Pregnancy is in the air. Friends are expecting any day now and I find myself discussing with disturbing frequency the social impact of MTV's '16 and Pregnant' in varied social situations. And after moving past the embarrassment of admitting our addiction, someone invariably asks the question of the show's accountability. Does it enlighten or does it encourage? I personally wish it were grittier. I want to see spit up and the diapers that stink to high heaven. I want to hear the brain-searing colicky cries of an infant at 2 in the morning when you've only had three hours sleep in the last 48 hours. And then I realized that you can never ever prepare yourself until you're smack dab in the thick of it. At which point you are either suicidal, or homicidal, or a combination of both. I found myself at such crossroads many a time during my daughter's first year. And second... Maybe third, too.
It began at the very moment of her birth. Gritting my teeth against the overwhelming pain, I had but one mission once I reached the pushing stage, and that was to get the creature that was inside me causing this relentless pain out of my body. I had spent the last two hours of active labour without so much as a Tylenol and had endured hell-inducing Pytocin and the insult of having my water broken for me, causing every single fiber in my being to strain to its breaking point. I had reached a point where my brain could no longer process the pain and had decided it was not even real and that I should just get up and leave because the pain had reached levels ridiculous to the logical mind. I panted to my husband that I was no longer able to do this. There was no way. I was done. He told me to breathe. Incredibly, I had no desire to curse him out or punch him in response, simply because that would require effort that was otherwise spent. And just like that, my whole body began to contract. Some primitive recess of my mind informed me it was time to push and I lifted my head from my pillow long enough to inform the doctor that I was ready. He promptly told me I was nuts, I was barely at 5cm the last time he checked. I insisted as politely as one can in the throes of labour that if he wanted to keep his nuts, he best check me again. And lo and behold, guess who was right.
I was wheeled to the delivery room where after 45 minutes of pushing, the most amazing thing occurred. I felt a sudden slithering whoosh inside me, an emptying of sorts... and there it was. All I could do was stare, mouth agape, at this creature that had just vacated my body. I was simply incredulous, and there was an instant and terribly foreshadowing disconnect. There simply was no way something this size could have exited my body. It wasn't mine. My doctor must've sensed my denial (or simply taken one look at my face which I'm sure was a sight) because he immediately held up my bloody baby, who was still attached to its umbilical cord to me, and made me touch her. I obliged, tentatively holding out a finger to touch her hand. She grasped my finger as if for dear life and then she was whisked away to be looked over and cleaned up. Now, don't get me wrong. Although I felt no connection, I was unbelievably aware of the responsibility bestowed on me. There was no denying that responsibility, but it was the need to protect and care for her that came from a responsible human being, rather than the bonding that comes from instinct, that was at work.
Enter post-partum depression. Screw the baby blues. Baby blues are cute and can be fixed with some chocolate. Depression is a bitch, and as bitches go, she's sneaky. Sometimes I know I'm in the middle of it. Bright days are grey and grey days are greyer. And sometimes I don't know she was around until she's gone. Friendships are impossible and I'm a failure before my feet have even hit the ground in the morning. Suddenly I look around and realize my isolation and I already know who is to blame. So as sleep deprivation led to hallucinations and breastfeeding led to bleeding nipples and fainting spells, somewhere along the line, I knew I was ready to snap. Sixteen and pregnant, my ass. I was barely 26 and was as emotionally useful as I was at 15 getting drunk on Night Train. Eight months into motherhood and I was still sitting in my garage after parking the car crying my eyes out because someone honked their horn at me on the way home. I would follow my husband's advice to get some exercise, but sit outside the door in my tennis shoes and cry for 30 minutes instead, then saunter back in and pretend to have broken a sweat. I finally mustered up the courage to voice my concerns to my ob/gyn, but got sent home with vitamin supplements instead. Vitamins that I never took because I didn't have the heart to help myself.
And then the suicidal thoughts began. I wanted out. But at the same time I could not bare the thought of leaving my infant daughter behind. My mind ran circles around the issue over and over again. Day in and day out. And then the horrifying visions that would interrupt my thought circuit of causing not only harm to myself but to my daughter began. If I had to go, then the most logical step would be to take her with me. I was horrified at the detail of these vivid images and horrified at the anonymity. These were not my conscious thoughts. These were random and intrusive, and I had no ownership. I was terrified to admit anything to anyone and I surrendered to the paranoid thought that my baby would be taken away from me and that we would lose our visa that allowed us to live in the United States. My husband would leave me. And I would have to admit to being a crazy person...
Enter Facebook, that technological buffer zone when reality is too much to stomach so early in the morning... I had a cyber safety net-- a pseudo-support system. And enter Yaz and its comforting cocktail of constant and measured hormones stabilizing even the most tightly wound and sensitive. And allow room for Time and Patience. They show up fashionably late, but they make a hell of a difference!
So, I am happy to report that I am still a crazy person. Seven years later and here we all are, relatively intact. I might still feel a bit lost at times but mostly I think I will direct my frustration at MTV who tries to capture the unpleasant side of motherhood and fails a tad short. I entered motherhood at a socially acceptable age, quit smoking, quit drinking, and read through Dr. Spock and every other parenting book and website I could get my hands on. I ate right, adhered to my bed rest when prescribed, and thanked God every single day for a successful round of IVF despite having lost two of my babies. And yet, I made it through the other side of crazy despite all of that, and I just don't see that journey on TV. It's a journey most of us don't want to talk about, but I want to bet a lot of us have been there. We are Mothers and we are Housewives and navigation gets a little muddled at times. Sometimes it's not about "How did I get here?!", but more about the fact that we are still here...