Happy Hyperemesis Gravidarum Awareness Day! and my experience of it

Happy Hyperemesis Gravidarum Awareness Day! and my experience of it

Don’t you love all the holidays we celebrate in America? We are an interesting people. I mean, I’m Catholic and I use any excuse to feast, even if it’s a Saint I’ve never heard of. But I confess that when I hear about another awareness thing I sometimes want to stick my head in the sand. Well, I was scrolling through a calendar of health related holidays for my job, and I came across today.

I have hyperemesis gravidarum (HG). I had never heard of this pregnancy complication before I had children. I first had it when I was pregnant with my daughter who is now two, and I have it currently with my son who will, God-willing, be born next month. With my child in between these two, I showed no such symptoms. Our Heavenly Father called him home when he was just 7 utero weeks old.

After a long day photographing our friends’ wedding in the summer of 2014, we drove home late from the reception. I had my husband pull over into a CVS parking lot so I could grab a pregnancy test (never again – Dollar Store all the way). I was a little late, and just had a feeling. I held off until maybe four in the morning until I just didn’t want to wait any longer. We were pregnant! Well, I was pregnant. But I think my husband had something to do with it.

At the time, I was commuting about 45 minutes each morning to work with my dad. Pinterest has so many cute ideas for baby reveals, but we just wanted to tell as many people face to face as possible. Especially Grandpa! We hadn’t had the opportunity yet though, when I walked into his office and he was chatting with someone who was going to shadow him that day at work. I discreetly put my things in the corner and squatted to pull out some saltines for the nausea that had begun not too long before. My dad, always the joker, looked over and, interrupting himself, asked, “What are you pregnant?!” He had been saying the same thing since we got married, so it wasn’t out of the blue, but my answer seemed to shock him! “Yep!” Haha!

I was able to keep working for a few more weeks through the morning sickness. Since we are in the healthcare field and my dad is a doctor, he was able to make sure there was always a stash of barf bags from the hospital in his car for me, as we travelled to visit patients in their homes. It got to a point though, where I couldn’t keep up. I was vomiting in the bushes outside of people’s houses and the smells I encountered walking into hospitals and assisted living facilities became too much. I started working from home and my hours logs quickly tanked. I dreaded getting out of bed because I never knew how bad I would feel. There was no question that I would feel bad, but how bad. I went from a newlywed, excited to take care of my new home and my new husband to the lady who lies on the couch every waking hour watching TV. I had to lie at a certain angle because any more or less would make me vomit. I couldn’t turn my head without vomiting. I couldn’t walk, even to the bathroom. I couldn’t stand any smells – food, of course, but my own deodorant, my husband’s normal scent, laundry detergent. I stopped brushing my teeth regularly because it would only make me vomit. I couldn’t wear a bra or a belt or anything with elastic around my abdomen. The water pressure from the shower was too much.

Well meaning friends, family, acquaintances, and strangers all sympathized, telling me it was normal – they, or their spouse, or their sister, or their dog breeder’s cousin had it bad, too. And proceeded to recommend saltines before getting out of bed, ginger tea, eating small, frequent meals, avoiding fatty or spicy foods, etc., etc., etc.

I tried everything.

When my vitals started to reveal that I was losing an unhealthy amount of weight and my family physician/pre-natal doc who knew me noticed that I just didn’t look ok, he told me about HG. It’s Latin for excessive vomiting during pregnancy. That sounded about right.

We tried a plethora of medications but nothing even seemed to dent my nausea and vomiting. It didn’t help that I often couldn’t keep the medicine down in the first place. Since we were newly married, I wasn’t yet close with anyone in our area. One saint of a woman who’s husband knew mine would pick up my prescriptions for me and drop off meals from time to time. But mostly I stayed on the couch alone all day, every day, and watched every episode of Psych, The Magic School Bus, and any other show I was ever interested in that was available on Netflix. If I soiked myself too badly (because when you are that weak, you don’t have much control of any of your bodily functions, be it where you aim or whatever else), my husband would help me into the bath in the evenings. He would bring me the neti pot so I could clean out the accumulated food particles from my nasal passages. He would help me wash my hair. He would sit with me while I cried, which only made me throw up all the more. He wanted to rub my back, but that made me be sick. I would often let him touch my hand or my foot, and that was it. His body heat made it worse.

We worked hard to find a food I could tolerate, and maybe even enjoy, but it never lasted long. Maybe I got a craving and my husband would drive to the grocery store to bring it back, only to find that just the thought of it already disgusted me. Or he bought the wrong brand and it wouldn’t work. Or maybe I would eat the same thing every day for a week, so we would stock up from Costco. And the next day I couldn’t look at it.

