‘WE ARE LOVED, WE ARE LOVED’

Last year, Min­istry of Health fig­ures showed that one in five New Zealan­ders sought help for a di­ag­nosed mood or anx­i­ety dis­or­der. Aimie Cronin tells her story.

Weekend Herald - Canvas - - CONTENTS - EDITED EX­TRACT FROM “THE BE­GIN­NING”, HEADLANDS: NEW STO­RIES OF ANX­I­ETY, (VIC­TO­RIA UNIVER­SITY PRESS, $30). AVAIL­ABLE FOR PRE-ORDER FROM VUP BUT CAN ALSO BE PRE-OR­DERED THROUGH GOOD BOOKSHOPS FROM OC­TO­BER 11. MEN­TAL HEALTH AWARENESS WEEK IS OC­TO­BER 8-14. MH

Last year, Min­istry of Health fig­ures showed that one in five New Zealan­ders sought help for a di­ag­nosed mood or anx­i­ety dis­or­der. Aimie Cronin tells her story.

Iam 39 weeks and two days preg­nant. At the post of­fice yes­ter­day, the man be­hind the counter took one look at me and said, “You should not be out like this. Stay in­side the house un­til baby comes.” Three peo­ple stopped and stared as I walked to my car. “When are you due”? one called out from way across the car park. “Any day now,” I said. She tilted her head as if to say, “Holy hell!” I feel in equal parts like beauty at its high­est and a big, fat lump.

For months I have been look­ing at ex­piry dates with no in­ter­est other than their prox­im­ity to the date I am due to give birth to my first baby. I tell my hus­band this and he de­cides that a bot­tle of milk is the ul­ti­mate: that when those bold num­bers as­sert them­selves from the fridge with a date that matches ours, it will mean this is of­fi­cially hap­pen­ing, like a stamp land­ing on a pass­port when you ar­rive in a new coun­try. Last week we vis­ited the su­per­mar­ket and I reached down the back for the new milk — and there it was. “We don’t need milk,” my hus­band said. I looked at him in dis­be­lief, point­ing to the date. “It’s a keep­sake.”

At home, I can’t stop open­ing the fridge to stare at the bot­tle. I take a photo of it, snapchat­ting it to friends with the date cir­cled and the baby emoji and a shocked faced emoji and a heart emoji. They re­spond with the clap­ping hands emoji, or the heart emoji, or the emoji where the yel­low face is laugh­ing un­til it cries. I en­gage with all of these in­ter­ac­tions in good hu­mour, but some­where in­side I feel a shock bor­der­ing on panic that the day of the milk ex­piry match has ar­rived, and some­time soon an ac­tual baby will ar­rive as well.

I also par­take in the eu­phoric and fright­en­ing ex­er­cise of mea­sur­ing this time in “lasts”. I think, this could be the last time I wash my hair be­fore the baby comes, the last time I eat noodles, the last time I have to cut my toe­nails, the last time I change the sheets, the last time I buy some­thing on­line, the last time I see Ev­ery­where Man as I drive down the street. When my friends say goodbye, they say, “This could be the last time I see you be­fore you have a baby.” And I shut the door and can­not for the life of me be­lieve it’s real.

FOR FOUR years, my hus­band and I wanted noth­ing more than a baby. In those years we learned that no mat­ter how much you want some­thing, or how much you try, it might hap­pen, but there’s a chance it won’t. Our whole lives we are taught that if we work hard enough, we will get what we want. How do we rec­on­cile that with the bleak prospect of in­fer­til­ity?

I have heard preg­nancy de­scribed as a state of mild to el­e­vated panic, and in­deed I feel like this: mild panic with ev­ery ache and pain, el­e­vated panic at the eight ul­tra­sounds we’ve elected this time around, where I still can’t look at the screen and see any­thing but all my life and hap­pi­ness hang­ing in the bal­ance.

My fear of scans be­gan with the first mis­car­riage. I look back to that one and think about how op­ti­mistic I was, how much I took it for granted that ev­ery­thing would be okay. The sono­g­ra­pher said, “I’m sorry, this is not a vi­able preg­nancy” and it felt like walk­ing into the shade. I lost a kind of in­no­cence about the way life would un­fold be­fore me. I re­mem­ber the scan­ning rod was still in­side me and she was shift­ing it around, frown­ing into the mon­i­tor for slow min­utes, tak­ing stills as I lay there, sen­tenced to the bed, try­ing to con­tain my panic.

