About Me and that sort of thing

 

 

Made in Manhattan
The Sunday Independent, 05 August 2007
Anne Marie Scanlan was single, skirting 40 and living it up in New York when she discovered she was pregnant. A rollercoaster ride of drama, distress and agony followed. But the birth of her beloved baby boy Jack changed her life utterly. She recalls the journey from conception to cradle
 

THE rain in Boston was so heavy it was clinically obese. We'd been stuck in the hotel for two days and I'd finally cracked at four in the morning. Nagging thoughts drove me to hitch a lift on The Boston Globe delivery van (which looks and moves like a milk float) to the nearest pharmacy. It was Sunday, May 14, 2006 -- Mother's Day in the United States.

 

In retrospect, it was a foregone conclusion. In retrospect. Consider the facts.

1. My period was nine days late.

2. During those nine days, I had been highly emotional bursting into inconsolable tears for very little reason. On one memorable occasion, I was moved to sobs during an episode of -- wait for it -- The Simpsons.

3. I was feeling constantly queasy -- yet at the same time I had a rampant appetite, the likes of which I'd never known before.

4. I was totally shattered, exhausted, pure knackered. ALL of the time.

5. I was sleeping. Normally I suffer from insomnia, but I could hardly keep my eyes open.

6. Every morning when I started to brush my teeth I began to gag.

7. Oh, and did I mention my period was nine days late?

So, at four in the morning, I purchased a pregnancy test, two large bottles of still water and a box of cereal bars, (mini-bar prices at the hotel were shocking, worse than the weather). It was 10 o'clock the following morning before I worked up the courage to actually use the test.

Nearly all girls have been there at some point, squatting in a bathroom, peeing on a stick. It's not something any of us ever does casually -- unconcerned about what the outcome may be. We're either desperately hoping it will be positive or offering all sorts of inducements to the Almighty to guarantee a negative result.

In my case, I just couldn't see how I might be pregnant. Yes, I know the circumstantial evidence was pretty damning but due to certain medical issues and the fact that I was galloping into my late 30s, a natural conception wasn't something I thought I could manage. When I failed the test I was quite literally stunned and decided the results were 'inconclusive'.

Apart from anything else, I made my living as a Professional Single Girl. No, not like that but by writing about the single life.

Six months earlier, my first book It's Not Me ... It's You! A Girl's Guide to Dating in Ireland debuted at 34 on the Irish non-fiction, best-seller list. Prior to that, I'd penned a weekly column, 'New York Doll -- Men, Sex and Relationships in the Big Apple' for an evening newspaper.

Some people even called me the Irish Carrie Bradshaw, which was immensely flattering. Babies didn't really figure anywhere in the plan.

At four in the afternoon, I tried again. My friend Marian examined the stick. "You're pregnant," she said quite simply. And everywhere we went for the rest of the evening some fool was wishing us a 'Happy Mother's Day'. Right.

Back in the day, when I heard stories about girls dumping newborns in bins or on hospital doorsteps, I always thought, why did they go ahead with the pregnancy, why do that to a baby, wouldn't an abortion be better than that sort of cruelty?

Now I understand it. For almost a week after doing the test, I was completely numb. I couldn't think about it. I couldn't make a decision of any sort. I just hoped that if I ignored it, it would all just go away. I know how ridiculous that sounds, but it was as if my brain had frozen over.

It was only when I finally told BD I was pregnant that the reality of the situation really hit me. I had been dreading telling him as he already had a child from a previous relationship and had always been very clear that he didn't want another.

He took the news surprisingly well, even going so far as to propose to me. I said no. We'd been involved with each other on and off for four-and-a-half years at that stage and it was obvious, to me at least, that we were not candidates for a happy ending. Making a go of things for the sake of the baby would have been the wrong decision, albeit for the right reasons, but all the same still the wrong decision.

I was also anxious about telling my mother that I was with child, although ironically, it was due to her that I had conceived in the first place.

Mum had arrived in New York for a holiday late on Easter Saturday and the following day herself, myself and BD went out for a slap-up Easter lunch which lasted most of the day.

Mum had to go to bed early that evening and barely had the bedroom door closed behind her before BD and I hopped on each other. And that was the problem.

