I am a little over three months pregnant. Congratulations, you say? Thank you!! We are blessed. Yesterday, I went to my dentist, Dr. Speer, and when I told him I had Hypermesis Gravidarum (HG), he said, "in English please?" So, you are in good company if you are also wondering what I am talking about, because Dr. Speer is super smart and also my favorite dentist.
HG is debilitating vomiting during pregnancy, unlike normal morning sickness in any way. It is relentless, and ginger, saltines, sea bands, or the million other things I tried didn't even touch it. In the U.S., most of the small percentage (1-5%) of women who get HG are put on Zofran, a powerful and expensive anti-nausea drug that is usually reserved for chemotherapy patients. Even with the drug, I was still sick and unable to eat, very common for HG. I ended up in the hospital about 36 hours after it started, severely dehydrated. I am thankful that I live in this day and age, because HG was the number one cause of maternal death in pregnancy in the U.S. before IV fluids came into use in the 50s. Yup, this is some serious shit.
When I was well enough to meet my midwife she said, "Babies are powerful." These words helped me- they made me feel like I was under some powerful, ancient grip of magic. It made me appreciate the impact of non-violent language. What she said was true, and it honored how I felt, without being negative in any way. Another specialist said that, at certain times in our lives, it is really most important that we feel understood. This was incredibly powerful for me to hear, because I was struggling to feel understood. When people are sick, we want to give advice and fix it. We want to help the sick person look on the bright side. I was offered advice, after clearly explaining how sick I was, that ranged from getting lots of exercise to eating lots of raw ginger. I was pulling a straight-up Linda Blair, needless to say I wouldn't be engaging in either of those activities.
When you are expecting a child, you know that at some point your whole life will change. But you don't expect to be housebound a little over a month in. I have been in touch with another woman who has HG, and is about as far along as I am. Her doctor was not taking her seriously until she was admitted to the hospital. She said, "It's a lot of, 'you're pregnant, suck it up and deal.'" She expressed disappointment in how sexist it felt. I encountered this at times. There was a sense of, "You're pregnant, so it doesn't matter that you're sick. What did you expect?"
I expected pain, discomfort and other obnoxious symptoms when I became pregnant. But, I also pictured myself working until at least mid-summer, doing yoga, going for daily walks, preparing meals to satisfy random cravings. Instead, I did what I could do. I lay on the floor and went deep within myself. I used self-hypnosis techniques and left my body, often envisioning a horse leading me through the desert towards an oasis (okay, fine, it was actually a Moose and I don't know why so don't ask. Fasting makes your thoughts strange.) When I was able to rest on the couch, the dogs surrounded me, and the tactile feeling of petting their fur, or the touch of Dan's hand grounded me. I enjoyed music, and colors, the red and yellow tulips Dan brought home every week.
The medicine began to help. I was still sick, but on good days, I had sharp, animal-like cravings for hot chocolate. I almost felt panicked, like I might need to hold someone hostage and force them to make me hot chocolate, piping hot, with whole milk, and no whipped cream. I drank it slowly, like it was a crime I got away with, savoring it like manna. The doctor said it was my body asking for calcium and magnesium. The body communicates with us in all kinds of ways I think we are trained to ignore. I was in awe. Still am.
I'm better now, so please, no well-wishes. I want to be treated like I am better now. I started having good days, and then one day, it just lifted. I swear, I felt something physically lifting off of me. I still get a bit sick in the mornings, but it is nothing compared to the dark, twisted water slide with no end that was HG.
I am grateful for the strange dream-like time I spent at the mercy of my body. I feel strong, having weathered not only having to fast, but fasting while pregnant. The pregnancy was literally feeding off my body- I felt at times like I was on a vision quest, or that someone had dosed me with Ayahuasca. Most importantly, I have a renewed appreciated for the power of understanding. I set an intention to listen more and give less advice in the future, unless it is specifically asked for. I am already learning that this is more difficult than it sounds, because people often ask for advice when they don't actually want it. They really just want to be understood.
A dear, old friend came and took care of me and the dogs for a week. She seemed to intuitively know what I needed: clean clothes, a companion watching my favorite show, an odor-free home, quiet. She has dealt with far more than her fair share of physical pain in her young life; perhaps this is why she has a knack for caregiving. I am left grappling with this question: do we only learn compassion from suffering?
I am one of the lucky ones. They told me there was a 50% chance that my HG would lift at 12-15 weeks, and it has. I couldn't be more grateful. Cooking, baking, cleaning, and walking the dogs are all so much more precious to me now. And last week, we heard the heartbeat. As my favorite dentist, Dr. Speer said, "life is happening."