29 December 2008

On my mind, or thereabouts

I’m nearing my 39th week of pregnancy, which means it won’t be long now. Sometimes I feel utterly heroic and wish that it would just happen already so that I can get this thing done. Others, the idea of leaving the security of my nest to do a 22-hour-long marathon push from an unfamiliar place in an unfamiliar room leaves me breathless, and I hope for just one more day of respite.

The last few weeks have been brilliant, with both of us off work and no obligations, and mostly we’ve been enjoying our time together as childless adults, which (provided all goes well in life) is a state we will never again revisit. Everything we do now feels like we’re doing it for the last time in this respect: our last Christmas together alone, our last mornings of sleeping in late, our last spontaneous outings into town, or even to the shops.

It’s a lot to get your head around, so best not to even try, I think. We ordered the cot - that final, essential piece of furniture - and it was delivered on Christmas Eve. I spent the morning cleaning and reorganising the kitchen while Bruce put it together, and then we basked in the strangeness of it all before heading out to our appointment with the midwife.

The head midwife of our team takes her cues from me, we now realise, and will go to great lengths to locate them if these aren't on offer, I guess because she feels she’s not doing her job if she can’t give reassurance or a scolding or uncomfortably long hugs, or mixed nuts (she gave me half a banana once, too, after she unsuccessfully stabbed me twice with a needle, missing the vein and causing vertigo).

This time we went in with the confidence of a storm, and still she eyed me critically, as though a single tear would at any moment dissolve the shoddy mask of my inimitable okay-ness. Finally, she conceded that I was looking better than she’s ever seen me and then dug around in her handbag for some miracle Australian lip balm which she then put in a specimen jar and ordered me to take home and use. Because by God, if she can’t accurately predict and stave off impending postpartum depression, she will at least cure me of chapped lips.

That’s something I’ve been trying not to think about too much, because if there’s one thing I’ve learned from my long ago stint with poor mental health, it’s that you can indeed break your mind if you’re determined enough. It would be churlish of me to imply that anyone who ends up on a psych ward could have done something to prevent it. But all the same, I can still recall how I stood by and watched the last vestiges of perspective ebb away with a kind of morbid fascination, still not really believing that it could get any worse. Though it did, it got much worse.

For all her melodramatic fussing, the midwife is spot on about something: hormones tend to upset the delicate balance of good mental health, and if you’ve ever blundered into a psychotic or depressive episode, it can take even less to send you spiralling into another one day. I know this from the many conversations I had around my release date with nurses, psychiatrists and other patients, all of whom calmly assured me that, however fine I felt now, I would in all likelihood be back.

So as self-destructive as the ensuing years might have become (at least until I met Bruce) I’ve taken silent but concerted measures to ensure that – at the very least - this does not become a self-fulfilling prophesy. And yet you can’t live out your life under the assumption that the Big Bad Breakdown is lurking around every corner just waiting for you to make a decision that will knock your physiology a bit off kilter (though having two or three drinks a night for years was probably not the best course of action, now I think of it).

I don’t know how the leap and fall of hormones will affect me in those weeks following the birth, but I do know that I’m prepared to deal with any eventualities that could arise, and that includes being mindful (but not too mindful) of at least a few.

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