While I Was Away: A Horror Story

RJH holding her newborn son, Arthur.

Since I was last here, I started gestating my second child. That’s essentially my excuse for not updating sooner. I needed to sleep. Smells hit me. Anxiety started brimming. I started making excuses. Too pregnant to edit. Too pregnant to blog. I was too pregnant to be a writer. Oh, the horror!

Then Red Dead Redemption II came out and I didn’t even need to make excuses anymore. I’d spent well over a year slaving over my novel and I needed a bloody break. It had been forever since I last sat around on the couch like a complete loser. My novel sat inside my computer, sad and attention-deprived. I traded my keto diet for Pizza Hut and bags of chips. My husband and I spent our time immersed in the wild west. I gained a bunch of weight but that weight was all baby. Life was great. So full of non-commitment. So full of new spacious maternity dresses. I even bought one on Black Friday that Kate Middleton wore.

When we found out that our child was a boy, we decided to name him Arthur. After Arthur Morgan, of course.

My novel waited. And waited. And waited.

I spent a few nights trying to slip back into my waiting Scrivener document, but my heart just wasn’t in it. This happened with my first pregnancy too. My creative energy vanished. Pregnancy definitely does a lot of altering things, but I don’t think it’s something that female writers spend much time confronting. Maybe it’s time we should really confront the horror story that pregnancy can be, and embrace it.

Body Horror

I remember watching my body change when I was pregnant with my daughter. I didn’t take progress photos, but I did watch my gut expand while I waited for my baths to fill every night. Then the stretch marks came and I’d run my fingers up and down my compromised flesh in horror. One of them looked like a massive Harry Potter thunderbolt and I tried to see the novelty in it. I couldn’t. My body was maimed and would never look the same.

After you have the baby, well, things get even more horrific. I used to think that one of the pros of pregnancy was that you got to avoid having your period for three months. Not so! Postpartum, all those missed periods get to make their runway debut. Blood slips out for weeks. All of your 90’s teenage pad woes return in The Shining elevator form. Your breasts hurt. Engorment occurs. Milk ducts fill with what feels like cement. I don’t know why some women consider this a pro. I mean, it’s 2019 and we know without a doubt that Playstation 2-era Lara Croft tits are not attractive, right?

Your hips don’t fit in your jeans, either. And if you’re like me and still insist that leggings are not pants, you’re going to have a clothing CRISIS every time you attempt to dress your alien body to leave the house.

Building Terror

When it comes to childbirth, I don’t like knowing what to expect. Like maybe give me a glimpse of the monster, but leave it at that. Because I’m a Type I diabetic, my pregnancies are considered high-risk, and thus I need a lot of extra monitoring. I had to have extra ultrasounds (which was a plus, being able to see the baby more often, but also a con, because I also got to see just how big my son was getting.) They’d tell me he was in the 95th percentile and I started Googling pictures of large babies. I mean, that’s really all the horror I can tolerate.

All the technicians would say was, “It’s a good thing you’re having an elected C-section this time!”

Also, I had to go to the Labour and Delivery ward of the hospital for multiple NST tests every week. in an NST, they strap you to a monitor that checks the baby’s heart rate for about an hour, and while you’re laying there you get to the listen to the women across the hall in labour. It’s really great for the blood pressure. Mine was always high when they checked it.

I had to be induced at the end of my first pregnancy, on a count of the blood pressure. Labour never progressed. The baby wasn’t handling it well, so I ended up getting an emergency C-section. I also ended up getting over my fear of surgery (so, plus?).

This time around I opted for an elected C-section. Plenty of women told me it would be a much better experience, and I can vouch for that. I still struggled when the nurses wheeled me into the operating room. The table in the corner waited with its metal scissors and clamps and other stainless implements they were going to cut me open with. It’s like a fucking horror movie when you WILLINGLY let a guy shove a needle up your spine that paralyzes you from the chest down.

This time, I heard them actually cutting. This time, the hose banged against my arm while they sucked all the blood and fluids out.

Surgery will never not horrify me.

Psychological Torment

I had some pretty moderate postpartum depression after I had my daughter. At the time I didn’t think it was bad. I never sought out help. I spent most of my nights with my mind racing, spent my afternoons crying, spent my time without my kid without any guilt in the world. Any sense of what I considered normal before I became a parent was all I wanted to go back to.

Breastfeeding set me off. I hated breastfeeding, hated hearing about breastfeeding. I hated talking about being a parent. Tormenting guilt overcame me when I’d be reminded of the natural drug-free childbirth experience I was POSITIVE I was going to have. My daughter struggled to gain weight properly. Every time I had to appear in public with my kid and pretend to be happy was torture. I’d go home crying every. damn. time.

I edited some of the darkest stories in my Vile Men collection while under the worst of my depression. Plenty of sleepless winter nights were spent hunched over the dresser in my daughter’s bedroom. My back ached. My wrists ached. But at least I got some creative fodder out of the misery.

I like to be blunt about my PPD experience. People told me to seek out help, but I didn’t think my situation was that bad. I didn’t want to kill my daughter or myself. The depression just built up, built a wall, and refused to budge. I faked a lot of my happiness, put on the stupid happy face. Faking happiness is the easier thing to do around people who slather you thick with cliches.

Inside, I convinced myself that I would never have another kid. I refused to go through it again. Part of me believed that I was a horrible mother, that I couldn’t handle a newborn, that I couldn’t handle more than one child.

Having a kid was a challenge I wanted to take on. I gave my first go a C+.

Eventually, though, I found some footing. I was never going to be ideal, but at least I loved my daughter. I couldn’t devote all of myself to her, couldn’t sacrifice everything, but the love was there. I’d passed the challenge to some degree.

The Resolve

My novel was inspired by much of my time after having my daughter. It helped me get over a lot of guilt. Even if it was traumatic, at least I got something out of it.

I had my daughter in 2015. Four years later, I have confidence. I have a second draft of my debut psychological horror. And now I have a son.

I’m a legit two-time final girl.

I’m sorry I took so long to get back into this whole writing gig. Sometimes motherhood really beats the shit out of you. BUT FEAR NOT, for I got myself a tubal ligation after they ripped my son’s massive head out of me. I can guarantee you that this horrorshow will not be a trilogy.

I’ll be back at work soon.

More about Rebecca

Rebecca is a neo-noir author from Kamloops, British Columbia. Her first collection of gritty short fiction, Vile Men was published by Dark House Press in 2015. She also writes about her writer lifestyle on her personal blog at rebeccajoneshowe.com