Because that’s really the miracle of motherhood.
It is 5:14 in the morning when I wake up with the panic of nausea. The lethargy of the first minutes of the day still clings to my body as I mentally scan the shelves of the fridge and cross-check with my stomach to see if anything sounds appealing. If I don’t prepare something within the next couple of minutes, the morning will be spent hugging the rim of the toilet. I forcefully shove that thought away, throw my legs over the edge of the bed, and rush down the steps to the kitchen.
Before opening the fridge, I take a deep breath and hold it in knowing any number of smells will trigger my morning sickness. I stick my hand inside, fumble for the pre-made lemon pancakes that soothe my stomach before remembering I finished them yesterday. Before I know it, it’s too late. My forehead and back break out in sweat as I race to the bathroom just in time to get sick.
And this, this is a good day—a great one, in fact, because at 20 weeks, the hyperemesis gravidarum (HG) that sent me to the ER for hydration and an eventual PICC line are finally in the past. HG, a rare condition of pregnancy determined by unrelenting and debilitating nausea and vomiting, begins around five weeks of pregnancy and lasts indefinitely. An HG sufferer often vomits more than 40 times a day and loses 10 to 20 percent of her body weight, a fact which necessitates a feeding tube and frequent hospital stays.
At age 35, I was old enough to be as mentally prepared as a woman can be before starting a family. I even looked forward to the inalterable and dramatic changes motherhood would bring. What I wasn’t prepared for was pregnancy itself. None of the stories shared by my sisters and friends revealed to me the truth of pregnancy—it isn’t just hard; often, it is unlivable.
Consider the most common image of a pregnant woman. There she stands in a flowing dress on a warm summer day surrounded by a field of sunflowers. The sun lights her from behind as she looks down, her perfectly manicured hands resting atop her round belly. Everything about her suggests peace, serenity, and good health.
The problem is that this image is a lie. Pregnancy is not all sunflowers and rainbows and unicorns. The truth of pregnancy, while totally miraculous and beautiful, is that it is a time of great discomfort, nausea, heartburn, gas, constipation, backaches, cramping, fatigue, night sweats, bleeding gums, and irritability. And that’s when pregnancy is going well.
Soon after my experience with HG, women everywhere starting spilling the gory details of their pregnancies. While I knew my sister-in-law needed shots to handle the clotting disorder that threatened miscarriage, the fact that she had to inject those shots into her stomach twice a day had not been shared with me. “The idea of shoving a needle into my stomach was not something I was really looking forward to, but to keep the baby safe and to keep myself safe, I did it,” she said.
|Why wasn’t I aware of these things before I became pregnant?|
Another woman who had placenta previa explained how she nearly bled out after delivery because of the uncontrollable and life-threatening hemorrhaging the condition causes. A diabetic friend endured countless blood tests to ensure stable blood sugars before postpartum experiences with hemorrhoids that needed to be surgically removed and then an unresolvable yeast infection in her breast. Several other friends shared their experiences with postpartum depression while countless others were, like me, frequently rushed to the ER for hydration caused by extreme nausea and vomiting, a few of them even ending up in wheelchairs for the duration of their pregnancies, so weakened were they from a lack of nutrition.
The discovery of these endless—and jarringly common—pregnancy complications begged the question: Why wasn’t I aware of these things before I became pregnant?
One friend who was diagnosed with preeclampsia and whose skyrocketing blood pressure caused blurry vision and near blindness during the final days of her pregnancy had this to say: “It’s so weird to think back on the rough parts because I feel like my brain has made them not seem so traumatizing over time,” she said. “The details always feel a lot like my vision was.”
This sort of blurred vision post-pregnancy is at least partly responsible for the myth of relative ease in pregnancy. After interviewing 10 women who had difficult, yet not uncommon pregnancy complications, an interesting phenomenon occurred. Nearly every interview subject followed up her initial response with a retraction of her complaints. Said one after disclosing all her pregnancy trials, “I’ll just add that somehow, as hard as it is, I also loved being pregnant. When my baby kicked in my belly, it was totally rainbows and unicorns, even while I was having vials and vials of blood taken for endless labwork or injecting insulin five times a day.”
|It does not take away from the story of birth to focus on the daunting reality of pregnancy.|
There is no question that being able to get pregnant and bring a child into the world is a tremendous gift God has given women. For most of us, there is nothing we will ever do that will match this level of participation in God’s plan. But the fact of that miraculous participation doesn’t preclude suffering or sacrifice. In fact, it usually engenders it. It doesn’t take away from the story of the Resurrection to focus on the suffering that predicated it. In fact, we as Catholics spend 40 days in Lent attempting to walk the Way of Calvary so that we can more fully participate in the joy of the Resurrection.
Similarly, it does not take away from the story of birth to focus on the daunting reality of pregnancy. Knowing how difficult pregnancy can be would not have deterred me from having children. Instead, it would have given me a better understanding of how extraordinary all the women who came before me were and how heroic the call to motherhood is from the get-go.
MORE TO READ: An open letter to mothers who regret having children
What I know now and what I wish I knew then is that bringing a life into the world is sacrifice. It is suffering. It is the stuff of warriors. Participating in the miracle of life is a call to walk a difficult, extraordinary, draining, and impossible path. The myth that tells us pregnancy is supposed to be easy detracts from the value of carrying that cross and walking that walk. It takes away from the beautiful burden of mothers everywhere. Even as I endure another bout with nausea, I know I am lucky to be a part of this miracle.
Without question, there is an inherent beauty and magic to pregnancy. It is not lacking in its moments of unicorns and rainbows. It’s just that those experiences are only part of the story. The rest of it, the body-wrenching parts we tend to gloss over or recall with the blurry eyes of post-delivery, that’s where things get really interesting because that’s where the miracle of motherhood and childbearing really begins.
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