The Kidnapping I Can’t Escape

But I never did. I never got over it. I never stopped being bitter about that time, about how lonely and scared I was. I never stopped worrying about the impact it had on my (wonderful) child. I never got over the fear on my husband’s face as I screamed for help. I truly never got over how apparently fragile I am, how unresilient I proved to be. That was one of the worst parts for me, that I knew something about myself now, which was that I was delicate. I had been rocked into a full nervous breakdown, and I had no idea what aspect of the birth did it. All I knew was that, should something go wrong — a car accident, maybe, or a mugging — I would be prone to falling apart.

It was that fragility that I just couldn’t get over. I had thought I was such a tough guy, but that doctor took one look at me, and he knew what I would literally lie back and accept his treatment of me. You’ll say I’m being unnecessarily hard on myself, but months later, I saw the doctor, and instead of confronting him, or spitting in his face, I hid behind a tree. A few years later, I was contacted by someone who had used that same obstetrician and had heard that I had, too. She called me up and told me that she had filed a complaint about him with the local police, and it would really help if I told them my story too. I told her I absolutely would and then I never did and never took a call from that number again. The pandemic came, and the smell of all that hand sanitizer nearly drove me off a cliff. Worse, my husband brought home a pallet of Method Sweet Water-scented soap, remembering how much I liked the smell of it. Only now it reminded me of the darkest time in my life.

And I never stopped needing to tell the story. A couple of years after it happened, I began writing about it, first for an online magazine, then a women’s print one. Eventually it somehow helped me parlay this into a real career, and it would have been totally reasonable for me to move on and never write about it again. Except that I still was. In my first novel, I found myself giving the story of my son’s birth to the book’s most neglected and misunderstood character. There was never a time I reread that passage — not in edits, not in copy edits, not in the first or second pass — that I didn’t sob. I helped make the TV-show version of my book, and I watched the birth scenes play out, angle after angle. I sobbed at my monitor at every single take while everyone around me pretended that my behavior was totally normal. In the editing room, I sobbed every one of the 50 times I watched each of those takes, the editor and producers kindly waiting a moment until I could speak again. At one point, it occurred to me that, all these years later, I had not gotten over anything so much as I had built a city out of my suffering, a monument to my trauma. I had done hours of exposure therapy by then, and my last word on exposure therapy is that if it worked, then hiring a world-class actress to play out the worst day of my life over and over would have made it so that I am not sobbing even right now as I type this.

So what does this have to do with Jack Teich? I’ll tell you: As I sat and read his book, I couldn’t completely dismiss the idea that if I had just figured out a way to find some gratitude that I had survived that day, I could have borne the whole thing more gracefully. I left that hospital — my need for Jesus notwithstanding — physically healthy and alive. My baby was healthy and even the kind of even-tempered, good-napping child that would take a mother’s nervous breakdown in stride. What I’m saying is that I read Jack’s book and wondered why I couldn’t be like that. I didn’t know why I couldn’t get over it. I don’t know why I can’t get over it now.

Yes, if only I could be more like Jack, I thought, at every stop on this story. But that’s because I didn’t see what was going on yet.

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