I have always been afraid. The reason may have varied, but by and large I’ve bee afraid because I am constantly scanning my environment for potential threats to my person or my delicate emotional state. I’m so highly sensitive, so effected by changes in my environment, that even the slightest shift in the direction of the wind makes me perk up with anxiety. I am always wondering, waiting in that liminal space between hearing first one shoe to fall to the floor and anticipating the other. The state of suspension is fraught with the possibility of disaster. When will it be? When is the other shoe going to drop and blow up my whole world?
I’ve always been this way. I have always been waiting for the next blow the land. I try to go through the motions of daily life on guard, protecting my vulnerabilities, just in case the strike should come from someplace unforeseen. Predictability is my shield and my routine is a weapon. So long as everything stays the same, precisely the same as it has always been, I will be okay. Nothing can hurt me so long as I stay quiet and still.
This stagnation is the root cause of my stunted growth. Not much progress can be made if you’re withdrawn and protective. Instinct drives me to reach out and touch the world around me. Desire for the new, the innovative, the unexplored drives me. Fear holds me back. It’s all irrational fear, to be certain, but it’s overwhelmingly powerful. My mind repeats insistently, “If we go outside, we’ll get hurt.” If I deviate from my well-trodden path, even a little bit, I’m opening the door to disaster.
Recently, though, I invited disaster in.
I can’t say what made me do it. Perhaps it was just a change in the wind. Maybe I fooled myself into thinking that it wouldn’t be that great a leap. Either way, as soon as I gathered the courage to I step off my beaten track, I ran like the hounds of hell were at my heels.
I burned some bridges along the way. It had to be done, so no unfriendly horde could chase me down and lock me in again. I untethered myself from those people and things that have fed on my fear and incited it. Their fury is great, but my drive is greater. I can see — clearly, blessedly, finally — the path that leads to the next step. I can see my best life waiting for me at the end of that path, and the road is clear. It took one bold leap to remove me from the quagmire of doubt and onto a path of certainty. And all it took to leap was one simple command, spoken by my heart to my nervous soul: press go. And so I went.
I guess you hear it all the time, but until you’re neck-deep in motherhood you never quite realize how irrelevant all of your plans are. I have daydreamed about becoming a mom since I was a teenager — I knew what names I liked, what kind of clothes I wanted them to wear, how I was going to care for them. I had visions of sweet, cherubic faces dancing in my dreams like proverbial sugarplums. Courtesy of college family resources and psychology courses, I knew how to facilitate every stage of their development. I had every intention of a doing prenatal yoga, undergoing natural childbirth, being an unapologetic breast-feeder. And then I got pregnant and realized that life doesn’t give a shit about my plans.
I didn’t even know I was pregnant until I almost lost the pregnancy. Unbeknownst to me, I was 6 weeks pregnant when a gush of blood signaled that something was very wrong. In the emergency room, they confirmed I was pregnant, then told me not to get my hopes up: “At this point, if your body is going to spontaneously abort the pregnancy, there’s nothing we can do about it.” So we went home and prayed. We prayed for three straight weeks until I went to first ultrasound and saw the heartbeat. Finally, I was able to breathe again — my body hadn’t betrayed us and killed our baby.
The rest of my pregnancy was smooth sailing, though not entirely what I had expected. I was way more tired, my body under way more strain, than I had been prepared for. Forget about yoga, walking the dog, or getting up off the couch — I’m willing to go from bed, to work, and back to my sofa, and there’s nothing you can do to convince me otherwise! Forget the well-rounded pregnancy diet, too. If it smells good, I’m going to eat it, and I can’t be held responsible if animal proteins aren’t on that list.
It turned out okay though. We made it to November without incident, my OBGYN complimenting me on being the easiest patient on his roster. Having read about the correlations between epidural use and increased likelihood of complications leading to Caesarian section, I was hoping to experience natural childbirth. I read everything I could get my hands on, interviewed friends, developed a birth plan with my doctor, and practiced breathing exercises. I drafted my friend as a doula. We stocked up on calming essential oils and packed my bag to allow for a quick departure to the hospital. As we approached my due date on November 9th, I felt we were pretty well prepared for the inevitable. Baby had been locked and loaded since the end of October and all signs pointed to a timely delivery. I did everything the Big Book tells you to do in order to help things along: had sex, walked around the neighborhood, exercised on one of those gigantic balls. Short of puncturing my own water bag with a knitting needle, I tried everything. Alas, it wasn’t meant to be: at two weeks past my due date, we threw in the towel and acquiesced to an induction by Pitocin drip.
You know what happens when you go into labor under Pitocin?
Well, first of all, your contractions tend to be twice as long and a million times as intense as those caused by the natural labor-inducing horomone, Oxytocin. Try managing six hours of teeth-gritting, horrifyingly protracted spasms in your gut — I couldn’t do it, so I opted for the epidural. It made the pain go away, but not the long, arduous contractions that were squeezing my baby every three minutes. Her heart rate dropped from 120 beats-per-minute down to 60. Turns out my daughter couldn’t handle the Pitocin, either.
I bet you can guess what happened.
Yeah, that’s me, crying tears of, “Oh my God, what the fuck? One moment I was in the L&D room and the next I was rushed into surgery, holy crap, they’re cutting me open.” The whole time I lay strapped to the surgical table, arms spread out like Jesus on the cross, I kept thinking, “Ok. Well, so I didn’t get to labor the way I wanted. And now my delivery is going to be very different from what I had planned. But she’ll be here soon. And then we’ll cuddle and do the skin-to-skin thing that everyone’s always going on about, and everything will be fine.” Even after Moira was born, though, things went a little off-plan: she spent the night in the NICU, and I spent in the night in recovery. Once we were reunited, we had to learn how to breastfeed, and that didn’t come easily either. As we struggled, Moira and I, to hit our stride, those last visions I had of myself as Earth-Mother Incarnate went out the window. This was the big leagues. It was about survival, by any means necessary.
And it continues to be. I’m definitely not a crunchy-granola kind of hippie earth-mother I thought I’d be. Despite what I learned in FAM-R or Childhood Psychology, I don’t actually manage to pick her up every time she cries. There are even times when I leave the room and make her fend for herself while I run to the bathroom to pee (gasp!). Now, we’re on to solid foods — will I manage to make everything from scratch and eschew store-bought baby food? Only time will tell. I still have moments of panic when my plans go awry, but then there are certain things I can’t bring myself to get huffy over. It’s just much, much easier to go with the flow. From conception, to gestation, to delivery and beyond, nothing happened quite the way I had intended it to. I think I’ve made my peace with that.