Morning Sickness and Death

Now, let me draw the distinction right now between:

  1. Feeling like you’re dying
  2. Wanting to die
  3. Literally dying

I’m not kidding here. 1 is something I think most of us experience, if not in first trimester than in unending third trimester, or in labor, or in the newborn phase. 2 is something common enough when you feel really, really poorly (depression is actually a symptom of HG), but you should see a midwife or doctor for help. And 3 means you should see a doctor, too. I’ve done the IV, and it is amazing.

I’m reminded of a chapter from one of my favorites, What Mothers Do: Especially When It Looks Like Nothing. The author, Naomi Stadlen, spoke with many mothers over many years in new moms’ groups, and one of the most common refrains was, as the chapter title goes, “So tired I could die.”

These were mothers of newborns, but I feel this way often in pregnancy, especially in those unending early months. And I think what Stadlen argues of new motherhood in her book is true of pregnancy, too: you kind of are dying. Dying to your old life, your own expectations, your own definitions of success. It’s exhausting work, emotionally and physically.

In the same way that Haley Stewart argued that getting your life back may not be the point of Christian parenting, I would suggest that this death through pregnancy is maybe a difficult gift that prepares us for motherhood when the baby is here. It certainly makes me softer and less obsessed with doing for myself, less dedicated to my own ideas of how things should play out.

This pregnancy, I’ve gotten into the pretty metal Mary prayers they tuck at the end of the book. In the past, I’ve always found them almost comically intense (“this vale of tears” indeed!). Suddenly, though, I’m so grateful to have a prayer that acknowledges how “Sinking we strive and call to you for aid.” I’ve been sinking, that’s for sure. And if I’m buoyed now, it has everything to do with prayer and friendship and relenting hormones, and very little to do with epsom salts and Sea Bands and Zofran.

If you’re finding yourself on the same sinking ship of severe morning sickness, here are some of my favorite resources for processing those feelings. There seems to be a shortage of resources on managing the despair and anger that comes with feeling really, really bad while something really, really good happens to your body and your family — probably because desperately barfy women don’t tend to have great word output, and once you feel better, you rightly want to dwell on the baby and not how you felt like a trash fire in the early months. (I once threw the perfectly innocent but relentlessly cheerful Prayerfully Expecting: A Nine-Month Novena for Mothers to Be across the room when the author mentioned you might not feel up to mopping as often — at the time, all I could manage was scrubbing the toilet a bit as I lay beside it.) These writers understand the blessed awfulness of a trash fire pregnancy, and have helped me:

Getting my IV when I was so morning sick I didn’t realize I also had a stomach bug until in retrospect

 

 

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Be the Baby

For me it is really inconvenient to be pregnant, as I’m sure longtime readers have gathered (x, x, x, etc.). Even when I’m mostly done throwing up, I have to nibble constantly, and pee every thirty seconds, and sleep long nights with highly recommended midday naps. It is hard to be a functioning adult, much less make it out the door.

The other day I had to waddle across a ballroom to use the bathroom for the second time in one speech, and I felt like that bit in Monty Python and the Holy Grail, just running and running and making absolutely no progress while folks looked on dispassionately. I can never decide whether I hate more in early pregnancy when I feel like trash but look normal, or late in pregnancy where I am so self consciously giant but people go out of their way to be kind, mostly.

I constantly run late these days because I have to pee one more time or grab a snack. I fight with the big kid that he has to put on his own shoes because I can’t bear to bend over. And when I’ve won, I celebrate victory by peeing again.

But you know what? I hate to admit it, but that’s kind of what I signed up for with this baby thing. Nausea and heartburn will fade, but that inconvenience? It’ll be here for quite a ways past pregnancy. It’s called a Baby. I think I’ve heard of them before.

So I try to remember when I’m fed up with my ridiculous eating schedule or whatever that in order to have the baby, I must first Be the Baby. And just as it is when the baby is actually here, sometimes that’s fun (guilt free ice cream / newborn snuggles) and sometimes that’s oppressively inconvenient (packing three snacks for a morning of VBS / newborn nights).

Growing a baby is hard work, and it turns me into a baby, but there are, after all, few sweeter things in life than the real baby I’m assembling with every nap, every fistful of dried apricots, every bonkers nesting impulse.

The other morning, while Pippin was putting my compression socks on for me so I didn’t have to roll around struggling, he said cheerfully that he’d be happy to help with other things, too. “I can pick your nose anytime you like!” he offered blithely.

Be the Baby. It’s the deal. I’m just getting a head start.

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Previous pregnancy, maybe 33 weeks.

