ARE YOU PREGNANT?
Yes, but please think twice before spazing out in a high-pitched squeal and tossing confetti. Withhold your well-meaning private Facebook messages gushing with affection, and the E-mails and texts about the glory, the miracle, and the wonder of motherhood. Not every woman welcomes a pregnancy. Just as not every woman believes in God. So if you have either the instinct to grab a Bible or a Target shopping cart (onsies!diapers!rattles!thislittlegadgetthatkeepswipeswarm!)—Don’t tell me about it.
At least not yet…
Probably early last summer, during my DBT sessions, I was working with a therapist about the concept of pregnancy. At the time, I genuinely didn’t feel ready for something like it. I couldn’t even imagine myself as a parent. But it was a necessary topic that needed to be covered in therapy since the very idea that I was pregnant was what led to my second horrible reality juncture*…And pressure from my husband to have our first child was growing into a huge monster that led to daily disagreements.
He, coming from a healthy, caring, conservative, family saw childrearing as a right. As in, ‘if you don’t have a family then you become a priest/nun’. Those seem to me (outside looking in) the only goals in his family. Aside, of course, from being upstanding American citizens with NRA memberships. Trips to his family farm were maybe the worst. How he would hold my hand and stare out over the thousands of acres of rolling grassy pastures, and grin—
H: Can’t you just see our kids playing out there?
ME: If you mean, getting tick infested and shooting harmless animals for sport, no. There’s like abandoned houses down there and trucks that haven’t worked since the 1930s. All the tetanus and glass…
I, coming from…well the Southside of Chicago, had a different type of family. One with free-spirited, bleeding heart liberal aunts and a chain smoking southern grandmother that was prone to taking off her shoe in grocery stores and swiping my bottom with it when I misbehaved. A grandmother who, when she found bugs in the macaroni and cheese, just scooped them out, boiled the noodles as usual, and fed them to us. My dad once had the idea to create a basement out of the crawlspace, so he made the four of us kids (ages 6 through 14) climb down there amongst the spiders and dig up the dirt with garden spades and plastic ice cream buckets in assembly line fashion, dumping the dirt in our yard. I think we actually dug enough for our youngest brother to stand down there, which is kind of funny and impressive now, until I remember my dad’s motto: work will set you free.
So, no. I couldn’t really see myself with kids. Even on days when I wanted to.
Everyone—friends, family, especially my bossy DBT therapist—knew this about me. But Husband? He was sure I could overcome my fears with the strength of his love, commitment, and dedication. Plus, his friends and brother seemed to be popping those things out like gumball machines. The poor guy had a bad case of baby fever.
The DBT therapist, fresh out of school, was just plain honest: DO NOT HAVE KIDS. It was her mission to make me say no and give up on it forever. How easy of a client would I have been then? Just wake up and say, “Oh, you’re so totally right! This thing I’ve been struggling with since I was, twenty-three, you are so right! I’ll just get a divorce today—because it’s that easy when you still love someone.” She’d have been a miracle worker if she could have done that. Feminists would have rejoiced. I could have written a celebrated memoir about it.
Instead, I insisted on exploring these childrearing fears. The therapist, between head shakes and long sighs, suggested I start by setting random alarms in the middle of the night. One of the things that freaked me out the most about babies was that they got up at all hours and messed with your sleep. For someone with bipolar, heck, for anyone, protecting his or her sleep is genuinely important.
The false alarms didn’t just mess with my sleep. They started more and more arguments between Husband and I.
First, I hate kids. Not teenagers. Love them. They annoy the shit out of me. Anyone under the age of twelve requires a type of saintly patience that makes me sometimes feel like a flip out over wire hangers is totally normal. Have you ever seen a two-year-old eat? Three-fourths of their meal lands on the floor, which is fine if you have a dog, but I’m a cat person. And I love my friends, but hanging out with the ones who suddenly had kids was sometimes a chore. We had to be on the baby’s schedule. Instead of going to an art exhibit or concert, our options were limited to The SpongeBob Square Pants movie or McDonald’s play place. God help us all if we missed nap time.
I’d look at the women who rammed their immensely large strollers, or should I say fire hazard carriages ‘cuz who are we kidding here no one is going to be able to make it round that much plastic and metal when the sprinklers go off, into the back of my foot at the department store and think, there’s nothing pleasurable about that, as I trotted off with my lace panties and seventy dollar makeup purchase.
Diapers? Cartoons? Bottles? Give me Vegas, stilettos, fast cars, novels, sleeping in on weekends until noon, long stretches of quiet time, followed by a mid-week concert at First Ave.
But sometimes, I’d think, well maybe if… maybe if I got along better with Husband all the time. Maybe if I was able to get over the strange past I had. Maybe if I hit thirty-five my priorities would change…
Maybe I could adopt at forty.
To Husband adoption was not an option. He could not be swayed with my arguments against overpopulation.
ME: There are 7 billion people on earth. 7 billion! It’s just not ethical. Orphanages are overflowing—
H: It is ethical if you take care of the two you have. And it is the most wonderful experience you will ever have in life.
