Quote of the Day – September 14, 2017: Confessions of an imperfect mother – Harriet Lerner
I was 30 when I first got pregnant. Before that, I had never felt any maternal flicker. When my friends brought their children to parties in their little strollers, I felt sorry for them (the parents), because the whole thing seemed to be a big mess. And when I was asked if I'd like to hold one of those tiny kids in my arms, I was chirped with a false enthusiasm: "Oh, yes!" I was just being polite or trying to do things that seemed normal. I always sat down before I allowed someone to put my baby in my arms, because I was clumsy and I knew that if anyone was likely to escape the baby, it was me.
To say that I wasn't a mother, that's too little to say. I was enjoying the company of adults, and my idea of fun didn't mean wasting my time with kids who weren't able to dress alone, use the toilet or support an interesting conversation. By contrast, my husband, Steve, really loved children. He never worried about getting out of his arms. We've always planned to have children, but – as far as I was concerned – not as long as the wish didn't come from the heart. I was just thinking that having children was an important life experience and I shouldn't have missed it, just like I didn't want to miss a live concert or travel around Europe. Although I was aware that having children was normal, I postponed it as much as I could.
In any case, as soon as I got the news that I was pregnant, I filled myself with importance and pride. I wanted to kick the supermarket aliens out of my arm and say, "Hey, I might look like an ordinary person, but I'm pregnant, you know!" The mere fact that other women had gone through this before me didn't matter – I had recorded, no more, no less than a miraculous personal achievement.
My self-confidence has increased even further after I have completed the first quarter without any nausea or any other discomfort. It seemed to me that it was my credit that things were going so smoothly, so I concluded that it was a good sign – after all, maybe I was actually made to be a mother.
But at the beginning of the second trimester, blood stains appeared on my underwear, and then I bled for real. My doctor asked me if I wanted to consider an abortion, because the risk of the baby having brain damage was significant. Sometimes I didn't bleed at all and load myself up with hopes, sometimes I'd bleed badly and think that either I or the baby was dying. I was overwhelmed with panic, asphyxiated with a mixture of terror over our survival (both of us) and with a kind of habit of the uterus to the idea that ruinsomeone's very expensive souffice.
I consulted with an expert at the University of Kansas Medical Center, then transferred to the best obstetrician in Topeka – one with remarkable diagnostic skills and who one believed that my baby had brain damage. Basically, the whole deal was a lottery. I didn't know if she would remain attached to the uterus sufficient placenta, because it had been implanted too low and fell apart as the pregnancy progressed. From a medical perspective, there is probably a fairer way of describing what was going on, but that's how I perceived my situation at that point. I had a healthy fetus in my uterus and I thought medicine, as advanced as it was, should have known how to make the placenta stand in place. It seemed a minor technical aspect, which could not have consequences of life and death.
It wasn't easy to contain my anxiety. When pregnancy was about five months old, one night, Steve and I watched an adventure movie on TV about a group of people trapped in an elevator in a skyscraper. The villain, sneaking over them, cut the steel cables that supported the cabin. Panic had spread among the captives as they swayed in the air, their lives now hanging by a single thread. What a stupid, boring plot, I told myself. The next minute, I felt like I couldn't breathe. I told Steve I was going to faint or even have a heart attack; Or worse, I was going to die. "Call the doctor home," I ordered my terrified husband. "Wake him up from his sleep!"
"It looks like hyperventilation, doesn't it?" the doctor noted after I recomposed enough to describe his symptoms. I should have stuck my head (and breathed) in a paper bag. Now, when it was clear that I was going to live, I felt bad that I had woken him up in the middle of the night – two psychologists who had not been able to recognize the usual symptoms of anxiety. The images on television must have triggered my terror about what was going on inside the body. The image of people trapped in that elevator with loose cables, threatened to collapse into the void to a certain death, has remained in my mind for a long time.
The Book of Confessions of an Imperfect Mother can be purchased from: