Tag Archives: Heidi Murkoff

PART V OF V ISBN: 0-7611-2132-3

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.

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Filed under Bipolar Disorder, Books, Children, Growing up, Life, Love, Marriage, Mental Disorders, Non Fiction, Parenting, pregnancy, Writing

PART I OF V ISBN: 0-7611-2132-3

What to Expect When You're Expecting by Heidi Murkoff, Arlene Eisenberg & Sandee Hathaway

What to Expect When You’re Expecting by Heidi Murkoff, Arlene Eisenberg & Sandee Hathaway

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.”

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Filed under Bipolar Disorder, Books, Non Fiction, Parenting, pregnancy, Writing