I am still on medication when I find out I am pregnant: Zoloft, Ativan. We hadn’t officially started trying, so I hadn’t officially started tapering.
But now there is a timetable, a deadline, an urgency. I call my doctors, explain the situation, take notes. We make a calendar to gradually decrease my dosages. I shake out what’s left from the two small orange bottles, snap tiny white and yellow pills in half, start counting down the days until they will be gone.
I was alone when I took the pregnancy test because I expected it to be negative. Four days late—unusual, but not a complete anomaly. I was enjoying a long weekend with our house to myself, my husband away at a music festival. I played some video games, ate a Hot Pocket, took a shower, and decided to use one of the pregnancy tests I’ve always kept in the medicine cabinet. A lark.
But there it was, sitting on the edge of the sink when I stepped out of the shower: a blue plus sign. Huh, I said to the empty bathroom.
Okay. I’m pregnant.
I kept saying it out loud to myself, walking around the house in a daze until my husband came home the next day. There’s going to be a baby. A baby. Was any of this real? I turned this new piece of information over and over, trying to make it fit.
At our first appointment, the midwife tells me it’s safe for me to stay on the Zoloft if I need to. I don’t really consider the possibility. There are plenty of things I know I could have in small doses—coffee, tuna fish, alcohol—but I don’t. I’m not a hard-liner. It’s just that, this way, if anything goes wrong, I don’t have to wonder whether or not it was my fault.
Besides, I’d already cut out the Ativan, and, of my two prescriptions, Zoloft had never felt like the more urgent one. Anxiety has always been the worse of my two furies. I anticipated a flare-up in my panic when I had to stop the pills. I thought I was prepared.
Everything happens quickly after this. Just ten days after the test, we leave for Amsterdam, a dream trip a year in the making, a honeymoon to celebrate our first anniversary. We’d thought of this trip as one last hurrah for our pre-child life: we’d indulge in the coffee shops and the Red Light District, come home, detox, and then start trying. This was supposed to be our last adventure as just us two—except we are already three.
Nothing is the way we thought it would be.
I am so sick I scout the streets for the nearest trash cans in case I need to puke as we walk between the tram stop and the Van Gogh museum. We watch old episodes of Family Guy on a tiny TV in our flat when I am too exhausted to do anything else. We lay in bed all morning, listening to a rainstorm. We rent a boat and coast around the city’s canals, marveling at the crooked architecture and nibbling Dutch cheese.
I wait outside on the streets of Amsterdam sipping ginger ale while my husband visits the coffee shops.
One day, we walk past a children’s shop: clever onesies, wooden toys, whimsical nursery decor. I’m still not sure any of this feels real, but we go in anyway. We buy a small, crocheted rabbit, wearing a blue shirt and red bonnet tied under its chin. A souvenir from her first vacation with mom and dad. I cry in the store, overwhelmed by this straddled sense of simultaneous past and future. Preparing a memory to share with a person who barely yet exists.
Where are we, in all this? Me and him, now?
And where am I: the vessel, the conduit, the circuit, drained?
When we come home, I lay on the couch watching Law & Order. For three, five, seven hours at a time. For a month, six weeks. My husband bustles around me: sweeping the floors, weeding the garden, cooking our meals. When we’re in the same room, I look away, bury my face in my iPad. I resent him a little just for being there, for reminding me of all I’m not capable of doing.
I tell him, and myself, that I’m just tired. That I’m sick. That resting in early pregnancy is okay.
But I can also see myself from the outside and I know exactly what this is. I can barely muster the energy to take a shower each day.
I know how to treat it. I should get off the couch. I should get outside. I should anesthetize with fresh air and sunshine and movement. I know all this, but I can’t, and that makes it somehow worse.
I drive all the way to my therapist’s office but can’t get out of the car, too overwhelmed to face going in, saying all this out loud.
I studiously avoid thinking too hard about whether this apathy and exhaustion is more than a pregnancy could explain. I can’t. Can’t admit that I’m being a bad partner: withdrawn, uninterested. That I’m barely contributing to our life, our home, our marriage. That I’m letting other obligations slip: not responding to emails or meeting deadlines.
I can’t let myself ask the other questions, the ones lingering far enough back in my mind to be ignored.
How will I function once there’s a baby here?
What if I can’t do this?
I wait in my car for an hour, then drive home and tell my husband I had a good session.
My husband, he’s seen me like this before. He tries to encourage me; his requests gradually become smaller, more desperate. Let’s go to the museum. Let’s take a walk down to the woods. Let’s just get out of the house today. Just come sit out in the backyard with me for ten minutes.
I hear the whine in my voice when I reply. He just doesn’t understand how tired I am. This is what being pregnant is like.
On the Fourth of July he manages to get me to the neighborhood celebration. We sit in folding chairs and listen to a bluegrass band. I suck the juice from a green snow cone and watch children paint pictures of the American flag. We’re gone for an hour and I take a nap when we get home.
That night, he pulls me out onto the front porch to watch the fireworks, and I can’t explain why I’m crying.
He says, I feel so disconnected from you. He says, there are times I try to talk to you and it feels like you’re not there.
Inside, I think: I know.
I hear him say, we need to be a team. When the baby comes, we need to be together.
