Tripping Hard on Motherhood

Tripping Hard on Motherhood

By Kristen McGuiness 05/09/15

Staying sober through the newborn days.

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It’s been over 10 years since I have taken a hallucinogen, which is why it took me a few weeks to identify the feelings I was experiencing as an extremely long acid trip. Out of body experience—check. Exhaustion followed by bursts of uncontrollable energy—check. Inability to remember what happened the day before, even the hour before—you got it. Paranoia, depression, an unearthly sense of God and joy—for sure, I must be tripping. But I wasn’t. My sobriety was, in fact, firmly in tact. No, the one thing I had done was have a child.

My love felt like a hard brick of truth and not the bright, joyful light I had anticipated.

No one tells you that having a baby is going to produce the same effects as a hallucinatory drug. No one really prepares you for the mind-altering experience that bringing a life into the world incurs. It all started on a rainy Sunday night. I knew she was coming any day. My due date and ever protruding belly were ringing the bells on what I would, for the first few weeks of her life, consider to be the last few weeks of my own. But then that first unmistakable cramp shook me, and I knew what they tell you a million times—you'll know when it’s a contraction. A pain that can only be described as being slowly, at first gently, and later much more violently, ripped open from the inside. Within 30 minutes, I was standing in the bathroom, my jeans soaked in amniotic fluid, praying that I was hearing my husband’s keys in the door. He came home just in time, as we, in those final fleeting moments of the life we once knew, got the dog in the crate, the bag in the car, and my soggy pain-wracked body off to the hospital.

In the next three hours, I went from the beginning of labor to being dilated nine centimeters, which for the uninitiated, means shit got real painful real fast. I remembered a friend telling me before hand that she hung in there long enough to understand what the pain felt like, then called for the epidural. I always knew I would be willing to tap out, and as my screams got louder, moving from the guttural deep breathing I had practiced in class to the blaring horn of a runaway train, I knew it was time to call in the anesthesiologist.

Over the next 30 minutes, I moved from excruciating pain to euphoria. But not a drug-induced euphoria. No merely the overwhelming joy that can comes from the absence of pain. As my nurse said, you survive natural birth, but with an epidural, you can enjoy it. And so I did. We listened to Neil Young. We sang Bob Dylan. By the time Ella was born, we had laughed and cried, and as the minutes and hours passed, we became more determined than ever before to bring this little life into our world. 

And then she was in my arms. And the acid trip began.

Years before, I was partying with friends, two very dear friends, who used like I did. It was a week before I would get sober for the first time, and my friend Trevor said to me, “Kristen, this works for us. This fits our life, but you want more than this, I know you do. And you’re never going to get it if you keep acting like this.”

He knew what I wanted was that moment. That moment at 9:42am in the hospital room with my husband beside me, holding my hand, cutting the cord, overwhelmed and overjoyed that this enormous beautiful responsibility had suddenly been laid upon us. Which is why I was confused when I got home and all I wanted to do was escape. I would nurse this amazing life, and I would daydream about leaving her and my husband and even the dog (I mean, the dog??) behind. I would imagine driving off to a place like Reno, becoming a waitress in a bar with no windows, and drinking away the memories that I got everything I wanted and then I left it all. And then I would remember that my car was leased, and running away seemed trickier than it used to be. Not to mention the whole baby and marriage thing. But a car lease? Certainly, I couldn’t abandon that.

And so I stayed through those strange and hallucinatory days, trying to hold on to a reality that had been forever shifted. I remember it now like I do movies I watched while high—snippets of someone else’s life that don’t really add up to a full narrative. She was so small and I was so scared. Some nights when she wouldn’t stop crying, I got angry. I wasn’t sure how I could be mad at the helpless little thing, but suddenly I wondered if the life my friend was referring to was, in fact, the one I had before she was born. The one where my husband and I could go and do as we pleased, and the only entity we were responsible for was a dog who only ate twice a day and who never once screamed bloody murder at 4:00am. 

I knew that hormones were to blame for much of this. But hormones are just another drug that I am irrationally sensitive to. If I can’t get enough of cocaine, I also can’t get enough of progesterone. I love progesterone.  In fact, studies have shown that a lack of progesterone can be an indicator of addiction. According to Dr. Roberta Foss-Morgan, “We often see that when progesterone declines so precipitously it is a precursor to the etiology of alcohol/sugar and drug abuse, with causation in over 40% of addicted middle-age females.”

As the doctor writes on her website, “The biochemical explanation is that allopregnanolone, a metabolite of progesterone, enhances GABA-A receptivity (think Xanax, Valium, Klonopin). When females experience a loss in GABA-A receptivity via diminished progesterone levels, they can develop excess electrical activity in both the central and peripheral nervous system. Both men and women often utilize alcohol for its GABA-A receptor activation.”

Basically, before I had craving for alcohol, I craved progesterone. And once I got pregnant, I had a steady dose of the hormone running through my body all day. And then I had my baby and it was gone.

Like that, I was stripped of my happy hormone. I was rankled by lack of sleep. I was recuperating from 15 stitches in a place that one should never get stitches. I wasn’t able to leave the house, drive a car, take my baby to the grocery store, go to one of those meetings for people who can reference acid use so easily, or take more than 15 minutes to myself. And I was responsible for a precious little life.

Fucking acid trip.

For weeks, I tried to keep my head above water. I listened to friends who said the first three months were brutal. I would think, much like I did in those early days of sobriety, “Just get through this day.”

I would look at this sleeping beauty as she lay in her bassinet next to my bed, and I would know that I loved her. But my love felt like a hard brick of truth and not the bright, joyful light I had anticipated. I waited, and waited for something to shift, praying that my friends were right. That this was going to pass. 

And then one morning, like that, I woke up and it had. Just as the post-menstrual blood that flows for 6-8 weeks after delivery, dried up. Just as I was free to take my babe out to more and more places. Just as I didn’t have to feed her every two hours. And she began to sleep for seven (yes, we are blessed indeed). Just as my hormones began to find some semblance of normal, the acid trip came to an end. And the real love began.

Now, I know what Trevor was talking about. Because I didn’t get sober just for the big, juicy love I feel when I look at my daughter today. I got sober so I could get through those dark, scary days that came before it, and certainly, the dark scary days that stand ahead. I have always been a selfish alcoholic—not a drop of Al-Anon in me—and for the first time in my life, I don’t fear putting someone else before myself, I look forward to it. I look forward to all the acid trips that are to come—the fear and paranoia and exhaustion and the unearthly sense of God and joy that getting to be present for this little life will only continue to bring.

Kristen McGuiness has been a regular contributor to The Fix since 2011. She last wrote about ten addiction movies you have never seen and redefining fun. She is the author of 51/50: The Magical Adventures of a Single Life.

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Kristen McGuiness is the author of the bestselling memoir, 51/50: The Magical Adventures of a Single Life. In addition, she has co-written numerous books in the genres of self-help, business, psychology, and dating, and has written for Marie ClaireAOLHuffington Post, and Salon. She lives in Los Angeles with her husband, daughter, and dog Peter, and recently finished her second book, The Beautiful Lives of Sad Children. Kristen can be found on Linkedin. You can also follow her on Twitter.

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