I’m not a big new year’s resolution kind of person, but this year I said the one thing I was going to do was get back to this blog and keep it up. I had every intention of starting it off last week and have no good excuse for being late, but I’m going to keep trying to keep at it.
For today, I’m putting this here because I love these two goofs so much even though some days they make me question why.
As a kid, The Little Mermaid was not my jam. The movie came out when I was a bit older and I don’t think I’ve seen it more than once or twice since its Disney release. The most recent backlash regarding casting was impossible to avoid though, even without being a fan. I mean, Melissa McCarthy as Ursula? She’s not even purple and her hair is definitely the wrong color! How could they?!?
I know, I know. I’m making light, but in reality the idea that Ariel must look as drawn by a 90’s Disney artist forever going forward is silly. It’s as silly of an idea as all Tolkien elves needing to only ever be played on screen by white actors. Or Death, as created by Neil Gaiman, only being a fair-skinned woman for anything that appears on screen from The Sandman series. The last one was especially ridiculous for “fans” to throw fits about because Mr. Gaiman himself was involved in the casting of Death and Lucifer – another role people flipped their lids over.
It really is a rough spot to be in as a writer. I think most of us have those fantasies of our work going from page to screen, be it the small screen or the silver screen. I’ve made several casting lists of my own with current actors playing the characters I write. There is a particular actress I’m fond of that I use all the time in my head for my lead. She has the right look, the right mannerisms, the right skill set. I also know I would not be devastated if my dreams came true, my project was picked up and put on film, but she wasn’t cast in the role.
Why wouldn’t I be devastated? Because, as a writer, I would be too far over the moon just knowing someone was going to bring my character to life! This is a death trap for writers. The excitement of seeing something put into that live action medium can be quickly deflated by screaming fans upset that what appears didn’t match what was in their heads. Authors are forced to pick a side and defend a casting agent and film maker, or side with fans unable or unwilling to look beyond what they created. That boils down to tank your own film project or lose part of your fan base.
During a review of the first draft of my novel a friend noted that I didn’t put a lot of physical detail into the characters. I provided enough for them to create a person in their mind without explaining every wrinkle and nose shape, and each of them created someone slightly different. One reader even said the lead was a blonde even though she was described several times as a brunette! Some people approved of my method, some said they missed the details, but by the end of the conversation I’d made them at least consider my way could be right. I thought I was being clever but looking back on it, maybe I was being afraid.
Around the same time as my first draft read, Idris Elba – one of my favorite humans – set fans in a tizzy as Heimdall in Thor. Lucy Liu as Watson on the small screen had people screaming. Then casting for The Hunger Games was announced and a young, black actress named Amandla Stenberg was set to play the part of Rue. People lost their damn minds! I was sent into instant confusion because I was sure that the character had been described in the book as being a young, black girl. I had to go back to my copy and double check. I was right, and that’s when it became clear; no matter how you describe your characters, readers are going to see them how they want to see them, even changing ethnicities to match what they’re comfortable with. This is the writer’s conundrum.
We shouldn’t be afraid to create. The idea that you can’t take something out of a fantasy world, like Mermaids!, and interpret them in different colors, different ethnicities, or even different genders puts a box around creativity. The idea that I can’t write a character with one physical attribute and a casting agent can’t use who they think embodies that same character with different eyes or different skin, unless it’s white skin, limits creativity. It limits the spaces creativity can thrive. That there can’t be spaces in art and movies and literature for a variety of types of people limits us all.
I have this image framed on my writing desk. While my writing style is nothing like Mr. Gaiman’s, he’s one of my favorite authors and I count him as my imaginary mentor after taking his Master Class.
We brought home a new puppy over this past weekend. I went back and forth as to whether or not it would be a good idea. We’d talked for a long time about getting a friend for our four year old Goldendoodle, Astrid, but then she had her accident and lost her back leg. Wasn’t sure if a Doodle puppy would be something she would be able to deal with.
The first 24 hours was iffy, but the two of them are thick as thieves already. Now it’s me wondering if a Doodle puppy is something I’m going to be able to deal with! They’re lucky they’re so damn cute.
