If you’ve been with me for the last couple of months, you’re probably thinking to yourself, Gee, Andrea. This pregnant and bedridden story is getting kind of boring! Same thing, day after day.
Well, you’re right. Same thing. Day after day. Week after week. Month after month. It was good, bad and ugly, sometimes all at the same time.
Awaken. Look at the ceiling. Check off a day on my calendar—with grateful glee—and count how many days I’d been able to make it. Drink some orange juice Chris dutifully delivered to my bedside. Turn on the television. Watch the O.J. Simpson trial. (Yes, that was my major form of “entertainment”.) Have a can of Ensure. Yuck! Listen to the radio. Read until I could no longer hold my arms up in the air or at such awkward angles. Return to the television. Get excited when I hear the front door open and Parker’s little feet scurry across the entryway tile. Parker’s lit-up face when he blasts into my room to check on me. The big event of mail perusing. Having a can of liquid chalk—oops, I mean Ensure—for dinner, along with canned spinach and sauerkraut juice. Talk to Chris while he eats dinner in my room. Watching a Bible study on tape a friend has given me. Listen to motivational or relaxation tapes. (I’d been given a plethora of them.) Saying goodnight to Parker and Chris and staring at the ceiling as the darkness envelopes the world outside, and then my room. Watching television until the last show signs off. Counting the victorious days in my calendar again before I turn out the lights. Battling my nightly demons, and awaiting the creeping of the sun’s rays across the hills and their piercing through my bedroom windows. (My heart always sped up excitedly for that event.)
Day after day after day…
But I would be remiss if I didn’t tell you that not every day evolved into a monolithic struggle. Some mornings I felt good and took the doctor-approved opportunity to gingerly stand and stretch, (okay, lift my hands over my head), carefully change clothes, wash my face, and brush my teeth at the bathroom sink. I had made it far enough for Dr. Landry to allow me to do that, and this redeeming, six-minute ritual emerged as the highlight of my day.
And every three days I’d carefully shuffle into the bathroom—supporting my increasing girth with my hand—and kneel down next to the bathtub so Chris could wash my hair. (I can’t begin to describe what his gentle, loving hands did for my head, or my spirit!) Dr. Landry suggested sitting in a tub of about two inches of water to bathe, but the idea of climbing into and out of the bathtub—scrunching over to sit down, then stand up—scared the daylights out of me. Even my nurse practitioner friend screwed up her nose at that idea and gave her opinion: No. Chris and I managed to perfect this technique. Then I’d pad back to bed for a sponge bath.
And I did allow myself to dream. Maybe for Valentine’s Day I’ll treat myself to a short shower. Yes! Valentine’s Day might be something to look forward to. Another date I eagerly penciled in on my calendar. February 14: Take first shower in 11 weeks!
Occasionally, I’d get brave and attempt a return to normal, solid food, only to pay the price that evening or the next day. Chris and Parker, however, continued to enjoy home-cooked Methodist meals. There’s nothing like a Methodist potluck, and we had one almost nightly in our home. My husband gained the weight I was losing, and Parker consistently inquired about who would be “coming over tonight to bring dinner.” It was a wonderful display of witnessing and love for my four-year-old: to see how the body of Christ can mobilize to support and love one another; to see love in action. Prayer and nurturing with skin on it!
The dreaded panic attacks continued unabated, though, then worsened as the pregnancy advanced. At times, night’s darkness engulfed me like a suffocating wall of water, the dread of its confinement descending upon my spirit hours before the actual attack.
And a question always jogged around my mind during these episodes: How do chronic sufferers of panic attacks survive the agonies of them? The empathy basket I’d filled earlier with paraplegics and POWs now included chronic panic attack sufferers. I couldn’t understand them at all before this; now I understood them all too well.
And "them" was now me.
One night stands out like a pulsing light in my mind. For no apparent reason, I abruptly awakened a spasmodic coughing fit which was followed by a vice-like uterine contraction. I clutched my chest to remind myself to breathe. One side of my brain screamed a command: Get up! It’s over! You’re done. Hang it up. The other side calmly, firmly said, Relax, stay put. Keep breathing…that’s right…rhythmic, deliberate breaths. And don’t move. My brain argued back and forth several seconds.