Preparing for a Preemie


I guess I’m kind of slow because I didn’t really think I had had a preemie until I got pregnant this time.

Scout was born at 36w0d, which is usually just considered late preterm. She didn’t fit into preemie clothes and she didn’t have trouble nursing and she didn’t need time in the NICU. It was scary to go into labor before I had expected, but much scarier that it all happened in a four hour labor. Once it was over, I didn’t think much of it, except that it saved me a month of pregnancy, which I don’t love. I have had friends who have given birth crazy early, watched their little ones transferred to a separate hospital room, struggled to nurse a terribly tiny baby. I just had a slightly undercooked baby with a lot of lanugo and pitifully scrawny legs. No big deal.

That is, until I went to the midwives with this pregnancy. Then it was all progesterone shots and heaps of extra ultrasounds. I’ve never been super worried about labor as I’m usually preoccupied with the not feeling great bits of pregnancy, but this time I breathed a sigh of relief when I got to 24 weeks and viability. Even prudent vigilance can be a little contagious, a little unsettling.

Now I’m 32 weeks and so much more aware of all the ways things can shake out than I was with my first two. With Pip, I didn’t want to drive to the hospital through Super Storm Sandy and so I spent a day on the couch, willing him not to come. The next day was 11 days before his due date and I decided he could come if he wanted. I cleaned the fridge and woke up to contractions in the middle of the night. Obliging child. He was born the next evening. I was pretty sure this is how it always works.

Now I’ve got a baby who could come at 36 weeks when I stop my progesterone shots, landing her in mid-October. She could be a handful of days early and arrive on her brother’s birthday, Halloween. She could come on her due date, November 14, or wait till my birthday to be induced, at Thanksgiving.

But, of course, this is always the deal with babies. I just didn’t know it, truly, before. 

Now I’ve got the glider I longed for and can imagine nursing this new baby in it. I’ve got her room mostly cleaned out, and diapers in both preemie and newborn sizes, just in case. I’ve bought as many Christmas presents as I can, and scheduled Pippin’s birthday party so we can still have it unless she arrives catastrophically early. I’m setting up childcare for when I’m in the hospital and need to write out a few lesson plans for Police Preschool in case J or my parents want to take over for me during lying in.

 There’s not much more to do, but wait.

In Defense of Pregnancy Consumerism

A sentiment I can get behind
It’s possible that if you feel terrific throughout pregnancy this doesn’t apply, but I’m actually a real proponent of a little retail therapy to cheer up a crappy pregnancy. (I hope Kate Middleton is getting only the best stuff right now, guys.)

After all, you can acquire almost everything you need for baby herself from hand-me-downs and a little judicious secondhand shopping, but getting through the nine months preceding her arrival can be a slog to say the least.

In pregnancy, I can’t really eradicate my morning sickness or fix the discomforts that plague me, but it’s worth passing some time researching remedies that might alleviate the crappiness even a bit.

Here are some items I’ve found helpful in boosting morale.

For nausea:

  • Vitamin B6 in the proper dose, for serious. If you’re already gagging, you might as well not have to chop pills into a crumbling mess that makes it worse. You can also ask for Zofran that can be taken sublingually. Swallowing pills is hard when you’re already queasy! Don’t go cheap and puke them into the bathroom sink.

For lumpiness:

  • I’m team maternity dress. I just don’t think the pregnant human figure was meant to support waistbands, and especially with subsequent pregnancies, when I find myself often squatting down to deal with other small people, it’s crack city all the time, regardless of how cute the maternity jeans are.

For heartburn:

  • A wedge pillow. It is ridiculous, and paired with my pregnancy body pillow, Gladys, takes up quite a bit of the bed, but it helps me not to wake up with raging heartburn — or worse, suffer through a reflux vomit.
  • A well-fitting bra. Get fitted. It’ll help with heartburn and backache, and if you buy one expensive one from the fitter, you can get the rest in your new size from Amazon on the cheap. This my all-time favorite and has lasted me through three pregnancies and 40+ months of nursing. (Warning: It has a mortifying name.)

For travel and work:

  • Compression socks. Totally depressing, but they prevent blood clots when traveling on a plane or sitting a long time, and help keep swelling down. I get lurid ones because the flesh-colored ones for diabetics squick me out. Hey! I am a sausage person, but I’m a FUN sausage person!

For encouragement:

What are other small indulgences that make the long slog bearable for you?

 

 

 

 

Night Fridge

There is something sacred about those long short nights of late pregnancy. It seems most of us find ourselves lit by the dull glow of the fridge in a sleeping house, too hungry or uncomfortable to sleep.

