Immersion therapy

This morning, we went to Doug’s great-aunt and -uncle’s house, where, as we were leaving, Doug was informed that, “Next time we see you guys, there better be a ring on [my] finger.”  (“Yes, ma’am,” he’d replied.)  We rushed home so we could be here in time for Torrey’s violin lesson.  I’d heard a lot about her private teacher, Miss Teresa: her husband’s in the Richmond Symphony, Michelle sometimes babysits her one-year-old during the week, she moved here from Texas.

But when Miss Teresa walked in the door, I forgot all these things.  I didn’t notice her height right away, either, or the naturally aesthetic composition of her face, or the warmth of her smile.  All I noticed was her belly.

You didn’t tell me she was pregnant, I wanted to scream, or at least whisper, to Michelle.  But I didn’t.  I didn’t retreat from the room like Doug had done.  I didn’t flinch when Kevin asked her how she was feeling and how far along she was now (24 weeks-ish).  Of course, I didn’t step forward to shake her hand when I was introduced, either.  This latter inaction was stupid and rude of me, as Miss Teresa stood there smiling awkwardly after Doug had shaken her hand, but… baby steps.  (Pun noted, but not intended.)  I stayed in the room, and that’s good for now.

What do they call this in psych classes, when you put yourself in situations that freak you out and therefore force yourself to deal with them?  Immersion therapy?*

For the last two years, I’ve been very good at avoiding pregnant women.  I try to avoid eye contact with them and retreat from them when I pass them in the store; I limit contact with my friends and cousins during their pregnancies; I’m thinking about taking a year off from choir now that I know my closest friend there is expecting.  (My therapist says that avoidance is a classic symptom of PTSD.)

Besides the occasional pregnant coworker, with whom I’m paid to coexist, I go out of my way to avoid these women, with their bellies and their oohing and their ahhing and their glowing and their complaining.  And that’s been pretty much all-inclusive – strangers, family, friends – with one exception.

When I first found out Dawn was pregnant with Lilly, which happened just a few months after I’d found out Monica was pregnant with her daughter, which happened just a few months after I’d found out I was pregnant with nothing, my heart dropped.  My immediate response to Dawn was, “You were supposed to wait for me!”  She told me she’d wait for me with the next baby, and from then on we had an understanding that neither of us was going to let her pregnancy bother me.

A month after I moved home, I went – sort of begrudgingly, at the urging of my mother – to Dawn’s baby shower.  I was the only woman there over the age of 12 who didn’t have a child, and was therefore left totally out of the conversation about what brand of baby wipes is the best, made horrendous guesses during the Baby Food Smell Test and Price Is Right: Baby Crap games, and would have probably been left out altogether, if not for Dawn’s occasionally turning to me and saying, sarcastically, “See, Marie?  Isn’t this exciting?  See what you have to look forward to?”

And that’s pretty much the way we handled the remainder of her pregnancy.  She grounded me in reality.  She didn’t ooh and ahh or rub her belly.  She didn’t complain, either; she just laid out the facts for me.  She made sure I understood that this thing I had glorified in my mind was not all that glamorous.  And she wore modest, loose-fitting clothing, which I’ve found is rare amongst the preggos these days.  (And now I must admit, since I started this post by talking about her, that Miss Teresa’s clothing is modest as well, a fact for which I am grateful.)

Given all of that, I never felt uncomfortable or bitter or sorry for myself around Pregnant Dawn.  I actually felt like a normal female human: helping her with Andrew when she got too big to lug him around, talking about names and due dates and nursery colors with her, buying oversized stuffed animals to decorate said nursery.  I even went over to her house, less than a week before Lilly was born, to liven up her “bed rest” by watching Twilight with her.  And I have to say, our choice of film was much more disturbing than the size of her belly that afternoon.

Dawn has been my only real exception in all this; she has been my one successful attempt at immersion therapy.  And although I can explain why that is (as I just have), I have thus far been unable to replicate it with any other pregnant woman.  I’m sure that, if any other pregnant woman were to say things to me like, “See, isn’t my life exciting?”, I would see it as her mocking me.  There was just something about Dawn, with her gentleness, and her social worker education, and the under-developed housewife gene that we share, that made me feel at ease, that made it okay to be around a pregnancy that was not my own.

Maybe it’s a sister thing.

*I know “immersion therapy” is not the technical term, but I like the idea that getting over my aversion to pregnant women might have something in common with getting over, say, my inability to speak Spanish.  Maybe if I just surrounded myself with pregnant Mexicans, I’d be set for life.

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5 Responses to Immersion therapy

  1. Evan G says:

    Just spend some time in LA there are plenty of pregnant mexicans for your imersion therapy

  2. Dawn says:

    Or pregnant Koreans that speak Spanish?

    Remember when we went to the mall while on bedrest? 🙂 Andrew just outgrew the two matching outfits you picked out for him at Macy’s. 😦

    Unless Joe corners me and catches me with my guard down, I will definitely be waiting for you for the next (and last). 🙂

  3. Dani says:

    Immersion is close, but usually it goes by exposure therapy ….What is Exposure Therapy?
    By JOHN M. GROHOL, PSY.D.

    Exposure therapy is a specific type of cognitive-behavioral psychotherapy technique that is often used in the treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and phobias.

    In PTSD, exposure therapy is intended to help the patient face and gain control of the fear and distress that was overwhelming in the trauma, and must be done very carefully in order not to re-traumatize the patient. In some cases, trauma memories or reminders can be confronted all at once (”flooding”), while for other individuals or traumas it is preferable to work gradually up to the most severe trauma by using relaxation techniques and either starting with less upsetting life stressors or by taking the trauma one piece at a time (”desensitization”). A therapist works with the client to determine which method is best suited for the particular client and their trauma.

    In phobias, exposure therapy is used in conjunction with relaxation exercises and/or imagery. In conjunction with learning how to bring about a relaxed state at-will, the therapy technique gradually exposes patients to what frightens them and helps them cope with their fears.

    Exposing someone to their fears or prior traumas without the client first learning the accompanying coping techniques — such as relaxation or imagery exercises — can result in a person simply being re-traumatized by the event or fear. Therefore exposure therapy is typically conducted within a psychotherapeutic relationship with a therapist trained and experienced with the technique and the related coping exercises.

  4. Pingback: Truth | Bakery Closed Until Further Notice

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