My cousin Sherry pointed out recently that, at this point in our renovation project, reminding me (as she did) that it’ll all be worth it in the end is like reminding a woman in transition labor that it’ll all be worth it.
I understand the implication — it ain’t gonna help — but Sherry was wrong. It helped.
* * * * *
I remember Nick’s transition labor really clearly, because I elected not to use any painkillers. I had an epidural with Jesse because I didn’t know any better. It created a disconnect between me and my body that I didn’t like. I couldn’t really feel the contractions, so I didn’t have an intuitive sense of when or how hard to push. It was very mechanical and medical. Not at all the right thing for a control freak like me.
Anthony and I decided together to skip the epidural with Nick. We had to induce, so it was freight train labor for a few hours. I sat on the doctor’s stool for most of my contractions, with Anthony standing next to me. I wrapped my arms around his waist, rested my head on his ribs and breathed quietly, Bradley-style. Sometimes I wandered here and there. Since I was attached to an IV bag of Pitocin, Anthony would fuss with strings and things on the wheelie contraption that held the Pitocin bag, and he’d help me wander. On and on it went, with an increase in the Pitocin dose every half hour.
It was all pretty bearable, until something really, really bad started happening. “I think I need to poop,” I told Anthony.
Anthony shook his head patiently. “No. You don’t.”
“I really, really think I need to poop. I need to poop now. I need to poop RIGHT NOW.”
Anthony looked at me, still mild. After a long pause, he said, “Ok.” He fussed with the wheelie thing, and we went to the bathroom. I sat on the toilet. I got right back up. My crotch felt so wrong.
“I don’t need to poop.”
Days later, Anthony told me he realized then that I was in transition labor. I asked him how he knew.
“Because you were panicking. The book said you would panic.”
Literacy: don’t get pregnant without it.
After the aborted poop trip, I spent the next 20 or 30 minutes cursing intermittently. Have I mentioned this before here? Not loudly, and not at Anthony. I was standing. Each time a contraction hit, I bent over at the waist and held onto Anthony’s hand and a table while the nurse rubbed my back, and I muttered a chant quietly as I took slow, calming breaths. “ohfuck ohfuck ohfuck ohfuck ohfuck ohfuck ohfuck.” Deep breath in. “Ohfuck ohfuck ohfuck ohfuck ohfuck ohfuck ohfuck.” During the intervals between contractions, I apologized profusely for my language.
I remember telling Anthony at some point, “I don’t think I can do this for an hour.” He answered with a shake of his head. “You won’t have to.”
The nurse chimed in. “It’s too late to give you anything to help, honey.”
By the time the doctor got to our delivery room and extra nurses started fussing about with I-don’t-know-what, I was done cursing and was on to a new repeating line. “I gotta push. I gotta push. I gotta push now.”
Doc looked at me and shrugged, a mix of sarcasm and humor. “So get on the table and push.”
I climbed up on the table myself. Anthony lent me a hand. I found the lever to adjust the back of the delivery table. “How upright can i make this go before you want me to stop?”
The doctor looked at me with a stink eye and spoke in a dry voice. “Well at some point, I’m going to have trouble catching the baby.”
It took 3 contractions. The first one, I was still too shaky and winded from climbing onto the table, getting my legs up into those humiliating stirrups, and adjusting the table back. I was also distracted because I wanted to yell “RING OF FIRE! RING OF FIRE!” but I was trying hard not to say it out loud, because when I was pushing Jesse out I told some jokes and laughed — an excellent sign of nerves — and then Anthony barked at me to stop laughing and concentrate on what I was doing. So I didn’t yell out “RING OF FIRE!” in Nick’s delivery room, even though I thought it would be really funny. (Except for the ring of fire I was actually experiencing. That wasn’t funny.) I didn’t want to irritate Anthony again, and I thought he was right that I should concentrate better. So I kept quiet. Which took much of the mental effort I should have put into pushing issues.