For some women, the temptation then is milk, or ice cream direct from the carton. For me, it’s the toaster all the way: a half bagel or, before I had kids old enough to demand their share, Poptarts (don’t they know Poptarts are bad for you!).

In those moments, the birth of this new person seems a source of incredulity, even as she squirms determinedly in your belly, resolutely human in her tiny hiccups, pointy heels applied to your ribs.

In those strange night moments when I was pregnant with Pippin, often I’d talk to my sister, just finishing her shift at a show venue in Brooklyn. Our lives then we’re so incomprehensibly different, each as improbable as the other.

Mostly, though, I slump down by the fridge door and chew meditatively. I turn on a lamp, not too bright, and sneak a few pages of my book. In my best moments, I pray. As birth gets nearer, I find it increasingly difficult to concentrate, sausaged into whatever mortifying pajamas I still fit, possibly too big to easily get back off the sofa.

“Sleep now while you can,” older women always say, and I want to sock those well-meaning ladies in the nose. Soon, I know, I’ll be able to roll in bed whenever I want. I’ll go whole hours without having to pee and eat dinner with heartburn impunity. Best of all, I’ll have this unknowable little person in my arms, no longer scrunched so uncomfortably into my innards. I try to remember, as I eat my bagel slowly in the dim, hushed house.

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A better-lit afternoon solo snack

The Bonus Baby

When I was growing up, all my close friends were the product of still-married couples who had two children, two or three years apart. All of them. It wasn’t until I was in college that I really got to know people from really big families (11 kids!) or only children raised by single mothers.

So I guess it’s not surprising that this spring I found myself newly and surprisingly pregnant, trying to push our crappy double stroller along the uneven pavement of Charleston, mildly panicking about how we’d decided to Go Big on this parenting thing.

We were looking for a coffee shop open early enough for preschooler/ravenous pregnant lady breakfast schedules into which I could cram the giant stroller. (I’m not sure where J was, possibly at the conference.) I wasn’t sick yet and certainly not visibly pregnant, but already I felt conspicuous among the toned and carefree early morning joggers huddled around their espressos.

I have struggled a bit with getting my head around this pregnancy. It made sense to everyone around me and to myself that I would endure pregnancy again to give Pip a sibling. In the circle I grew up in, it’s just what you do, and J and I love our siblings so much. But now am I just a glutton for punishment? Now that I’m visibly pregnant, a (socially awkward? creepy?) man in the library elevator commented, “You must really enjoy being pregnant.”

Um, I hate it.

But I love this bonus baby of ours. I love the idea of Scout being a big sister. I’m even looking forward to most of the newborn insanity, after Scout’s cheery babyhood helped redeem Pippin’s tense and somewhat lonely infancy.

I like the idea of a big family gathered around our first real, grownup dining room table, love to imagine the kids piled like puppies in our none-too-big house. J and I debate the probabilities that this will finally be our brown-haired, brown-eyed baby, resign ourselves to discussing minivans. Three. How did we get here?

It’s a little crazy, by the standards by which I was raised, but exciting, too. Three feels like extra credit or a symptom of insanity, depending on your perspective. And I do worry sometimes that we’ve asked too much of God: I’m halfway through my third barfy but remarkably uncomplicated pregnancy. I’ve got two rosily healthy, generally charming non-prodigies who mostly bring joy to the world. So many people struggle for one child, and here I am getting greedy with number three.

But having or not having my own babies will not help those who struggle to have their own, and occasionally worrying I’ve gotten too big for my (maternity) britches doesn’t negate the unique wonders we will encounter when we meet sweet Roo. She is number three, a tipping point in our family’s history, but more importantly, her own tiny, miraculous person. Even if I have three more (oh help), I don’t see that wonder getting old.

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Unique person 1

 

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Unique person numero dos

 

Helpers

I really really wish I felt better while pregnant. There are pregnant women being Wonder Womanly and kicking butt at tennis and for a very long time, just existing is a pretty major accomplishment in my book.

I’m finally some better, but in that long hibernation space, I felt like the kids were mostly just watching tv and mainlining Goldfish. As it turns out, though, Pippin was developing newfound independence and a willingness to help.

In the past few weeks, he’s started pouring his own milk (if we keep a small bottle filled for him), feeding the dog, checking the mail, keeping an eye on his sister (who he endearingly and mysteriously calls “Sweet Pete”), helping me put away groceries and helping more consistently with baking.

It’s grand. It’s a reminder for me of a couple things: first, I should keep an eye on my kids’ development and give them chances to try new tasks. And more importantly, I’m learning that even in a season of seeming stasis, the kids are growing all the time. They are not (just!) developing complexes from me repeating, “Please don’t touch Mama, please go watch more Daniel Tiger” — maybe the boredom and benevolent neglect even hastens these leaps.

