The day after Christmas, we awoke early at my apartment. I had been feeling strange, the holidays had been stressful and odd, and as we talked softly in the early morning light I abruptly said we needed to go buy a pregnancy test. I had a feeling. In the past I audibly rolled my eyes when women talked about “feeling pregnant” early on. I’d only ever read it in a joyous context, like a woman suddenly feels her womb dancing and she is one with her zygote and Mother Gaia. I never took it to mean feeling sick and crazy and maybe like you have a terminal illness, which was what I had been experiencing.
I sobbed on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. I fell asleep sitting up at Em’s parents’ house. On Christmas morning, I had a wonderful breakfast prepared by my second family, the Walkers. Joe and I spent the night there Christmas Eve and it was emotionally settling to be in that environment, which was a welcomed change from the extreme tenseness I had been feeling. But after breakfast, I felt so hot and sick that I stumbled upstairs, peeled my shirt off, inhaled some pepto bismol pills, and perched on the edge of the bed until the wave of nausea and cold sweating passed. Over the preceding week, I had convinced myself that I had an ulcer or maybe all my innards were completely filled with ulcers or possibly I had a rabid form of cancer or a tapeworm, maybe a cancerous tapeworm.
So on December 26th, we crawled out of bed before 8:00 am and drove in the cold and quiet to the drug store. Neither of us is known for our decisiveness in our personal lives, but ultimately we picked a three-test kit and headed home. I peed on the stick and left it on the side of the bathtub while we sat together in the living room waiting for the longest three minutes ever. We talked a little.
I’m probably not pregnant, it’s probably negative. I just feel weird, it’s hard to explain.
Yeah, but even if you are, it’ll be fine.
“It’ll be fine” is the Mennonite man’s non-effusive way of saying, “everything is going to be okay, I am here, we are together, we got this.” Although Em does not identify entirely as a Mennonite, he was raised that way and comes from a long line of non-effusive German Mennonites and he sometimes defaults to that, much like I sometimes default to rooting through dumpsters and playing with dead squirrels.
It was strange, not the way I thought it might go if I were possibly pregnant. But nothing in my life tends to be the way I think it will go, and rarely do things happen the way I am frequently told they should. Rarely am I overjoyed at events that should be unequivocally happy. It is the dark side of the analytical brain: anxiety, over-thinking, worry, fear. Because life almost never unfolds the way we expect it to, my brain is almost invariably in hyper-drive, attempting to problem-solve several steps ahead of my present self.
What can go wrong and how can I prevent it? MAYBE I SHOULD MICROMANAGE EVERYTHING FROM NOW UNTIL ETERNITY JUST IN CASE.
This is not my favorite part of who I am. It is likely the combination of an intrinsic predisposition for being analytical and the byproduct of a lifetime of trauma, tragedy, and grief; the human instinct to try and outsmart the perils of humanness, gone awry in modern life.
Em actually went into the bathroom ahead of me and picked up the test, which was unquestionably a big, bright POSITIVE. We stood in the tiny bathroom looking at the test, then at each other, then back at the test. We smiled. We hugged. We pulled back and stared at each other with wide eyes. This is happening. We fumbled back to bed to celebrate and nap.
2015 was going to be the year we got married. We would slip away some weekend on one of the trips we like to take and we would find some courthouse somewhere and we would pledge our lives to each other. Neither of us feels comfortable with the materialism and the spectacle of the modern day wedding (I wrote so many ranting papers in college on this very topic), so eloping made sense.* We would come back and have a reception at some point and I would even buy a cheap wedding dress. We were going to move in together in the summertime when our apartment leases were up. These were our plans for 2015.
You plan. God laughs.
Instead, we found out we were pregnant and bought a house. And it’s only March. Hard to say what else 2015 will bring.
The first few weeks of pregnancy were bewildering, fraught with mind-numbing exhaustion and anxiety and sickness. Suddenly your body is no longer your body and at times, your mind isn’t yours either.
Hormones are not a joke, said my dear friend and mother figure.
No. Hormones are definitely no joke. On New Year’s Day, I sobbed uncontrollably for forty-five minutes because I was convinced that I needed to leave my job right away. I am a rational person, sometimes logical to a fault. But I have never been so convicted of something, so sure there was no alternative, so unable to listen to reason. We managed to survive that wave, and other subsequent waves. And we have certainly had very high highs because we’re having a baby! We are starting the family we have talked about and dreamed about, even if our timing is unexpected.
