I came home from an afternoon at a friend’s farm in early September of 2005 feeling kind of queasy. Did I have too much sun that day? Did I eat something I shouldn’t have? Nope, I was pregnant. Forty years old and pregnant. My husband was in college. He had taken out student loans, had dipped into his RRSP. I thought it would be an interesting challenge to see how little we could live on. We had planted a garden in the backyard again to help us out with this endeavour. Our 14 yr old son would continue to be home schooled as he had requested.
Most of my plans went right out the window that September when I started feeling nauseous. Bruce still went to school, Tom still home schooled but I, instead of cooking and preserving the garden produce and baking our own zucchini bread spent most of the day sick in bed trying not to smell any food at all. Tom, in addition to his schoolwork and regular chores now took on laundry and house tidying also as well as cooking. Someone must have done the grocery shopping too. I didn’t care. In fact, I said to myself “I can’t have ocd because I don’t care how anything is being cleaned or IF anything is being done downstairs and I’m sure that if I really had ocd, I’d be in the thick of it, no matter how sick I was.” Famous last words, as they say.
Now why did I even think I had ocd? Because I had watched an Oprah show about it where I found that I wasn’t the only person in the world who would re-circle a block to make sure I hadn’t accidently run over someone in the road. So, I had some ocd tendencies. Nothing to get overly worried about esp. as I had also watched a documentary about ocd where a lady couldn’t go to the park because of the germs there and she would sort and wash her laundry based on how contaminated it was, not by color. NOT ME, so I was still ok. Laundry was one of my enjoyable household chores and I had no problem going to a park and sitting on a swing. I just had some funny habits- like not carrying the dirty laundry and the clean laundry in the same baskets and washing my hands after I touched the garage doors- odd because I didn’t do that in our last house.
Well, inevitably, 9 months later a beautiful 8 lbs 15 ounce baby girl entered our lives. After the nausea had left, around Christmas time, I was able to read again and one of my homeschooling friends had loaned me a book to read called Diaper Free. This book talked about how mothers used to help their babies eliminate waste before the advent of diapers. It was an interesting book, and always one to want to make my baby happy, I naively tried it. I did wait till the baby was about 2 weeks old. Then I started taking her to the toilet and making a ssss noise, try to have her go. She caught on but didn’t like it much, crying as she did it. But as it decreased the amount of dirty diapers and poopy clothes I had to clean up, I still kept on with it. After a while I could tell by the look on her face that she was getting ready to poop and instead of waiting while she filled the diaper and THEN changing her, I’d hold her over the toilet instead. I did spend more time washing my hands and her hands & feet (since they were over the toilet and could have potentially gotten sprayed by germs, OCD anyone??).
By the time she was a year old I was still very tired. Not only was I running up to the second floor bathroom with Katrina every hour or two but she still nursed during the night AND she didn’t sleep well during the day unless she was on my lap or right beside me. Unfortunately, if I put her down in her crib after she dropped off to sleep she would startle herself awake and start crying. If she was right near me, I could softly jiggle her back to sleep, but by the time I got upstairs to her crib, she’d be fully awake and ready to stay up for another few hours.
Katrina was a very alert, curious baby who didn’t like being in a baby seat for very long, didn’t care for television to entertain her much (except maybe 10- 20 min. of Baby Einstein stuff so I could cook or have a shower). Bruce was still busy at school from early in the morning til 6 or 7 at night. And then after coming home he had hours of homework to do also. So I had the main responsibility of her care day and night.
One very odd thing that I noticed was that I was confused about how to put Katrina in her crib during the day. Did I have to change her clothes so she wouldn’t get her bed ‘dirty’? If people put on pj’s at night to sleep in bed, then shouldn’t she be changed from day clothes to night clothes for a nap also? Strange thought! I’d never had that concern with Tom when he was a baby. He napped in his clothes! I was also worried about touching the swing set in the park across the street- would she catch germs? She already had had diaper rash a couple of weeks after she was born and a cold too. I thought these thoughts were ‘odd’ but put them down to being a new mom so many years after my son was born and just being worried. Kind of like 15 years ago when I worried about whether Tom was breathing in his crib while he went down for naps.
But these odd thoughts didn’t go away like I thought they would. They got worse. My father came over to help put in new windows in our 50 yr old house. The 2nd floor windows had mold in them. I used to try to wash it out but with the pregnancy and baby there was no time or energy for that kind of activity. These windows were taken out and brought downstairs and out the door and new ones were put in. I wondered if the windows had somehow deposited mould spores on their way outside and thus contaminated those rooms also. And were the new windows already contaminated because my dad touched them after touching the mouldy ones without showering first? I spent a lot of time (with Bruce) cleaning up the bedrooms and the living areas where the windows had been. This included washing walls, dressers, the bed, floor. EVERYTHING. But then the house was clean again… sort of- because I didn’t wash the sheets off the beds ‘correctly’ and they contaminated the linen closet.
And then I started smelling something funny in the house. Bruce called the chimney cleaners and they said there’s probably baby raccoons in the chimney, dead. EWW. They couldn’t come right away, so we were put on their list. No problem- until I saw the maggots crawling on the floor. Fortunately Katrina was too young to be on the floor at the time. I spent time picking them up and getting rid of them and then made a frantic call to Bruce to tell him what was up. The chimney people, taking heart at my dilemma, moved us up the schedule to the next day. Bruce came home after his co-op job that night and put up shower curtain barriers between the dining and living room so I wouldn’t have to clean the dining room after the men left. Then he made me stay upstairs so I wouldn’t see the mess that came out of the fireplace. Again, I kept hoping that once these specific ‘issues’ were cleaned up that my need to clean and my belief that things were contaminated would go away.
Bruce didn’t have that hope. He went to the local health unit and asked them if they could tell him what was wrong with me. They mentioned stress and gave me the name of a counsellor I could call. I waited a month before calling. I really wanted to be ok, all by myself.
We were going out for a drive one warm late summery evening and stopped at a friend’s house. They were outside cleaning up their camping equipment. The couple had just come home from a vacation down south where they were helping someone renovate a house. I stood listening, full of anxiety. I wanted to leave but they invited us in instead and Bruce went along. I didn’t want to go in as they hadn’t showered yet and thus were still contaminated by whatever renovations they had done. They told us more about their experiences gutting that house and how much stuff was behind those walls. I translated this all to: They touched dead mice/ mouse droppings, then came back to their house and cleaned out their trailer which was also contaminated by these mouse leftovers. Now the whole house we were sitting in was contaminated with mouse droppings- even tho I hadn’t actually seen any- and so were Bruce and I … and so was our car because you never know what might have stuck to our clothes as we were sitting on their couch… and so was our living room as we walked through it on the way upstairs to the mandatory shower. I cried the whole way home and for months afterwards thought that there were mouse droppings under the couch, in the living room and in the car. Even though I never found any. I was now an emotional wreck. If only Bruce had had the courage to say “no, we can’t come in for a visit” all of this wouldn’t have happened, right?