Hello, gentle reader. What follows is the first chapter of a work in progress, a memoir of bipolar, borderline, mental illness. . .PTSD and journey of healing
The first time I saw a therapist, I was nineteen. Newly married post- miscarriage. Her name was Marilyn and she was the quintessential earth mother, comforter and confidante. I don’t even know how we managed to pay for the sessions, my highschool sweetheart- turned-husband and I.
He had been stationed in the Mojave Desert with the Navy and I was a bride in a rose-colored going away blazer, my little green Nova packed to the gills with leftovers from the reception and wedding presents. We had a cooler full of ham sandwiches and peach- frosted wedding cake, a menu which sustained us for much of the trip. I still remember the way that heavy butter-cream would melt on my tongue as I watched the panorama of the plains go by. We drove straight through from Chicago to Nevada, stopping at a Holiday Inn somewhere in the vicinity of Lake Tahoe to rest, get washed and phone home. We proceeded to our tiny place in California, my husband’s bachelor apartment, only to move out in a couple of weeks and settle into a two bedroom cinderblock in base housing.
It was my first time leaving my parents home outside of summer camp and grandma’s house. First time traveling west of the Mississippi.
So when we got there, I didn’t know a soul. ..just my beloved initially and it was idyllic. Eventually he introduced his navy buddy, Tom, who’d also just gotten married. Tom’s wife Dawn and I became fast sisters. She’d been one of those Estee Lauder girls at a Hudson’s in their hometown of Detroit, beautiful and so much more sophisticated than me. “You’re so funny, ” she’d say, “always rubbing the eyeshadow off with your fists. . . and such pretty eyes. .here let me show you how.”
We did everything together, the four of us. When the boys were at work, Dawn and I did our girl-bonding routine , going over and over the details from our respective coursthips that led to the wedding and honeymoon we’d each just had, (I always thought that Dawn’s shebang was so much more spectacular than mine. . .they’d had the blowout version with the band and the big reception hall. . .and I had taken the more affordable route, with champagne punch and potluck in the adjoining basement of our church) And when we weren’t talking about the joy of sex and friendship with a significant other, we were comparing recipes and exchanging nest-making tips. So no big surprises when we both ended up expecting. For the first few weeks, our shared experience of early pregnancy was all we wanted to talk about. So many preparations and things to get ready. The books and charts that showed us what to look forward to as the child grew inside us, the split vision illustrations of hips and insides, not to mention those first doctor visits. . .from giant vitamins and dietary advice to explanations of what to expect during labor and delivery.
I started the squirreling-away process beginning with soft yellow blankets, baby lotion, teething rings and diapering powder. I would stand at the closet and twist at those caps just to get that smell. . .that new baby in my arms smell. I loved my husband so. I wanted what any young girl wants when she evaporates into marriage. I wanted the lullabies and nursery rhymes. The bubblebaths and baby shampoo. The car seat, the crib linens. . . I wanted to be useful. I wanted to be a wife and mother.
And then, about three months into my pregnancy, it started. The cramping and spotting. The doctor-prescribed bed rest for days. At some point, after having heard someone comment about the luxury it must have been to lie in bed all day. .I don’t even remember who had said it, the madness began. Madness that hadn’t been around so much since I’d left home, but familiar and indescribable at the time. I’d no more had a clue about how to articulate those feelings or even begin to grasp the science and physiology behind it, but there it was again, that crazy insane self-punishment mode that always kicked in when I felt helpless and afraid. It made this surge of angry energy just course through my body and brain until I had resolved to do everything in my power to be awake and making a difference. I began by moving the bed and dresser across the floor. I wanted to make space to put the crib in our room and wasn’t about to enlist the help of my hard-working husband to do it after he got home. I had been told specifically to rest and refrain from heavy lifting, but the memory of that advice only made me stronger in my resolve. I just pushed and pushed until the guilt came in and made me stop it. I may have been hurting myself with those self-destructive and defiant activitiies, but I was also taking a big risk with the baby I wanted to have so badly.
I remember how it felt, how incredibly exposed it felt when the bleeding came. Great clots of it like calf’s liver. . .gelatinous masses I tried to gather in my hands and preserve with newspaper. I wasn’t prepared for anything that came next. The emergency room where they jabbed and jabbed at my hands with their attempts to find vein enough to start an IV. The ward of women. . .only those curtain partitions down the long hallway of hospital beds and the sounds of someone moaning in tagalog. Oy yoi yoi yoi. Oy yoi yoi yoi. I would hear it over and over, invisible like the song of a mourning dove with a broken neck. Until one day I was able to see her face when our curtains had both been pulled back. The nurse said she was recovering from hysterectomy; I guessed that must be one horrific recovery process. Everything just seemed so cold there. From the stiff sheets and blankets to the stark white walls and linoleum. Everything a desolation of sensory input. No warm smells or images to speak of. Not even television to help the time pass. Just the scent of rubbing alcohol, bleach, and pine cleaner. There was a cold war going on at the time and this military installation was not going to splurge on anything so frivolous as a picture frame, carpet,or drapery. The family that was not issued with the sailor’s duffle bag was lucky to have healthcare let alone any kind of comforting or diversion while they lay in bed and waited for the painkillers to kick in.
A minute or so later, I heard the sound of the metal drapery hooks scraping along the ceiling track as the internist came in holding his clipboard.
“You have a mass near your ovary,” he said. It’s large like a grapefruit. . .and we won’t be sure of what it is until we operate; I am so very sorry to have to tell you this, Ma’am, but you should know that it’s a possibility that you will not even pass a fetus with this miscarriage; sometimes you see this with an ectopic pregnancy.”
I was so young I didn’t know any of those latin words for medicine, but I did know the layman’s term.
“Tubal pregnancy, you mean?”
“Either that or a tumor,” he said. “And we need you to sign a release. Won’t be able to ask after you’re under anesthesia.”
I read over the release form which stated they would be removing all problematic tissue as they encountered it: ovaries, fallopian tubes, uterus. . .
“A hysterectomy?” I said.
I knew that latin word well enough to ask.
“Yes, but that’s worst case scenario.” he said. “We won’t know until we get in there.”
I was so alone and there was nobody to talk to except the Filipino lady three curtains down and she could only speak in tagalog. I had everlasting cramps from hell and my husband was off at work learning how to fix the engines of cargo planes and fighter jets. Meanwhile it seemed that Dawn was too afraid it may have been contagious or maybe she’d just left town. I just felt abandoned and oh so jealous. I signed the paper that put my reproductive future in the hands of strangers in the LeMoore NAS Navy hospital. I was nineteen. I didn’t know anything could hurt as bad as this did.
I passed the three month old fetus and placenta in the middle of the night among surges of violent and massive contractions.
And when it was over, when I went home with news the mass in my lap had been removed and biopsied as a benign tumor, I should have been relieved. I should have been happy to help Dawn bring her baby into this world while I waited to get pregnant again. But instead, I took my vicoden and went to bed. And as the bikini scar began to heal. ..in the place where it had been stapled, my psyche began to unravel. And upon waking up and walking around on my sealegs, I found the intensity of daylight a little too much to bear. I closed the curtains all over the house and went to bed again. And I cried so inconsolably my husband insisted I see someone. His mother had been through it, the doctors and hospitals of depression. And she had gotten better over the years. So maybe there was hope for me too.
So I went to therapy. I went to meet my therapist, Marilyn. (to be cont.)