From what I’ve heard, most women with HG are repeatedly hospitalized for dehydration and often end up on home health or at least with a Zofran pump. Looking back, there were many times I probably should have gone to the hospital. But I didn’t know.

I still don’t really know. I still haven’t figured out a medication combo that works for me. I’ve still not gotten IV fluids, even when my skin turns grey. But I have learned some things.

Ive learned that I will never be the triathlon completing, cute bump dressing, glowing pregnant mama I thought I would be. My mom birthed 6 children – all naturally minus my emergency C-section – and push mowed our acre and a third lawn until we all arrived. Not me.

I’ve learned that, for me, it gets better. By the end of the pregnancy I can even cook and clean some.

I’ve learned how to be patient as a disabled person in a wheelchair.

I’ve learned that I can relate to women who abort their babies. HG is not a fatal illness with current knowledge and medical treatment if you find a doctor who knows what HG is and doesn’t just thing you’re complaining, like it was in the past, but many still die of it today, be it via abortion or suicide.

I’ve learned that physical ill health can lead to mental ill health. And that tying your hair up in a bun and leaving it that way for weeks will make it near impossible to brush out.

I’ve learned that throwing up is ok. Did I mention I had a phobia of it before getting pregnant? Hahahah oh that’s rich.

I’ve learned that the nausea doesn’t necessarily stop once the baby is born. I had something akin to normal, mild morning sickness from the time my first was born until the time I got pregnant with my third. Crazy high protein breakfasts help my body calm down, but every day I would still wake up sick.

I’ve learned that marriage normally doesn’t look like it did on your wedding day. For us, it mostly looked like death, with some life thrown in at the end, interspersed with periods where I am happy and “normal” and we are able to work hard and enjoy life.

I’ve learned that normal is relative, and if you are going to wait for a reason to enjoy life, you might miss out on life itself. I take joy in my daughter holding my hand while I throw up. I take joy for my daughter’s and husband’s sakes in being forced to slow down (and mostly stop), because my personality doesn’t generally permit me to just sit and relax. I take joy in walking to the car in whatever weather without throwing up, just to be in the world again. I take joy in being able to receive Holy Communion. I take joy in any connection whatsoever with a loved one.

I’ve learned that marriage is a pathway to holiness, and that God both trusts us with a lot and wants much more for us. In sickness and in health can mean mostly sickness. I’ve watched my husband become a better man before my eyes. I’ve seen my own weakness and how much growing I have to do. My eyes have been opened in new ways to the omnipresent yet often hidden sufferings of others.

I’ve learned that pregnancy, for me, means sickness and depression and loneliness and fear. And a call to trust. 

I’ve learned that labor and delivery and newborn night feedings and toddler tantrums are not so bad, relatively.

I’ve learned that there will always be people worse off than me, and there will always be people better off than me.

I’ve learned that community makes all the difference.

I’ve learned that I can’t love humans in the abstract. I can only love a particular person and only in deed. I’ve learned that love is not the same as affection. I’ve learned to love someone I don’t know. I’ve learned to love someone who causes me great suffering. I’ve learned that love requires sacrifice. I’ve learned that people we love are worth sacrificing for.

I’ve learned the tiniest bit of what Jesus did on the cross.

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Super Bowl LI and Pope Francis’ TED talk

Super Bowl LI and Pope Francis’ TED talk

The Holy Roman Pontiff gave a TED talk last wek and it was pretty great. Let me start off by saying that I have heard criticisms of our Holy Father that don’t bother me a tenth as much as the fact that they come from his children. I haven’t read any commentaries on this talk yet, but after watching it myself, I must say I am more in love with the man than ever!

For two reasons, it reminded me of his Instagram post I watched on Super Bowl Sunday this year, in which he praised sports for their ability to promote a culture of encounter, solidarity, friendship, and peace; teach sacrifice and fidelity; and promote a healthy relationship of rules:

  1. It was addressed to the whole world, via a platform the whole world listens to, in a context and regarding content that the whole world cares about.
  2. It takes a human discussion and elevates it to the eternal.

