It had not been an easy pregnancy.
Annie was only three and Jakie was just a year and a half, she was unemployed, and desperate enough to let Rod back into her life, despite having left him five months ago after he had nearly strangled her to death. How was she to know she was pregnant at the time? She lay on the sofa, swollen feet propped up on the arm, and stared at the stained ceiling. How had her life come to this? Two toddlers, an abusive drunk for a husband, a shabby tenement with a leaking roof and rats outside big enough to saddle and ride, in a place where it was bitterly cold in the winter and suffocatingly hot and humid in the summer?
Her hand rested on her swollen abdomen. Poor baby. Like she could offer this child any more than the first two had…much as she hated to admit it, Mother had been right. Love just isn’t enough…raising kids takes money, and that was something that was always in short, short supply. At least they had enough to eat since Rod moved in…there had been stretches of days where she had eaten nothing but plain oatmeal so what little food that remained in the house could be fed to the kids. They didn’t like powdered milk and Annie was mortally offended by being offered split pea soup for a meal, peas being probably her least favorite food in the world, but faced with hunger or pea soup, the peas won out.
She sighed. Four months to go. An August birth…this would mean trying to keep a new baby comfortable and rash-free in the suffocating humidity of the summer weather while she recuperated from another Caesarean section. It was dead certain that Rod would be no more help with this child than he had been in the past…and with her entire family on the West Coast, there would be no help from that quarter. She shook her head ruefully…as if there had been any help in the past. When Annie was born, Mother had fetched them from the hospital…the military had sent her husband off to Vietnam…drove her to her little converted garage cottage and dropped her off without so much as a by-your-leave. And there she had been left alone with a ten-day-old baby…it was the day after her 18th birthday, she had nearly died in the hospital of an infection, she had a Caesarean scar on her belly that would not stop aching but, because she was breastfeeding…a positively scandalous choice forever labelling her as hopelessly low class…she couldn’t take any pain medication.
Things had only been marginally better with Jakie’s birth. Rod’s mother hated her…she wasn’t Italian, she wasn’t Catholic, she was from the wrong side of the country, and she had had the temerity to marry her precious only son…but Rod’s stepmother, Eva, had at least agreed to keep Annie while she was in the hospital for Jakie’s birth. But before the little guy had been even ten days old, she was back in her own freezing flat, healing from surgery, and caring for two children under two years of age…and a husband who was more demanding that the two babies put together.
Rod’s voice penetrated her reverie, demanding that she make him some coffee. Like he couldn’t get off his lazy ass and make himself a cup? But she knew better than to release the retort that quivered on the tip of her tongue…he hadn’t hit her since he had returned home…he hadn’t ever hit her when she was pregnant, actually…but there was always a first time. She struggled up to a sitting position, fatigue wrapped around her like a suffocating blanket, and heaved herself up off the sofa.
The next few moments were to be forever a blur in her memory. She felt dizzy, she reached out to steady herself on the nearby doorframe and suddenly a warm, wet gush of liquid cascaded down her legs, forming a spreading pool on the scarred wood floor.
“Rod!” she screamed, and the urgency in her voice must have penetrated his self-absorbed haze because he arrived at her side before her second scream had fully left her throat. Taking one look at the situation, he told her to sit back down, then ran downstairs to use the neighbour’s phone.
Amazingly, the hospital sent her home. They acknowledged that her water broke, but did nothing more than tell her husband to take her home and put her to bed, and to call her obstetrician after the holiday weekend was over. Why did she always have to choose holidays to have emergencies? she wondered, riding home in the back of a taxi listening to Rod grumble about the cost. She’d had an impacted, infected wisdom tooth on Labor Day weekend when she was eight months pregnant with Jakie, and the emergency room didn’t want to give her pain medication. Instead, they gave her a penicillin shot to which she had had a violent allergic reaction, waking up the next morning hot, red, and swollen all over, puffed up like poisoned pup. The oral surgeon who took out the tooth didn’t seem to have any compunctions against anaesthesia, but she had had to suffer for the three days before she could get the tooth extracted. Now it was Patriot’s Day weekend and she just had to go to bed and wait for it to be over.
