A version of this article appeared on the Amaranth Road Studio blog.
Article by Andrea Paterson
Oh how I feel like sinking into deep water. I want to be a floating thing, suspended, warm, like the growing fetus within me. Inside my body grows a tiny girl and I am reeling. It took me a long time to get here. After a serious and prolonged battle with postpartum depression and anxiety after the birth of my son in 2012 I have existed in a state of profound ambivalence when it came to the idea of another child. I was too close to too much suffering and the thought of being dragged back into the underworld of PPD/A sent me screaming for the hills. I avoided it, I put it off, I wrote about it at length in my journal and over the course of the past two years, the Ghost Baby took form.
The Ghost Baby was imaginary. Sort of. The Ghost Baby was the idea of another child made almost tangible in my imagination. I spoke to this apparition. She always appeared as a wise female infant with a cheeky and knowing smile.
“Should I open the door and let you into the world?” I would ask her, tears in my eyes, full of doubt. And she would smile at me, enigmatic, like some itsy bitsy Buddha. She clearly knew more about my future than I did. Her smile said, “things will be as they should be, and there’s very little you can do about it.” She asked me to let go, but I resisted. I saw her in my mind’s eye again and again, smiling serenely, waiting patiently for me to make up my mind.
It took a lot of soul searching, but eventually I decided that I wanted to let the Ghost Baby in. There were many reasons for this–I wanted a sibling for my son, my husband was desperate for another child, and if I was honest with myself I realized that my fear centered mostly on the pregnancy and first 2-3 years of the child’s life. It wasn’t so much that I was afraid to have another child, but that I was afraid to have another infant. Because infancy is the fifth circle of hell. Or at least it was the last time around. Even a mention of sleep deprivation can get me to have a full blown panic attack.
But I lived last time. Right? Right? And it seems to follow that I’ll survive this time too and get something awe inspiring out of it: a relationship with a human being that was once literally a part of me.
The Ghost Baby wasn’t goofing around. She took the very first opportunity to manifest herself. She wasn’t going to let me change my mind. It was practically a virgin conception. And so it was in a state of shock and disbelief that I stared at the plus sign on that first pregnancy test. Things were about to get real. And they did. By six weeks my worst fears were coming true. I developed Hyperemesis Gravidarum, the dreaded pregnancy illness that leaves women nauseous and vomiting to the point of weight loss and severe dehydration. I went to the hospital emergency three times before they finally admitted me and put me on an IV drip containing a cocktail of four different drugs. Three days later I was a different person. I got to go home with bags of prescriptions and I have spent the weeks since in a drug induced haze, sleeping nearly 12 hours a day, and scraping by.
The Ghost Baby, now just The Baby, who I am calling Button for now, smiles her knowing smile at me. “Yup, you’re going to have to endure some tough shit,” she says to me, “but LOOK, you’re surviving! And it’s going to be okay.” And I am surviving, for one reason: I called in every support I could think of. The local grandparents have been working serious overtime picking my son up from preschool and caring for him many days and afternoons while I lie in an ill heap. My mom was called in from Ontario when things were really bad after Christmas. She took over my entire household and I had two glorious weeks to gather strength. My husband is on evening and weekend duty. I’m taking care of myself in every conceivable way. Yeah, I still have Hyperemesis. But the drugs make it bearable and my support systems make it manageable. I am, against the odds, not depressed. Not thriving either maybe, but not headed straight for the pits of despair. In my first go-around as a pregnant mother I might have felt guilty about asking for so much help, I might have resisted because of that guilt. I might have thought that it’s better to go it alone and fend for myself. Not this time. No way. This time I refuse to give in to guilt because no one should have to face their journey to motherhood alone. I made a pact with myself to accept help where offered and assume that people were happy to be of service. A friend sent me a message asking if she could help, if she could pick up groceries or cook me some soups to put in my freezer. Last time I would have said, no, I’m fine, don’t worry. This time I said YES, YES freezer meals would make a huge difference for me. Two days later three huge batches of soup arrived at my door and it fed my husband for weeks while I was too sick to prepare meals and unwilling to eat anything but Boost shakes and pudding. That act of kindness saved me. It made a time that might have been unbearable into a time that we survived. My husband was fed and as such had more time to run other errands and care for our son. My gratitude is immense and I know that one day I’ll be able to pay it forward.
So my pregnancy goes on, and I let people around me act as life preservers. The baby becomes more real every day. An early genetic test revealed two things: My baby is healthy so far and my baby is a girl. The news that I have a daughter on the way struck me as unbelievable. The Ghost Baby I have been imagining is suddenly a flesh and blood person who has taken up residence in my womb. The little girl with the knowing smile will be in my arms this summer. And I’m thrilled of course, because it feels like my inner world just touched down in my physical lived experience. One boy, one girl and everything feels complete.
I’m still terrified about revisiting infancy, but my early pregnancy has taught me that there’s no shame in asking for help. Sorry grandparents. I’m probably going to need you a bit longer! And for now I’m depending on the wonderful world of medication to pull me through. Thank you modern science! Here’s hoping that the second trimester is a bit easier, for everyone’s sake.