When I first found out I was pregnant, my first reaction was to laugh. My husband was at work. Our NFP charts were showing several days of high temperatures, and I was starting to suspect that something was going on. I took a test and peed all over my hand. When I saw the test, I absolutely was not expecting to see a plus sign – but there it was. Positive. I said, “holy shit,” put my hand over my mouth, and started laughing hysterically.
And then I had a full-blown panic attack.
Let me explain.
In 2009 I was diagnosed with PTSD after a medical incident I had when I was studying abroad. It's a really long, complicated, complex story and one that I don't really like getting into – mostly because it's just so long and, thankfully, I don't really feel the need to talk about it like I once did. What I will say is that for the next three years, anything that my body did was a major PTSD trigger. If I had to pee and couldn't get to the bathroom fast enough, I would have a panic attack. If I suddenly had a cramp or a twinge or a headache of any kind, I would immediately panic and start crying uncontrollably. Any situation where I didn't feel completely in control of myself would send me spiraling into an anxiety attack, and it was a living hell.
|I studied Edvard Munch in a college art history class, and when my professor showed us The Scream, I almost had to leave the room. It looks exactly like how an anxiety attack feels -- like you're inside of a nightmare.|
So in October 2010, when I found out I was pregnant, one of the first things I felt was abject terror. Make no mistake, I wanted that baby. Ever since I was a little kid, I've always wanted babies. Lots and lots of them. But for the next four months I lived in this weird space where I very much wanted a baby and, at the same time, desperately did not want to be pregnant. I woke up every morning and felt angry, simply because I was awake and I didn't want to be. Every time I felt that lurch of nausea, I would shake. Forget about the actual birth -- just thinking about birth gave me panic attacks. Any kind of brush with the medical establishment – even if it was a nurse just taking my blood pressure – made me start crying. When I got to 36 weeks pregnant and my OB started doing internal exams, my husband had to leave work early and come to the doctor with me and hold my hand so I wouldn't run out of that office. I'm not exaggerating.
In my weakest moments, when I was desperately sick, when I felt trapped and desperate, I thought of the Planned Parenthood down the street and I mulled over how easy it would be to just make everything go away, in an instant. I hated that I had those thoughts, because I loved that baby, and I fought for her. But I had them anyway. I am anti-abortion, but make no mistake that I understand, first-hand, the appeal of abortion. I understand intimately how it feels to be plagued by mental illness and how someone would want a problem to just disappear. In those weak moments, those moments when I literally could not leave my apartment and failed two of my classes and had panic attacks every day, I would plead heavenward: Please, God, let me love this baby. Please help me to love her. Because I don't feel anything but panic and anger.
There's so much more to this story – all the therapy I had. The medicine. The shame. The hypnobirthing classes I took to calm my ass down. The heroism of my sweet husband, his patience. The times I would sob into his shirt that I hated being pregnant. This is my body, given up for you, indeed.
Giving birth was the culmination of nine months of constant mental anguish. Actual labor was the biggest anxiety trigger of all, since I was vulnerable, isolated, and in a high amount of pain – much like what I experienced when I studied abroad and had the traumatic experience that triggered the PTSD in the first place.
When she came out, I didn't hold her. I had the doctors take her away and give her to my husband, while I laid on my back, in complete exhaustion, and sobbed. Out of terror. And triumph. And relief. This is something that's hard to admit, but I have to keep it real: In that moment – when June was born, when the doctor was holding my red, screaming baby and saying sit up and look what you did!, I was so wrapped up in panic, I didn't react at all to the baby. I lifted my head up, muttered something like great okay and plopped back down again. I remember hearing her cry and -- distantly -- feeling satisfied. She was out. We had done it. We were safe.
Lou brought her to me when she was cleaned and wrapped up and when I held her I felt nothing. Perhaps it was the fentanyl cocktail they had given me, perhaps it was because I had a postpartum hemorrhage and I was a little shaken from it. But I felt numb. Was this love? Was this the instant, animal-attraction I'd been hearing about for nine months? I didn't feel love at all. I felt relief. And abating terror. And a low, feral kind of possessiveness when the nurse stepped in and took the baby out of my arms. I was woozy with fright, but when the nurse took the baby out of my arms, I remember thinking bitch, that's MY baby. How do I know you're not some baby-snatcher, like in that Lifetime movie? You try to snatch my baby, bitch, and I'll come for you. It was love. But it felt like anger. It worried me. I remember thinking, I WORKED for that baby. She's MINE.
I remember pleading in the back of my mind, for what must have been the millionth time since I got pregnant, Please, God, let me love her. Please, please don't let me feel like this forever.
All this to say that if I could go back in time and tell myself one thing, I would tell myself that you will love her. It will be a purifying, sanctifying love, because you had to walk through hell to earn it. But you will love her.
And I do.