Katie barely smiles as I greet her in the waiting room. She walks slowly to my office and gingerly lowers herself into the chair. Oh no, I think to myself, did something happen with her pregnancy? Just last week she was radiant, bubbling with joy, thrilled that she’d be giving birth to a little girl.
“What’s wrong, Katie?” I ask.
Silent tears stream down her face.
“Did something happen to the baby?”
She shakes her head, cradling her stomach. “On Monday,” she says hesitantly, “Patrick woke up and right away he seemed different. He didn’t kiss my stomach and listen for the baby as he usually does. He just got up and started getting ready for work. I asked what was wrong, but he said he was just tired. I tried to connect with him, but he just ate breakfast and left. He texted me a couple of times during the day so I thought maybe everything was fine. But when he came home he was still distant, preoccupied. I told him he had to talk to me, that we weren’t having dinner until I knew what was bothering him.
“And then he asked me, he asked me if I was ever afraid I’d hurt our baby. I couldn’t believe it. I felt as though he’d slapped me. I started crying. He said he’d had a dream that I was shaking our baby and screaming at her. He said I must have thought about it, that I couldn’t have not thought about it given my history. I couldn’t stop crying. I just couldn’t stop. Like I can’t stop now.”
“I understand you’re in a tremendous amount of pain,” I say softly, “And this might seem like a ridiculous question, but can you say what you are crying about? Is seems like there’s many things you could be crying about right now and maybe it would be helpful if we tried to understand them.”
“I’m crying about Patrick even questioning that I could possibly, possibly ever hurt our child.”
“I understand that Katie. But you’ve questioned yourself too. We spent many sessions talking about your fears about your past, about whether you’d repeat your history.”
“And you told me not everyone who’s abused becomes an abuser!” Katie says, practically yelling at me.
“That’s absolutely true.”
“And did my saying that take away all your fears?”
Katie covers her face with her hands, sobbing and shaking her head. “Why couldn’t he have faith in me? Why does he have to doubt me?”
“So you feel abandoned by Patrick.”
“Yes, yes!! He’s always been my biggest champion. He was always the one who said I could overcome anything, do anything.” Pause. “I would never, ever have agreed to have a child if I thought he didn’t believe in me!”
“I wonder if you’re saying that if Patrick doesn’t believe in you, you can’t believe in you either.”
Katie stops crying and looks at me. “That’s right. That’s absolutely right! That’s why Patrick’s question devastated me. I can’t lose my biggest champion just as I’m about to undertake the scariest step of my life.”
“So you do know it’s scary, scary for you and scary for Patrick. It’s sound like it would help if both of you talked about your fears, not to make accusations, but to provide each other with support and understanding.”
“Where did you go, Katie?”
“Ever since Monday I’ve been re-living the horrible things my mother did to me, how she’d slap me around, take a belt to me, drag me around the floor by my hair, make me eat dog food, spit at me. She hated me. I know she wanted me dead.” Katie’s voice gets flatter and flatter as she recounts the abuse.
“Katie, you can feel about all these horrible things your mother did to you. You don’t have to shut down. You can hate her back.”
“I don’t want to hate her back. I just don’t want her to affect my life in any way.”
“It would be good to be indifferent to your mother, but it’s impossible that she not affect your life. She’s your mother. And she was your mother when you were a helpless, vulnerable, dependent child. But your life doesn’t have to be determined by her.”
“So you don’t think I’ll abuse my child?”
“No, I don’t think you’ll abuse your child. You’re a great aunt to your brother’s kids. You love your animals.”
“My brother’s kids are boys. Will that make a difference?”
“It sounds like that’s something you’re concerned about.”
Katie nods. “It crossed my mind when I knew I’d be having a girl. But I also thought, good, I get to do a do-over with my little girl. I just know it will be different.”
“You mean you and Patrick will make it different.”
“Yes, that’s exactly right. And Patrick and I are going to be doing some heavy talking. Thank you so much. Helpful, as always.”
“My pleasure,” I say smiling.