The two flights of stairs to their attic apartment were daunting, but by taking her time, she was able to mount them. Jeanine, the teenager from the first floor, greeted them at the door and, bless her heart, refused to accept any money for watching Annie and Jakie while she and Rod were at the hospital. The little sweetheart had even washed the accumulated dishes, sparing her the back-breaking chore. Slowly, she waddled to the bedroom and stretched out on the bed and fell into an exhausted sleep.
By the next morning it was apparent that she and Rod had differing opinions on the definition of “bed rest.” She expected to stay in bed except to get up to use the bathroom; he expected her to lay in bed between accomplishing her various household tasks. Like cooking. Cleaning. Minding the kids. He conceded that grocery shopping was out and offered to do it, but her agreement was reluctant. Once out of the house without the mitigating presence of her and the kids, he would head for the nearest tavern and come home eight hours later with a loaf of bread, a quart of milk, and a belligerent attitude.
Two mornings later she awoke very early with a back ache. Too much time in the bed, she decided, and crawled out, headed for the bathroom. The first cramp seized her like a hammer blow in her lower back and she actually went down to her knees, the hollow “thud” awakening the household, sending the children into howls of alarm. “Jesus Christ!” Rod bellowed from the bedroom. “Do you have to be so clumsy?”
She struggled to stand but the pain in her back was snatching away her breath. She felt dizzy, light-headed. She thought she heard herself gasp “Help!’ but she wasn’t sure. She curled on her side, knees drawn up, and whimpered until the blackness claimed her.
She woke up in the stairwell. She was strapped to a kind of chair, two strangers carrying it down the stairs, a lot of echoing noises bouncing around her: crying children, whispering voices, bellowed commands. She couldn’t make sense of any of them. She surrendered to the blackness again, the next time opening her eyes and looking up into the face of a strange young man who had one of her eyelids pried open, a bright flashlight searing her retina.
“What’s going on?” she managed to say, but her lips felt thick and fat, and her tongue refused to be properly controlled.
Somehow the young man understood. “We’re on our way to Women’s Hospital,” he said. “You went into labour and it appears you blacked out and maybe hit your head. Just hold on and we’ll get you there in plenty of time.” He continued his probing.
“I’m five months pregnant,” she said thickly. “I have Caesareans.” His eyes widened momentarily, then he turned towards the front of the ambulance and said something she could not quite understand, her hearing as grey and fuzzy as her sight. She felt her eyes close and when they opened again it was to the punishing grasp of a giant hand digging into her lower back. Her arms and legs were too heavy to move and she could only moan at the ever-increasing intensity of the brutal grip. The ambulance bounced and bumped over sidewalks and traffic islands, the screaming siren mingling with the rushing sounds in her ears. She looked questioningly at the attendant, her ability to speak seeming to have been reduced to slow motion.
“Patriot’s Day,” he said, nodding at the window. “Opening day of baseball season, and we’re in the middle of the traffic headed for the stadium.” She nodded and closed her eyes and bit her lip against the pain, which was finally starting to subside.
She was beginning to feel a little like Alice in Wonderland. Every time she opened her eyes, everything had changed. Now she was in a little white-sheeted cubicle and someone was standing beside her, torturing her hand. “Owww!” she managed to say, feebly attempting to pull her hand free. She could see a stranger’s hand holding a cannula that looked as big as her smallest finger, and the puncture mark on the back of her hand where the stranger had tried to insert it. Before she could move or protest, a second pair of hands appeared in her field of vision and restrained her wrist and forearm while the first pair of hands jammed the thick tube into a vein on the back of her hand. She tried to scream, but her throat was too dry, her tongue too thick. What on earth was the matter with her?
When she opened her eyes the next time, the grinding pain in her back had returned. She writhed on the bed, grabbing at the bars of the headboard, and gasping for air. She heard screaming, shrieking, and terrifying howling, only to find a white-garbed nurse suddenly standing beside her and admonishing her sternly to hush, she was disturbing the other patients. “The pain,” she gasped. “Something for the pain…”
The nurse looked at her down a long, thin nose, then sniffed. “It’s too soon for pain medication,” she said, her thin lips making a prim line. “And besides, you are only having a miscarriage, it’s not like you were in real labour.”