Well, Sweet Pete, looks like Mama’s not getting around to it anytime soon. Should I try?

Captain Barnacles gives little sis a push on the swing

Promises to those struggling to conceive 

I will say it up front: I don’t think I can pretend I enjoy every minute, and I’m not sure that actually helps. I will complain through the throw up (mine and theirs) and the tantrums (mine and theirs) but I will never let my gratitude become completely overshadowed. I know what you’d do for these barfy little miracles.

I promise never to forget you in the busyness of these early years, and to try to never forget your feelings. I will mourn your miscarriage, probably awkwardly and with the wrong words. I will remember you on Mother’s Day. I will try to check in on your TTC journey — not too often to be pestersome, but so you know I care.

I will let you hold my squishy new baby as much or as little as you want. My babies have come relatively easily to me, but I will not forget that strange longing for a baby cheek pressed against mine, even when I feel like I’m drowning in them.

In my dark room at night, burping a baby for the thousandth time, I will remember your name in a changing litany of longing women to whom I dedicate these milky Hail Marys. I remember you when I huddle over the toilet, throwing up again even though it’s second trimester and IT IS SO UNFAIR. You have a thing or two to teach me about unfairness, I know.

I don’t know if any of these words help. I only know that this blog has always been about motherhood and right now is swimming in pregnancy, too. I know it hurts to feel drowned out, so know this: I want to hear your story, too.
Love,
Katherine

Commonplace Book, 30

What is a commonplace book? For me, this is a space where I post interesting links, reflections on what I’m reading, and the newest recipes I’ve been trying out — a collection of miscellaneous micro-posts.

What I’m fixing:

  • So rude of you to even ask.

What I’m reading:

  • Blood Red, Snow WhiteI don’t know if I’ve talked about our family’s ardent affection for Swallows and Amazonsa book that kicks of a series in which kids float around on a little sailboat in the Lake District and, charmingly, almost nothing happens. But did you know THE AUTHOR WAS A RUSSIAN SPY? And someone wrote a lovely, lyrical, fairy-tale-y account of Arthur Ransome’s time in Russia, and you can read it, and agree with me that although it’s basically the opposite of Swallows and Amazons, it’s really very good.
  • Till We Have FacesCurrently reading. Was supposed to finish for WRM, but since I was too sick to go, I have the luxury of reading it slowly in epsom salt baths that are not curing my morning sickness but still qualify as one of the more fun possible remedies.
  • Creating with God: The Holy Confusing Blessedness of PregnancyI’ve been gushing about this one over on Instagram. I thought I had found the best of faith-oriented books on the sanctifying suckiness of pregnancy (if not a genre, it should be), but au contraire! I’ve been underlining a lot. So glad it’s in the world.

“Pregnant women learn through pregnancy to trust others for their basic needs. They learn their own limits. They learn to ask for and receive help. They learn to surround themselves with communities of support…They learn to trust that God will meet their needs through the people around them. In short, pregnant women learn to live by faith.”

Currently book people even more than normal. (Also TV people…)

Moans and Groans

Pregnancy is a lot of groan-worthy symptoms for me, but somewhere along the line I noticed something else embarrassing: the pregnancy moan.

Get your mind out of the gutter, guys, but if motherhood makes me live in my body more than ever before, pregnancy makes me often feel all I am is a body, or merely a collection of side effects, or a big disgusting vat of baby-brewing.

Once I noticed the involuntary moaning, though, I began to better appreciate the exquisite pleasures in day to day life when you’re mostly pretty uncomfortable: a sip of perfectly cold water, the relief of dropping your weary sciatic bones onto a squishy sofa, getting home from work and changing directly into voluminous pajamas.

These moments are oases in long days. In first trimester, I’d eat mechanically whatever seemed least disgusting, obediently and hourly, and then, a gift from above, every so often something would taste better than anything in my unpregnant state — a friend’s chicken salad, for instance, shared after many lonely days of fatigue. My husband’s improvised pasta carbonara. Mint chocolate ice cream when I thought the nausea was about to win that round.

Once you offer that initial fiat, pregnancy is a train with no stops. You’re merely a passenger and you aren’t picking the route. But when I look for these moments of pure, unexpected, mildly embarrassing  joy, I can better notice the beautiful scenery that passes me by while mostly I’m preoccupied with the jolting, tortuous route. I am reminded of what pregnancy is in all its mostly sucky, still miraculous glory: pure gift.

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Blissful second trimester nap the summer I was brewing up Pippin