Being a former psychotherapist doesn’t leave you immune to making crazy promises with the world in a bid to have good things happen – as Taylor Glenn found out when she was pregnant.
When I was pregnant, I developed a liver disorder which made me freakishly itchy all over my legs and arms. It caused no rash, no physical evidence of its fiery presence, which just added to the sense of insanity.
I spent every sleepless night of my last month of pregnancy perched on the sofa watching Cheers reruns while scratching myself with a pink Tangle Teezer. The Tangle Teezer, although a versatile hair deknotting device, is not really intended for full-body itch management. My husband said he could hear the scratching, that it would sometimes jolt him awake in the dead of night, like a Japanese horror film. Then he’d hear the reassuring sound of Carla delivering a killer one-liner.
It just happened to be on one of those Tangle Teezer Cheers nights that I had one of those thoughts that’s so loud you can almost hear it. The thought was: you made this happen.
I was a psychotherapist for eight years before I realised that the real money and job stability is in comedy and writing. I made a decent living as a clinician, but spent about 78 per cent of it on my own therapy. It’s kind of a recursive field that way. I like to pretend my brain is worth thousands, even though my bank balance is often negative.
“I’d tried to work on not letting my magical thinking be anything more than whimsical moments, childish notions where I’d snap into self-awareness and say, ‘Ha, ha, Taylor, you didn’t land that job because you blinked five times, it’s because you slept with the director!’”
‘Magical thinking’, a term often used in psychotherapy, is the irrational belief that there is a causal relationship between actions and events. You know when you were a kid and you believed that if you ate your Skittles in a certain order, you’d get what you wanted for Christmas? Possibly you can only relate to that if you 1. ate Skittles 2. celebrated Christmas 3. were me. Anyway, magical thinking is a common thing, and can form the basis of entire belief systems or just be a passing blip that you disregard as you cross the street. Most of us harbour magical thoughts at some point – how seriously we take them is another thing.
Before I got pregnant, I’d tried to work on not letting mine be anything more than whimsical moments, childish notions where I’d snap into self-awareness and say, “Ha, ha, Taylor, you didn’t land that job because you blinked five times, it’s because you slept with the director!” And patted myself on the back for how well-adjusted I’d become.
As every woman is warned, the first trimester of pregnancy is the iffy trimester. You’re not supposed to breathe a word of your news to anyone, passing off your sweaty complexion and barfing as “that virus that’s been going around for 12 weeks and only I have.” But I had told all my family and close friends anyway, because what could go wrong?
They give you a scan at the end of the Shhhhhmester. We went for the Tell Us Everything package and didn’t worry, because we were so confident about our foetus-making skills. At the scan, the woman was taking forever and we started to feel like our big “awwws!” were being greeted by a bit of technician tumbleweed. She just kept scanning and scanning.
She’d found something called an increased nuchal fold measurement, which meant that there was a high probability that the baby had a chromosomal disorder or even a fatal condition.
The scan made me shut down. I couldn’t imagine gigging again, being funny again, being myself again. I felt like everything was about to change and I had to gather my resources and be prepared. I was scheduled for amniocentesis, where they put the Seattle Space Needle into your belly and find out what’s really going on. We stayed pretty positive, but in the background everything was anxious and uncertain and reality had shifted.
One night I was staring out the window and I invited some magical thoughts into my brain, luring them in with mental canapés and Prosecco. I needed some sense of control and it was my first real lesson in parenthood, which is that you have so very little control, especially when you want it the most. I bargained with the universe: “Please let the baby be healthy. If you give me a healthy baby, you can make it really difficult and I won’t complain, and you can make my pregnancy really uncomfortable!”
As if, should the universe actually operate that way, it would somehow benefit from my narcissistic suffering and another ill-behaved kid. Also, what a prick.
Amnio isn’t actually bad at all: it was quick, the waiting was the worst part. And in the end? Everything was OK. Everything. Trust me, I reread the documents and asked for reassurance hundreds of times.
“My daughter would take 20-minute power naps and woke through the night until she was 15 months old, and if you would like to talk to me about the sleep training efforts I should have employed, I would like to put an amnio needle in your eye.”
Then the itching began. Then I developed carpal tunnel syndrome. Bad. Like couldn’t feel either of my hands bad, so I couldn’t even sign my name. And then my blood pressure started to rise, which they don’t like in pregnant women one bit. Oh and I had excruciating back and rib pain.
I had never had any health problems so I couldn’t account for all these problems – except – oh, shit… The payoff. I was paying for that healthy baby. “You’re not REALLY though,” I tried to tell myself. “But what if the universe listened and nodded at my bargain? Oh my god, I’m in a Polanski film.”
When she was born, my daughter was perfect, except her head was temporarily dented, but that was my vagina’s fault. We fell in love, went into that Stockholm Syndrome phase, went crazy and mastered the art of Whisper Yelling at each other. We still don’t know how we survived and how we are still together, because the thing never slept. She’d take 20-minute power naps and she woke through the night until she was 15 months old, and if you would like to talk to me about the sleep training efforts I should have employed, I would like to put an amnio needle in your eye. Besides, I was paying for that healthy baby! It was part of the deal!
Sitting here today, a flailing, messy-haired mother of a two-year-old, I can tell you that magical thinking is irrational. In my case it was a defence I employed to gain a sense of control over my situation and my psyche may have even manifested those physical symptoms to justify its own beliefs(!).
But the longer I keep at this parenting thing (it’s a tough job to quit, although I’ve quit much, much easier ones), the more I realise that a little bit of irrational belief is sometimes what Dr Spock ordered. Worried something horrible is going to happen to your little one? Donate to charity and be really nice to people and maybe the universe will spare you. Feeling inept in your parenting and worried you will create a monster? Do an anti-monster dance with your little one with the Hair soundtrack on and things will turn out all right. Feel like you can’t get life and career back on track since you entered this crazy game? Sleep with the director.
I’ve not shared any of this publically until now. I sort of promised the universe I wouldn’t, or else something bad might happen.
Don’t worry, I’m back in therapy.2590 Views
Taylor is an American comedian, writer, and former psychotherapist based in London. She has a two-year-old and a dead basil plant.