In the movie “Me, Myself & Irene,” Jim Carrey plays a police officer named Charlie who has a split personality. There’s a scene in which Charlie is sitting in a car having a conversation with his maniacal alter-ego, Hank, and Charlie gets angry at Hank and slaps him in the face — which of course means Jim Carrey is really slapping himself in the face. Hank again says something offensive, and Charlie again slaps him in the face. This goes on for a couple of minutes, with one personality literally beating up the other, but of course that means the thing is annihilating itself. That’s how I felt the other day when my doctor told me I may have an antibody that will attack my fetus –as if my baby was an enemy within me that needed to be destroyed.
This antibody issue came up once before, when I was trying to get pregnant back in 2006. Blood tests revealed traces of an antibody, and my doctor at the time said it wasn’t necessarily anything to be concerned about. It all depended on which antibody it was, how much of it I was producing, and whether it was going to react adversely with my baby, like siblings that don’t get along. I had forgotten all about that discussion until now. It’s hard to imagine how I could have, but I did.
I wondered which of my parents had this antibody I appear to have inherited. And then I remembered that when I was a 11 and had to have open-heart surgery because I’d been born with a small hole in my heart, a few of my parents’ friends donated blood in case I needed it. Perhaps one of them had an antibody, and they inadvertently passed it on to me. I don’t know how many gave blood. I only remember one: my parents’ friend Barry Cohen, a handsome but stubby little guy who looked like James Caan. He wound up dying of a heart attack about 15 years later. I always felt a little guilty that the man who helped me with my heart ailment wound up dying of a heart ailment –as if in giving me blood, I had sucked some of the life force out of him like a vampire.
That night as I drifted off to sleep, I could hear the rain falling on the leaves outside my window. I fell asleep and dreamed that our child was riding a bicycle down the street, wearing a helmet. He was approaching an intersection and tried to slow down, but because the streets were wet, when he hit the brakes, his bike began to hydroplane, and he slid sideways across three lanes of traffic. As he crossed the last lane, a car was coming toward him, and the person driving it was me.
Just then, my alarm clock went off. I hit the snooze button and lay in bed listening to the rain. My heart was still beating rapidly from the jolt of the alarm. After a couple of minutes, long after the effects of the alarm should have worn off, my heart continued to pound, from anxiety. I sometimes get what I call free-floating anxiety, where my heart will pound not because of the situation at hand but rather I get the anxiety first, and it looks for a situation to which it can attach itself, like a magnet or static cling.
As my heart throbbed in my chest, I could feel the baby moving around near my lower abdomen. The baby hasn’t started kicking yet, but I’ve been getting what my mother calls flutters, a subtle movement that feels more like indigestion or ripples than kicking. I wondered if the baby could feel my pounding heart and that somehow he’d inherit my anxiety. I thought the sooner this baby gets away from me, the better.