When I fell preg­nant the se­cond time, my dog sat still as I cried into her fur, tears of grief and joy. As the weeks passed, no bleed­ing, no pain, none of the grim symp­toms you read about, I slowly be­gan to let my­self re­lax and dis­cuss the pos­si­bil­ity of hav­ing a baby with my hus­band. I was an­noyed at him for hold­ing back. “Just let your­self feel happy,” I said, and each day I felt a lit­tle more en­ti­tled to claim that what was hap­pen­ing was real. I made him fol­low me into con­ver­sa­tions about our new life, and we sounded awk­ward at first, but soon we got so good at dream­ing about it. Will our house be warm enough, we whis­pered to each other, where will it sleep, will the dog be jeal­ous, what do we need, what will we call it? At night he let his hands smooth over my stom­ach and some­times he said good­night to it and they were among the sweet­est mo­ments of my life.

I NEVER felt the first two kick. We lost the se­cond at 15 weeks, just as I was about to show. “There was a bump,” I cried to my hus­band af­ter. “There wasn’t,” he says, run­ning his hands through my hair. “There wasn’t.”

Now, noth­ing set­tles my anx­i­ety like the feel of this baby kick­ing. He kicks, “I’m alive!” and I can carry on liv­ing too. He sleeps, and I worry, and my hus­band and I set the timer and hold my stom­ach, wait­ing for him as I try to stay sane. Some­times at night I think about worse things that may hap­pen to us and ev­ery­thing we have been through feels like a warn­ing. To love more than this and risk loss is a fright­en­ing thing. I shake my hus­band awake one night, hys­ter­i­cal, to tell him he needs to go to the doc­tor for a check-up. Chaos threat­ens, and it’s so deep down, at the thought I might ever lose them.

I be­come con­vinced our un­born child is in per­ilous dan­ger be­cause of half an in­ter­view I caught on na­tional ra­dio about bog wa­ter — we don’t even use bog wa­ter — or the bag of let­tuce that has been re­called from the su­per­mar­ket, or the cheese I didn’t check at a restau­rant. “What if I poi­son him?” I say. “What if I fall over and hit my belly? What if I roll on to my back in the night and he can’t breathe?” His words set­tle me, as calm­ing as an old song. “You’re well, I’m well, the baby is well.” On we go.

In the weeks fol­low­ing the loss of our se­cond baby, time had its way with pain. Slowly we al­lowed our­selves to be­come dis­tracted by ev­ery­day things, spend­ing hours with the lap­top sit­ting be­tween us, watch­ing re­runs of Friends, eat­ing mashed pota­toes smoth­ered in salt, pick­ing fei­joas from be­neath the tree out front in our dress­ing gowns. There was a re­as­sur­ance in those mo­ments, that life wan­ders along and is mostly gen­tle. I pulled flow­ers from the bou­quets we were sent and dot­ted them around the house in jars so that ev­ery­where we went there were re­minders that we are loved, we are loved, we are loved, we are loved. We ate lemon bis­cuits,

hand-de­liv­ered by my mum, and saw her lit­tle face that wished noth­ing but good things for us. The anx­i­ety less­ened its ring­ing in my ears. Enough to try again, know­ing that no mat­ter how much you want some­thing, or how much you try, it might hap­pen, but there’s a chance it won’t.

I write this only days away from hold­ing my baby and all that matters is that he gets here safely. My arms tin­gle at the prospect of him.

This week at the su­per­mar­ket, a wo­man stock­ing shelves sees me and drops a box full of canned fruit. “I got dis­tracted by your stom­ach.”

A stranger walks past and says, “Good luck.”

I get to the milk and the ex­piry is a week past my due date.

I smile and my heart quick­ens, but only a lit­tle. By the time we reach the new milk ex­piry date, I will be home with an ac­tual baby. Christ! A “what if” creeps in, then an­other. I catch my­self, just in time. I place a hand on my stom­ach and feel the thing I wanted more than any­thing and now can­not be­lieve I ac­tu­ally have. Sure enough, some­where in­side my busy head, there is joy to be vi­su­alised, too.

I pic­ture a healthy baby, wrapped tight in his lit­tle sleep­ing bas­ket. I pic­ture my­self, check­ing on him in the night, hold­ing him in my arms. I pic­ture him, peep­ing out from his cap­sule as I wan­der through the su­per­mar­ket.

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