The bedroom door in question was mine and all suitable forms of birth control lay behind it. Mind you, we were beyond rational thought at that point and there was very little that could have come between us and our given aim. The building could have gone on fire, my mother could have walked in, he could have told me he was a post-operative transsexual and his real name was Judy and I wouldn't have cared. And besides, it was all OK, I wasn't ovulating -- that was another five days away. (Even though, in retrospect, based on the fact that I did actually get pregnant, it is quite obvious NOW that I was.)

That being the case, one go wasn't enough. It being the day that was in it, he rose again, and once again caution, along with underwear, was flung to the wind.

Fast forward a month, and I'm on the phone trying to will my mother to ask me if my period has arrived. Eventually, after discussing the latest developments in Coronation Street, family news, tales of shopping expeditions (hers) and half-hearted stories about work (mine), I took a deep breath and said, "Listen, I have a bit of news.,"You're pregnant," she said jokingly.

"Yes," I said and started to wail like a hungry child.

"Well, congratulations," my mother replied.

"Congratulations?" I parroted in disbelief. "Are you out of your freaking mind?,God love the poor woman, she was in a state of shock. The worst news she expected to hear from me was the balance on my latest credit card bill. I told her I hadn't made any decisions because I wanted to discuss things with her first.

"Whatever you decide to do," she said, "I'll support you 100 per cent.,I knew she didn't want me to be a single mother. She'd played by the rules herself -- walked down the aisle, quite deservedly wearing white. Almost a year to the day, I arrived and soon after that she became a single parent.

On the other hand, she didn't want me to have an abortion either. It is not something she agrees with, though she isn't strident about it and would never dream of humbling someone who had a termination, or hanging around outside a clinic shouting "murderer" at the unfortunate girls going in.

She never said either of these things to me at the time, but they went without saying. Whatever decision I made was going to be hard for her, and my brain was still doing its impression of an ice-lolly, frozen through and through.

In an effort to make an informed choice, I logged on to a pregnancy website to see what my 'cluster of cells' was up to. Although I was scarcely pregnant, I discovered that the tiny little blob inside me already had a heartbeat. I burst into tears. I've always been pro-choice and still am, but at that moment, I knew I couldn't do it. I couldn't get rid of the little heart beating inside me.

Things started to go wrong almost straight away. The nausea that had begun approximately five minutes after conception got steadily worse. Within a few days of taking the test, I was unable to eat anything other than mashed potato and crackers. Between the persistent nausea and the tiredness, I was finding it hard to function.

Everyone assured me that it would get better. It didn't. It got worse. A month in, I started vomiting and didn't stop. By the time I was 13 weeks pregnant,I was an American size 2, emaciated, malnourished, dehydrated and unable to stay out of bed for more than 10 minutes at a time. The injustice! Three months of vomiting and still not even close to the elusive size 0.

After being admitted to hospital three times, I was wheeled on to a plane at JFK and within 24 hours was attached to a fine selection of drips in the Royal Berkshire Hospital (RBH) in Reading, England. My potassium levels were so low that I was on the verge of a coronary -- something they'd failed to notice in the US.

After a week in the RBH, I was released with a small pharmacy of tablets that I took for the remainder of my pregnancy. The close brush with mortality and the continued need for medical supervision convinced me of two things. One, I couldn't do this alone, and two, I didn't have to.

I decided to move back to this side of the Atlantic and in with my mother. I felt like a big fat failure. After a decade in New York, I was pregnant, unmarried and back at home living with the mammy -- not exactly where I'd planned to be at my age.

I felt bad about a lot of other things too. I was so bored at the antenatal classes that I wanted to scream. All the rest of the girls in the class were busy swotting, reading every book and article about pregnancy and birth that they could get their hands on. I hadn't read anything.

To be fair, I did try, but the contents of the baby books freaked me out so much that I had to put them down for fear that my blood pressure would soar dangerously high. It didn't help that my brain no longer functioned properly, I had zero concentration and my memory was completely shot, as if I'd developed premature Alzheimer's.

Listening to the other girls swapping notes and suggestions, I felt as if I was somehow lacking -- as if I wasn't trying hard enough or wasn't excited enough about my baby.

During the classes, the midwife would ask if we had any questions. I hadn't a clue. Couldn't think of one. Yet more guilt.