It only takes one trip through the Salt Lake valley to see how fond the founders were of keeping things in order. It’s the streets. It took a year of driving the winding roads in the Puget Sound to really notice how straight streets in Salt Lake are. Learning to drive and not having a natural sense of direction like some people, I appreciated the shit out of the street system at one point. It’s like a sheet of grid paper was laid over the city plans, increasing and decreasing the roads numerically in order. Businesses, schools, houses, and of course churches, all fit into their own little box of space throughout the valley, keeping everything and everyone in line.
When you’re talking about streets, keeping everything straight and in order makes sense. When you try to apply the same principles to people it becomes more complicated. Some of us are meant to wind and twist. We need to express ourselves – who we really are inside – to the outside world. But that type of self-expression is not encouraged in a place like Utah. What is encouraged is fitting in, being happy for happy’s sake, and knowing who is in church with you on Sunday. That last part is most important. The people in church on Sunday were the safe ones. They were the worthy ones. They were your community. The people not in church on Sunday were the trouble or troubled. They were lacking. They were to be avoided. I know this form of judgement can be attached to a lot of religious communities but there is a unique difference in Utah created by the dominating population of church members.
As a kid in the eighties and nineties I had a hard time not being myself. That’s not a brag – in most places I still would have been considered a “goody goody.” I didn’t get in trouble much as a kid, and when I did my mom would ground this homebody from my bedroom. As a teenager I didn’t sneak out or party. I didn’t smoke. I didn’t drink alcohol. None of that normal teenage stuff. I was a huge fan of Pepsi back in the day though, and that alone marked me as a rebel to some. I had a few piercings in my ears which someone else’s grandmother told me would land me in hell. I wore hats, which caused a friend to plead with me not to wear them to her house because her mom thought I dressed like an “easy girl.” We were still in elementary school. Lucky for me, that mom didn’t know that besides my Debbie Gibson inspired hats, I’d also let most our class know I didn’t believe in god.
It was a revelation made in self-defense, really. God is always watching Jenny told me. Jenny who also told me about her dad drowning their kittens in the canal behind our neighborhood like it was something everyone’s dad did. Jenny who licked glue off her hand in class on a dare but then kept going. That Jenny was the first one to leave the sting of judgement that I’d eventually try to get used to. We were lined up for lunch on a Monday and Jenny was talking about whatever it was that happened in Sunday School and pointed out that I wasn’t there. Honestly, I usually wasn’t there. I couldn’t even tell you why she singled me out that day, but she did, and it wasn’t the last time for me. I told Jenny we weren’t in church the day before because we went to visit my grandparents and if that upset god then he wasn’t for me. It was the first time I’d been brave enough to say what had always been my thoughts. It also scared the hell out of me after I said it out loud, but no lightning struck that day.
Growing up, I always wanted things to be fair. Not just fair for me, but fair for everyone. It didn’t seem fair to me, even as a kid, that I couldn’t be myself because it was different than what was accepted. It seemed silly that so much of my worth could be tied to something as fantastical as church attendance. Whether or not I was a good person, an honest person, a person worthy of respect, was all tied to where I was on Sundays, regardless of how I lived the other six days of the week. The older I got the more obvious that point became. It is hard to comprehend how overwhelming and lonely the lack of community can be for those of us who aren’t good at fitting in the box. It’s an unfair pressure to put yourself through as a kid. And if you haven’t been there, it’s hard to understand how harmful it is for those who keep themselves locked in those boxes, disappearing like a melting snowflake, to avoid being shut out.
It’s a different kind of isolation you experience as the Non-religious person in an overly religious space, like Utah. They pride themselves at being nice. They smile big and they’ll sometimes be polite, but they’ll shut you out all the same. In some ways it’s subtle – talking to you at school but not playing together after school. Inviting some friends for sleepovers, but only who they saw during Sunday School. Other times it’s more direct, and oddly those usually hurt less. I was gifted copies of the Book of Mormon. I was invited to concerts at the ward house when the music group The Jets were gaining popularity. I was invited to Young Women’s nights, and get togethers, but when my church attendance didn’t also follow their missionary endeavors, those friends broke away. If I wasn’t going to give in they couldn’t play.
