make it into this huge symbol, but one wouldn’t have all the facts. Currently, a ghost train runs through our neighborhood, ghost because I have absolutely no idea where this thing’s tracks are, but I can often hear its low, lonesome whistle at one or two in the morning when I’m still awake. I think my brain occasionally interprets that whistle as something else when I sleep. And that’s all, because as soon as I wake up, I’m like, oh, it was just a train. I love trains.
Last week, however, I had a different type of nightmare. In this one, I went into premature labor and the baby came out smashed, black and blue, and dead.
I woke up, shaking, for a moment sure it was real, certain that I had lost this baby. Husband asked me what was wrong, and I told him. He pulled me close and told me it was all right. He reassured me that it was a scary dream, but now I was safe. The baby was safe. He pulled me close and brushed my hair behind my ear.
HUSBAND: (whispering) I love you.
When I try to imagine my baby girl’s cry, high and long at two in the morning, like a train speeding right at me, I realize my deepest fear: losing her. The beautiful thing about nightmares is that you wake up from them with a deeper appreciation for life.
Now you can throw all the confetti you want. Baby girl is due June 3rd, 2015.
*We are still best friends. I love her to death. Who else could you have that type of conversation with and then watch a JLo movie like, it’s cool, dawg?),
** Isn’t that why the sales of celebrity gossip magazines are so high?
***Oh, and if you want to touch my stomach the next time you see me—be warned. I have a new rule. If you touch my stomach, I’m touching your boob. That’s right. I’m gonna get a good handful in, too.