Somewhere between the time I found out I was pregnant with R and the time I had to leave the birth class at the hospital, I had been diagnosed with PRENATAL depression. Hence, instead of feeling the usual glow and happiness over having a new baby, my propensity was to watch Judge Judy all afternoon, to cry all the way through parenting books, to feel generally disoriented, strangely detached and a bit like I was seeing and feeling life through a dark colored glass. Though this is how I was feeling, very few people realized, and most days it was all smiles to everyone on the outside.
Of this time, my husband admits he was worried about me. He married an energetic, go-getter who believed in big dreams and hard work. Now he would come home from days trying to provide for us to find me on the couch with little to no ambition, not eating and with a morning sickness that I couldn’t seem to get over. Again, while on the outside, all was smiles and happiness, inside me was a constant battle.
When my Dr. suspected prenatal depression, she offered me the name of a local therapist. In truth, it embarrassing to rumble into my sessions with my growing belly and talk through my concerns with a complete stranger. Some sessions I sat in silence, not even sure what to say. Luckily for me, she was patient and not too kind – I think that complete and open kindness would have disarmed me entirely and I couldn’t have gone back.
While I believe in disclosure, I will simply say from my sessions, I learned something about emotional expression and perfection. I don’t believe in being a victim. I don’t believe in harboring and combing through every moment of my past. In fact, I refused to do that my therapist for the most part. However, somewhere in my life, I had learned that I shouldn’t express anger/disappointment in any extreme. I had to keep my chin up, say I was fine, grovel to anyone and everyone who had hurt me – for whatever reason. And this pattern came out again and again in my conversations over those months.
What I learned is that my body held onto and took this unexpressed anger, this inability to protect myself against anyone, and turned the anger towards me. Not anyone else. Ever. No matter how justified. No matter how important in healing. Anger only at myself. I unfortunatley had an internal judge and jury that were very powerful advocates against anything good or complete about me and this pregnancy seemed to give them extra potency. I could run, cope, smile for everyone else but this baby was inside me, part of me and I was in conflict about have any human being so close and personal. It was so vulnerable.
One week, J and I were shopping for a new car. It had been an emotional and trying week – finances, critical conversations full of conflict, more morning sickness. We were doing fine until I made a mistake, was human, and the anger at myself started to build. By the time we got to Carmax – emotionally I was unraveling. I excused myself into the women’s bathroom and quickly shut the stall door.
While some of my weekly therapy sessions were extremely helpful, nothing had prepared me for the intensity of self-abuse I was experiencing now. It was as if all my unresolved issues, fears and feelings were shaken again and again and then magnified and put on loud speaker. I placed a hand on my belly, crunched over into that bathroom stall… I knew I had to ride this out. I have never been beaten physically but this emotional beating was blow after blow after blow.
Scenes, images and words came of my failures, of not measuring up, of not being like everyone else, of simply not being good enough, or doing what they thought I should or could. The bad boyfriends, the good boyfriends, the roommates, the friends, the family. I simply could not allow myself to be human. To let go. To not care or fix or rectify. Sobbing, my mind warped and twisted under and over itself building a ironclad case against myself.
“You are so immature.”
“You never think of others. You only think of yourself. You are selfish.”
“You are so irresponsible. Who do you think you are?”
“Why can’t you be like everyone else?”
“How are you suppose to be a mother? No one wants their kids to be like you.”
“You talk too much. You say too many things.”
On and on the list went. Every misplaced word or intentional criticism anyone I had cared about had ever said to me. Their slights. Their judgements. Their silent withholdings. I had eaten their judgements of me whole and believed what they saw. They swirled around me and with each thought the physical weight of them pressed me closer and closer to the ground, further and further into an unprotected abyss of anger and unworthiness.
Just then the door to the bathroom opened and into the large handicapped stall next to me went a mother and two small children.
“Get off, I am going first.”
“Don’t yell at your sister.”
“Don’t touch the toilet paper.”
“Please, keep off the floor.”
“It’s not polite to look through the crack!”
Into my darkness came little voices. Arguing. Laughing. And a patient yet exasperated mother.
In my stall, I had been giving myself “evidence” that I was not fit for this child I was carrying, that I could not be a good mother, and in the final moments I had entertained the thought that it was probably best if I gave my child up for adoption.
However, what I heard in the other stall was not perfection. It was messy and full of life. The kids were crazy. The mom was just trying to use the restroom. There were germs and lots of silly behavior.
What I heard on the other side of the stall was HOPE.
Those little kids finished in the stall, laughed and went out to wash their hands. They splashed water on each other and the mom told them to stop playing around and get theirs hands dried. I listened and tried to be very still and let the feeling of hope sink into me.
And before those kids left the bathroom, I don’t know if I yelled it out loud or it simply rang so loud in my head, but from deep inside me came the words, cutting through the midst of negativity and despair, ” I WANT TO KEEP MY BABY!!!!!” It came from deep inside me, I felt it all the way up from the depths of my heart to the moment my consciousness registered the words.
Yes, I made mistakes. Yes, I was not perfect. But so what???? I was beautiful and messy and mixedup. I had NO JUSTIFICATION for my wanting, no proof, no evidence whatsoever that I would be a good mother. But I had seen hope….and I had made a choice to choose my child. I chose to believe that I could be enough, that I could figure out a way to let go and let this baby and everyone else into the beautiful mess that is me. I chose.
And for those who know me, you might now understand why choice is so huge for me. Why I will move heaven and earth to help others in those critical moments of life changing choices. Perhaps it is my paying it forward for that mother and kids in the bathroom that day. Someday I hope karma catches up to them and surrounds them with the gratitude I hold for them.
While there would be other hard days and moments throughout this pregnancy and birth, I also now knew that the darkness inside me could not overtake me without my choice. I could fight. I could allow people in. I could in some way express emotions outwardly instead of hold them inside. And singularly, I had formed a bond with R. In that stall, that day, is when I became a mother.