She learned that biting down on a wad of sheet would help her ride the waves of pain. Was this labour, then? She’d had no labour with Annie and Jakie…Annie had been nearly a month past due when the doctor booked her for a C-section, and Jakie was born ten days early via scheduled C-section. Was this what labour was like, then? She had expected the pains to be in her abdomen, not in her lower back. This was excruciating! Another wave overwhelmed her and she gripped the cool steel bars of the headboard, sheets between her teeth, and twisted her body trying to escape the surge of agony that clawed at her back.
She opened her eyes to a funny sensation, a bulky feeling low in her abdomen. Almost like she had to use the toilet, but more forward. She moved her left leg experimentally and found her thighs feeling rather pushed apart and suddenly she knew…it was the baby. “Help!” she cried to the white curtains surrounding her bed. “Help me!”
That same lemon-sucking nurse snatched back the curtain. “I’ve had about enough out of you,” her bloodless lips were saying, but she interrupted.
“Something is wrong. The baby is coming. I can feel it…”
“Nonsense,” the nurse replied. “You’ve got hours to go. You were barely dilated when we checked you.”
“Look!” she cried, feeling another surge of pain gathering in her back. “Look!” She gasped suddenly, “Oh, God, it’s coming now!” She closed her eyes against the rush of pain that gripped her, clawing at the mattress with her free hand. “Oh, God. Oh, God!”
There was a cold rush of air as the sheet was snatched abruptly away from her upraised knees and the nurse started yelling. Confused, blurry images swirled around her as her bed was suddenly careening out the door of the room and rolling at an alarming speed as voices in the background made such sounds as “…get the doctor…” and “…delivering in the hallway…” She closed her eyes against the dizziness that made her want to vomit, knowing that this nurse would not appreciate having to change pukey sheets.
She was suddenly seized with what felt like a cramp. It raised her upper body off the mattress and caused her to audibly suck in air. She could not speak, but her eyes bulged in sudden terror, having no idea what was going on. Then the pain abruptly vanished and she fell back onto the sodden pillow, something wet between her thighs. She closed her eyes.
The hushed noises around her made her open them again. Like Alice, she was again in a place unfamiliar, but she recognized the green tiled walls and the massive reflective overhead light fixture…she was in an operating theatre. From the corner of her eye she could see a rubber-gloved hand extend a white cardboard carton, about the size and shape of a quart ice cream container, and then into the container was deposited a tiny, limp, wet and bloody form. Her baby.
“A boy or girl?” she managed to force out through thick lips.
“It’s not important,” that same nurse said. “It’s dead.”
“Boy or girl?” she repeated insistently, agitatedly.
“A girl,” came a soft voice from the other side of her.
“She’s dead?” she queried weakly. “Too premature?”
The thin-lipped nurse put the cover on the little white cardboard carton and set it on a stainless steel table next to the soiled towels and bloodied instruments. “From the look of things, it’s been dead for about three days.”
The day her water broke. Her baby had died that day. And they had done nothing to help her, just sent her home to rest. She closed her eyes, too tired to even cry.
A rattling, rustling sound awakened her. The person entering her room was dressed all in surgical scrubs, complete with mask, hair cover, gloves and booties, and was carrying a cardboard tray covered with disposable dishes. What was this all about?
“Oh, you’re awake!” the voice was that of a young woman. “I was beginning to wonder what colour your eyes were!”
She shook her head to clear it a bit and tried to sit up, but found she could barely move. Her tray-bearing visitor came to the bed and adjusted it to a sitting position. “Are you hungry?”
She shook her head. No, not hungry at all. In fact, she didn’t feel anything at all, except a vague sense of dread. “What’s going on here?” she asked, looking around and noting that she was alone in the room…a private room… She was a Medicaid patient…she should be in a ward.
