My exam went well!
And I never got around to writing about it because almost as soon as I bounced back from the strain of that ordeal and got my fall semester organized, I fell pregnant. And, dude, it's been THE WORST.
I know that the Internet is forever and (even though my readership is nonexistent) this fetus may stumble across these words someday. And still I say, emphatically and without the levity of Ben Schwartz's Jean-Ralphio, that this pregnancy is THE WORST. As in, THE WORST I'VE EVER FELT. Because I have hyperemesis gravidarum.
This is not a royal euphemism for morning sickness. If you care to learn more about this rare, debilitating complication, the Hyperemesis Education and Research Foundation is a tremendous resource. I'd also point you to Evan Derkacz's excellent piece from a partner's perspective. But if you're going to stay on this page, these are some things I'll say about my own experience.
You cannot possibly understand the physical toll of hyperemesis gravidarum unless you've had it yourself.
Lots of well-meaning people—from family members to medical professionals—treated me with bemused condescension. The first time I went to immediate care I was dizzy and disoriented from days of not consuming anything (I told them I was six months along, and my well-fed husband corrected my units to "weeks" before I even registered the mistake). A nurse very patiently explained that of course I was nauseated, since I was pregnant.
You know those vendors camped outside subway exits in bad weather, selling umbrellas to commuters? It was like walking up to one of them, cash in hand, and being told, "Of course you're wet; it's raining." And then you have to take the time to demonstrate your understanding of cause and effect, and explicitly state that you have come to this person because you have gotten soaked beyond what you can reasonably tolerate. And still you're met with rolled eyes, instead of an umbrella.
Except it's not like that at all, because we're actually talking about my body violently rejecting the mere suggestion of food and drink.
The insensitivity of some medical staff at least lowered the bar for lay people. Reduced expectations prevented me from punching relatives for saying stupid things (realistically, the malnourishment played a larger role in curbing my ass-kicking).
"Maybe you'll feel better tomorrow!"
Sure, if I miscarry tomorrow—because you obviously don't understand the course of this illness.
"Just eat whenever you're not nauseated, instead of waiting to be hungry."
That would be a great plan, if there ever were a moment wherein I experience the complete absence of nausea, but sometimes my own saliva makes me want to vomit. As does your persistent ignorance.
Hyperemesis gravidarum is a mind fuck like no other.
A sampling of things I've worried about that shouldn't have gotten my attention at all:
- If my child has health issues, will it be my fault?
- Am I going to become so weak that my body cannot sustain this pregnancy at all?
- Considering the high likelihood of recurrence, will I ever be willing to conceive again?
- Jonathon complains of the profound loneliness of his sibling-deficient childhood. Is he regretting marrying a woman who might refuse to carry a second child?
- How is it that I am so unproductive?
That last worry is especially insidious and tenacious because my time has been deceptively "free" throughout this pregnancy. Months on the couch or in bed? Why, that's a great opportunity to get through several journal articles and scholarly monographs! If only I weren't diverting all my mental effort towards keeping down a few sips of Gatorade.
And so there's a deep sense of isolation, not just from being at home all the time but also from being unable to engage in academic work or cultural conversations. Scrolling through Twitter can set off my nausea!
It's probably just as well that I've avoided social media, because "writing what I know" would mean posting things that are in conflict with the accepted narrative about pregnancy being a blessed culmination of my womanhood. Or a glamorous fashion show (#bumpchic). While I think it's important that the whole spectrum of pregnancy experiences be acknowledged and validated, I don't have the energy to assert myself among my peers who are sharing monthly baby bump pictures and predicting that they are going to have intervention-free deliveries as all women should. These mommy wars are ridiculously real, even before my kid is placed in my arms for the first time.
The back end of the second trimester and start of the third were a lot better. I was (and am) still taking eleven pills a day (plus five more to counteract the side effects of the eleven), but I was keeping down actual meals. No more dizziness when standing. I could ride the subway without fainting. But for the past few weeks, I've had several clusters of bad days. So as terrifying as labor and delivery seem, I can't wait to be done soon.
And before I'm done with this update, I do want to highlight some great human beings. There's the ER doctor who distracted me with animal videos on his phone while a nurse tried to place an IV in my dehydrated veins. And the friend who learned all about hyperemesis gravidarum so she could better support me. And Jonathon, who has been an extraordinarily good partner.
And of course, there's the baby we finally get to meet in about six weeks. I may hate being pregnant. But I love our kid.