06/05/2013 by syrbal-labrys
As you might guess from some posts, my childhood was less than ideal. Ok, a LOT less than ideal. So, of course, it occurred to me quite early that I might be damaged goods, mentally speaking. Nobody talked about PTSD back then, of course, and certainly not for twenty-somethings brought up in America. But I thought about it and decided I never wanted children. I didn’t believe all the family tales of “bad blood”….though perhaps I should have? But I did believe messed up people make messed up children; my parents were messed up and I wouldn’t wish my childhood on any progeny of my own.
But my husband desperately wanted kids for some reason—perhaps to prove he could beat the odds? So we had our first-bone, a difficult child, likely reacting to my intense stress and need to be the perfect mother while still maintaining an Army career. But I was exhausted and informed my spouse that unless he wanted only one child, he better knock me up again before I lost my nerve! He immediately obliged.
In my second pregnancy, flu shots were a hot new insistence in military life. Not for me, but for everyone else. And yet near the end of my third month, as I neared what I had decided would be my ETS date, I caught the flu. I went on sick call. And a male nurse, a Major, sent the other medical personnel out of the room. He leaned forward and gripped my knee with his hand and said, “Now, Sergeant, let’s be honest here. You are maybe partying too much at night, aren’t you? Drinking even though you are pregnant? And you come here looking for permission to malinger with your hangover?”
I was instantly furious. I leapt to my feet, swatting his hand off my leg. I denied his accusations and demanded he take the sheet he had written out of my medical folder on his desk. He laughed at me and reminded me he was an officer. And something that had never happened before occurred. A voice I scarcely recognized as my own spoke, saying things I’d never have imagined! I clearly heard myself say to him, “Yes, yes you are an officer. A male officer in a room alone with a female NCO whom you touched inappropriately. Remove that page from my record folder and hand me the records. Now.”
To my surprise, he did so, without another word. I left the American military hospital in Berlin, Germany and never returned. I went downtown to the German “Frei Universitat” medical center and begged for pre-natal care. They graciously gave it to me for free and treated me as if I were made of gold. I returned to the United States before my child’s birth and again stayed far enough from a military base to see only civilian doctors. My daughter was born without a hitch.
She was, after my firstborn, a rather alarmingly silent child. She slept a LOT, the normal amount as I realized belatedly. But by the time she was a toddler, I had a horrid fear that something was wrong even though she was physically perfect and robust. She didn’t talk until near her first birthday — but then she spoke in perfect sentences. She watched people in a way that would make skin crawl if it was done by an adult. She could be shockingly violent. When her older brother took a toy she wanted, she picked up a kitchen pot and knocked him nearly unconscious! She never did anything she saw any other child get punished for at all. When she did do something forbidden, when asked why since she knew she was not supposed to do it? She would simply say “Because I wanted to.”
We took her to a psychiatrist when she was six years old because she had tried to kill her new baby brother. The good doctor was sure she would outgrow this “sibling rivalry”. I was less sure, she had imperiously ordered a “girl-baby” and told me to take the boy baby back within minutes of me arriving home with him! She stole and got us banned from day care centers. She demanded the right to call from school multiple times a day, ending employment I attempted. At age nine, we tried family counseling. Again, the counselor assured us, we were good parents with no addictive issues and she would “outgrow” it. Instead, she grew into a stubborn and manipulative teen. On occasion, she physically attacked both of us and would later say she remembered nothing. And she is now a difficult, troubled adult with addictive issues that led to our current state of permanent alienation. She was tentatively diagnosed with bipolar disorder and refused medication and left the doctor’s care.
So, imagine what it is to read now, that exposure to the influenza virus during pregnancy may cause bipolar disorder in the infant? And to learn that psychotic features might highlight such cases? All my care, all my efforts, all my guilt and worry were for something apparently determined practically before I ever felt her move within me? And beyond my reach, beyond the understanding of professionals that were consulted repeatedly. Futility….futility.