I cannot believe what I just saw. I was walking the dogs (yes, two, we rescued Elvis, a cocker/sheltie mix, long story) in the township park by our house, when, like, 3,000 pregnant women and their children came off a yellow bus and head straight for the Kids Castle—one of the family attractions in our area.
They were all smoking. (The mothers, that is, not the children.)
I was both appalled and dumbstruck, when one stopped to ask me where to pay for admission into the Castle. Using all the bicep strength I could muster to hold the dogs back—and myself, from yelling at her—I said, “It’s free.”
She smiled, took a drag of her cigarette, rubbed her belly, and thanked me. Leaving me simply too shocked to say anything else. And yes, okay, afraid of being mauled by the other hormonal smokers for expressing my viewpoint on the subject.
After all, I’ve seen You Tube. I watch the news. I’m a regular of Dr. Phil’s. I knew that suggesting they don’t smoke, however gently, could have gone very poorly. And frankly, my life is just starting to get good.
Which is why I chose to say nothing and simply hate myself instead.
Besides, I was unsteady enough, trying to guide the two animals with a shady past who were dragging me around the path like I was road kill.
So, I’ll say it here: if any of you reading are pregnant (which is highly unlikely, given the tenor of this blog), please don’t smoke. It’s not good for you.
Speaking of new mothers, I’d like to talk about my adorable stepdaughter Heidi. (Love her.)
A few weeks ago, she had her second baby—via C-section, after an unnecessarily long, painful, and high-risk pregnancy. The morning Logan would finally arrive, we met Heidi and her husband Mike at the hospital. It was still morning. The doctors had told them they’d deliver the baby by 3. But 3 came and went and all that had happened was Dan almost choked on a cherry pit and I made 57 trips to the potty.
By 4, Heidi was in active labor. (Kinda crazy that a pregnant woman scheduled way in advance for a C-section would have to experience active labor, but then again, her obstetrician felt it was more important to go to Aruba on vacation than take care of her patient.)
It makes only the best of sense that, a woman going through labor and pre-op simultaneously, would be a bit cranky. As the poor kid’s patience began to wither away like wet string—and as she proceeded to yell at her husband for, among other things, breathing—my husband (father to a small football team), leans in and whispers to me, “She’s transitioning, you know.”
“What?” I was busy imagining myself at the Bally’s Casino day spa, getting a hot stone massage while being fed truffles by a hot-but-desperate cabana boy named Guido. (I love my husband.)
“Transitioning. All pregnant women go through it during labor. Where they go from the passive state into the active, and prepare to start pushing.”
Hmmm. I pondered his words for a moment while Heidi ripped Mike a new one for coughing. I couldn’t really relate to the concept of “transitioning” as a new mother, but I could certainly relate to it as a writer. In fact, his description sounded a lot like trying to get a book deal.
“Well, if that’s the case, I’ve been transitioning for years now.” I promptly crawl next to Heidi on the bed.
“Move over sister. You’re not the only one in labor. I’ve been trying to spit a book out for years.” I look at Dan. “Now hand me the cherries.”
Transitioning can be very empowering.
After several relentless hours of waiting (which, if relentless to me, could only be excruciating to poor Heidi), the nice doctor on call comes in with the not-taller-than 5” 4’ anesthesiologist (who is probably overcompensating, as a result) to take Heidi to surgery. Finally.
Now transitioning in the other direction, Heidi’s face goes from a wince to a big smile, as she grabs my hand and then her father’s and says “Bye guys!” Like she is going off to summer camp.
Mike runs after her, tripping as he tries to wrap a pair of surgical booties over his Converse sneakers, probably wishing he was at the gun range (not exactly the fatherly type). We wave like American Gothic, without the gardening tools. And stand in the hallway like the two tired, hungry, and aged people we had become.
As I watch them roll Heidi through the double doors that lead to the operating rooms, the swatch of her blonde hair getting smaller and smaller, I yell, “We’ll be right here, sweetie, waiting for you. Break a leg!”
Dan looks at me. “Break a leg?”
“Well, I’ve never done this before.”
“Done what, honey?”
And then, before I know what hit me, I hear a voice channel like a whisper through my freshly glossed lips. “Be old.”
My husband puts his arm around me. “You’re not. You’re beautiful.”
I look up at him. And before I knew it, I am crying, tears rolling down my cheeks like Niagra Falls over worn rock. It seems I have transitioned from bored, tired, and anxious, to an emotional wreck. A bad cliché. The childless stepmother—the accidental grandmother—watching, wishing, wondering. Living vicariously through her younger version.
