I don’t remember that many happy times. I know they exist. There’s one of me riding a bike I come back to regularly. Much of my past is blurry, however. I have flashes and snatches, but my memory isn’t great when it comes to the day-to-day. I blame the unholy trifecta of trauma, PTSD, and age.
Worst band name ever.
I drifted into a relationship when I was twenty-seven. I didn’t particularly like X, nor did I find him as attractive as others in my circle seemed to think, but I was desperate. I wasn’t in a relationship, and I knew I was supposed to be. Other people I knew were coupled up, married, and having kids.
I’d yet to crack double-digits on official dates.
My fear of men was a serious impediment, as was my eating disorder. Its twenty-four-seven demands left little time for life.
We met at a joint stag. We chatted for a bit in the dark hall, drinking warm beer and Diet Coke (separate glasses). We chatted some more while we sat outside under the stars. It wasn’t romantic – he smoked a joint. I thought that rebellious and cool since it was pre-legal.
I didn’t know “addict” was a persona I could and should live without.
We followed that up with phone calls where we talked for hours – I’m easier around men if I can rank them as safe and I don’t have to worry about being hurt if I’m on the other side of a phone – before I gave in and went to his house for a movie and make-out session.
It had to be his house because he had children. Two daughters, aged two and three.
I met one of them that first night and the other a few days later. They were love at first sight and I didn’t look back.
We moved in together after about six months of dating. It was his suggestion though he posed it as a “roommates” kind of thing. We were sleeping together, and we were together nearly every day, but he didn’t want me to think he had feelings for me.
I didn’t know that the hot and cold games were another warning sign. What I knew was that he needed rescuing. He was hurt and damaged and I thought I could fix that. He was my bulimia substitute, and I jumped in without thought.
The substitutes never last. That is, X lasted, but the bulimia came roaring back after a week or two off. It was always that way. I could fixate on a new person or job for a period, but eventually, they became pathological too.
Fast forward two-and-a-half difficult years. I was planning to leave. I didn’t know how I was going to do that since X’s temper worried me, but I knew I was going. I was so unhappy. My biggest concern was the girls. I didn’t want to leave them. I didn’t consider X to be a very good dad, and Y had big problems that impacted her abilities as a mom.
I also didn’t know how to stop throwing up mid-morning.
I hate vomiting, which is ironic for someone who made bulimia her lifestyle for thirty-plus years. Then again, they’re not really the same. Throwing up with bulimia doesn’t have the face-tightening, the salivary overload, and the desperate cramping of the free-range type. Bulimic vomiting is controlled and therefore less problematic.
Part of my still-screwed-up brain wanted to say it’s more elegant. It’s not. They’re no elegance in vomiting. [i] It’s a hellscape. I just want to make that clear.
I thought perhaps it was the antibiotics I’d finished the week before. They’d made me feel quite ill – I have problems with antibiotics. In that, I’m allergic to most of them.
Still, I’d been off them for a few days. But pregnancy was such a long shot. We used birth control, though X wasn’t always great about it. I couldn’t take the pill, I didn’t tolerate it well, even the low-dose version. My body doesn’t like to shift from its steady state. I didn’t worry, however; I’d even been told that getting pregnant would be hard for me. I didn’t tend to ovulate.
I like to go to the movies alone. Matinees. I like being able to watch what I want without interruption. I like to eat my popcorn without sharing. My depression likes being able to hide, and my eating disorder liked being able to make the popcorn today’s only food.
I was headed there, with X “enjoying” an afternoon home with the girls, when a thought struck me – maybe I’m pregnant? And once a thought like that enters the brain, it’s hard to dislodge.
I stopped at the corner store near the theatre to buy some secret gummies to smuggle in – catch me paying theatre prices – and picked up a pregnancy test since I was there.
They do sell everything.
I got my ticket, my popcorn, and my drink, and headed to the bathroom. I put my things on the hand shelf they have for your sundries, then went into the stall to pee on a stick. It was a vast improvement from the home test my friend had taken several years before. That one involved peeing into an unstable cup we subsequently spilled on the dining room table.
But, I digress.
