I rubbed at my temples, kneading the skin underneath my fingers like a Swedish masseuse named Helga would torture her gullible clients who sought relaxation. The throbbing in my head would not abate no matter how much I rubbed. I decided to stop the massaging action before the look of road rash spread its way across my melon.
The webpage I was searching for finally finished loading and I quickly began answering the questions to the screening quiz I had searched for.
Question one: Are you feeling restless or irritable? I left clicked my mouse on ‘yes’. Question two: Are you feeling sad, depressed, or have you been crying a lot? I reviewed the last forty-eight hours in my mind and could not remember what life had been like before my freedom, happiness, and privacy had been stolen away from me. I now felt confined, depressed, and enslaved due to this person who had entered my life only days ago. I was trapped. I clicked ‘yes’ on the quiz. Question three: Have no energy? I had all of four hours of sleep over the last two days, which made the idea of even showering a gargantuan enterprise. I was ashamed to admit that the longing for sleep had me shedding a few tears this morning. Must sleep! But if I did he’d probably wake up, I knew he would. It was like he could sense when I was relaxing or enjoying myself and would quickly put an end to it like a spending limit on a credit card could a shopping spree. Again I clicked ‘yes’. Question four: Having headaches, chest pains, heart palpitations (the heart being fast and feeling like it is skipping beats), numbness, or hyperventilation (fast and shallow breathing)? I already had a headache.
I paused in feral terror.
I thought I heard something…was he waking up? Oh God please just let him sleep a little longer! I felt for my racing pulse …‘yes’. Question five: Trouble focusing, remembering, or making decisions? I thought about that for a second…wait…what was this quiz about again? Through the fog that was enveloping my brain I answered ‘yes’. Question six: Feeling worthless and guilty or lost interest or worrying too much? ‘Yes.’
I finished the rest of the questions and clicked the complete button on the screen. I waited and waited some more, the anticipation was agony. Finally the diagnosis was up on the screen and my mouth fell open in shock. Holy hell! I knew something was wrong with me but I had no idea it was this bad.
I found my cell phone under the mountain of baggage that had come with him and again I noticed how garish and unsophisticated all of his things were. Who thought colours that bright were pleasing to the eye? It all stood out against the minimalistic ultra modern décor of my home. I had painstakingly chosen every piece of furniture, accessory, fabric, and colour to achieve the posh upscale look I had always wanted. And within two days he had scattered his array of tacky, ugly, techno coloured chachkas everywhere!
I could feel my heart beat start racing again and my headache pounded away like the drum line of a marching band. I took a few deep breaths to calm myself down when I heard a muffled sound. My head snapped up and I paused listening for the noise again. Was he awake? I flinched like I had a tick every time I thought I heard him stir. But no, he was still asleep. I released the breath I had held in terror and dialed up the only person who would know what to do. The line rang and rang.
“Pick up, pick up!!” I slapped a hand over my mouth when I realized I had said the words out loud. I hoped he hadn’t heard me. Finally my salvation and voice of reason answered her phone. “Hello?” Her voice sounded confused and thick with sleep.
“Tammy! It’s me! You have to help me!” Even I could hear the panic in my voice.
“Sandra? Is that you?” She sighed. “Do you have any idea what time it is?”
“No, but I just took a medical quiz online, it asked about my symptoms and I’ve tested positive!” My voice took on a shrill high pitched note as I finished my sentence.
“Positive for what?” Tammy sounded a bit more awake now.
“Postpartum depression!” My nerves were shot. I clenched my cell phone to my head and began kneading my temple again with my free hand.
Tammy let out a long sigh. “This is what you woke me up for?”
“This is serious.” I whispered in shock.
“Sandra. You. Don’t. Have. Postpartum. Depression!” She paused and annunciated each word clearly.
“How do you know?” My eyes were wide with hope and dread.
“Because you actually have to birth a baby to get postpartum depression and babysitting for a few days doesn’t count! Good night!” She yelled at me.
“Wait! Wait! Wait! Couldn’t this be some kind of pre-partum depression?” I was chewing on my manicure now.
“No! Stop over reacting like you always do.” With a click the line was dead.
How could she think I was making this all up? Okay, so sometimes I had a tendency to over react, I’d admit to that. There was this one time I’d watched an exposé about poor sanitation practices in spas resulting in many women catching a flesh eating bacteria after receiving a pedicure. In my own defense, I had just gotten a pedicure and the girl giving me it had cut me. So I didn’t think getting some blood work done to test for MRSA bacteria was odd. I guess I hadn’t needed to ask everyone I knew to look at my gouged toe for opinions.