Then I screamed. Chris bolted down the stairs looking disoriented and concerned. I had to feel his touch, experience his comforting presence. I knew he was exhausted, sick and sleep-deprived. But I was suffocating!
He peered at me through glazed eyes then asked, “What can I do?”
Propped on one elbow—primed for the anticipated flight—I gaped at him helplessly. “I don’t…know…I don’t know what I need!” I choked.
Yes I do know. I need it to all go away! No. Maybe I just need to know I’m not alone in the house. That I’m not really alone in this darkness.
I hoped Chris knew what I needed, or would at least have a sudden revelation about it. But he didn’t even know about my fear and panic attacks because I hadn’t told him about them. His solution was to pour me some cough syrup, watch me take it, before I reluctantly sent him back to bed. Then, back to God I went, begging for the superhuman strength—desire— to continue this race. Just give me peace to get through this night. Just one night, Lord! Is that too much to ask? Can’t I have just one night?
My prayers dissolved into pleading sobs.
Then it happened. Instantly. As though I’d been touched by a gentle hand, that reached into my soul and body and released a dam allowing all of the fear, the stress, the anguish to escape. And as it all exited, relief and otherworldly calm filled up the space left behind, and a wrapping of indescribable love and peace encased me. As my body inhaled deeply and then exhaled the tension, I gratefully submitted to peaceful, protected sleep.
But I wasn’t going to take any more chances. After that night, as a means of defensive protection, the television remained on, with the volume up, so I could see human faces and hear human voices, or mechanical noise. Vibrating lines jittering across the screen was good enough. Often, I left the overhead fan light on the dim setting to escape the feeling of behind buried alive in the blackness. Only at the first light of dawn was I able to relax.
Dawn. My favorite time of day was the break of dawn. When the sky slowly opened to unveil the brilliant oranges and reds emerging from the foothills beyond our home. Solar hues, joyously gathering to announced the faithfulness of God and His glory; to give hope to a new day. A hope I lived through each night for. A hope I searched for—sometimes frantically in the morning. Just to see the dawn crack open the black sky was like a barbiturate to my mind, morphine shot directly into my veins, and I strained to see between the immovable blind slats covering the French door in my room. The door to the world outside.
Before the hues of twilight announced another blessing, though, there was the “morning star.” Venus. The planet that appeared first in the procession to declare the forthcoming spectacle; emerging like a blazing, dignified courtier trumpeting and reflecting the arrival of its brilliant King, who personally orchestrated and painted the ensemble of colors announcing his arrival. The sheer whiteness of its solar reflection projected a sparkling blaze of promise in the sky, and I reveled in its quiet magnificence, expectancy and promise. The night, bowing in obedient retreat, abdicating to the sun's authority and strength. The company of colors spreading slowly, like a gentle, healing hand moving carefully, lovingly over the earth, with an unheard voice that said, “Take heart! I have not forgotten you. I am here.”
From my sequestered location, I was unable to witness the encore of colors in the evening recessional, however. Chris would rush in and exclaim wildly, with descriptive gestures, “You should seeeee the sunset!” Or he’d announce how beautiful the ground cover flowers looked, having exploded into glorious color during our early spring after months of energy-gathering rest.
On one occasion, when I had the rare opportunity to leave the house for an appointment with Dr. Landry, I was privileged to view the spectacle myself.
Three thousand square feet of blooming rosea ice plant spread like a magnificent, hot pink carpet across our hill. I gazed. I gawked. I sucked in the sweet, moist spring air.
Spring! There’s nothing like spring in Southern California, I thought. Such a perfect time of year for a baby to join nature’s celebration of new and rejuvenated life! If only the flowers will stay this vivid until my baby’s born.
I was beginning to allow myself the indulgence of thinking—believing—I would make it.
And so would my baby.
NEXT WEEK: Riding waves and going for broke…
Until next week,
Thanks for joining me!