Right, so that was the first contraction. The second, I popped Nick’s head and gave myself a stage 500 perineal tear. All those squats really paid off. The third contraction, Nick’s shoulders hit fresh air and I was pretty much done with my work. Except for the placenta, and ew, TMI. I walked out of that delivery room, pushing Nick’s crib thing — what do you call them? I can’t remember what they’re called. AH! Bassinet. I pushed the bassinet to the recovery room myself. It felt good to walk out on my own, with my man beside me. They should have just let me carry the baby.
* * * * *
Jesse is going through a sort of transition labor. The Citalopram seems to be working. Her mood has improved remarkably, and she seems to be more clear-headed and resilient. But clear-headedness means she can better understand how messed up she’s been and still is. She’s exhausted after months of trying to control herself. She doesn’t know what’s happening in her mind. She’s out of energy. She’s panicking, just as we can all sense that she’s about to make some big breakthroughs.
Saying Jesse has “poor self-esteem” sounds trite, but sometimes it’s easier for me to think of it that way. It’s a euphemism in my mind for “self-loathing” and “destructive self-hate,” both of which are more apt to make me cry. Just yesterday, the school guidance counselor called me to touch base. Someone had asked Jesse what she thought might be a good thing to do if she’s having trouble controlling her urges to say inappropriate things. The idea was to have Jesse come up with some of her own strategies.
Jesse answered. “Just kill me.”
Jesse’s therapist and psychiatrist independently insist that she doesn’t meet the criteria for a Tourette’s diagnosis. It isn’t tics that get her, but rather obsessive, perseverative thinking. OCD. And of course, anxiety. Anxiety disorders are a messy, messy business. The symptoms and behaviors overlap with, and are related to, stuff that happens with OCD and ADHD. So when a child has severe anxiety, it’s very hard to determine if there are also other issues in play.
It’s a mess when you’re full of random, inchoate fear. It takes a long time to sort it all out.
I decided to explore the OCD thing with Jesse, because she seems to feel uncontrollable urges to do some pretty stupid stuff — grab kids inappropriately, say inappropriate words (these days mostly “penis penis penis”), that sort of thing. She describes it as a burning feeling that rises up in her throat as she tries to stop herself, until she can’t fight it anymore. My ignorant, uninformed mind says “Tourette’s” to that, but the experts are saying OCD. I’m listening.
A pretty typical OCD scenario involves a person who feels she has to do something in order to avoid a really bad consequence. Like… “Unless I touch the floor at 20 minutes past the hour, my mommy will be hit by a car and die.” So I asked Jesse one day, “What do you think will happen if you don’t do those things your body tells you to do?”
Jesse was pensive and glum. She sat quietly and then muttered, almost inaudibly, “I won’t be myself anymore.”
It took me a second to register it, and then here’s what I wanted to say. “Well THAT’S fucked up, Jesse. Why you gotta be so deep and intense and all? Why can’t you just be normal OCD?”
I don’t remember what I actually said, because I was aching all over. There are so many hairline fractures in my heart; what’s another one. But I’ve thought about it a lot since then. A LOT. Like, obsessively. I can’t stop spinning it in my mind. I keep wondering what it feels like, to think you have to do certain things that you know will alienate you, direct disapproval your way, ignite disappointment, leave you friendless and lonely, make you miss out on fun activities — or else you won’t be you anymore. That is so messed up. I eventually asked some more questions, and it became clear that Jesse thinks her rage and anger and strange behavior are inexorably linked to her creativity, her imagination, her individuality and uniqueness.
That is some crazy, heavy shit.
Dr. Abrams suggested we treat it just like you treat any OCD behavior. Directly. It’s very strange, but we’re trying. This weekend, Jesse woke up not angry. That’s still unusual, but an increasingly common phenomenon. I reminded her not to be angry. Don’t hurt people. Be kind and gentle. She did it for a while, and she also got on the computer and wrote this poem, inspired by the t-shirt she was wearing:
When in Doubt
When in doubt dance it out!
