Tomorrow it will be my baby’s first birthday. Tomorrow will mark one year since having kicked hyperemesis gravidarum’s ugly behind once and for all. The battle was fought and, by God’s grace won, but I still continue to learn from it. There are lingering residual side effects, but lately that has only served to remind me to rely on Christ more. I am physically stronger than I’ve been in years, I’ve even packed on a little over 10lbs since my baby’s birth day, but I’m still weak because I’m still human.
You want to know something funny? I miss being pregnant. Not the constant room-is-spinning-feeling or dull ache of a body slowly starving, but I miss the feeling of life inside me. I miss the fetal hiccups. I miss the purpose and unavoidable goal being actively present at all times. Maybe I’m just lazy because, in some ways, being sick made it easy to remember to call upon Christ for strength. It hurt to breathe when I was pregnant. Probably something to do with the atrophied and malnourished muscles, but with every breath, the pain reminded me that it was through Christ I could inhale. Now it is easy to go all day without remembering to thank God for those thousands of breaths I drew in the last 10 hours. It’s embarrassing how thoughtless and unthankful I am when I’m not faced with physical adversity. But that’s human nature for you. Being selfish, thoughtless and foolish come naturally.
I don’t think time heals all wounds, but time can certainly help you forget pain. As my days speed up, I know it’s only going to get easier to forget what God taught me through hyperemesis. I don’t want to forget. I need to remember what I learned, and it is to that end that I present
10 Things I Learned from 139 Weeks of Hyperemesis Gravidarum
1. God usually gives us more than we can handle. I didn’t count how many times I was told that God never gives us more than I could handle. I didn’t question the logic behind the statement. I grew up believing that was true. At the beginning of my third pregnancy, I was forced to admit to myself that I couldn’t handle it. I was so overwhelmed. I was in so much pain. I wasn’t The Little Engine that Could. That ship had sailed. I was failing. I felt so guilty. I wanted to ask God why He had forsaken me. It felt like I was so alone.
The truth is, nothing could be further from the truth. God was standing right in front of my face and I was refusing to make eye contact. He was showing me just where relying on my own strength would get me…turns out, not far. He gives us more than we can handle to turn us to Him. To help us realize how much we need Him. I’ve found that it is best to surrender our feeble strength and upgrade to the inexhaustible, almighty power of Christ.
2. Know your place in the story. Statistically, the odds of having HG throughout all 4 of my pregnancies are incredibly low. I quietly clung to fact that most HG moms are only sick through the first 20 weeks. I was not one of those women. 20 weeks came and went and I was usually most dangerously sick through weeks 10-30. In total, I experienced unrelenting nausea and vomiting for 139 weeks, roughly 973 days (not counting the first couple weeks of pregnancy where I wasn’t sick yet or the hormonal induced nausea and vomiting I experienced after my fourth baby was born). It wasn’t going to get better for a long time. Once I stopped praying that I’d feel better and started praying for the strength be joyful while I felt awful, life became much more manageable. Some people’s lives are stories of miracles and others have stories of perseverance, and still others serve as cautionary tales. Step back and prepare yourself for whatever God has planned. He brings good out of everything, but we live in a fallen world so whatever good He has planned might not be better for us personally.
3. Learn to laugh. Happiness is a choice. You can choose to be happy or you can be miserable. We can spend our whole lives looking for what makes us happy or we can just decide we are going to happy regardless of what we do or don’t have. There were times I cried so hard I couldn’t stop throwing up and ended up requiring hospitalization and there were times I laughed myself into requiring hospitalization. I recommend the latter.
4. Discover the differences between complaining and acknowledging what is going on. I admit I complained a lot during my first two rounds with HG. I was miserable. HG attacks your mind, body and soul. It’s a triple threat. The longer your body suffers, the more difficult it is to think clearly, but your soul ultimately takes the biggest hit.
The truth is, it is dangerous for an HG mom to ignore her symptoms and side effects. You have to stay on top of what is going on. Test your ketones, urinalysis, know the difference from a dehydration migraine and a migraine from the anti-emetics. Is that nausea from HG or is it the reglan or phenergan? How many pounds did I lose this week? Is that number still in the safe zone? Red flags go up when you lose more than 3lbs a week, I topped out at 10lbs in one week. What will this taste like when I throw it up? Will it burn my esophagus? How long did I hold those mashed bananas down before I threw them back up? Is it possible I kept any in? Did I brush my teeth after I threw up to protect them from acid erosion? How many times did I throw up in the last 24 hours? There was a time with Ophelia that I threw up every 5 minutes for an hour before the phenergan kicked in and I was able to sleep…it was 2 o’clock in the afternoon.
Because of the psychological side effects from being dehydrated and malnourished, you have to tell someone else what is going on so they can make a logical decision on when your condition has become too dangerous to manage at home. You don’t want a healthcare provider who asks you whether you think you need an IV rehydration or not. An HG mom needs someone to say, you need an IV now, or let’s try doubling your dose of zofran and if that doesn’t work, we’ll try something else. HG moms often can’t be logical enough to make their own healthcare decisions. After a lot of practice and a lot of mistakes, I have come to define the difference between complaining and acknowledgement as pure attitude. Are you looking for sympathy? Is sharing how you feel productive? If not, you’re probably complaining. Don’t do that. If you are looking for help, and sharing how you feel will help someone, that is not complaining.
