The Return of the Dark Rider

I am probably as worried about the baby dying as I am about her surviving. Which is maybe why it’s easier to fantasize about her death. This morning, as I clicked on an article about someone else’s baby dying I thought to myself, you shouldn’t do this. This is what depressed people do when they are depressed and want to sink down into their hole. They read about depression. I know I certainly did. The Noonday Demon is a title that sticks out in my mind.

Have you heard this one: Bad things happen to people all the time, but they are not going to happen to you. It’s a useful statement when you happen to be catastrophizing about the possible death of your baby at 36 weeks. But then I think of friends to whom it did happen. One, just an acquaintance, who had a miscarriage at five months and then left her long term partner shortly after. It was probably the way it was supposed to be, she said, and it made me wonder up until at least 6 months into my pregnancy whether it was supposed to be that way for me too. Or my childhood best friend turned FB friend, who had a baby that died just a few days after her birth. It happened to her and since we used to pretend blowjobs on bananas in her basement some thirty years ago, it just as well might be something that could happen to me.

As I write about this it is sunny as fuck outside. And the forecast predicts much of the same for the next week. One sun, no clouds, 79-81 degrees. The kind of perfection most people move here for. How we ended up in Los Angeles is more of a surprise to me than how we ended up pregnant, although they both contained some logistical things that I was more or less responsible for taking care of.

Please discuss any fears regarding labor, birth, postpartum and / or parenthood, said our intake form from the doula we hired to support us during the birth. Um, do you have a notebook? I condensed.

“I’m pretty afraid of the hospital so I’d like to get there as late as possible. I’m afraid of tearing during birth because I don’t want to be in a lot of recovery pain at the same time as caring for a newborn. I’m afraid of losing my whole self to the baby and not being able to take time to do my own creative work and about whether or not I’ll always feel like I should put her before me. I’m nervous about whether or not we will be good parents and show her love all the time, even when things get difficult for us. I’m nervous about being the adult in the household.”

All of that, except for the tearing being a problem after the birth as far as pain goes, are legit, it turns out. Which doesn’t surprise me. I’ve been in therapy for almost ten years so I’m not in the habit of disengaging with my feelings anymore. They are there for a reason and in this case it’s because this is the cultural narrative of motherhood. For this generation of women. For this cohort around me of women who want or wanted to be creative or thought they had a right to something other than kids and a whatever job – [we do, right?, right?] this is the way it goes. These fears are real and they come true and there’s not much you can do about them but wait it out.

Oh and the love thing. You are always going to love her but you might sometimes get angry, said Andrey, as she reviewed the form in front of my boyfriend and I. Him sitting nervously at the edge of a chair. That’s one emotion I haven’t learned to deal with very well. Anger. I tend to want it to go away and then it returns with a vengeance. Maybe in the form of a dead baby at 36 weeks or just after birth. There was another one, a FB post about a woman who lost her baby to SIDS a few weeks after birth and then her husband to a heart attack a few months after. That should be illegal in the universal law, that amount of loss.

When Andrey leaves we don’t feel happy and bonded. We fight about the table in the baby room. Whether it needs to stay or go and who gets to decide. I end up in the bathtub in tears imagining calling Andrey after the baby is born. Andrey help. Come over. I am drowning. This after telling her that my depression has long since shown it’s face. 5, maybe 6 years, it’s been I think. And then all of it, the reminder of its svelt dark shape shifting with elegance, returns. I can get up out of the tub. Being in there to begin with is self care, I remind myself. I shut the bedroom door and turn on a horoscope video and fall asleep. May will be a month of retrograde so I will be able to except nothing of myself for the first month of her life. Just to chill and reflect and be with her quietly. For now I’m OK with that.

What Actually Helps

For Acid Reflux

At some point in my pregnancy, I got a burning throat. This felt like acid under the skin that defied gravity and would occasionally find its way up and out of my mouth, once by the bucket full. Even the skin on the top of my chest began to display tiny red marks of irritation. Energetic signs of the anger within, said a yogi friend.

One night in desperation I ate a fork full of sauerkraut, normally something I reserve for eating with hot dogs. This seemed to quell the pain and yet I couldn’t get myself to eat in on the regular. After a few weeks I searched the Internet again and found that Apple Cider Vinegar seemed to do the trick for some. And so I gave it a try, two teaspoons with water on an empty stomach, which worked until the taste started getting to me a little bit too.

