Origins, Part Deux: The Sequel.
And now on to the next origin of some of my bizarre-to-you phobias:
When I was pregnant with my first baby (actually, my second; I lost the first baby, but that is yet another story for yet another place. Well, no, same place, but...never mind.)...OK. So when I was pregnant with this baby, I had a terribly difficult pregnancy. Fear of another miscarriage (which was decidedly UNHELPED when I fell down the stairs at 6 weeks pregnant), intense 24/7 all-day "morning" sickness, early-labor scares (contractions, cervical changes, the whole nine), terrific pain caused by as-of-then undiagnosed Hashimoto's Thyroiditis, etc. So pregnancy sucked anyway. I was my usual careful handwasher throughout, but I worked in a place where almost no one washed their hands, and people always came to work when sick.*
*There is a special place in hell reserved for people who come to work sick, especially when they work closely with pregnant women.
If I may digress for a moment, the reason I knew that almost no one there washed their hands was because we worked in a building where for nine years I was lucky enough to have the office directly adjacent to the bathroom. The thin-walled bathroom. I could hear many things I never want to hear again. And of course, there was the lovely wafting of bathroom odors every time someone exited and strolled, 8 ounces lighter, past my open office door. So not only could I hear those sounds, along with the toilet and urinal flushing, but I could hear water running, the soap dispenser being pressed (seriously, I could), and I could hear the sound of our ancient, loud paper-towel crankyyankythinger. It was the kind with a lever that you pressed down over and over again to get your scroll of paper towels out. As I recall, about 12 depressions of the crankyyanky lever were sufficient to get the proper amount of paper towel.
Well. I'm sure you can see where this is going. Someone would pass my office, enter the adjacent bathroom, do their bidness. I and my keen ear (finely attuned to these particular sounds) would wait anxiously, so anxiously...but I'd say about 89% of the time, the person would exit without the precious sounds of water running nor the crankyyankythinger making its sound. Thus, absolute proof that they did not wash. And even worse was when that rank scent of bidness, that cloud of putrefaction, wafted after them. So not only did I know that they had not washed after doing their bidness, they had not washed after doing their NUMBER TWO bidness. Fuckers, all. You can see why I Lysoled the hell out of my keyboard and mouse on a regular basis, both because people sometimes used my computer and because I had to touch things around the office building that Nonwashers had touched. I also Lysoled the hell out of every touchable surface in the bathroom every day, and frequently had to refill the soap dispenser that had remained empty for God knows how long. I should have gotten janitorial pay.
I think one person caught on to the fact that I could hear the paper towel dispenser through the walls. My boss. He was always a Nonwasher, but at some point the following started happening: He would enter the bathroom; 20 seconds later I would hear the flush of the urinal; and then I would IMMEDIATELY hear the paper towel dispenser lever being yankcrankered. TWO TIMES. Two yanks. Two cranks. Halfheartedly, to boot. The thing is? Two yanks would expel approximately 2 centimeters of paper towel. This is of no use to anyone. Then the door would open 0.5 seconds later. So I know he was doing the yankycranky for my benefit, to try to fool me into thinking he washed. But Mister Bossman Sir, I am no fool.
OK, back to our regularly scheduled phobia.
Toward the end of my pregnancy, which was in October (hello flu season!!), everyone in the office was sick.* In overlapping schedules. First it was Christy and Sam and Lisa who were sick for a week. Halfway through that week, Bridgette and Ramona and Sara were sick for a week. Halfway through that week, Rachel and Danni and Theresa were sick. And so forth. And they all came into my office every 2.5 seconds for some godforsaken reason or another. After they left, I would spray Lysol into the air in the meek hopes that it would kill the breath they had breathed toward me. And I went through a vat of Purell weekly.
Alas. My attempts at good health hygiene were no match for 8998347543 colds and influenzas running rampant. My drastically lowered immune system (thanks, pregnancy!), gave up the ghost. I got sick.
I had gotten my flu shot on Tuesday. It didn't have enough time to work. I was already feeling kind of crappy, but then again, I always felt crappy (thanks, pregnancy!). Late the following Thursday (well, actually in the wee hours of Friday morning), I called work and left a message that I was sick and would not be coming (because I am not an asshole). I always hated to call in sick, especially on a Friday, lest they think I just wanted a long weekend. But I was DEFinitely sick by now. I had spent all of Thursday evening and night coughing my lungs out. This was a quickly worsening cold/flu, and it pounded me hard and fast (twss).
Friday morning at about 10:15 am, I woke up sick like the dog. As I went potty for the zillionth time since the night before, I sat there and coughed and coughed. I coughed so hard I thought I would break my brain or rupture my eyeballs.