I say nothing. I just want to be left alone.
When he finds out about my skipping therapy, we finally fight. He knows I need help; he sees me resisting it. We’re in the second bedroom, though I can’t remember why. I sit on the guest bed, the one that we’ll have to get rid of when this becomes the baby’s room, looking down at the old brown comforter, picking at the seams. He doesn’t yell, but he’s stern. Frustrated. Where am I? What’s going on? Why won’t I talk to him?
I say nothing while he talks, just cry silently. I know he’s right, but I don’t know what to tell him.
Finally, he sighs and goes outside. I wait and cry some more—for ten minutes? Twenty? When he comes back in the house, I call to him, ask him to sit beside me. I don’t remember what I said. I don’t remember how he reacted. I only remember the weight of it, how hard it felt to say anything at all. Because the only thing worse than feeling this way is knowing it’s not a secret. I just want to hide, but he can see it, too.
There are no answers in this scene. I cry. He holds me, and then goes to cook our dinner. Something shifts. I don’t know what.
There’s an overrun but spacious garden plot in the backyard of our new house. The previous owners had taken the time to dig up the grass, build a small, crooked fence out of 2x2s and chicken wire. The soil is good—they were composters—but prone to weeds and ground-creepers. We learn quickly they will take over within a week or two of inattention. Strangling things grow wild when you’re not paying attention.
In May, when we moved in and before I was pregnant, we cleared the soil as best we could and planted cautiously, just a few tomatoes and some herbs. This was our first time tending a garden and we didn’t know what we could expect from ourselves. Now, it’s a mess again.
Sometime in July, I’m standing at the back window of the kitchen, looking out into the yard my husband has been mowing faithfully all summer. Just a few weeks ago, there was a dead tree, overrun with ivy, right outside this window. Dangerous. The home inspector warned us it could fall on the house at any time. So he wrapped it with rope and pulled it down. Just like that. The entire root structure came right up out of the soil; the shell of the tree’s trunk light and empty, eaten from the inside. Now the light streams in through this window where I stand.
There’s ivy creeping all over the garden, too. At least I think it’s ivy. I don’t know much about plants. It’s got lovely purple blooms. Part of me wants to let it grow, give the garden and shed over to the unending tangle of vines. But I also know it will kill everything we’re trying to grow. I can have the ivy, or I can have tomatoes.
I take a trash bag from beneath the sink, slide on my old jogging shoes, grab my gloves, and start pulling.
When he comes home from errands an hour later, I’m hunched in the garden and sweating. Covered in dirt. Breathing hard. A trash bag full of ivy at my feet.
The thing is, I know I’ll just have to do it again. And again. Ivy is notoriously difficult to eradicate, self-seeding, growing new roots from any of the tiny stems I’ve missed or left behind. But I wanted to clear the way for the garden. I want it to at least have a chance.
I am trying to hold myself accountable: I go back to therapy. I cook dinner. None of it comes easy.
My body begins to move more. As the fog of daily nausea lifts, my appetite returns. I eat grilled corn and fresh mozzarella and cucumber salad. I can breathe the richness of our garden soil without gagging. I pick the first small tomatoes from their stems.
I leave the house voluntarily, though I only venture to places that make no social demands: the library, the museum, the park. In the mornings, I sit outside and write in a notebook, gratitude to the universe and to language and to the succulents I’ve planted in small clay pots.
In photographs, my smiles are still wan, half-things. My hair is always pulled back, because the effort of brushing or styling it feels like too much. I cut it short instead. I still sometimes catch myself staring blankly off into the distance. There is something sad and small and quiet inside that I still carry, that I probably always will.
We drive to Cleveland to see U2, and when I weep as they play “One,” it is a joyful cry. I remember how my father played me this song as a child, and realize this is our baby’s first concert. We go to a ballgame and walk back across the river in the dark, the glittering lights of the city and the swelling crowd carrying us forward.
By August, with a new roundness already beginning to show through my shirt, I’m back in yoga classes, learning shapes for this body, stretching and releasing, breathing through what’s hard. On the day of my first ultrasound, we share the news publicly. Something flutters.
A month or so later, the heat of summer beginning to fade, I start sorting through the boxes of baby supplies sitting in the basement, hand-me-downs from friends who left town just after we found out I was pregnant. I take out and wash clothes, fold blankets, Google “what’s a boppy?”
In one of the plastic tubs, I find a furry, gray fleece suit: thick, made for cold weather. I finger the soft pads of the built-in feet and mittens, the little pointed ears perched on the hood. And I realize I will have a winter baby.
I’ve known the due date for months, but now, holding this onesie, I can picture it clearly for the first time: a newborn baby snuggled in against the cold. A winter baby. I am suddenly, powerfully, in love with the idea. Something new in the dead darkness. Short days and shimmers of light.
I drape the onesie onto my body, nestling the little fox head into my shoulder, and carry it around the house for a few minutes. I stroke the soft back, cradle the bottom with my left hand. I think, this is how I’ll carry her. Something cracks in my throat.
I can carry them both. I can hold her alongside the broken remnants of something cold and dark.
A winter baby, I think. Crunch and pine and icicle.
January. I know her.
Rumpus original art by Clare Nauman.