"Mommy! I want mommy!" I can hear my little girl wail from her bedroom, but I'm doped up on Phenergan after an afternoon hooked up to the IV and I can't get up out of bed. I listen over the monitor as my husband opens the door and comforts our sweet 2-year-old, saying, "I'm sorry, baby. Mommy can't come right now." Rolling away from the tears on my pillow, all I can think about is how much I hate hyperemesis gravidarum for making it so damn hard to be the mom I want to be.
Hyperemesis gravidarum (HG) is a condition also known as acute morning sickness. According to WebMD, it affects approximately 3 percent of all pregnant women. Although there is no known cause, doctors believe it's associated with high hormone levels. HG is characterized by severe nausea and vomiting. Other signs and symptoms, according to the American Pregnancy Association (APA), include food aversion, weight loss, dehydration, headaches, fainting, extreme fatigue, and low blood pressure. While mild cases can be treated with rest and dietary changes, more severe cases may require hospitalization.
I knew what I had wasn't run of the mill morning sickness. I wasn't exactly surprised either, I've always been susceptible to illness. When my kindergarten class got chicken pox, I contracted a side of staph infection. A cold in high school quickly became walking pneumonia. So when I was throwing up every day for weeks, it seemed like par for the course. But when I couldn't even hold down liquids, I knew it was time for a trip to urgent care. Nausea and vomiting were interfering with my daily life, and that's a strong indicator of HG.
What boggles my mind is that my case isn't even that bad. I have crazy low blood pressure and have been treated for severe dehydration, but I've never passed out. I've been to the hospital, but I haven't had to stay. Some women need PICC lines, pumps, and feeding tubes. Based on experience, I know that my symptoms will let up after about 20 weeks, but some poor souls have to deal with HG the entire nine months of their pregnancies. I don't know how anyone does it (it's a damn accomplishment when I can stay upright for a shower, for goodness sake), but when you already have kids, it's just that much harder.
Rolling away from the tears on my pillow, all I can think about is how much I hate hyperemesis gravidarum for making it so damn hard to be the mom I want to be.
This isn't the first time I've experienced hyperemesis, but it's the first time I've had the diagnosis. I had the exact same symptoms with my daughter, but no one ever gave it a name. When I was dealing with it the first time, it was definitely scary, but I had the luxury of taking time off work. If things fell apart at home and my husband had to eat take-out every night, it was fine. I could rest, and no one was waking me up to get them a hot milk. This time around, I have a toddler to take care of, and as any ailing mother knows, little ones don't let you take sick days and they sure as hell don't tolerate being ignored.
For me, having hyperemesis has meant giving up on a series of tiny commitments I made to myself and my child as a new mother. From the get-go, I was dedicated to raising my daughter bilingually. These days, I don't have enough spare brain power to operate in a language I don't speak natively. It breaks my heart that my kid says "milk" instead of "leche" now. I worked really hard to limit screen time up to this point, but I must admit that Trolls has absolutely saved me on my worst HG days. Feeding my kid a balanced diet was also crucial to my parenting. Let's just say that lately, baby girl is eating a lot more frozen pizza than ground turkey lettuce wraps. To be clear, I don't think any of those commitments on their own (or together, for that matter) make you a "good" mom. But they are very important to me, and it's hard to let go of that kind of stuff.
I have a toddler to take care of, and as any ailing mother knows, little ones don't let you take sick days and they sure as hell don't tolerate being ignored.
Over the past nine weeks now, I've had to prioritize my rest. When my husband is home, he gets up with our daughter. But when it's just the two of us, I'll let her stay in her room reading books and playing until she calls for me if it gives me an extra hour of sleep. My darling daughter stopped truly napping a few months before I got pregnant, but I insisted on quiet time in the afternoon. It's sacred time, now that I'm trying to manage my condition. I daytime potty-trained her, but she still gets a nap diaper. She typically poops in it, and I feel tremendous guilt when I go get her and realize she's been sitting in it the whole time. That diaper rash might as well spell, "You're a terrible mother."
I think the most difficult part is that I'm not able to engage with her as I used to. I'm not a super active mom, but we typically do parent and child swimming lessons or dance classes and go to the library. I'm usually good for a puzzle or tea party. Currently, my to-do list looks a little like this: 1. Keep the toddler alive. Just getting her dressed and brushing her hair means I have to lie down for half an hour. I simply can't muster the energy to squeeze Peekaboo Elmo one more time. I'm not "present" for her like I should be, and I know that's frustrating for her as a toddler who, as is developmentally appropriate, lives in the moment.
When I'm "all done," she flushes the toilet and says "bye-bye" to my vomit. It's weird. I mean, I love that she's showing such empathy, but do you know any other 2-year-olds who knows how to hold her mom's hair back when she pukes?
I worry that I'm scarring my kid for life because there are parts of her reality that just aren't normal. Like, we have a routine for when I throw up. She comes running into the bathroom, rubs my back, and says, "Mommy OK. Daddy coming." When I'm "all done," she flushes the toilet and says "bye-bye" to my vomit. It's weird. I mean, I love that she's showing such empathy, but do you know any other 2-year-olds who knows how to hold her mom's hair back when she pukes? Yeah, me either.
So her life is a bit strange and she doesn't get the kind of attention to which she's accustomed, but overall, I've been impressed by the resiliency of my child. My little one has developed an incredible ability to play independently, and she has a very rich inner life. She'll chat on her play phone with her grandmas (complaining about how lame mom is, I'm sure) or concoct something in her kitchen. She's content to check in with me on the couch periodically and "feed" me or tuck her baby doll in with me. I wish she could lean on me a little more, but maybe having to fend for herself isn't entirely a bad thing.
It doesn't escape me that, even through what has been a miserable experience, I still get to be a mom. With so many people in my life struggling with infertility, I can't help but be grateful. I am carrying a child, growing my family, and giving my daughter a sibling. That's a tremendous gift, and although I'd give just about anything not to have hyperemesis gravidarum, there is an end in sight. I know that, eventually, I'll get another shot at being Mom of the Year, or at the very least, the kind of mom I imagined I'd be.
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