Let me be the first to admit that I had been sold a pregnancy myth. I looked forward to pregnancy, not just a baby, but pregnancy. I wanted that healthy glow. I wanted to take those weekly and monthly pictures to document my growing belly. I wanted to delight in every minute of pregnancy.
And all of those things are true. I glowed. I delighted. I took too many belly pictures.
AND, after two pregnancies and two rounds of hyperemesis gravidarum (acute morning sickness), I also know what it means to have a hard pregnancy.
Pregnancy is not a contest. Let’s say that at the outset. Having an easy pregnancy or a hard pregnancy has no bearing on what kind of mom you will be or what kind of child you’ll have. If you had no nausea and no morning sickness, you should never feel that you can’t complain about your heartburn because your best friend threw up every morning. Someone else will always have it harder. I had hyperemesis; someone had it worse than me. Nevertheless, having a tough pregnancy is hard and lonely, and I think I have some wisdom to share from that experience. First my experience, then the practical advice, then the sappy.
With Cruz and London, I got sick right away. Let me demonstrate. In this picture, I am not pregnant:
Here am I, same vacation, I was sick and knew I was pregnant. Four days, sister.
Like everything else about pregnancy and motherhood, hyperemesis looks different from mama to mama and pregnancy to pregnancy. With Cruz, I threw up all day, every day from weeks 5 to 25, and then sporadically throughout the rest of my pregnancy (although the constant nausea went away at week 25). With London, my nausea started immediately, I threw up all day and all night from weeks 7 to 21. My nausea went away around week 25 and I was fine for the rest of my pregnancy. Both kids were born at 38 weeks, so for those of you keeping score at home, yes, more than half of my pregnancies were spent on the floor of the bathroom.
So what does hyperemesis feel like? Like death, slightly warmed over. Like you have a hangover, the stomach flu, mono, and food poisoning all at the same time, for three months straight.
So here’s the practical stuff:
+ Talk to your doctor immediately. My doctor never wanted to have my first prenatal appointment until I was about nine weeks along. When I was pregnant with Cruz, I just suffered until I had my first appointment. With London I was a lot smarter. Once it was clear that I was headed for a second round of hyperemesis, my doctor called in a prescription for me, even though my first appointment was still a few weeks away. There are a couple of different medications that doctors seem to prescribe for acute morning sickness. I’ve taken a couple. None of them will make you feel great, but they will help you to manage your vomiting and help prevent dehydration.
+ There are a lot of natural remedies out there for morning sickness. If those work for you, God bless. If you have hyperemesis, most likely, none of these will work. Not ginger, not sea bands, not even those cheerful morning sickness candies. I lean towards the crunchy granola side of things, and was very, very hesitant to take medication during my first pregnancy. But do you what also isn’t wise? Losing weight because you can’t keep anything down week after week. Getting dehydrated isn’t wise. Feeling like you’re going to lose your mind isn’t wise. Don’t feel bad if you need medication. Don’t feel bad if the natural remedy that worked for your sister doesn’t work for you.
+ Find a toilet bowl cleaner that has a tolerable smell.
+ Tell your boss that you’re pregnant. It was great to have my boss on my side right from the beginning and I didn’t have to hide my sickness. The head-on-the-desk-crying and constant trips to the bathroom would have given away anyone.
+ Get yo’self an iPad. If you have another kid at home, and you have hyperemesis, you’ll need something for them to do all day. Do you know what’s great about the Netflix app? The next episode of Curious George will start automatically! This is not terrific parenting, but you are in survival mode.
+ All you can expect of yourself is two functioning hours each day. This is wisdom straight from our pediatrician. Two hours of feeling okay. Two hours for sitting or standing or maybe doing an errand. That’s it. Do not have higher expectations for yourself.
+ High fat foods. My genius sister-in-law is a high-risk pregnancy nurse so she knows what she’s talking about. She suggested that high fat healthy foods would stay down easier. I ate a lot of eggs with avocado and chocolate milkshakes.
+ Swallow your pride and ask for help. I had sweet friends who took Cruz to the park and brought us meals. This meant that we were telling people about our pregnancy before the end of the first trimester. That felt a little uncomfortable, but it become necessary. And of course, Tovi was amazing throughout the whole process. Asking for help can be really, really hard, but you have a medical condition that requires you to get help. Get it.
And here’s the sweet:
It is worth it, little mama. It is so so worth it. We all do different kinds of labor for our children. Some do it in the waiting to get pregnant, hoping and praying month after month. Some walk the hallways at 2am, colicky babes in arms. Some mamas labor over paperwork and social worker visits. And you, sweet one that can’t stop throwing up, you’re doing your labor now. It’s a heady privilege to bring a new life into the world, isn’t it? Being a mother is so unbelievably sweet and rapturous that it would be too much if we didn’t pay a price somewhere.
Because after all the tears and the days spent laying down in the bathroom, you’ll labor some more and greet a brand new soul into the world.
A brand new soul will take his first breath on your chest. He’ll look at you, you!, the first thing he’ll ever see in the world. You will lock eyes and hold his slippery body and marvel.
And because that moment and every moment after it was beautiful and magical and hard and worth it, you’ll do it again.