There were more extreme versions of the same as I got older, especially during my year away at college, and throughout my unwed pregnancy a year after that. I was unknown by the church members in my parents neighborhood until I sent a letter requesting to be removed as a member. Suddenly, relief society women I had never met were leaving me cards and stopping by the house unannounced and uninvited to see how they could help. And by help I mean help me in my “crisis of faith” not with anything I, as a single mom, would have actually found helpful. And they definitely were not there as friends, which I really could have used. They didn’t know me. We had never met even though my parents had lived in the house for a decade. But the bishop gave the relief society an assignment, and that assignment was me.
When I pushed forward with officially being removed as a member there were no more visits. No more waves from the other young mom on the corner who had dropped off a Ziplock bag of hard cinnamon bears when it was her turn to bring me back. If I wasn’t going to go to church the offers of friendship were rescinded. That’s they way it works for non-Mormons in Utah. If you talk to a devout member of the church about what I’ve written here most will brush it off. People like me always think it’s bad, right? But it is that bad for so many young people living outside of the church but inside of the state, and their options are so limited. I got lucky because my family – some members religious, some not – were always accepting of me.
I didn’t have the pressure at home that many face just to stay connected to the first group of friends we ever make. Family. This pressure isn’t limited to Utah Mormons though, and we’re seeing a push to make this version of righteous discrimination a national standard. Every court ruling and state mandate that is put into play on the basis of “protecting” Christian freedoms is a line dug deeper in the sand between the Evangelical minority and the rest of us just trying to find a place in our communities. Putting on a smile and faking it, even at the cost of your own self, is often the only option kids are left with.
This pressure causes so much pain, anxiety and confusion that they are forced to hide their truth away. They go along with things like praying on football fields and separating out the non-believers to avoid being shut out themselves. Keeping it all neat and tidy while their real self is melting away inside of a box. That type of self-destruction is a hard thing to recover from and our country is on the road to put that pressure on entire generations for the sake of maintaining the power of a few. In my forties, some of those old jabs still sting, and my heart breaks for the kids who will endure the next round.
Out of the blue a few weeks ago, I found myself looking up the lyrics for a lullaby in the middle of the night. I was singing it to myself as I was trying to fall asleep and realized I couldn’t remember all the words. I also realized I was hearing it in my grandma’s voice. Hush little baby, don’t say a word, Mama’s gonna buy you a mockingbird. I knew that night I needed to write about my grandma. I knew that her health was fading faster, but I didn’t know how soon we’d say goodbye.
It has been hard to think about putting into words what life with Ilene was like. She could be a whirlwind. But for us grandkids, she was pure magic. If that mockingbird don’t sing, Mama’s gonna buy you a diamond ring. Singing the only lines I could remember, I was back on the living room floor in that small brick house, on a hot summer night with the others. The main door pushed wide open to let the breeze through the screen door. I swear she didn’t sleep when we were there, she just watched over us with the quiet lull of traffic on 700 East in the background.
Ilene was a lot of things. Daughter. Sister. Wife. Mother. Friend. Beehive hair stylist for the neighborhood girls. Wedding cake maker. Babysitter. But, I dare say, she loved her role as grandma most. If there’s anything I can share with you about her, it’s that. We crafted, we laughed, we baked, we learned important life lessons. I mean, everyone knows why we don’t put fingers in stand mixers. And if you don’t, I’ll tell you all about it later.
I don’t think she liked anything more than having her house full of grandkids. Except, maybe, letting us break the rules. She always joked I was her favorite, but I know she couldn’t say no to any of us. That was the same for the younger set of grandkids, and the great grands that eventually came along. Everyone was the favorite when you were with her.
Ilene knew she was fallible, and she allowed us kids to be as well when we were around her. Perfect wasn’t necessary, you could be yourself. I wanted to be a little grownup, and she encouraged that in me. Kendall and David wanted to be their version of rebels, with gully runs and tadpoles, and she encouraged that too.
She never wanted to fit you into a box like a perfect crayon. You could be messy and wild, steal frosting from the fridge, and run through the neighborhood without your shoes on, and she’d love every minute of it. And at the end of the night, she’d make you up a makeshift bed, and if you were lucky, she’d whisper-sing a few lullabies while you fell asleep.