5. Prioritize. I know I’ve mentioned the Spoon Theory before. During a trial, prioritizing is necessary. There were months where I was unable to go to church. It wasn’t that church wasn’t important to me. I missed it so much! But if I had gone, I would have spent the next 24 hours in a hospital bed recovering from overexerting myself. Being home with my family was more important than being physically at church. Thank God for sermon podcasts! I get to church most Sundays now, but the need to prioritize remains present. There is always something that needs to be done and being deliberate about prioritizing will help keep life balanced. What is more important: doing laundry or making dinner? Helping a friend or cleaning my house? Tending to my baby’s every want or fulfilling my husband’s needs?
6. Don’t compare. Roosevelt said that comparison is the thief of joy. Comparison pushed me to ground and then did a victory dance over me. While most women were experiencing the most beautiful and fulfilling part of womanhood during their pregnancies, I was a lab rat. Endless pills, doctor visits, keeping track of calories and fluid intake vs output, ivs, charting and planning ahead. Pregnancy held no glowing skin or beautiful hair and nails for me. My skin became paper dry and itchy, my hair quit growing (I didn’t even have to shave my legs!) and fell out, my nails were grey, brittle and developed what later I learned was called Beau’s Lines. Comparison fosters discontent which eventually leads to bitter despair. Bitterness will eat you alive. Instead of comparing and becoming an open buffet for bitterness, recognize that the grass is always greener in someone elses’ yard. Make the best of your situation (tend to your own yard) and quit looking sideways. Eventually, I learned how to use shimmer lotion to create glowing skin. I used a product to volumize my hair and got solar manicures religiously. Most people had no idea the lengths I went to just so I could appear healthy during my pregnancies and that’s what I wanted. I wanted to stop thinking of about HG and just enjoy the pregnancy. I know folks meant well, but whenever someone brought attention to how skinny I was, it twisted my guts up. I didn’t want to be skinny. I wanted to be round and busting at the seams of my clothes with water and baby weight. Someone mentioning how skinny I looked might as well have been a slap in the face. To me, it meant I was failing to be normal. Which bring us to….
7. Forgive those who wrong you. One of the first things HG moms realize is that people can be mean. Most often, they aren’t trying to hurt you, they just aren’t thinking before they speak. Skinny comments are a case in point. When people said I was skinny, they were trying to pay me a compliment. They were trying to be kind. In a country with an obesity epidemic, who wouldn’t want to be skinny? Part of forgiving people is finding the goodwill behind a thoughtless comment and focusing on that, more than what was actually said. Of course, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t also receive some hateful critique, too. In those situations, for me, it was best just to walk away (metaphorically, since this person emailed me) and let it go. Her problem with me seemed to be fuelled by something completely unrelated to me. I asked my husband to make sure I wasn’t missing a legitimate concern/to make sure there was no truth to her accusation, and when he confirmed that, I resolved to say a prayer for her and shrug it off. Forgive and forget, life is too short to keep score.
8. Recognize your own weaknesses and don’t fear failure. I fail everyday at something. For one thing, I look back and realize how wasteful I was during my pregnancies. I could have been so much more productive, learned more, listened to more books on tape…but I didn’t. Thankfully, my failure isn’t for nothing. I can still use them for good.
Some people know what they are good at but are completely blind to their own weaknesses. While it is good to know what your strengths are so you can use them well, it’s also important to know what you’re up against. Are you inclined to be depressed or negative, to be arrogant or shy, to be lazy or do you use activity to distract yourself from what you really need to be doing? Make a plan to protect yourself from yourself. As the saying goes, keep your friends close but keep your enemies closer. Know your strengths but keep watch on your weaknesses so they can’t sneak up on you.
Other people are so aware of their weaknesses that they are debilitated by them. Our weaknesses aren’t supposed to hold us hostage, we are supposed to mutiny them! Use the knowledge of your weakness to overcome them. You will fail from time to time. We aren’t perfect until we’re dead and then your perfection won’t do anyone much good. You just have to do your best, expect to fail, and go for it!
9. Pray always. There is a place for formal prayer and a place for conversing without prepared words. Don’t allow the lack of formality keep you from talking to God. Utilize open prayer. Start your day off with a formal, quiet, prepared prayer (write it down or memorize it if that helps), but don’t let your morning amen mark the end of your prayer for the day. Continue to ask for strength, to ask for joy, to ask for help. It’s available to all those who are willing to humble themselves before Him.
10. Stop waiting. If you wait around for the perfect time for anything, you might be left waiting forever or worse, miss your chance. Be proactive about jumping in. See a need? Fill a need. Stop talking about what needs to change and do something to facilitate a change. Bless someone today.
I know I’ve learned and will continue to learn other things from my journey with hyperemesis, but I have some birthday presents that need wrapping! Peace be with your spirit.