Sometimes, I rediscover blogs I used to read and have, for whatever reason, sort of forgotten about. The other night that happened, and I ended up in bed, on my phone, reading about another person’s less that idyllic early pregnancy experience.
It got me thinking. I started this blog partly because, despite my best efforts, the first trimester was extremely isolating. I wanted to be one of the brave souls actually talking about the hell that so many of us go through in those first weeks of pregnancy. But then, I was so sick, and had so little energy, that I didn’t manage to actually start writing until things were looking up a little bit for me. At the risk of being thought of as melodramatic, it’s much easier to write if you can sit up. And it’s been much easier and more comfortable to focus on looking forward to the baby, and to rant about gender, and I think I’ve even become a little bit embarrassed about that whole first trimester thing. Can’t we just put it behind us?
No. We can’t.
I wrote before that I always wanted to be a mother. That’s true, but it isn’t the only true thing about me and this wild ride I’m on. It glosses over a bit and with a near perfect smile says “well, I always knew I’d be a mom, one day…”
Another truth is that I have spent a good part of my life fascinated by and fixated on pregnancy and birth, both as scientific functions of a certain kind of body, and as emotional experiences. This is not to say that my interest in the physical act of gestation followed by birth supplanted my interest in motherhood – I don’t really think it did. But. I particularly wanted to be pregnant. I wanted the experience. I saw it as a great challenge, a fascinating adventure, and an excellent opportunity for personal growth. So today is about all of the personal growth I have been doing during this magical experience.
My fixation on gestation is one of the main reasons we, my wife and I, never really had the “who will carry our sought after child?” conversation that so many relationships with four X chromosomes and a desire for children must have. I would. Duh. I had this weird deep need to experience this thing, and felt (and yes, I realize this sounds far fetched) that the only possible way for me to ever fully self actualize was to Do This Thing. Chelsea, on the other hand, carried none of these weird associations and obsessions (at least not about the physical act of reproduction) and instead sensibly thought that it all just sounded like rather a lot to go through. She knew shortly after we met about my motherhood aspirations. While we were still DATING she bought me a zine compilation of birth stories for my birthday. I read it and cried. I couldn’t wait for my turn.
Despite all of my feminist leanings, I felt that this very much was what my body was for. I believed in my body, I believed it was ready, had been ready. It would take the torch and run with it. And so, almost a year after our wedding, we started trying. And to my intense relief, my body did take the torch. I conceived quickly. We told everyone, despite social conventions saying we ought to wait.
And then, reader, I got sick.
So what has the experience of pregnancy been like? In my experience it is mostly sitting up quietly in bed next to my wife at three in the morning, holding my iPhone in my teeth so I can use it as a light while I try to stab a straw into a juice boxes correctly. Juice boxes have saved my life. It is discovering that there are actually at least 18 different kinds of nausea and maybe 5 or 6 distinct ways to vomit. There’s vomit in your mouth a little and swallow before you realize what you’re doing, vomit in your mouth a little and swallow WHILE REALIZING EXACTLY HAT YOU ARE DOING AND CURSING YOURSELF FOR BEING SO GROSS, there’s vomiting a tiny bit on the sidewalk next to planned parenthood and then immediately feeling famished and eating a muffin as fast as you can, there’s vomiting that breaks over you like waves and forces it’s way through you until you are shuttering and crying, there’s vomiting through your nose, there’s vomiting INTO your nose but it gets stuck because your nose is plugged up. There’s probably more.
I have an honest-to-goodness-phobia of vomiting. Like, on most days it is the worst thing I can imagine happening to myself. Like, I’m 29 years old and I’ve been drinking socially since I was 19 and not always in responsible moderation, and I still have never been so drunk I puked. I have a laundry list of “tricks” to avoid vomiting, and they mostly work. I’ll do basically anything.
I started having extreme nausea at 4 weeks, 2 days pregnant. That’s a touch early. In two more weeks, I’d started puking in small amounts once in awhile at odd times. By seven weeks, my life was a blur of bad feelings that I wasn’t sure how I was making it through, but I was, somehow, making it. Right after that was when I got literally, way to sick to work. I called in, hoping it was a one time thing, but it got worse. I was literally afraid to walk down the stairs in my house because it would so often trigger a bad bout of vomiting. I couldn’t go into my kitchen. Soon after that, showers became impossible without a major puke session followed by dry heaving. Eventually, I just stopped getting out of bed.
That’s hard to write. I stopped getting out of bed. I was exhausted, any movement or any smell made the (always intense) nausea worse. I was afraid of being out of reach if my trusty puke bowl. And yes, before you ask, I tried whatever it is you’re about to suggest, so please just don’t.
I was completely isolated and cut off from nearly everyone in my life (excluding the people I live with, and my mother, who was the only person who didn’t seem alienated by the level of my sickness, as she’d been quite unwell in her pregnancies). I wanted to reach out, but I couldn’t. There was literally no space left in my brain for dealing with anything except for the physical discomfort. And when I did talk to other people, they would ask. They would ask “aren’t you excited????” and I would just stare straight ahead. This wasn’t the magical journey I wanted to be on.
Eventually it started to ease up, but so slowly that it was hardly noticeable. I would have “good days” (days where I could make it all the way downstairs at least once) followed by multiple “bad days” (days where my stomach was such an churning and aching mass of pain that leaning over in bed was scary). I’m still not where I want to be. Last week I texted my lovely wife at work to announce that it had been four whole days since I’d puked my guts out.
So what have I learned? It isn’t as pretty as I wanted it to be. I think I’ve learned that independence is a sham, that I was never as self sufficient as I wanted to imagine I was. Before I met Chelsea, I imagined that I would most likely be a single mother, and now I laugh at that, because there is literally no way I could have made it through the last three months without help. I’ve learned to encounter my own helplessness. At first I thought I’d learned to be less ashamed, but honestly, it doesn’t feel that way. It just feels like powering through the shame because there simply isn’t another option.
And then, one day, I felt something that I thought was the baby moving. And then I was sure. And then I learned that some experiences can be wholly horrible and wholly beautiful at the same time.