Morning sickness and my mothering spirit do not mix.
Unfortunately God, nature, raging pregnancy hormones – the proverbial powers that be – have decided that the first few months of this gestation will be one long wave of nausea.
Sometimes it feels like a tsunami, towering over my days and smashing apart my plans. Sometimes it feels like a typically-Minnesotan “walleye chop”: just enough small, rocky waves to stir up the surface and keep me queasy all day long.
No matter the day’s particular manifestation, morning sickness has been much rougher this time than with S. At first I wondered if it was all in my head, if the elation of the first pregnancy’s triumph over infertility surged with such euphoria that I was able to manage the nausea. After all, I was working and in school full-time when I was pregnant with S, and I somehow could keep it together – to make it to class, to function at the office, to only occasionally pull over to get sick on my drive to work.
This go-round? Right after Christmas, morning sickness knocked me to the couch. Literally. For days. I never remembered feeling this awful the first time, and F confirmed that it was not this bad. One dismal day brought such severe dehydration that I ended up on prescription meds just to keep down fluids. While I’m thankful that the drugs have helped me to get the sickness mostly under control, I’m still overwhelmed by how quickly and profoundly it creeps up.
I do not handle physical suffering well. My brothers can attest to my wimpiness in this respect: I whine, I wince, I wallow in my discontent. (Which younger brothers delight in inflicting.) I have always marveled at stories of saints tolerating great pain, since I’m pretty sure I would holler “uncle!” and quit if things ever got that bad. A martyr, I’m not.
So when I get sick and feel rotten, I have trouble doing anything but complaining about how terrible it all seems. All I picture is that scene from “When Harry Met Sally” in which a sick Harry just moans on the phone to Sally. Poor F has earned his share of sainthood merit points by listening to this daily ugggggh…..ugggggh….ugggggh.
I jokingly wondered aloud the other day whether morning sickness has ever been reflected on theologically. The thought brought me back to the terrible 24-hour stomach bug that my mother and I contracted right before my wedding. The ugly flu had been creeping around the family for the week before the nuptials, but we were both convinced that we wouldn’t get it. Sheer willpower would keep the bride and mother-thereof healthy, right?
Wrong. On the Thursday before the wedding, when the whole wedding party came into town for a kick-off party hosted by my aunt and uncle (who throw great parties, might I add), my mother and I met, green-faced, at the door of the bathroom. We’d tried to ignore the inevitable, but we had been attacked by the vicious bug. We crawled into bed and admitted defeat, with disbelief. After all our months of planning, could we two key players really be side-lined with the worst stomach flu either of us had seen in years?
I remember alternately sobbing and laughing my head off at the fact that we were stuck in bed while the wedding party and family celebrated without us. F wisely kept his distance and avoided the plague, so half of the bridal couple was present and accounted for. In my delirium I worried what would happen if I didn’t feel better by Saturday – would we have to postpone the wedding if the bride couldn’t even stand? Scenes of “Sixteen Candles” flashed through my head, the drugged-up bride slurring her way down the aisle. Nightmare.
But the 24-hourness of the flu proved true to its name. By Friday’s bridesmaid luncheon, I managed to keep down solid food, and by the rehearsal that evening, I felt like a normal person again. The wedding would happen – there was hope! – and mind over matter had healed both bride and MOB. (We laugh to this day that the reason we both look fabulous in the photos is thanks to our unplanned crash diet.)
Like morning sickness, that nuptial stomach bug reminded me that I am wholly human. Living within the limitations of my body, frustrated by the same physicality as everyone else. My desires may leap beyond what my body can do, but even the living out of my core callings – to marriage, to motherhood – are at times hindered by the “body-person” that I am.
Our vocations are circumscribed within the bodiliness of our existence. What we are called to do and how we can respond depends on our physical capabilities, our strengths and weaknesses. We often want to be other-worldly, demi-gods, superheroes: the employee that requires no rest, the mother who does it all. But reality and our bodies remind us that we are called within skin, within bones. Within weak stomachs, aching heads and tired limbs.
The discomforts of early pregnancy are nothing compared to the sufferings of the final throes. Childbirth is the most physically demanding and exhausting experience of pain and joy all slammed together. But the wretchedness of dawn-till-dusk queasiness challenges me in different ways entirely. I have to lean into God, moment by moment, for the strength to bear it well. I have to give up my self-sufficiency and allow others to help me. I have to admit “no” when I long to embrace “yes;” I have to leave chores undone and the house uncleaned.
But I am learning something, too. About my own (albeit meager) ability to endure. About my love for this small child within me. About my solidarity with others who suffer and with the women who still long to bear the pains of pregnancy. About God’s love for me and patient presence in my day-to-day.
Would I wish this kind of all-day nausea on my worst enemy? Nah. But I’m still hoping I learn from it in positive ways. I pray that I can become a stronger person, a more patient parent, a more grateful spouse. I pray that I can recognize my deep dependence on God’s graces. I pray that the physical discomfort can widen my heart to prepare for another child.
(But mostly, honestly? I just pray for it to end. Six weeks of the worst stomach flu of my life kinda feels like more than enough. In the words of a good friend, I’m just sayin’.)