I spent about an hour in hysterics after hanging up with the midwife. I didn’t think I would recover from being told no to the induction. I called and asked to talk directly to my OB and when she called me back she was willing to agree to schedule to have me induced. The big but in the conversation was that I still had to wait two weeks. I was only at 36 weeks and we couldn’t guarantee proper lung development until 38 weeks. I have asthma – properly functioning lungs are a necessity I get – but it wasn’t any easier to wait. I wasn’t going to have to do it alone though. Starting the same day she put me on bed rest and ordered daily visits from a home health nurse.
I don’t even know what the cost of daily home nurse visits were in 1996 but I’m sure it’s much more expensive now. The reason I don’t know what the cost was is because I was lucky enough to have insurance that wasn’t attached to my own job, which was important because I was now out of work. I don’t even remember leaving my job, or talking to anyone about the fact that I was going to be attached to an IV pole in my apartment for the next two weeks. I just know that I was at home, being hydrated through IVs, and crying a lot. Like most women in this country I was planning on working until I delivered. I tried my damnedest to make that the case for me, and there was no notice when the situation changed, which happens a lot with complicated medical situations. There’s only so much you can control.
The day of delivery was much easier than the previous 38 weeks of pregnancy but I was still treated as the young, single mom who didn’t know what she was doing. I was started on Pitocin only after the main nurse did an exam and told me we wouldn’t be having a baby that day. I had no idea what she meant since I was in a labor and delivery room for that exact purpose. Found out that evening from my OB that nurse actually called her and tried to get her to agree to send me home. I wasn’t physically ready to have a baby, she said. Lucky for everyone at the hospital that day, my OB told them not to send me home before she saw me, because they wouldn’t have been able to get me to leave if they’d tried.
A little while after they started the pitocin drip, I started having intense contractions. There was no easing in to it – they were extreme and continuous – and maintained their rhythm throughout the day. And then my water broke only a few hours in, and that was a freaky moment I wasn’t quite prepared for because I was still being treated like what I was expecting was impossible. I called for the nurse and told her my water broke. Her response? “You water isn’t going to break on it’s own, we’re going to have to do that for you. You’ve probably just peed.” and she left. I had to send my ex after her as it continued and soaked the bed and pooled on the floor. I was a grown adult who knew she wasn’t peeing, but even that was ignored. She didn’t even check me. I – the pregnant human – wasn’t smart enough to know what her body was telling her, according to this nurse. Humiliating.
There’s no need to outline the next twelve hours in detail. I felt bad for my ex. His only assignment during the thirty minutes of actual delivery was to hold the bed pan I was throwing up into with every other push. Don’t ask me how I was still puking, but there we were. We had to stop delivery when it was discovered the cord was wrapped around my baby’s neck to the point that he was being strangled by the delivery process. After several minutes of quick work from my OB, we were lucky to be able to get him unstuck. When it was all over I had a healthy, 8 pound 15 ounce baby with ten fingers and ten toes and perfectly developed lungs. He even scored a perfect 10 on his Apgar tests. I was exhausted. Relieved. And starving.
When it was all over and my room was being cleaned up, baby was being cared for, charts were being updated, one of the delivery nurses approached me with the paper ribbon from one of the monitors. “Why did we start your pitocin so high?” she asked me. Me. The twenty year old who had just done delivery for the first time. Me, who barely knew what pitocin was. I had no idea why my pitocin was high, but I can still hear her reiterating the point – They started you really high. Immediate contractions, explained. Water breaking, explained.
After 24 hours me and my newborn were released from the hospital. I had everything but the expensive Merrel hiking sandals I’d splurged on before the delivery date. They were my size, not the size 11 slides I bought at Payless. Their wide velcro straps were adjustable and perfect for my swollen feet, but they were never seen again after that morning. It remains a mystery. One thing that didn’t remain a mystery for long was what my newborn’s delivery expenses were going to be. Considering the number of issues during my pregnancy, delivery was relatively smooth and that was the luckiest thing to happen yet during my 38 week ordeal. His bill was right around $1,000. Granted, it was $1,000 I didn’t have, but I knew it could have been so much more. I was thankful to only be on the hook for a grand.