It was positive. It’s funny how it only takes a second to plunge into shock. Amidst the chaos, I knew two things for sure – I was going to have this baby, and it was going to be a boy.
I went into the theatre and sat down. I never did remember what the movie was. I ate my popcorn and thought about X, about how he didn’t want more kids, and about what I would say.
I left halfway through and headed home. And then I just blurted things out. I’m pregnant. I’m having it. You don’t have to stay or be involved, but I’m having it.
Not the most democratic approach. I don’t think either of us handled things well that day though he was worse. And because he was angry and in denial, I didn’t have the best pregnancy. He essentially pretended it wasn’t happening. I felt so guilty, that I tried to make sure nothing about being pregnant impacted our lives. I tried to stay quiet and unobtrusive, a challenge considering the unrelenting vomiting that made up most of my pregnancy. Thank God it was replaced by the coughing of pneumonia.
Codeine stops both. That was a vomiting win – the medications they’d tried so far hadn’t done much. I worried about the effect on what I was convinced was my son, but the doctors told me that unrelenting coughing was lowering my oxygen saturation, a problem for us both. Besides, his brain was done. He was all cooked.
Or not, as it turned out. That is, his brain and body were done, but Elvis had no interest in leaving the building. My son is a chill individual and he was that way in utero as well. He didn’t seem to feel the need to exit once the term of occupancy was over. My late-November due date came and went. December rolled in and on. Talks of induction became more regular. The problem was that there was no distress. From him. I was distressed plenty. I drank all the beet juice. We even went bowling, to what I like to imagine was terror in the operator’s eyes.
On Friday, December 10, 1999, I was admitted to the hospital. They’d put medication on my cervix the day before, but it didn’t take. As in, no labour. I was put on a drip in the hospital. It didn’t take either. At four p.m., X went home to see the girls and my mom came to hang out for a bit. A cesarean section was scheduled for Monday.
In hindsight, I should’ve asked her for some food. A muffin would’ve come in handy after. Nobody has food that late on a Saturday night.
I’d been wondering about water breaking throughout my last trimester. I worry about doing things right, and this arena was no different. I didn’t want to screw up. How would I know my water had broke? What if I missed it and wasn’t able to tell the nurse?
My worries were unfounded. You don’t miss it. It’s a flood, not a trickle. Amniotic fluid went everywhere. It’s a good idea they decided against carpets in hospitals.
My water breaking is basically all I remember. My labour is like my past, there are flashes but not much else – a shower, a hallway, a nurse who kept calling me the wrong name. X’s face when they pulled out the forceps.
I had precipitous labour. Once the contractions started, they never stopped. At least I didn’t have to worry about timing minutes apart. They were one on top of another from the get-go. It’s pretty awful, which I think explains my memory. My hip problems added to the pain, at least until the charming doctor with the lovely epidural came.
At least precipitous labour is short. That’s one of its defining characteristics.
And then my son got stuck. My pelvis didn’t widen sufficiently, see above hip problem, and he wasn’t small. When they finally pulled him free, my doctor turned to me and said, “where were you hiding that?’ He was so big. They had estimated him at about seven-and-a-half pounds. He was ten-and-a-half and twenty-one inches long. That’s a big baby.
The first thing I said was to X: “I told you he was a boy.”
The second was, “he looks like C.” He did. He was a dead ringer for his oldest sister.
He was also purple, the consequence of a birth that was traumatic for him too, so they took him away to rest in an incubator for a bit. I sent X with him to make sure he was never left alone. I knew I would tear apart the world to keep him safe.
The pregnancy was not the pregnancy of movies, my relationship was difficult, my labour was hellish, and the birth-proper bit a misery. Forceps. And all that was forgotten the second I saw him. The love I had for my son was like nothing else in the world.
The day my son was born was far and away the best, happiest, and most perfect day of my life. Nothing else will ever compare.
[i] If one uses an aid, however, like Ipecac, the vomiting is violent, uncontrollable, aggressive, and life-threatening. Even knowing that, I did it more than once. An eating disorder is trying to kill you, full stop.
header image – my son on his first day of school