by Elizabeth Kaledin
Early on in my second pregnancy, I announced to my obstetrician that I had started to throw up every day and was feeling downright subhuman. I felt unable to work, incapable of caring for my little girl, and though all thoughts of food made me ill, all I wanted to do was eat. The dreaded "morning sickness" had taken hold. On hearing my bad news, my doctor smiled and chirped "Mazel Tov!" Now, I love my obstetrician, but I confess I did want to kill him at that moment. As I sat there glumly steeling myself for three or four months of the worst kind of nausea and vomiting and abject misery, he was merrily congratulating me.
That juxtaposition of feelings captured the paradox of morning sickness for me: Few people ever really dwell on the trauma of it, because it is the famous first sign of a glorious occasion to come - the birth of a child.
In fact, most if not all doctors consider morning sickness the sign of a healthy pregnancy, a tangible indication that tan embryo has firmly implanted itself in the uterine lining and is set to go! So the accompanying sickness is brushed aside. "It'll pass," they all say. "It's just a temporary and necessary evil of pregnancy," others chime in. "You'll forget all about it when the baby comes."
All those things are true. But there is another truth about morning sickness that is rarely discussed with as much enthusiasm. For those of us who suffer through it, it can be positively debilitating, depressing, and alienating. Baby or no baby.
As a television journalist, my job involves going out in the field to interview people, getting on planes, and meeting deadlines. All of the tasks that I had been doing for years became the equivalent of climbing Mount Everest barefoot.
I threw up in the middle of interviews, suddenly ripping off my microphone and running out of the room. I had to tell camera crews they had five minutes to light and shoot my "on-camera" stand-up because I knew I was going to get sick. Sure enough, as soon as I was done, I would bolt to the nearest bathroom with not a moment to spare. I wanted to do it after being on-camera because throwing up made my eyes water, my makeup run, and my nose turn red. So glamorous!
I dreaded being far away from my office, my wastebasket, and my couch, and of course I was filled with the added anxiety of not performing my job to the best of my ability. Stomachache on top of stomachache!
For comfort, I turned to books, and to my profound disappointment, I found that the dizzying array of pregnancy guides at the bookstore gave the subject short shrift. I would find at most two pages, usually one paragraph, and always the same maddening refrain:
Eat small meals
Eat carbohydrates before going to bed
Avoid greasy foods
Try powdered ginger
And my favorite bit of useless advice the books offer over and over again is this: "Be sure to take good care of your teeth, visit the dentist, brush and floss regularly, because if you're throwing up, all that stomach acid could harm your teeth." Now I'm all for white shiny teeth, but during my bout with morning sickness, the last thing on my mind was, "Gee, I better get to the dentist!"
I felt like screaming when I read these books. Why wasn't anybody addressing the emotional and physical toll morning sickness takes? Why wasn't anybody writing about how hard it is to work or to care for a small child when you're on the verge of throwing up all day long? Why doesn't anyone share first-person accounts of what they've eaten or the crazy things they've tried just to make themselves feel better? Wasn't there anything more to say than -- crackers.
Since there's not a great body of scientific literature or knowledge out there about morning sickness, other women and their experiences, I discovered, are the finest remedy available for the desperation and loneliness accompanying this travail. Talking to other women made me realize that yes, it is hard to get through the day, no one eats the perfect diet, no one gains the requisite twenty-five pounds, and it's all about survival.