Well, I didn't rupture my eyeballs, but I did rupture my amniotic sac. As I stood up, I found that my water had broken. From coughing that hard. What's amusing (?) is that, had I opted to go in to work that day (like an asshole), my water would have broken on the drive over, since every day I was in the car driving to work from 10-10:30 am. Instead, it broke and leaked all over my bathroom floor. Gallons and gallons, I swear.
I was early, only 37 weeks along, but thank God I could be considered basically full-term. Still, that baby should have baked for three more weeks, and here we were, with premature rupture of membranes (PROM).
The coughing so hard led to this spontaneous PROM, but since my water hadn't broken because I was, y'know, READY to have a baby, I did not go into labor. Instead, I had to immediately go to the hospital (instead of going into labor naturally, then laboring at home for a long time, like I wanted) for antibiotics, since I was GBS+. Once there, I tried everything I could to get labor started. Walking endlessly, rocking in a chair, nipple stimulation *tweak tweak!!*, but nothing got contractions going. They gave me several hours to try, but since my water had already broken, there was a window in which I had to deliver: 24 hours. Not everyone agrees with this window, but I did, so I was OK with that assessment. The doctors knew that even if labor HAD begun, it could still take many many hours to actually deliver, but since labor hadn't even begun whatsoever, we needed to resort to pitocin to get shit up and moving. I had never wanted pitocin. I had never wanted interventions. I never wanted drugs. I wanted as natural a birth as possible. I had also wanted to NOT HAVE THE FUCKING FLU. Bygones.
The pitocin ended up working, thank God, and contractions happened and dilation happened and all that shit, but the added pain from the pitocin made labor unbearable. After eleven hours of hard labor (hard anyway, but made harder by pitocin, and made hardest by having the worst cold of my life), and only being 4 cm dilated with 6 to go, that was it. Epidural time. Another thing I never, ever wanted.
Eventually the time came to deliver. And guess what I got to do? Deliver a baby while coughing my brains out. Sick, sick, sick like the dog, and trying to push a human being out my vaj. Good times. Good times.
And here's more TMI, since you are at the edge of your chair begging, "Jo, please, tell me more about your crotch!!" I had an awful second-degree perineal tear, and my cold lasted another month (I kid you not), so every time I felt my lungs tickle, I had to cross my legs and press them together as tightly as I could, say a prayer to the Patron Saint of Torn Vajayjays, and hope for the best as I coughed my soul out. Needless to say, I had one sore crotch. YOU try coughing with stitches in your whatnot.
Anyway, back to the birth. When the baby was born, she had trouble breathing. Thirty-seven weeks may be full-term, but it isn't full enough term for a lot of babies. She was chalky, a little listless, and full of fluid in her lungs. Her Apgars were only 7 and 7. The plan was for them to place the baby on my tummy and do all the standard observations there, and let me hold and nurse her, but instead they had to take her away for deep lung suctioning. I didn't get to have her back for almost an HOUR. (And as a sidenote, I am convinced that this lung suctioning was so traumatic to my minutes-old infant daughter that it gave her an oral aversion for life. She has always had issues with eating, with gagging, etc. As a baby, she hated and tried to refuse the bottle because I think the nipple deeply in her mouth practically gave her PTSS. Flashbacks to when they shoved a plastic tube miles down her throat.) Can you blame her?
She also never nursed well--couldn't latch correctly, was wildly jaundiced and therefore incredibly sleepy, among other things. Yet another side effect of being born not-quite-ready. So we were never able to establish a breastfeeding relationship, and I ended up pumping exclusively for seven months. Pumping was the bane of my existence. The failure to nurse caused me deep depression, as did the getting-up-round-the-clock-to-pump-even-when-my-child-was-sleeping-through-the-night. My relationship with my baby was affected, because I couldn't hold her or play with her as much as I wanted, since I always had to pump.
ALL THIS, because some fucker had come to work sick and given me a cold.
How is it that I constantly digress so deeply?
OK, so. Phobia:
Three years later I got pregnant again with little Naomi. And now, in addition to the myriad fears I already separately dealt with (miscarriage, birth defects, listeria poisoning, umbilical cord accidents, oh I could go on and on), I had to contend with a brand-new (or at least drastically worsened) phobia: Colds. Why? Because I was afraid I would catch one and cough and my water would break. It was that simple. It wasn't an unfounded fear, because that did happen to me before.
