I’ve put off writing this post long enough. The truth is, I didn’t even know what to say or how to say what I was actually thinking and feeling. Ironic, seeing as how my being an author usually means that writing things down is my specialty. But I guess like with anything else, you can’t write down something you don’t fully understand. Even the best stories can fall apart if a character is withdrawn, hiding secrets from everyone, including YOU, the creator. A good plot can unravel in a big messy heap if there’s some motivation you don’t understand. This is true about life, too. When you don’t even know or understand your own thoughts, it can be difficult to make sense of anything at all.
Ok, I’m talking in circles. Let me try to be more succinct. I’m pregnant. With Baby #2. Normally this would be a cause for joy and great cheer. Let me rephrase that, it IS a cause for joy and great cheer, except unlike many women, my body does not seem well built to carry children. What does that mean exactly? Isn’t carrying a child just the most natural thing in the world?, I thought to myself over and over again. You have no idea how it messes with your head to think you’re the exception to a well-set rule, something that for generations has gone on without a hitch and provided so many women with countless joy. Everyone has a little morning sickness. That first trimester can be really rough. What I experienced was something altogether more sinister, a monster that consumed me completely.
I have twice been the victim of a little disease called hyperemesis gravidarium, a disease recently made famous by Kate Middleton, Duchess of Cambridge. It affects anywhere between 0.2 and 2 percent of women in developed countries, but honestly, I think the number might be higher, since its a disease that often goes undiagnosed or misdiagnosed. I certainly had it with my first baby even though I never knew it. I have memories of days spent passed out on bathroom floors, my flushed face against the cool tile, trying to catch my breath after a vomiting session that left me empty, without enough energy to stand. I didn’t even have a night of alcohol and partying to blame it on. This was not a toilet hugging hangover. This was a crippling and terrifying nausea. Constant, day and night, aggravated by smells. Bringing a paper bag with me if I had the energy to go anywhere at all. Leaving my job, a job that I seriously LOVED, because I was afraid of gagging, dry heaving, or worse- actually throwing up on a customer or their food. *_* The thought is just so beyond disgusting.
Today I went back to posts from 2008 because I was curious to see just where I was mentally, how things were faring for me compared to this time around. I found several summer posts that I spent at the ER with IVs. I kept saying it was dehydration (which, it was), but I blamed it on the summer, on the heat, on fatigue. It was none of those things. It was HG. And at one point, even though I knew that, I couldn’t even really share how horrible it was because most people just don’t get it. They think, shouldn’t you be happy? You’re having a baby! So many people want to have a baby and can’t! Or worse: everyone has a little morning sickness. It’ll pass. Eat some saltines. Drink some gingerale. We’ve ALL done it.
So I accepted that. I suffered in silence all the while wondering what the heck was wrong with me. I remember this post very vividly, the post where I tried to express my frustration to the anonymous Internet without actually saying anything at all. July 22, 2008. A beautiful person and writer friend emailed me shortly after that post to remind me that she was there, if I needed to talk to anyone. Cora Zane will never know how much her reaching out meant to me. She gave me a sounding board, reaffirmed that it was ok to feel confused and conflicted and scared. She was a support system when I didn’t even know I needed one. Two months later, sometime in September 2008, I came clean and told the world (and officially the Internet), that I’d been knocked up.
This time was different. I knew before I even peed on that stick that I was pregnant. I knew because I felt… oddly familiar. The tingles of a downward spiral I recognized. I was going to get sick again and not even being sick the first time prepared me for what was to come. I made a few ER runs, was on some strong anti nausea medication before I even had my first official OB appointment. I couldn’t keep down any food, let alone water. I started the weight loss. The first time, I lost 15lbs. This time, I managed to stop around 7. I attribute that to the doctors aggressive treatment. And I’m forever grateful. While the medicine never made me feel 100% better, it made my days manageable. Taking care of a toddler in that condition is HARD. Seriously, ridiculously hard. Even making lunch was a chore because, oh my gosh the smell. Then the severe motion sickness kicked in and I resigned myself to bedrest. Most days it was a marathon to make it to the bathroom at the end of the hall without getting violently ill. I loathed my body, my weakness. I questioned my parenting, my natural feminine instinct. Truth is, who I was as a human being got tossed on its head and I didn’t know what was up or down anymore, just that I was miserable and sick and so delirious that I didn’t want to be any of those things anymore, ever again.
This was when I started scouring the Internet. There had to be an explanation. A REASON. The Internet is an interesting place. For all its crap (and let’s face it, there’s a lot of it), it can certainly be an unexpected blessing. There are little pockets, communities, of women who have suffered from HG, are suffering, and they have been my support line. I reached out to author Ashli McCall and her group, Beyond Morning Sickness. Their love and warmth and support have been invaluable. They not only sent me her book but also put me in touch with a volunteer who emails me regularly to check in. Guys, I can’t emphasize enough how life saving these services are. The book, while insanely thick, was exactly what I needed to read at the right time. It changed my perspective on my entire experience and helped me to be grateful for the small happinesses I did have, to clutch them tightly during my darkest days. My support group penpal let me cry and vent, let me express feelings I was ashamed of, and not only virtually hugged me but told me that she understood. TRULY understood. She sent me pics of her brand new baby and reminded me: THIS is what we do it for.
I’m now 4.5 months along. Nearly halfway through my pregnancy. Most people don’t even know yet. Up until a few weeks ago, I weighed exactly what I had before I was pregnant because despite gaining back the weight I lost, I lost nearly 10 lbs. I wasn’t showing. I had to leave my PT job at the bookstore- AGAIN. And this time, with no prospect of returning which broke my heart more than I was willing to admit. I’m only just starting to get excited by the prospect of being a mother again. Only now starting to eat and enjoy cravings and other baby related things. This journey has been long and exhausting and while I see the 20 week mark as my physical healing point (its when things improved with Boy#1), I think this pregnancy has left me with emotional scars that might take a while to heal.
So that’s where I’ve been, if you’ve all been wondering. That’s why I’ve been so silent. I’ve been battling this great beast, battling myself, trying to hold my family together while their matriarch fell apart. It’s not been an easy journey and I’ve caught myself wishing for a simpler time. But now that much of the worst is behind me, I am trying to find positive things to look forward to. Like Baby Registries, Baby Showers, ultrasounds… and the other things that were lost to me due to my weakness: reading, writing, social media.
I finally feel like a human being again. And I hope that this experience, like all experiences a writer goes through, gets funneled into the voice that creates my worlds and characters and produces something beautiful from it, just as I hope to hold that little baby in my arms.