ME: You’re stupid. Everyone knows the most wonderful experience in life is getting on the New York Times best-seller list.
Needless to say, the bossy DBT therapist and I didn’t click. We parted ways. The second DBT therapist was nice, helpful even, genuinely more compassionate and understanding of my view, but I quit DBT not long after I got the news of the pregnancy. Why did I quit? First, it seemed like marriage therapy was more important, and I didn’t have the energy to go to triple therapists weekly (my private one, the DBT program, and the marriage therapist). Second, I didn’t think the pregnancy was real. I thought it was ‘part of the program’ to make me directly deal with my fears.
What am I talking about? Well, it felt like everyone already knew about the pregnancy, like everyone was in on it. One DBT exercise had a worksheet of kid’s faces and we were supposed to mark what we thought the kid was feeling in the box. I remember my hands sweating profusely during that exercise thinking, they’re recording me. They’re testing me. They want to break me. Because, instead of ‘dealing’ with delusions, I’ve learned to mask them pretty good, to act normal in public, to smile, to continue conversations without missing beats, to laugh when I’m supposed to laugh. That is until the delusion is sparked to a point when I’m so agitated I slip up with a comment like, “Why are you people doing this to me?”
But yeah, for the first three months of the pregnancy I was convinced I wasn’t pregnant. Wait. What?
After over a week of having missed a period, my DBT therapist helped me realized (as opposed to told as the first one may have done) that I had to take a pregnancy test. So I went to Target, and got the most smashed up generic test box I could find. Why? Because I thought ‘the program people’ would have known to come to this Target—they follow me with my phone GPS, duh—and switch out all the tests they thought I would be likely to choose with false positive tests. But they would never think I would try the Target brand box with a hole on the top, as if someone desperately wanted to peel out a stick and try it in the bathroom without paying. I got home. Set the box on the table and took a walk with Husband. After, I felt a bit better and took the test. It was positive. But since I had left the box unattended for about an hour, I thought ‘they’ switched it.
Later that week, again with urging from my therapist and Husband, I made an OBGYN appointment for a blood test confirmation, but I was so far gone by then that not even my new doe-eyed-Polish-I-will-make-a-difference-in-the-world-young-obstration could convince me. Even with her hand over mine, and her honest tone, her genuine understanding of bipolar and continual reassurances that she would not judge me, not ever, I still did not believe her. In fact, I got a little scared. You see, to me, the program picked her, matched her up with me. She was Polish, like my best friend, and looked a lot like a doctor I had in the mental hospital that I liked. Plus, she had experience with bipolar disorder and she was smart—valedictorian in college (I looked her up). ‘They’ were sure I would believe her. Trust her.
‘They’ were underestimating my stubbornness, my rebelliousness. I would not be fooled.
You might be wondering, how could this happen? Who wouldn’t believe they were pregnant? To see me, I seemed fine. I wasn’t foggy or out of control with spending or up at nights trying to paint a recreation of the Sistine Chapel on my ceiling. I was functioning. In all other ways, my reality would have matched up with yours.
But prior to the news, I made a long trip to Michigan and Chicago to see friends. The trip didn’t go well. I was a few days late with my period and suspected that I may be pregnant, but I wasn’t quite ready to talk about it. At that point, I did think it was real. And I was scared. Considering abortion. Thinking about divorce. This time for real because I couldn’t face my fears fast enough to stay in the relationship. No matter how much I loved Husband.
Then I got in a fight with a friend and had to leave early. On the long drive back, my mind slipped into that place that none of it was true. The fight was staged to sync with a long ride to recreate conditions that set me off the last time I was ill. The pregnancy wasn’t real. The “friend” was never a friend, but had been put in place in my life from the program coordinators years ago. But to play it safe, I couldn’t let on to how much I really knew about the program. I had to act like ‘they’ weren’t getting to me because if I did they would increase the stress of the program and start to put false ideas into my head. Not literally put the ideas there, but manipulate my friends—the few I thought were real—with ideas that if they said certain things it would be utterly harmless to me and be a good indicator of my mental state; it was the perfect way to help me cope with delusions. I couldn’t quit this revolutionary new type of therapy the way I could conventional therapy or medication. The people of the program were powerful. Convincing. It was all for my own good.
They were going to make me face my fears once and for all…and I’d be a pretty big jerk if I didn’t see how much everyone loved me and was trying to help. If I got low or suicidal, then I was a quitter. I was, essentially saying EFF YOU, to the program, my friends, and my family. Because in the end, they were only trying to help me as best they could…
(I will post the next installment tomorrow.)
*Reality Juncture is a term I prefer to mental break / manic episode. The linguistics of it makes me feel better because it justifies that the reality I experienced is 100% real for me during that period. Even though my reality doesn’t align with the reality the mass of the population experiences, the term more effectively implies that when my reality split from the masses, like a fork in the road, it still was very much just as true a reality (for me) as the one the rest of the populace continued to experience. It’s a nuance of detail that can get lost in the term “went crazy.”