But there have also been valleys for me. Very deep and low valleys. My complex reality is that I am having a baby and my mother is not here. That is no small cross to bear. I have a million questions about my changing body and moods and I am certain I will have a million more once I give birth. We are having a baby and I am still struggling to process the loss of my aunt and uncle back to back just a year ago, only a few months after my mom. Emotionally, I was still reeling from a very eventful 2013 and 2014, and now I am still reeling with this whole massive layer of complexity on top of it.
My neurological symptoms have increased as a result of pregnancy. I start a new physical therapy routine next week, and a see a new neurologist the week after that. I can no longer have Botox injections, which were proving to be an incredible therapy. I have had to significantly reduce certain medications so I don’t screw up my fetus. My body and mind have so far not responded to pregnancy with an ethereal glow and an unmatched elation.
And never-ending winter has seeped into my bones causing thick, heavy depression to settle there, nestling in alongside the grief that has taken up residency.
Most days I feel more alone than I thought possible, even as Em and the dog soothe me with furrowed brows and a life grows inside my body. I dream of my mom, my Aunt Cathie, my Uncle Tom, Jason, Cousin Nicholas, even my best friend in third grade who died in a house fire. So many significant people who are lost from this life are there in my dreams, clear as day, helping me anxiously search for things or comforting me when I cry. It is a confusing and bittersweet experience, awakening each day to remember so vividly my uncle’s quips and the way his moustache moved when he talked, the way Jason’s smile would widen and his eyes would get huge when he would be unabashedly excited about something, Nick’s sarcastic comments and eye rolling that were somehow loving, the tiny voice my Aunt Cathie used to talk to the dog, the wheezy sound of Aunt Karen and Uncle Pete’s smoker’s laughter, the relentless and warm way that my pseudo-brother Drew teased me my whole life, and the way my mom laughs when she thinks she’s been particularly clever. To remember these things and recognize in the hazy space between sleep and consciousness that they are not accessible anymore in my waking life is a sharp double edged sword that cuts in every direction. It is not only my pain but the outward rippling of the many other people who miss them all too.
My scientific brain says this is just my subconscious mind being overly active. My spiritual self wonders if this baby knows them all somewhere, if he or she is intimately familiar with all their idiosyncrasies. Maybe her Nana makes her laugh somewhere on some plane that I cannot access with my simple human mind. Or maybe Uncle Tom has given her a ridiculous nickname or Nicholas has converted him to a Bears fan.
It’s probably hokey. But most of me clings to it. Watching someone on the brink of death interact with a whole lifetime of people who are not physically present makes you consider that perhaps it is not black and white, life and death, that maybe there is some vast gray area in between and mixed in with it all.
My second trimester started this week, and I am almost feeling more human than I had been. I have already showered more this week than I did in the several weeks preceding this. Depression, exhaustion, and first-trimester illness are funny in how averse they make you to things that would be helpful.
Ugh I can’t eat food that would nourish my body and improve my mood and make me less tired. Gross.
OMG SHOWER? NO! I’d have to get wet…in soothing hot water that would simultaneously relax me and make me feel clean and alert. UNACCEPTABLE.
We moved into our new house last weekend, and I have started stepping off my antidepressants this week. It has been successful so far. I have never been a believer in this particularly drug (Wellbutrin). Mostly it has made me angry, seemingly lobotomized, unable to get to my thoughts. Maybe we will try something new, or if I end up in crisis, we’ll quickly put me back on this one. I have begun seeing a new therapist once a week and she is lovely, so may be I will try the intensive-therapy-no-medication route for a while.
Pregnancy is a reminder that life events do not fundamentally change who we are. So often, I think we fall into the naïve trap of believing that once we accomplish something, reach a milestone, hit some target that we are socialized to believe is necessary, then we will have made it. We will be happier, more fulfilled, different, better. It is an unfortunate lie, one that I think has caused lots of marriages to end in divorce and lots of people to end up with expensive degrees in unfulfilling jobs and lots of confused parents trying to understand why having children has not created some elemental shift in their existence.
The sun is shining today and it is a good day, bright patches of light falling on the hardwood floor of our new home. I imagine our children’s faces illuminated by those same sunbeams as they grow and learn in this space, and I whisper to this little sprout in my womb about all the beautiful things of this world we are going to share with her/him.
*Totally your business if that’s your thing. I don’t really judge so much as I’m baffled, usually if people who spent a lot on a wedding complain often about money. Probably because my dumpster-foraging uber-practical default self cannot comprehend it.