There. I said it. But before we dive in, let me cover my bases.
Pregnancy is a literal miracle, I know. I should be thankful that my body is healthy and able to create life, I know. I should be thankful that my husband and I had (in Anne Hathaway’s words) a “straight line” to both pregnancies, I know. All of those statements are valid, and I thank God every day that I have one healthy, happy, beautiful child and another on the way.
That being said…
Let’s get real. I was so sick during my first pregnancy that I had to take two weeks off from work and move back in with my parents while my husband traveled for his job. I was completely incapacitated. When I returned to the office, my coworkers would receive office-wide Slack notifications that the bathroom on our floor was “closed for maintenance” because my vomiting was so severe that, even when I tried my best, the aftermath of lunch looked like something out of a Tarantino movie. Surely, surely, well-meaning friends and colleagues (and strangers!) would say with a knowing, sympathetic smile, this “morning sickness” will all be over once you hit 12 weeks (except for my sister’s friend’s cousin who was sick the WHOLE time – but that won’t happen to you)! Those comments became fewer and fewer as the months went on and my belly grew. Despite being pregnant at the same time as some of my closest friends, I felt isolated. Why was I still sick and they weren’t? How could my baby possibly be okay if I’m this sick? I’m pregnant – shouldn’t I be enjoying every minute?
With hyperemesis, there is no “honeymoon trimester” – I threw up every day for all 42 weeks and then all through my 21-hour labor. Once, after an admittedly ill-advised glass of bloody mary mix on a work flight, I threw up red liquid all over myself and a coworker while having to frantically attempt to assure the other passengers that I wasn’t a pregnant lady vomiting blood. I projectile vomited so forcefully during labor that the IV they had put me on to keep me hydrated shot out of my arm, once again placing me smack dab in the middle of my very own Kill Bill: Labor and Delivery Volume. But yes, pregnancy is a beautiful miracle.
I am now seven months pregnant with my second child, and this pregnancy is showing no signs of being different, excepting the addition of a toddler asking if “Mama all done? All done?” as I throw my scrambled eggs up in the bathroom sink. Oh, and the guilt from spending hours in bed unable to play or read to him while my husband handles every aspect of childcare, housework, and dog duty.
Given the extreme nature of my pregnancies, let’s just say I’m not my best self while I’m building a human. My professional and personal relationships suffer. My work dive bombs into “sub-par” territory. I’ve had friends think I’m upset with them. It was pseudo-manageable for my first pregnancy, but this time around all extra energy is spent on my 22-month-old, leaving my husband (and everyone else) out to dry. It’s not purposeful, it’s survival. It is taking my body and mind everything I’ve got to walk from the bed to the kitchen to the car. If I seem detached or disinterested while you’re speaking to me, it’s because I’m swallowing vomit and calculating how long I have before I need to find the trash can or making sure my toddler will be okay flying solo if I have to quickly run to the bathroom. Believe me, the worst part is that I’m not oblivious to the toll it takes on others. Whereas before I would animatedly respond to stories and laugh at your jokes, now I hear myself barely engaging with a muted “yeah exactly.” I can see the looks on your faces as I let you down, and I hate it. I want to yell “THIS ISN’T ME! I’M BARELY HANGING ON! I’LL BE BACK TO NORMAL ONCE BABY IS BORN!” but I don’t have the energy or time to explain that to you at the moment because I ate a granny smith apple instead of a red delicious and now have to go throw up.
“Have you tried ginger ale? What about saltines?” Wow, that’s so innovative, no I haven’t tried the most obvious solution to a tummy ache for my hyperemesis, thank you, please offer me more tips. As well-meaning as many of these proposed cures may be, rattling off remedies for “morning sickness” aren’t always helpful. I am blessed with an incredible support network who offers me just that: support. So that is my advice to friends or family members watching a loved one go through a difficult pregnancy – support them. Support them emotionally. You would be surprised how far a funny text or meme can go to turn someone’s mood around when they’re face down in the toilet with their toddler scream-singing “Baa Baa Black Sheep.” Support them physically. When I manage to get my son to a playdate and my friend immediately tells me to lie down on her couch because she already set up the roller coaster toy and has snacks ready to go, it’s a Godsend. Support them mentally. How often do we say to each other “You’ve got this mama! You wonder woman!” All the time? In the words of Cyrus Rose, not enough. A difficult pregnancy means 10 months of a very difficult life, and every strong arm emoji helps.
While there are less than 200,000 cases of hyperemesis each year, chances are you know someone whose pregnancy is not going to plan for one reason or another. Struggling with being pregnant doesn’t mean we are bad mothers or that we hate what’s causing our symptoms. Just because we don’t subscribe to the milk baths, high sex drive, glowing skin version of pregnancy doesn’t mean our pregnancies aren’t real or valid. We know that creating life is a miraculous blessing. We know that in the end, it will all be more than worth it. We just also know that pregnancy can suck. And that’s okay too.