I am suddenly overwhelmed and confused by the desire to follow Heidi into surgery. To pass through the double doors and lay next to her, rub her head, help her push.
Dan puts his arm around me. “Honey, she’ll be fine.”
But I am not crying for her. I am mourning the fact that I never had the experience. The occasion to look back at my parents, watching with pride and joy, while I was rolled into the delivery room to give birth to their grandchildren.
And now, it’s too late. Maybe not physiologically, although at almost 45, it’d probably be easier to get a discount membership to the movies. But in every other sense, the time has passed. I don’t have the desire for children. Or to parent. And yet, I can’t help but wish, in a retroactive dreamy sort of way, that I’d had the chance.
We wait until about 9 o’clock, when they bring Heidi and Logan back to the room, to squish him and take pictures of the happy family (on our camera phones, of course, we forgot the digital in our haste). And then we leave. Go home and drop into bed like hard sleet.
I look over at Dan, who’s glasses are hanging off the tip of his nose, sprawled out like Jesus on the cross (only in our case, it’s a fabulous designer patchwork comforter in earth tones I got on sale from Macy’s). His mouth is open and I detect a bit of saliva on his lower lip. I nudge him.
“I need you.”
“Huh?” He snorts and rolls over.
“I need to talk about what happened today.”
“You know, at the hospital.”
“Heidi had a baby.”
“Huh? Oh, yeah. Are you (yawn) okay?”
“I just got so emotional because I never got to be pregnant and stuff and lay in bed while everyone waited with great anticipation. I guess it made me sad. Going through it with Heidi and all.”
“I know sweetie.” He does a half roll and pats my leg. “You’re okay.”
“Not that I’d want to do it now, don’t get me wrong. Oh dear God. Although I still could, you know. Well, with the right drugs and surrogate. And the right psychotherapist.”
Dan sits up. “You’re not serious?”
“But I wouldn’t. I mean, we can barely handle the dogs. Besides, our creative pursuits are our babies now, right?”
“That’s right, honey. Absolutely.” He kisses me on the cheek. “Now don’t hurt your brain. Go to sleep.”
So I did. I dreamt of diapers and a book deal.
I attribute the accelerated rush of emotions I’ve been feeling lately, at least in part, to my coming off the antidepressants I took for the past five years.
Despite a nasty bout of withdrawal (nausea, dizziness, lack of sleep, being hungry all the time, irritable, etc.) that has blessedly subsided, I now feel absolutely the same as I ever did when I was on them. With one exception: I feel absolutely everything and then some.
The other day, my mother gave me a bag of rotting grapefruits (“eat them or they’ll go bad”) and I swear, I cried, “Mommy, I love you SO MUCH!!!”
Dan taught Elvis to sit. And I cried. “Such a good BABY!” You would have thought he’d just found a missing child.
When C was here last week, she told me I forgot to pack her a Gatorade for camp, and I almost hung myself from the shower rod.
The thing is I know I’m out of control. That my tidal wave of emotions is excessive. That my response to mediocrity is borderline.
And yet, it feels good to cry over some sappy cable movie. Or to feel excited at the prospect of a 20-percent off coupon. I love the wash of melancholy that comes over me when I see Winnie and Elvis on either side of a chew toy. Tails wagging like trees in a hurricane. Wishing that my Sophie was here to join them.
It reminds me of how much I’d forgotten I could feel pre-Lexapro. How much I missed it.
And how much being on Lexapro, despite this side effect, changed my life.
Because, while I would cry at a Kodak commercial before I went on it, I was also stuck in the sand and fog of a life that didn’t work.
And so, I learned: medicine is not always an either/or proposition. Advances in technology don’t always give you the choice—feel this if you want, and erase that if you don’t. There’s no fine tuning. No bass up, treble down. No balance or fade.
It’s take the meds and feel better, but feel less. Or, don’t take them, but feel a lot—and mostly sad.
If I had to do it all over again, I’d opt for the former. Because without the help, I might still be stuck—alone, in a third-floor walkup in Chicago, far from home, in an 11-year relationship going nowhere, and a good job that anybody in their right mind would like. But left me numb.
Now, in the shadow of the drug, I celebrate having every primary emotion imaginable. With my brain chemicals calm and my system clean, I am elated—or something—at least once daily. Even when I’m not.
And with that thought, I’m off to tell someone I love them. Until next time.