When this was current news, a brother in Christ remarked that Pope Francis shouldn’t be wasting time talking about the Super Bowl and instead should be focusing on the plight of persecuted Christians in the Middle East. I’ll just mention that he often covers that topic, like in this Instagram post mere weeks later. But that really is beside the point. If over 111 million people are turning into an event, and if “out of a hundred souls we are interested in a hundred”, then we should be talking about the Super Bowl! Pope Francis is not careless – another criticism I have heard. If you were being recorded, miquoted, paraphrased, and referenced out of context 24/7, you wouldn’t look perfect either. I believe our sweet Christ on earth puts very much care into what he says because he, like all Christians ought, strives to have rectitude of intention. He’s not talking about the Super Bowl because he likes football, friend. This 80 year old Agentinian bishop in the white hat is talking about the favorite sport of the United State’s because he loves people and he wants eternal happiness for them. He is doing things for this reason alone: God’s glory. You can’t get more full of care than that.

In his 17+ minute TED talk, Pope Francis mentions Our Lord only a few times. He talks at one point about thinking tenderly of him, when it’s obvious he means to ask for prayers, without saying the word, “prayer”. I can see many points over which a critical Catholic would have contention. But more than that, I see a pastor who wakes us from our stupor. And it’s jarring.

It is easy to do what has always been done. And, unfortunately, within the Chruch, this is very common. Perhaps it is because we don’t want to move too fast and risk overstepping our bounds, committing heresy, risking truth and justice for the sake of mercy. But Jesus doesn’t care about “what everyone else is doing” or about “the way things are done here.” He cares that we love. Pope Francis illuminates this idea in way that is accessible to people of all faiths. In his TED talk, he remarks that, as a community of creative, foward-thinking people, we must use our ingenuity to make people the focus rather than things, to put love into action and move it from our heart to our hands, to listen to and comfort those in need. He is managing to preaching a captivating homily to people who have never been to a Catholic church.

In the past, popes didn’t give TED talks. But in the past, people weren’t listening to TED talks. St. Francis terrified many in the hierarchy of the Church because he refused to do things as they had been done. He put together the first living nativities, lived and loved poverty, and didn’t hesitate to call out those in authority or mingle with the powerless.

Being Catholic doesn’t mean praying outside of an abortion clinic on Saturdays or financially adopting a child in a third world country. We can and should do those things, if that is what God is calling you to! But being Catholic is about encounter: our constant encounter with Christ, and our subsequent encounter​s with those around us, which are part of the Christ encounter, because we must be Christ to them, and we must see Christ in them.

Pope Francis calls on us to see the other as beloved and brother. He is speaking to all people. But in a special way, I think, he is speaking to us Catholics, for whom it is easy to check off our to-do list “be Catholic” and consider it done because I made it to Sunday Mass and didn’t use birth control. He is reminding us that the only measure is love. He is calling us to be truly Catholic, to take Christ at his word, to live the Gospel. To engage with everyone, not just those we feel comfortable with or who agree with us. To watch the Super Bowl, if that will open up a conversation with a co-worker who hasn’t been receptive to the faith. To leave behind our cloak, jump up, and follow him. Bumper stickers and rosaries hanging from your rearview mirror don’t make you Christian. Living in communion with and in imitation of Our Lord does.

“It is an old story that, while we may need somebody like Dominic to convert the heathen to Christianity, we are in even greater need of somebody like Francis, to convert the Christians to Christianity.” G.K. Chesterton, St. Thomas Aquinas

My journey as a cook: Part I

My journey as a cook: Part I

After I graduated college, I moved to Spain to work as an English teacher and meet my Spanish, soccer playing husband (one of those two things actually happened). My first week or two were spent in a hostel while I tried to figure out where to live in the sprawling city of Madrid. Even though I was staying in a hostel, I cooked all my meals because who has money to eat out every day?! I remember my first day I went grocery shopping and it hit me for the first time: I don’t know how to cook.

This was a terrible blow to my ego because, for some reason, I thought of cooking as one of my hobbies. Growing up, I helped a lot in the kitchen. Being the oldest of the 6 at home kind of leaves no other option. But I only really knew how to be told what to do. Making my way through the grocery store, I tried to think of a dinner my midwestern mom would make a lot. I had it! Pot roast with potatoes, onions, and carrots! She would buy the meat from the Schwan man and it was to die for. I didn’t know what animal the meat came from, so I bought a couple slices of the cheapest deli ham, one carrot, and one potato. I would leave the onion for another day because it seemed a little extravagant. I got back to the hostel kitchen (after embarrassingly realizing that you have to weigh your own food, bring your own bags, and bag your own groceries in Spain) and looked for cooking utensils. I can up with a dull paring knife, a microwave, a coffee mug, and a spoon. I cut up everything, put it in the mug, added some water, salt and pepper, and kept adding more time on the microwave until it was edible.

And so began my cooking career.

To be continued…