I was afraid my water would break at 10 weeks and I would miscarry. I was afraid my water would break at 22 weeks, juuuust before the baby was viable and the baby would die. I was afraid my water would break at 24 weeks, the point of viability but at which point your surviving baby will likely have incredibly severe health and mental problems. I was afraid my water would break at 30 weeks. I was afraid it would break at 33 weeks. I was even afraid it would break at 37 weeks, "full term," lest we go through more issues like last time. I was afraid. I was just so afraid.
On top of it all, I was pregnant once again during and throughout flu season, and everyone around me was sick with a horrible flu. Not only was I afraid of catching the common cold and coughing my baby out too early, but I was terrified of the flu. Inside my head, a battle raged: to get the flu shot or not?
Because I had contacted Dr. Google a few too many times, I'd read way too many horror stories of women who insist the flu shot was directly responsible for their miscarriage or fetal demise. Now, I understand--I understand--the huge number of women who get the flu shot while pregnant, and they and their child are just. fine. I get this. And the flu shot can, duh, prevent the flu, and the flu can be incredibly dangerous to pregnant women and their babies. So this was one half of the internal battle that raged. The flu shot could save me from catching swine flu and (1) getting ridiculously sick, far sicker than most people, because of a lowered immune system (thanks, pregnancy); (2) not being able to use any effective medications to achieve symptom relief, since almost nothing is safe to take during pregnancy; or (3) uh, dying.
The other half the battle was all the information I had gathered on how unsafe the flu shot was. I read through all the personal stories, even found medical information on respectable websites that recommended against it. Not to mention, I couldn't help but wonder why the flu shot is not recommended for babies under 6 months of age, but it is OK for fetuses to get? I was just too scared.
One day, I'd wake up thinking, "Listen, this isn't worth the risk of catching the flu. Flu is srs bsns for preggos. Flu can kill me and thus my baby. Or at least leave me devastatingly ill and thus threaten the health of my baby as well. I'm going in first thing tomorrow for my shot." Then like half an hour later, I'd be all, "FUCK THE FLU SHOT, there is no way in hell I am risking even the remotest of possibilities that it could cause miscarriage." I just could not do it. I just could not inject something into my body where, if something happened to Naomi, I'd never forgive myself. Back and forth, back and forth my decisions went. I was so torn you cannot believe it. Torn like my poor poor perineum.
I eventually decided on NO FLU SHOT (or rather, the debate kept raging and I kept chickening out of it, up until I delivered in March, when it became a non-issue). But during the pregnancy, I protected myself the best I could--my husband got his shot, my daughter got hers, and my mom got hers as well. We employed an EXTREME REGIMEN of germ-avoidance practices (too embarrassing to detail as of yet). And somehow, no flu. I say somehow, but it was likely due to our excessive handwashing and other such OCD behaviors.
But, friends and worshipers, my point is, this was the origin of my extreme fear of catching even just a cold. I was terrified my water would break. I was terrified to lose my baby. It was incredibly hard to live with that kind of fear, to live in a constant state of anxiety.
And I was constantly around sick people. Every single time I went to a family gathering, at least one asshole showed up sick. And at my husband's family gatherings, the SAME asshole showed up sick, every.single.time. Birthday parties. Thanksgiving. Christmas. Coughing her brains out. I was not only furious (she knows exactly how phobic I am, not to mention, hello, COMMON SENSE, GET YOU SOME, pregnant woman in the hizzay, don't come over if you're sick like the dog)...not only was I furious, but I was petrified. All I could do was pray to God to keep my unborn safe...and wash my hands.
And BY the grace of God, and the Patron Saint of Pregnant OCDers, I never did get sick.Thank you, dear 8 pounds 6 ounces newborn infant Jesus, don't even know a word yet, learning about His shapes and colors. Thank you. My second daughter was born at a much healthier 39 weeks on the dot. My water broke spontaneously again this time, but not due to being ravaged by sickness. And I DID go into labor on my own, and I did NOT need pitocin, and things were all around just dandy. Except for the excruciating pain. But whatever.
Still. The phobia remains. I don't entirely know why, since I'm not pregnant anymore and thus not afraid of losing my baby (although I AM afraid of my baby getting sick, since Dr. Google yet again has provided me with more horror stories, this time of babies choking to death on their phlegm in the middle of the night). But even now, in the middle of summer, with a healthy, bouncing 4-month-old and healthy, bratty almost 4-year-old, I am afraid. I still live with extreme anxiety. I am still on high alert. If my aforementioned keen ears so much as hear someone cough a mile away, every muscle in my body tenses and I want to hold my breath and run away forever. I still live afraid. Because no one ever said phobias make sense.
...Although, I like to think that mine at least DID make sense, because now you know why, where, and how it began: I just didn't want to lose my precious baby Naomi.
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By Rita Arens
By Rita Arens