The picture above is of me when I was, oh, four months pregnant. Westley and I played a dear friend’s birthday show and it was more fun than a pregnant lady is supposed to have (I should know – so many people told me so many things I should do or not do while pregnant).
I love this picture. It was taken before all the scary pregnancy stuff happened – before the gestational diabetes and mild preeclampsia, the early contractions, the bed rest, the insulin injections, hospitalizations, blood pressure checks, and then, of course, before 41 hours of labor.
It was a truly fun show. And I loved playing it, being pregnant, looking forward to all that was to be.
And then the scary stuff started. I’m in a much better place now, with baby man and Westley and myself, even, but I still have moments where I feel like I can’t breathe. The other day at a routine checkup my blood pressure was high. My blood pressure issues are supposed to be resolved, gone with the placenta. Friday my blood sugar was high after dinner. Then again on Sunday night, again Monday morning.
These numbers have so much power. They freeze my blood, pang through me like metal on metal on ice on metal. They invade me, rend me apart.
I’ve always been anxious. In fifth grade I waited every day for the fire alarm to go off. Head kind of bowed at my desk, fingernails digging into my arm. If I saw someone toss a cigarette butt out of their car window in the line to school, I’d say to myself something like: well, at least when the alarm goes off you’ll know why.
Eventually I get to the worst thoughts, the ones that will not stop. The ones that niggle at me like a mosquito in my ear or a torn cuticle or a blister on the back of my heel: who will take care of the baby if I die? Worse, what if the baby dies?
That last one is intolerable. It turns my blood to sound. I have to distract myself, focus on the moment. You know the thing, right? I think it’s: find five things you can see, four you can hear, three you can touch, two you can smell, one you can taste. It helps.
It really does, but anxiety is powerful. It circles back around. Comes in through another door. What happens if I die?
Well, of course Westley will take care of the baby. He’s a great father. I mean, I knew he’d be good at it, but he surprises me every day with his love for our little monster (and, actually, that’s a post for another day. The tentative title is “In Defense of Daddy”). So, fine. Westley would take care of the baby. And I’ve told him that he should re-marry, or at least re-date. Baby man needs as many caretakers as he can get (I’m greedy that way).
Where was I going with this? Do you ever feel it in your heart? That sinking feeling that everything you’re doing, everything you’ve done, it’s all for nothing because it’s all over now – that death is a shadow you’re about to slip into, a hidden missing tile in the floor. You will fall in an instant, as to sleep, and be erased.
Because a five month old can’t remember any of this, you know? And why do I do this to myself? When I was little, I’d stay awake nights, imagining what would happen when the time bomb went off. It was buried in the backyard, nailed beneath the floorboards. It was always about to go off.
Of course, it never did, and maybe that should tell me something, but if I’ve learned anything it’s only this: you never ever learn something for keeps. It’s not permanent. We’re in a constant state of learning and relearning and re-relearning and so on and so forth, amen.
Which brings me to the best thing about anxiety: its impermanence. Just like everything else in the world, it cannot last.
And I’m not anxious all or even most of the time, but it’s true- anxiety has given me an abiding appreciation for every kiss, every touch, even every moment of despondency (how privileged we are that we can despair).
Breathe in. Every immaculate thing is in that breath. Breathe out. As is every horror. We don’t know anything, really. How exceedingly rare it is to be alive. How miraculous.