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.