“Does this look like that flesh eating bacteria? I think I’m starting to feel nauseous.” Okay so I didn’t have the flesh eating thing, but I was feeling nauseous…I think.
I set my phone down and checked my watch yet again. It was four twenty three in the morning. Christine would be here in about five and a half hours to pick up little Austen. I could do this! I was a smart capable woman. No eleven month old boy was going to get the best of me.
“Wahhhhhh! Wahhhh!” He started wailing as if hearing my thoughts. Was it only adult males who claimed to have no idea what women were thinking? Because I was certain they had honed these skills well as infants.
“Stay calm Sandra, stay calm. You just fed and changed him before you took that internet test.” I subconsciously rocked back and forth while sitting on the sofa with my head in my hands in a mock fetal position. What did that kid want? I had held him for over two hours to get him to sleep. He didn’t need anything else, he was just tired.
“So just sleep already.” I said to no one. After about ten minutes the crying subsided and he fell asleep again. I sighed.
I had always been the first to do everything in my group of friends. First to buy a car, to buy a condo, get engaged, get married, get promoted. But that was where it had ended. All of my friends were pregnant, planning on getting pregnant, or had already had children. All of a sudden instead of having wine and cheese parties, we were scheduling play dates. So now that all my friends were knocked up or with children I never saw them anymore. When I did see them, all they seemed able to talk about was how this one brand of diapers- “Totally chaffed little Coady’s tushie.” or how “Amanda hates getting the cotton swab up her nose to get the boogers out.” And if I heard one more story about how breast feeding helps a mother bond with her baby and how if you didn’t for a certain amount of time you were damaging your baby’s odds for a healthy life, I was going to scream.
I shuddered at the very thought of breast feeding. How was that even natural? I crossed my arms over my chest and pressed my hands against my breasts as if to defend them against hungry babies everywhere. It was all just so creepy.
I would never be a cow, I promised myself.
What was even worse was how everyone pestered me about having my own children. Young or old it seemed everyone wanted to know when I was going to have my own ‘bundle of joy.’ I would just roll my eyes.
“So when are you going to have some babies Sandra?” The woman in human resources asked me again one day as I ran into her at the copy machine. How many times was she going to ask me? Why couldn’t she just leave me alone? It was as if asking me every few days would somehow will me to begin hyper-ovulating for her sake.
She had just come back from maternity leave after her second child and looked worse for wear. Her hair was always in a pony tail, she never wore make up anymore, and it was like she’d never heard of an iron by the way her clothes looked like she’d rolled out of a ditch everyday. To top it off she looked exhausted every morning. I knew her mission; she wanted all the happy non-mothers in the world to join her in her hell. She must resent the fact that there were women out there who could still go out after work for a couple martinis. Couldn’t she and everyone else just mind their own business?
My eyes narrowed as I planned my defensive attack.
That was it, I’d had enough!
“Well actually, um-” I paused and looked uncomfortable for added effect. “I…can’t have kids.” I saw a look of pure mortification cross her face and I managed to keep the grin off mine and look serious.
“Oh my God, I’m so sorry. I didn’t know.” She had fumbled satisfyingly over her apology.
Served her right for being nosy, and at least she had stopped harassing me about babies. The pestering had started with: “When are you getting engaged?” then it was: “When are you getting married?” now it was: “When are you having babies?” What was next? “When are you retiring?” followed closely by: “When are you gonna die?”
I started to wonder now though, did I have pre-partum depression? It seemed every time I heard kids crying it made my whole body clench like someone had said rectal exam. And after being exposed to braying children for awhile I would develop the sudden urge to hurt someone – possibly myself. My jaw would clench so tight it could’ve brought on TMJ.
Having children of my own scared the proverbial crap out of me.
What was the whole point of having kids anyway? It seemed like some kind of ego trip. Parents only had kids to live vicariously through them. Right? The question hung in my head; maybe I was going overboard now.
I looked at the cashmere pillow on the sofa Austen had drooled on and decided to tempt fate and endeavor a quick nap. I buried my head in the soft cushion. My head throbbed like Fred Flintstones’ thumb after being hit with a hammer. I sighed and pulled a throw that was draped on the back of the sofa over me.