My pregnancy was a lot to handle. I was told by my OB after the fact that I’m not physically built to have babies, and I believe her. I made it through it because I started with the mindset that this was what I was doing. As my pregnancy got more and more difficult, I was able to convince myself my Wonder Woman strength, and if nothing else my stubbornness, would carry me through. But this only worked because I wanted to be pregnant. I wanted to be a mom. I didn’t set out to get pregnant but once it happened it was my conviction to have a child. My personal choice. No one forced me to go through with it. No one could have forced me.
As we stare down the apparent reversal of Roe v. Wade, it’s hard not to think on my experience. The truth that so many ignore is that my experience is not unique. Pregnancy is a complex medical situation that can have life altering, life ending, complications. It’s also ridiculous to ignore the impact the 9 months has on the rest of your life. Your ability to get up in the morning. Your ability to maintain a work schedule. Your ability to afford the care you need. Not to mention the complicated process of recovering after delivery. Depending on if you have a vaginal birth or c-section, recovery varies. Some women bounce back quite well. Others face medical complications. Many face emotional and hormonal complications by way of Postpartum Depression, which we didn’t even want to talk about in 1996, and we barely want to talk about today.
To talk about pregnancy as a medical condition instead of a miracle ruins the Disney-esque fairy tale we use to describe it to ourselves as a community. People don’t want to talk about it as a medical condition, but pregnancy isn’t nine months of communing with bluebirds in your windowsill with frilly, gender-revealing bows on your belly. It can just as easily be nine months of debilitation and expensive medical bills, regardless of how much effort you put in to getting pregnant. Thinking back as I’ve been putting these together it is the dismissiveness that stands out. The comments strangers were comfortable making because I wasn’t a stranger, or a young woman, I was a pregnancy. I only had to dodge a few belly touchers, but it was impossible to dodge the comments.
“Good god, little girl, when were you due? Yesterday? said a strange guy one day at an ATM. I hoped his day was also ruined when I burst into tears and told him I had 3 months to go, then left without getting my cash. The apartment manager who had an available unit I could afford but told me to my face he did not rent to unwed mothers didn’t have any remorse for his discrimination. I was a single mom after all, and we all know what that means, right? The stigma of being a single mom in this country is intense and maybe for another time, but it came back to me as I was writing, and it’s important to note because for many girls and women it’s an inevitable part of being pregnant.
The numerous times I was judged and mistreated, or worse; ignored, by professionals is not foreign to unwed mothers. The “Adults” who did not see me as one because I was pregnant. The attempts to let me know this was my punishment for the “sin” I’d committed by having sex. That is many pregnancies in this country. Too many. To continue to treat pregnancy as a simple process girls and women should all be comfortable agreeing to, regardless of their readiness, is not only contrary to medical science and sociology, it’s plain cruel. And cruelty to women is just not something I can rationalize, let alone support.
Getting to the third trimester of my pregnancy was trying, but I have to include that normal, happy pregnancy things did sometimes happen. I had a baby shower with friends from high school and friends from work, which meant there was all sorts of cute baby stuff piling up in our shitty little apartment. My mom did her fair share of adding to that pile for her first grandkid. We were batting around name ideas (unnecessarily, because I’d already decided long ago.) and I put diapers on Coke cans. It’s hard to say how things were between my ex and I at this point, because we didn’t actually spend a lot of time together.
I was still struggling to work, trying my hardest to show up every day. He lost two jobs by this time and was looking for a third, but most often he was with friends I didn’t know, hanging out in places I didn’t know. He would usually be gone or leave shortly after I came home from work, and he would come home well into the early morning. There were fights and arguments and tears, but it was what it was at that moment. I turned my focus to trying to figure out what help I could qualify for to cover the upcoming delivery costs the baby would have that wouldn’t be covered by my insurance. Baby Your Baby was running commercials pretty much hourly, and I started there.
I know it’s a trendy to assume that every single mom is living the easy life collecting all the free money that’s out there, but I can tell you straight up that’s not every case. It didn’t matter who I called or what I said, at the time of my pregnancy I couldn’t qualify for any help at all. See, minimum wage in 1996 was $4.75 an hour. I was rolling in dough, making $6 an hour, but my ex at one point was making $10! Granted, it was a very brief point, and it was no longer the case, but it had happened, and that meant he was capable of making that again. So, as far as these agencies were concerned, we didn’t need any help, he just needed to make $10 an hour again. With all the people I spoke to, not once did I feel like there was any concern on the other end. To them I was just another irresponsible single mom dealing with what I deserved. I tried until there was nothing left to try, and then I never tried to get help again.
