How It Began
It began for me on the night of February 26, 2002. I went out to a Mexican restaurant with my husband and my mother. I ate a large plate of carne guisada and burped. I was forty-one weeks pregnant with my first child.
My husband, Jim, would be upset with me if I didnít mention the part where Harry Knowles, a big jolly guy who became a local celebrity webmastering Ainít It Cool News and was dining in the same restaurant, paused and looked over at us as if he was trying to place me but couldnít because I was swollen and distended. I am a freelance film reviewer, which means that I spend a lot of time sitting in the dark watching movies none of the staff writers want, and sometimes heís there, too.
At about 4:00 a.m. I awoke with a contraction. I had another five minutes later. And then another. I literally woke up in active labor, which is so Hollywood-movie that I had to laugh. At the hospital, Jim ferried me to the fourth floor in a pediatric wheelchair. My feet dragged the floor. I was giddy, waving to people. Look at me! Iím in labor!
It stopped being funny when I had dilated up to nine centimeters and my water finally broke.
"Whoa," said my nurse, "I canít remember the last time I saw so much mec." She stuck her gloved hand in my vagina. "Oh, manóthatís a butt."
A butt? How could it be? We all looked at each other, and I made a decision. Off to the OR for an emergency cesarian. By then I had hit transition and was sweating and shaking.
In the following weeks, we made two unhappy discoveries. One was that the baby had gastroesophageal reflux, characterized by projectile vomiting and nearly constant wailing. The other was that I was completely insane.
First it was the baby blues. I cried buckets when I saw my stapled-together abdomen. I cried buckets when we put Willófor that was his nameóinto his car seat for the first time. He looked so withered and defenseless, like one of those tiny bleeding chickens from the oven in Eraserhead. I cried whenever his head flopped from one side to the other. I cried when my mother gave us a chocolate cake. I cried when it was gone. I cried when I turned on the shower. I cried when I turned it off. I cried because it hurt to laugh. I cried because it hurt to cry.
Then it became something else. I held my infant son in my arms while he squalled for hours, and the comparisons to Eraserhead became more apt. At last I understood the meaning of David Lynchís surreal imagery. I understood wanting to vanish into the radiator, reassured that in heaven everything is fine. I understood unwrapping the swaddling to find a tiny body, decaying to the point of liquefaction and more reptile than human. I understood the guilty feeling of happiness Iíd have if I were to discover the baby dead, its torments relieved. Because this kid cried more than I did. Even in his sleep he squirmed and grunted and threw up.
Jim and I hung our heads and entered the twilight existence of colic parents. We rocked and bounced and shuffled. We drove up and down the highway. I spent all day rocking in a chair; while the baby slept and nursed. I held him upright for comfort and watched Montel with the captions on. I slept in a recliner at night with the baby in my arms. We gave him Zantac. We gave him Prilosec. We put him down on a $300 wedge pillow so he could scream at a thirty-degree angle. We read books that told us to love our "hurting" baby, that told us we should gratefully accept the challenge life had handed us. We fought every day. We took turns eating. We took turns sleeping.
We did this for eight months.
Meanwhile I lost my marbles. More on that later.