An instantaneous bliss swallowed me whole.
I was at my desk getting some work done when the HR woman came round again. An inexplicable dread filled the pit of my stomach, almost breaching the edge of my self-control like a good Heineken pour would taunt the rim of a glass. She stood in front of my desk with a malicious grin on her face.
“Sooooooo.” She irritatingly beamed at me with unusual exuberance.
“Sooooooo?” I shrugged my shoulders in confusion. “What?”
“I’m sooooooo happy for you Sandra.” She smiled so hard I thought her face would crack.
“Uhhhh? Thanks…but…why?” My eyebrow rose in question.
“Oh just stop pretending you’re not excited! When’s your due date?” Her smile suddenly shifted from eager to creepy axe-murder within seconds. Her words registered with a dull thud in my brain.
“Due date?!” What was wrong with this woman? What was she talking about?
“Bwah ha ha ha ha hahahahahahahaha!” She laughed. Her voice took on a sluggish baritone pitch as everything started to turn into slow-motion like a murder scene in a horror flick. She pointed a long finger at my midsection as she continued to howl.
I looked down at myself and jumped out of my chair in shock. My hands flew to my huge round belly that had materialized out of nowhere. What was going on? How was this happening? The HR woman continued cackling as I began to panic. My stomach was huge. This couldn’t be happening it had to be a balloon stuffed under my shirt. I lifted my shirt up to see a massive expanse of skin that covered the enormous stomach of mine. My hands touched the skin of my stomach as I began to hyperventilate.
“Welcome to the club Sandra!”
I peeled my eyes from my belly to see the HR woman with a baby she was breastfeeding. Surrounding her were children too numerous to count, all crying with evil grins on their faces. The HR woman’s laugh rang out again and my heart was beating so fast I began sweating. Suddenly I felt something move inside me. Horror griped me as I stared down at my inflamed stomach. I could see the shape of a hand and then a foot through the skin of my belly as the thing inside me pushed against me. I screamed in terror and began shaking violently, not knowing what else to do. Pain hit me as the creature inside pushed its way through the skin of my stomach and burst from my belly the way the alien being had broken out of Sigourney Weaver’s chest in “Aliens.” I screamed as I stared at the bloody hand reaching out of my belly.
My head flew off the cashmere pillow and I tried to catch my breath as I reached for my stomach. It was flat; I pulled up my shirt and was comforted to see it was as flat as it had felt. My heart was thumping in my chest. I realized I was on my sofa and over on the ottoman, glowing like a beacon in the night, was my laptop screen stuck on the diagnosis for postpartum depression. I let out a deep breath as I realized it had all been a dream.
Correction, a nightmare.
My head flew back into the pillow and I laid there until my heart slowed down. I checked my watch and it was nine forty-two in the morning. Christine would be here any minute. I needed to get Austen ready to go, get some food in him and pack up all his crap. A thought flitted through my mind as I walked upstairs to the guest bedroom where I had set up the playpen he was sleeping in. I had survived. Somehow I had made it.
I felt tears of joy prick my eyes.
I opened the door to the bedroom and stood over the playpen and stared down at the sleeping baby who had had me in terror over the last two days. His little chest rose and fell slightly with his breaths and his lips were closed in a little pout. His blonde hair curled around his ears and he looked like a little cherub straight out of a painting. He was so cute and innocent, I felt a pang to hold him close and stroke his hair.
What had I been so worked up about? Little Austen wasn’t so bad. How could someone so cute have scared me so badly? I laughed at myself and my inane ability to overreact over everything.
The door bell rang and suddenly Austen was awake and rubbed his eyes. He looked up at me and must have realized how hungry he was because he let out a piercing wail. Instantly the smile fell off my face and my body clenched again. Thoughts of cute babies imploded in my head and disappeared entirely. I picked up the screaming child and answered the door with his nose spewing snot all over my cheek and neck.
Christine was at the door looking refreshed and rested. Little Austen cried even louder as he reached for his mother. I stood motionless, my face slack, boogers trailing down my neck. I eyed the woman I had considered my friend days ago like I was peering through a snipers scope, and wondered what I had done to her to have deserved this form of torture.
“Hi Austen! Mommy’s here its okay. Shhhh shhh.” She took Austen out of my arms and bounced him on her hip until he calmed down a bit. She looked back at me and I could see mild concern in her eyes as she evaluated my disheveled appearance.
“Did you two have fun?”