Getting denied the help I knew I was going to need was devastating, and the stress only added to the stress I was already dealing with. From the looks of it, the only help we were going to get was the sample cans of baby formula my aunt scored for me. I had no idea what my baby’s side of the delivery cost was going to be, but plenty of people were ready to share their nightmare stories of difficult deliveries, preemies, etc. and their $50 doses of Tylenol, and $20 cotton swabs. I knew that I would be required to stay in the hospital for 24 hours, and all we could do was hope that everything during delivery went smoother than pregnancy. If not, those costs were going to be on me.
Visits with my mid-wife continued to stress me out as well. By the time I delivered I’d gained 54 pounds, and that weight gain was a constant issue in my appointments. Eventually, I was so huge and swollen that I just didn’t care anymore what she said. I bought size 11 slide on sandals for my size 8 feet, just to find something that fit. We were dealing with a hot Utah summer, and our apartment had no A/C. I spent my evenings wrapped in a bed sheet, sitting in front of our only room fan, and eating ice chunks. I kept bags of ice in our freezer because drinking water was usually harder to keep down than eating it. Yes, I was still constantly, unexplainably, throwing up. We weren’t doing tests to find out why, though, because they’d already told me to just stop gaining weight.
One day in July, at 36 weeks, things started to feel different. My body had been sending out alarm bells all day, but I was trying to ignore it. To this day, I hate feeling like I’m giving into panic. I hadn’t eaten for at least that day, and even my ice was starting to make me nauseous. By evening, things were feeling scary. And when, after only ice, I started violently throwing up, I knew I needed help. Life didn’t include cell phones at this point, so I called a few friends looking for my ex and when I couldn’t find him, I gave in and called my mom. That night at the ER was so traumatic that I still remember all of it. From the coldness of the nurse who got me set up in the room, to the faded scar on the top of my right hand from her carelessly pulling out my IV. At least it was covered by insurance. If not, who knows if I would have given in.
To most of the nursing staff that night I was a whiny girl whining about being pregnant, and that was made obvious by the way they interacted with me. Mean Nurse #1 was not impressed when I came back from the bathroom without a urine sample. I explained until I was blue that I had been throwing up since the beginning but over the past 24 hours it had gotten worse. I explained I was trying to survive on ice and that was making me throw up. I was throwing up ICE. It made sense to me I couldn’t pee, but she ordered a catheter to get a test. My guess is she was going to prove I was trying to hide drugs, never mind that wasn’t part of my own history.
The catheter was excruciating, and pointless. They couldn’t get anything from my stressed, dehydrated body, just like I told them they wouldn’t. There wasn’t anything to get. I remember telling the ER doc, who was actually nice, that I couldn’t do this anymore and hearing him agree. He was the first medical professional to say I needed to be induced. He told me that night that I needed to talk to my OB because I needed to have this baby before we both died. Yup. That’s where we were. They sent me home and I called my OB first thing. I was in tears, recalling the ER experiences to the midwife. I told her that I needed to be induced and have the baby because something was very, very wrong.
“Oh, no, we’re not going to induce. This is your first pregnancy and sometimes they’re hard, but you don’t want to be induced. You’re not even due yet.”My Midwife
To be continued…
Throughout my first trimester everyone kept telling me that it would get better. They insisted the morning sickness that had turned into all day sickness would ease up. Eventually. At least I was working again. After getting laid off from the call center, I went to work at the carousel at the mall. Sounds easy, right? I thought so too, but once you factored in the pregnancy it was anything but easy. The reality is being on my feet, lifting little kids on and off the carousel horses for eight hours a day was exhausting. When you’re only 5’2″ some of those kids were half my size and I was lifting them all chest high! I knew I needed to find something else.
My lucky job break came by way of my mom. It was another great advantage I was privileged to receive. It was an office job, over minimum wage, and I’d be working with my mom and many other women I already knew. I was related to more than just my mom. She’d even managed to help my ex get a job in a different department of the same company. He was working there before I was, actually. He wasn’t my ex at the time either. There was a reason I used ‘unwed’ in the first segment rather than single. I wasn’t exactly single, but I don’t think anyone thought we were in a relationship that had any hope.