I got some pills from the acupuncturist that do seem to help but the only truly useful trick is reducing my carb intake to almost zero. Plus no other trigger foods, like balsamic vinegar or anything that’s been BBQed. So no toast with eggs in the morning, no sandwiches at lunch and no Doritos on the airplane, probably the hardest challenge of them all.

For Fatigue

A morning of swimming does me more good at the end of the day than any other exercise right now. Yoga is frustrating because it’s so hard to stretch around the belly and dancing leaves me out of breath and feeling like a whale. Running is altogether out, although I admire those ladies who keep up their laps around the Silver Lake Reservoir.

After an hour in the pool everything gets soft. My skin seems to smooth out and my stomach, usually like the outside of a soccer ball, gets smooshy, so much so that I can almost trace the outside of the baby’s body through my skin. The soft flesh caves and smaller parts stand out. Maybe a leg. Maybe an arm. Thin small things that are almost too delicate to want to touch.

The big payoff comes at 4pm when I am neither cranky not tired but light hearted and hungry. All the energy stays with me until 6-7 when I start preparing for bed and by 8, I’m ready to read and drift off to a full night’s sleep. The dreams these nights are off the charts and I wake up with them fresh in my mind in the morning.

For Anxiety

On nights when I don’t swim I have to drink some of this calm stuff, which tastes disgusting but really puts me out. I start doing the awake with eyes closed thing until I have to drag myself to bed and I’m pulled under by the weight of sleep. Otherwise I’m up late and then up early thinking about any old thing that will bother me and keep me agitated enough to fend off both responsibilities and rest in equal measure.

Acupuncture too, does the trick, if only to teach my body and the whole system how to shut down and let the parasympathetic part take over. It’s a similar kind of tugging, like drinking the calm, where there’s an undertow and I can’t help but leave my body behind because it’s too heavy to concern myself with anymore. Then I seem to float out of it for a bit, sometime seeing and hearing resolutions to problems I’ve been turning over somewhere deep in the back of mind.

And mediation, guided and simply staying still, helps me to remember that a state of calm is always available to me when I take the time to turn inwards. Sometimes I think of my chest as an open set of doors that I close, not to close off, but to get into a deeper more interior space. A yoga class with a strong teacher who can give me ways feel strong without getting too tired will work wonders as well.

Gratitude

IMG_0644At the moment I’m so grateful I can barely move. The house I’m staying in smells so familiar and yet I can’t place the smell. A health food store, some earth, but something different than the sparkling skyscraper I see out the window, mistaking it, in the middle of the night, as an overgrown Christmas tree. I could be the remnants of the chicken soup that was on the stove when I walked in but I think it’s something that lingers long after and was here long before. A family that had been raised on books, the torn edges of the chronicles of narnia still on the shelves in the room I’m renting. I’m in a quiet white room with stained glass windows and a wooden platform that is wide enough for stretching. The bed is white and fluffy and the birds are chirping outside. It is heaven and the miracles have been flowing like water ever since I arrived.

The plane is always a miracle and an easy flight with no delays is always a gift. Standing outside the train station I reached into my jacket to search for change. In an interior pocket I found a ring, my favorite, one that I had given up for lost. And I had a shawl, without which I would have been cold, and I had it with me only because Jen gave it to me as a present just a few days before. When we were in sunny Florida together, walking the beach till the orange sun sank. I celebrated my 38th with her and her mom and Wayne, and the hippie scarf, as she called it, went in my bag with me when I flew up to New York.

Then there’s my dad who found parking in Park Slope on a Friday night, just steps away from the Barkley center that was going off when I walked past. He sat inside a cozy wine bar waiting for me to arrive and I saw him there, through the window, ignorant to the busy night outside. A table opened up with just enough to time for him to order liver and for me to run my argument for Hillary past him, still working out the kinks. You had a rough time there for a while, he said to me, of my recent past. It was 2008 and US economy was a mess and it was coming on ten years since 9/11 and still nobody talked about it, I said back. But no, I said, you knew what was hard? Being a 13 year old girl and having two best friends who didn’t actually like you.

Then there’s the apple cider my host offered me when I asked for water. I drank it up standing in the dark, the kitchen cabinets speckled with stickers like the kind you get from organic vegetables, and a clock that stood still at 11:09, two minutes before the miracle. Upstairs a gold lamp like the one in my parent’s room from which hung a turkey feather for so many years, some last bit of magic in their bedroom.

Then there’s the house that went on the market as soon as I left LA that looks like something made for us. A tiered backyard in the downward direction with so many flat spots and one with grass where you could get married if you wanted to. A bunch of white chairs spread out on the lawn folded out in my mind, in preparation for the occasion. The link comes through in an email from my boyfriend. Have you see this one, he asks of the listing and it takes me an hour to write back. As if doing so would make the purchase impossible, jinxed from the wanting.