When in doubt to the nearest water to the stream just dance it out.
When in doubt fly as far as ever to the place which is just right next to your journey.
When in doubt you are who you are to the nearest peaceful island.
Then she found a piece of paper and drew a picture of a “flower girl” — a girl with an unfurled flower for a body. Next with a few added strokes she turned it into a girl who got trapped in a genie bottle. It was a lovely, loose pencil sketch.
I remembered to say it: Jesse, you controlled yourself this morning. You haven’t attacked anyone or anything. You’re still drawing and writing. You’re still creating and imagining. You’re still you.
She didn’t say anything, but I know she heard me. I could see her staring into blank space, thinking.
Jesse asked to go out to breakfast with just me on Sunday morning. She said, “I decided that’s my mental illness right now: I need my mommy.”
You could press me to death under large rocks and it still wouldn’t match the weight of those words in my life. But instead of bearing down on me, they lifted me up and gave me hope. Because Jesse knows she needs me; and I guess that means she knows she can need me.
We had a delightful breakfast together. We went to a restaurant we used to visit every Sunday morning when Jesse was a toddler, before Nick was born. We chatted about how Jesse used to slay the patrons and staff with her cuteness and giggles. We went back in time to a place where another equally real Jesse used to live — still challenging, still intense, but somehow more joyful and present in the world that exists outside the space between her ears. I nattered at Jesse about it. You are everything you’ve ever done and experienced. You are more that what you do today. You are still redefining yourself, and I hope you never stop. You are always YOU, no matter what you do. Jesse nestled in my arms and made me feed her pieces of pancake, like when she was a toddler. It was strange and peaceful.
We’re in transition labor together again, Jesse and me, only this time I don’t have an epidural to blind me to what’s happening. The pain is intense, excruciating, almost unbearable. But we have no choice. We have to continue the journey. We have Anthony and Nick beside us, patient and gentle. And I can still carry my baby when she needs me.
That’s what all the squats are for.
* * * * *
Our home renovation is in its last throes as well. I’m panicking about that too, even as the end looms, and I have many transition labors to accomplish so that we can have our house back.
Drywall was installed last week. Two guys put in every piece of drywall in a mudroom, kitchen, eating area, two bedrooms and a bathroom, in less than 9 hours. I was blown away.
Then Greg, the drywall expert, spent 5 days taping and bedding all the joints and making everything smooth and pretty, and then priming all the new drywall. He got to wear stilts, and he did a beautiful job.
He left our new spaces blinding white and ready to paint.
While Greg worked over the drywall, a gentle soul named Marcel painted the outside of our house.
While Marcel and Greg did their thing, I pieced up some old floor boards onto plywood and roughed out a plank table that’ll sit under the window in our kitchen.
After cabinets are in, we’ll put the final cuts on that slab, adhere some quality hardwood laminate along the edge, and pour a self-leveling epoxy over it as a finish. It should survive whatever abuse the children heap on it.
We painted the kitchen area.
We finished repairing the ten million holes made to blow in insulation in existing walls.
I’m almost done making a new cover for the laundry chute opening.
We’re installing kitchen cabinets ourselves. Prep work (with spawn stretching):
A few cabinets in place:
We just need to finish getting those cabinets in, and then the counter guy and the flooring guy can get busy. And then I need to tile the master bathroom and mudroom. Also we need to install some interior closet doors, and we’re doing all the wood trim ourselves. There’s more painting left to do in the bedrooms. And lots of other little things.
It won’t be long now, but I have a lot of labors to get through. I’m panicking for sure. But I keep reminding myself: it’s transition labor. It’s just a thing that happens as the end comes near. There’s nothing anyone can give me to help ease the pain now, but if I can wait it out, it’ll all turn out right.
Or at least, right enough.