During the second trimester I ballooned in size. That I kept gaining so much didn’t make any sense to me because I was still throwing up every day. Every. Day. I felt like an unwilling bulimic. I wasn’t expecting a lecture when I complained about how sick I was to the midwife at my OB’s office, but that’s what I got. I was gaining too much weight and I needed to stop. I told them about the constant puking, the constant exhaustion, and they put me through some tests. Everything came back normal. I wasn’t dealing with gestational diabetes, so as far as she was concerned, I was just eating too much. She suggested I mix Pedialyte with regular Coke to help with the nausea and, of course, stop gaining weight. That’s all I needed to do, apparently. Stop gaining weight and I wouldn’t feel so sick. Got it. I cried…
After the Pedialyte and Coke prescription, I felt that everything I was doing with this pregnancy was the wrong thing. I was doing what they told me to do and I was still sicker than shit every day. I was going to work, dealing with comments about my size on the regular. “Are they sure you’re not having twins?” one co-worker asked so many times I threatened to push her down the stairs. Not to her face, of course, but I thought it very violently. I was thankful, actually, to be a part of a team of women because I knew I wasn’t really carrying my weight at the workplace. I was missing hours, or days, quite regularly. One fun morning I “went home sick” but spent an hour in the bathroom before I could actually leave the building. I sat on the floor in the handicap stall, waving my hand over my head every few minutes to reactivate the lights that shut themselves off. If it wasn’t for the fact that they all loved my mom, I probably would have lost that job as well, way before I did.
Not being able to perform at work wasn’t an easy pill for me to swallow. I started working at sixteen because I wanted to work. I’d had many different jobs since my sixteenth birthday, and I never wanted to be that team member. I wanted to carry my own and do a good job. Being pregnant prevented me from doing that and that turns into guilt and embarrassment that you stack on top of everything else you have going on. And I had A LOT going on. See, I wasn’t just pregnant and unwed, sick and financially struggling. I was also hiding a drug problem. Not my own, my ex’s.
I tried to hide a lot from my family after I moved out with him. I knew right away that I should have stayed in my parent’s basement, but shortly after the new year he and his friends got evicted from their apartment, so I needed to make sure he had a place to live. I quite naturally fall into the caretaker/fixer role in life, and this relationship brought that out hard. He wasn’t using when we met, and I wasn’t aware there had been a drug problem in his recent past until his friend told me after he realized we were getting serious. I’m pretty sure the stress of trying to live together and the pending parenthood was too much for him. He relapsed shortly after, and I stayed quite firmly in denial.
This isn’t a bash of the ex post. I gave him the option to leave the night that I told him I was pregnant, but he didn’t want to leave at that time. He probably should have because we wouldn’t have moved in together and that was our first big mistake. His employment status became very unreliable, and he left jobs without my knowing more than once, so budgeting was difficult. The financial struggle was crippling and forced me at times to ask for help, which was as hard as being pregnant. But I’m going to stress here the importance of the fact that I had people to ask for help from. It would have been unimaginable to go through what I was going through in the middle of my pregnancy without the help I had. To face it all alone would have been terrifying. I kept a brave face, at least I think I did, but by Easter of 1996 I was so sick, the size of a house, not getting any better, and I was scared.
To be continued…
This is going to be a long one, folks, so get comfortable. Those who know me IRL shouldn’t be too surprised by my need to share. I think I’ve always been a bit of an overshare-er, but there’s a purpose to this story. See, for those that don’t know me IRL, I became an young, unwed mom in the mid 90’s. I graduated high school in June of 1994 and my son was born July 1996. As people argue over a woman’s right to choose, the reality of single motherhood gets brushed away, but that reality is important to understand. It is hard. In the grand scheme of things I had it easy. I am white. I was healthy. I was on my parents insurance although that only covered my own medical costs and wouldn’t cover baby, and my family didn’t shut me out. It was still fucking hard.
Some people supporting the idea of overturning Roe v. Wade say abortion isn’t needed because of adoption, and that whole idea of forced pregnancy makes me fume. A woman without the option to end a pregnancy is impacted by the pregnancy long before there’s a child to care for. Pregnancy is not as seen on TV, at least not for everyone, nor is delivery. The “Glow” people talk about pregnant women having was never worn by me. For some people pregnancy is months of debilitating illness. Some of us even end up on bed rest. Try working attached to an IV pole! Forcing women and girls to be pregnant should not be something one group of politicians can do.