It was the men who asked all of the questions and were first to have their hands up when the midwife quizzed us. I was the only woman there who wasn't accompanied by her partner. I don't know why this surprised me (premature Alzheimer's?) but it did, as did the fact that all of the couples there were white, middle-class and affluent.

I felt like a Satanist in the Sistine Chapel. A friend pointed out that I was white and middle-class. But I didn't feel that way; I felt I didn't fit in.

I'd spent the last 10 years of my life in New York, buying shoes and having breakfast delivered. I had not dedicated myself to building a steady relationship or getting up the next rung on the corporate ladder. Who the hell was I to bring a child into the world?

What could I offer the poor baby? I can't drive, I can't ski and I'm a crap cook. I had refused to marry his father and I'm pretty ancient for a first-time mommy. What was the poor child going to think? I loved him already but wasn't sure that I was good enough for him. Then again from what I heard, this is what being a mother is all about -- feeling guilty and worried.

In hindsight what annoys me more than anything else is how I have to keep learning the same lesson over and over again -- which is that everyone else hasn't been issued with a secret instruction manual about how to "do life".

I looked at these other women and assumed that they were all confident and happy and going to be absolutely perfect mothers who would look down their collective noses at me.

Of course, that was nonsense. It's a very rare woman who faces giving birth for the first time secure in the knowledge that everything will be fine and that she'll be able to cope. Not one of the antenatal girls is perfect, and thank God they're all honest about what is going on and how they feel.

In fact some of them don't ski and a couple have owned up to reading Heat magazine and watching Big Brother. One thing we do have in common is that we all struggle to cope.

Ironically, they envy me. Although they have live-in partners and a working knowledge of jet skis, they're all stuck at home, alone, with their babies whereas I have my mother around to help out and indeed to have adult conversations with.

I know I'm technically classified a 'lone parent', but I'm far from alone. Apart from my mother, my friends Suzanne and Celine, who have four young children between them, have been absolutely brilliant.

Like a particularly well-drilled army, they organised maternity clothes, stuff for the baby and various other bits and pieces I didn't know I needed. They made it extremely easy for me to avoid reading the scary books by telling me the stuff I needed to know, to demand an epidural and how to use a steriliser (after they'd told me what it was).

Jack's arrival was in keeping with the rest of my pregnancy -- full of drama, distress and vomit.

I was almost two weeks overdue when I went into labour. It was a particularly busy night in the maternity unit and I was lucky to get a bed. I spent most of that night listening to a woman labouring without drugs in the adjoining room.

By the time a delivery suite became available, she was too far along to be moved and what ensued was absolutely horrific. As a result of the noise, I begged an epidural every time a hospital employee walked through the door, regardless of whether they were the chief consultant or there to change the bins.

Needless to say, my constant harping annoyed them but I didn't care, there was no way I was prepared to endure what my next-door neighbour had.

The following day, I was induced, and shortly after, given the much-demanded magical epidural. Hurrah, it was all over, bar the pushing.

Not quite. On Friday morning, the epidural line slipped out and the resulting pain defies description (and I speak as a woman who's experienced an exposed nerve in her tooth).

By the time they put in the second epidural -- which in itself is quite painful -- I was already in such agony that I didn't even notice.

When calm was restored, my mother nipped out for a cup of tea. When she returned 10 minutes later, I was being prepped for an emergency C-section. God love her, she'd already had to watch her only child writhing in pain, vomiting continuously, and when she'd finally felt it was safe to leave, the doctors decided they were going to slice me open.

The surgery itself was remarkably quick and when Jack made his appearance everything that had gone before -- all the illness, upset and pain that characterised my pregnancy and the birth -- were forgotten.

None of it mattered. Nothing else mattered at all. Nothing prepared me for how I would feel, and nothing could. I've always known that my mother loves me, but it's only since Jack's arrival that I realise just how much. It isn't just the way I feel about him, but when I see him with her, and see just how much she adores him.

I never knew I was capable of such love. I wake up in the morning and look at my son and wonder what I ever did without him, what was my function, why did I bother getting out of bed?

He is without doubt the best thing that has ever happened to me.Yes, my life is no longer my own, my independence is compromised, and the freedom I held so dear, a mere memory. So what, life's never been better.

 

Anne Marie Scanlan's new column about the emotional jungle starts this week on the relationships page

 

http://www.independent.ie/lifestyle/parenting/made-in-manhattan-1052148.html

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