All the while a baby grows in my belly. She flops and flips a little while I write reminding me that she’s the boss of all this change. Already asserting her will from inside the womb, asking me to create a world for her on which she is safe and loved and seen. What will I call her? I still don’t know. Somewhere back home there’s a necklace with initials on the back and I can’t remember what they are. Tell me, Lulu, my current nickname for her, what you want to be called. All of these things coming to me after I’ve started praying, before bed, after brushing my hair, for us to provide her with a family. Bring her safely into the world and let us make her feel welcome and be happy in the early months.

Dreams

My dreams last night were of the wild kind. The first included a camp full of gauntlet like tests, only they were visual and mental rather than physical. One had a set of paper doors to break down that led to a room of babies sitting in carrying chairs, each behind their own curtain. Another had to do with a hair stylist and what one should do if one does not like the way the haircut and style is going in the middle of the session. There was also the address of a secret tap dancing party in the basement of an American Apparel that you were meant to remember long after the address had been given at a lecture with a distracting amount of extra shoes around the perimeter of the room.

To get to the camp we had to take a long bus ride. The bus itself was wider than a usual bus and had inside a number of wind chimes that kept the vibe mellow. There was a bus chaperone who liked the bus to be very quiet and who made us quiet down when we got too loud. My best friend was on the bus, chatting away, and my boyfriend was on the bus, listening to another person, a guy, chat away. When I talked, I felt ashamed about what I had to say. About my pregnant body and how it felt to be growing bigger and ever more public and at the same time smaller in the body and shape of myself that I once knew.

At some point in the night I woke up to pee and got tossed into another dream about male strippers and paid sex and a couch full of women waiting for their turn to claim their partner. I was very excited about the prospect and collected my own set of dress up clothes on hangers for the next guy who would be mind for $20 plus a tip. Another pregnant woman, an acquaintance who in real life had asked me about what it was like to get pregnant, showed me her belly as if to say she had taken our discussion to heart. Her little bump was showing and she went off with the first stripper who was Brad Pitt handsome. The next man arrived, all cut with abs and arms and I woke up before the action began.

Wellness

I kept a food journal for a week and turned it in to my practitioner the Universal Family Wellness Clinic. When she returned the journal to me it was full of yellow highlighting. The two piece of toast plus and occasional daily sweet and a who-cares-just-fuck-it piece of pizza are now off limits. In their place I am to have a protein, a fat and a vegetable or fruit at every meal, and that’s three times a day, plus two snacks – both of which should be relatively carb free.

I failed my first glucose test, and while I passed the second, I had a hint that my diet was contributing to my feelings of, well, bloating, fatigue and acid reflux like symptoms. Only, when I talked to my OBs, and I’ve had a few, I’ve gotten the same response: That’s normal. But when I talked to the acupuncturist at the clinic yesterday she said the magic words: It’s common but not normal.

Of course, I thought. That’s what I’ve been looking for this whole time. Just because a lot of women experience discomfort doesn’t mean that we all should except to go without relief or that it’s any more a natural part of pregnancy as total flatten me out fatigue or mood swings that require two hour retreats away from anyone you know well enough to snap at. It’ll take some effort to change my diet at this point but I’m willing if it means that I get to experience even one bit of the promised prenatal glow.

Remind me to rant: There are two message that pregnant women get at the same time. The first is that you will experience every symptom under the sun, including hemorrhoids and the other is that you should be enjoying this time because it’s the last bit of you that you’re going to feel for a long while. Well, how are you supposed to feel anything like YOU when you’re throwing up cups of acid into the toilet and ending up on the floor in a puddle? 

Same goes for two naps a day, meaning there’s about two hours to accomplish anything for the first six months, until the pressure to get shit ready increases so rapidly that you have to remind yourself to breath, let alone eat every two hours, as necessary. It’s no wonder you end up scarfing down a turkey burger and fries on your way to yoga and then, well, skipping yoga since you have forgotten about the actual baby in your belly. 

And as for that fat chunky feeling in your cheeks every time you eat glutton? Your friend’s are right to say that it’s OK but YOU know that rounding out your stomach is not the same as rounding out your face and it’s OK to wonder whether this isn’t an extra sensitivity to some kind of food. So even if it did take you 25 weeks to get to those two out of three most important pregnancy items on your list [acupuncture, nutrition] you can pat yourself on the back for getting there at all.