I’ve been pro-choice my whole life, but in the fall of 1995 when I knew I was pregnant I knew I was going to become a mom. It was a decision I made quickly and for myself. And when I say I knew I was pregnant, I mean I knew. I was so sure that I showed up at the hospital to have a blood test. I wasn’t trusting this to a pee stick. When they asked about how late I was, I was honest – I wasn’t. Yet. But I was sure I was about 2 weeks pregnant. I even had dates. They turned me away.
After being turned away I was more determined to get the test, so I came back a few days later and lied. I mean, I was never one of those Every-28-days kind of girls anyway. Twenty eight days. Eleven days. There was no tracking that shit. The bottom line was that I knew I was pregnant and I just needed them to confirm it. They took my blood, assigned me a random number, and told me to call a phone number in a few hours for the test results. At that point I did what any other 19 year old would do; I went to the mall with a friend.
Wandering the mall I tried to come up with a game plan while my friend played her part trying to reassure me I was paranoid and it was going to be negative and everything would be fine. I was going to be fine, but I also knew I was pregnant. We went into a Hallmark store and I spent money I shouldn’t have on a stuffed polar bear there. I was holding that bear in it’s bag to my chest when I stood at the payphone at the mall and made the call. “Your test results are positive.” No shit. That bear became the first gift I ever bought for my son.
I think because I was already so sure that I was, getting the positive pregnancy result wasn’t that big of a shock. I wasn’t going to panic. I got pregnant the second week of November and got my results around Thanksgiving. If I could get through the Christmas holiday, I would tell my parents at the new year and go from there. Plenty of girls went months and months without anyone figuring out they were pregnant and I was sure I could do the same. I was wrong. It became apparent right away that I was not going to have an easy first trimester. My mom called it out one night while we were alone, wrapping Christmas presents together. I told her the same thing I’d told everyone else so far – I’m pregnant and it’s going to be fine.
My OB/GYN started me off right. I was given the injection for my RH factor. I was started on pre-natal vitamins that I couldn’t ever keep down, weighed, and given a due date. August 3rd was my first due date. I might not still remember that but it was my grandmother’s birthday. It also felt so very far away in this miserable pregnancy that I’d started. I panicked after a later visit pushed my due date out to the 9th, and then changed it to August 12th, my uncle’s birthday. I already didn’t think I could make it to August 12th.
I was working an early morning shift for a call center answering questions about at-home hair color, and taking classes at the community college to finish my criminal justice degree. Initially, I thought I could maintain both. I needed to work because I needed money. I also really wanted to finish school. I had plans for the police academy and an eventual detective position. Even though others were already saying that something was going to have to give, I spent a few weeks in denial about this part. I wanted to believe I was responsible enough to do it all.
Problems with my ambitious plan started right away because vomiting started to be an problem right away. The final straw was throwing up all over myself and my car on the freeway on my way to work. I missed work that day and the next. Fun fact: I’m a reactionary puker. Just hearing someone else throw up makes me dry heave. This was torture. Shortly after that I was laid off from my job. I’m sure my struggle mornings and the fact that they also figured out I was pregnant had a lot to do with it.
Now I was pregnant, unwed, and unemployed. After that I withdrew from school. The truth was I was sometimes too exhausted to keep my eyes open, and my “morning sickness” seemed to struggle telling time. It thought of itself more as an all day and all night kind of sickness, so I was having trouble in my morning and my end of day classes. I’d be a liar if I said that choice to quit school and change career plans wasn’t hard, but these were all my choices. Imagine having to go through this, completely unprepared, because people not impacted by your decision made the choice for you.
I was momentarily unemployed, but I was still trying to be positive and move forward. Even though my dad was bristly(we’re fine now, no worries), and I was sure some family members felt sorry for me, I had support. I had a (free) roof over my head without any threat of losing that, my groceries, or my insurance. I had no doubt that I was going to see this through and be a mom, but even at this point it was hard.
And I was only twelve weeks in.
To be continued…