Almost There, or The Pain of Bardo

Years ago, I went on a date with a diabetic. This was during a time in my life when I was convinced that I would never, ever again meet someone I could possibly love, let alone spend the rest of my life with. I was 29 or so and in the thick of dealing with my body going awry and watching what I perceived as every single person I knew getting engaged or married, and so I went on a date with a man who asked me out on — if you can even recall such a time — Friendster. He claimed to be like Josh Lyman from The West Wing, and that meant a whole lot to me in those days.

When I arrived at a restaurant in a neighborhood I would never have chosen (someplace in Gramercy, under scaffolding), I immediately knew the guy was gay. If his mannerisms didn’t have me convinced, he ordered the most absurd fruity drink while I downed a beer. Very early on in the date — maybe within fifteen minutes — amid awkward conversation, he pulled out a diabetic kit and stabbed himself with a very tiny needle. He then left the bloody tissue on the table and acted as though nothing at all had happened. When I tried to engage him about it, figuring it was weirder that I pretend nothing had just happened, he pretended nothing had happened. I remember leaving the date and telling the story of the evening in very dramatic tones. I mean, he didn’t even go to the bathroom!!! The bloody napkin!

Fast forward half a decade, and here I am, pricking myself with the same tiny needle. Now I see why that guy did it right at the table with a total stranger: You have to prick yourself so many times a day, right at the exact right moment, that if you wanted it all to be private, you’d spend your life hiding in the bathroom. Sometimes you have to just live the life you have, right out in the open, and not apologize or explain.

Today, I pricked myself on a tram going at full speed.
Getting there. But where is "there"?

Getting there. But where is “there”?

Like every other pregnant woman, I was tested for gestational diabetes. My numbers came out borderline, meaning, with all these new hormones, my body doesn’t know how to process sugar properly, or produce insulin properly — or something. My understanding is, clearly, very vague, since no one has explained to me what’s happening and, unlike my husband, who survives on research, I like human-to-human explanations. For a month I was taken off chocolate and ice cream and cake, but when that wasn’t enough — of course it wasn’t enough, I later learned! Sugar is sugar is sugar, whether it’s in Ben & Jerry’s or an apple — I had to go to the hospital to get one of these little kits and prick myself six times a day and make sure my numbers are under a certain level all through the day so that my baby doesn’t grow too big by producing insulin for me.

This was all done in German, since the hospital is not in Vienna proper, where we live and where everyone speaks English, but a teeny tiny town outside the city, where my husband has to translate everything for me. (We did this until we figured out that the doctor spoke some French, so we had a sort of absurdly stilted conversation in which, any way you parsed it, someone needed translating.) The day was full of  confusion — I fasted when I didn’t have to (something you never ask a pregnant woman to do), we were told we didn’t need an appointment when we did, so we shuffled around the hospital trying to get answers. In other words, it was typically Austrian, a situation in which you just aren’t given all the info you need but everyone assumes you already know everything there is to know.
Hospital in the Village.

Hospital in the Village.

The pricking is more annoying than anything else, but it wore on me until I figured out how to get enough blood each time to get a proper reading — the tip of my finger now looks something like a professional guitarist’s — and how to manage my diet. My pregnancy books say it is the most common pregnancy complication and manageable.  This is certainly true, and I am, believe me, acutely aware of how much worse it could be. (See: my mother’s experience.) But it still takes a while to get the hang of it and to not walk around starving. I spent a good part of the first week living in fear of eating the wrong thing and getting a bad number. When my best friend was here, we ate burritos and the tortilla sent my number soaring. So did ketchup. That not only sent the number up but prompted my husband to say, “You ate ketchup?” as though it were common knowledge that ketchup is full of sugar. (Maybe I am the only person who just learned this.)

Perhaps it’s because I’m nearing the end of the pregnancy and about to enter another phase — or two, really, if you count the birth — that is entirely unknown and unpredictable that I feel not so much on edge, but like I’m not really here or there, wobbly and vulnerable. Not wholly my former self and, despite already worrying about the baby, not yet a mother. A real sense of bardo — a Buddhist term for having left one place but having not yet arrived anywhere else — has taken over life here. I often have the feeling I did when I first moved to New York: that, in theory, I was in the right place but that it was just too taxing and I wasn’t strong enough to shoulder it. At 22, when I would walk down into the subway at 10pm after work, I often stood on the platform crying as I watched an F train roll out of the station. I hated feeling so out of sync with the world around me.

2013-04-14 17.55.18

Today I sobbed through dinner, and my husband tried so hard to figure out what was wrong. I couldn’t really explain, and rolled one story into another, as one will do in moments of feeling overwhelmed and emotional. Being a wonderful, but rational and action-driven husband, he was trying to parse and organize, but the only thing we really ended up sorting through was that I was worried he’d never want to have another kid because this has been “too hard on him.” (He rightly said we should maybe table that discussing for a few months, if not years.)

I don’t know if I should trust how emotional I feel much of the time — wistful for I don’t know what, missing friends back home, struggling to feel settled here. But I don’t know whether I’m working from a rational place because the sadness abates in a full, real way and I go on with my day. Having watched many friends go through it — and having read about Flapper Pie and BEZ’s experiences  — I’m excited and terrified of what is to come, of what will become of my marriage, of my body, of my sex life, of my career, of my work, of my mind. I feel an urgency for something — to do and see and experience and take in life before the baby, and yet my life has already changed so much, it feels false. (Perhaps this is why I never got on board with the whole BabyMoon thing.) But I know when I look back on this moment in a few months (while eating ice cream!) I’ll laugh at how much I thought my life had already changed.

6 thoughts on “Almost There, or The Pain of Bardo

  1. What a thoughtful and honest depiction (confession?) of this time and place, this bardo-space that you’re in. It’s interesting: I’m not pregnant and I don’t have children (you know this), but I am in the midst of that time of life when so many of my friends are getting pregnant and giving birth (counting you and BeZ, I have NINE currently pregnant ladies or very newly-minted mamas in my life), and I feel the kind of urgency you’ve described here almost by osmosis. I feel an urgency for you to cross through this bardo-space and report back to me from the other side. Once you’re there, though, you (and now I’m speaking more generally, about many of the new mothers I know) have a kind of new language, a language I understand of course in theory but not in practice, laced with little sayings like, “unlike anything else” and “my old self” and “it’s difficult to take a shower” and a whole vocabulary of slightly tentative words describing this mysterious sense of love or gratitude or connection. I feel like, not being a mother myself, it is somehow understood that there is little I can say that would be true or meaningful in these moments of early motherhood– and I suppose I feel some urgency to understand enough to offer comfort and encouragement to these women (you!) in my life.

    I can relate, though, to the feeling of being in a transitory space, having let go of where I had been and not yet knowing what it would be like where I was going. There is a trapeze metaphor that goes along with these situations. People say that these are the richest times of life– which is a nice thought, at the very least, in retrospect.

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  3. What a lovely post! You pinpointing this stage as a “bardo” is so apt. Not that I know, but I can imagine.

    And yeah – who knew ketchup was so high in sugar? I’ve been avoiding refined sugar, myself, just for fun 🙂 and it can be challenging.

    I hope that the rest of your pregnancy goes well (as I’m sure it will) and that you have a beautiful, smooth transition to mama-hood.

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  5. Beautifully honest post and that must suck. Imagine if you had to inject yourself every day for the rest of your life, rather than just during the time you’re pregnant? (which perhaps doesn’t even draw much attention, other than pity, because gestational diabetes is a pretty well known thing, isn’t it?).

    Stupid question, who is Bardo? I’m going to regret the ignorance of this query, I know.

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