“You’ve been very sick,” Tray Lady said. “You came in with a massive infection and for a few days there, we weren’t sure if you were going to make it.”
“You must have me confused with somebody else,” she said, shaking her head. “I came in…I was in labour…a miscarriage…at five months…”
Tray Lady nodded. “That was almost a week ago, Mrs. Martinelli. You’ve been unconscious most of that time, unconscious and on IV antibiotics. You had a massive infection…you nearly died.” She reached over and lifted a thick paper cup, “Here, try some broth.”
She shook her head. “Why all of this?” she gestured weakly to the woman’s garb and the disposables.
“Isolation,” the visitor responded. “You were so sick we were afraid that if you were exposed to anything else, it would be the end of you. Now please, eat. You need to start regaining your strength.”
She shook her head again. “My baby,” she said softly. “What happened to my baby?”
The woman shook her head. “I have no idea. Probably down to the Path Lab to find out the cause of death.” She held out the cup of broth again.
“I want my baby,” she said miserably, shaking her head. “I just want my baby.”
The next two days were days of one horror piling atop another. Nobody could find out what had happened to the baby’s body. No one could tell her if it had been baptised or given Last Rites. A nurse told her than because it was born dead, it was not necessary, but the priest who came to see her was not so encouraging. Limbo, he said. Unbaptised babies spent eternity in Limbo. She closed her eyes at his words, slow tears leaking onto her cheeks. Her room was on a maternity floor and she could hear the wailings of babies as they were taken to their mothers for feedings, each little cry stabbing into her heart like so many sharp shards of glass. Her breasts would swell and ache with remembrance, and her entire body would pulse with pain. Her baby, her tiny 15 ounce baby girl, who had no name, whose little body had disappeared and could not be baptised or even given a decent burial, was gone. She would never see sunshine, or pluck daisies or feed the squirrels on their Sunday outings to the park. She would never run barefoot in the grass or splash in puddles or taste snowflakes on her tongue. It was as if she had never existed except in her own mind. The whole thing made her feel a little bit crazy.
There was a telephone beside her bed…apparently standard issue with private rooms…and on her third day awake, it rang. At first she ignored it, knowing it couldn’t be for her, but it was insistent and she finally succumbed.
“Hello?” she said hesitantly.
“Well, it’s about time you picked up the phone,” Mother’s voice bored into her ear and yet, she felt a surge of hope, of anticipated relief.
“Oh!” she cried, tears spouting from her eyes. “Oh, Mother, the baby’s dead!” she wept. “It was a little girl and she’s dead!” She had not truly cried since coming to the hospital, and now she suddenly felt sobs forming in her throat.
“Stop blubbering,” Mother said. “I can’t understand you.”
She checked herself. The tears stopped but the sobs remained stuck in her throat as thick lumps.
“You need to pull yourself together,” Mother admonished her. “This is the best thing that could have happened, even if you don’t believe it at this point. The last thing you need right now is another brat hanging on your skirts. If you can’t keep your legs closed, get yourself some birth control. I don’t want that low-life husband of yours calling me again, complaining that you are goldbricking in the hospital and making him take care of the house and the kids besides his job, do you hear me?”
She nodded slowly. “Yes, Mother,”
“I know how you can con the doctors and elicit sympathy from them…I put up with it long enough, you know…”
“I almost died from an infection!” she interrupted. “I almost died!”
“Yeah, and I expect you will milk that one for all it’s worth, too. Well, it never worked with me and I’ve warned that husband of yours, so you might as well give up the game and get your ass back home to the two kids you do have and take care of them, do you hear me?”
Numb, she suddenly felt completely numb. “Yes, Mother,” she finally said into the phone. “I hear you.”
It is difficult to deal with a narcissist when you are a grown, independent, fully functioning adult. The children of narcissists have an especially difficult burden, for they lack the knowledge, power, and resources to deal with their narcissistic parents without becoming their victims. Whether cast into the role of Scapegoat or Golden Child, the Narcissist's Child never truly receives that to which all children are entitled: a parent's unconditional love. Start by reading the 46 memories--it all began there.