In 2012, when my third baby was one, I started having crazy pain during ovulation; it laid me flat on my back, crying and screeching. Like a possessed barn owl. The culprit was loads of tiny cysts on the backs of my ovaries that popped, like vengeful little balloons, for a few days each month.
Balloons from a hell dimension.
And so began a long season of pain and a prescription of Vicodin, my new bestest friend. (As the delicate balance of my hormones had proven to be a thing that absolutely MUST NOT be messed with, pain relief was my only course of action.) I became a small time friends-and-family drug dealer. (But not for profit. So not a very good drug dealer.)
You laid up in bed with a migraine so bad you think you gonna die? No problem, boo, I got your back.
I realized it had maybe gotten out of hand when a friend’s brother called asking for some pills for his wife. (I didn’t know either of them.)
Eventually Clary Sage essential oil did me a solid and I nearly stopped having cysts altogether. But the drugs continued to hold a special place in my heart. I transitioned from dealer to hoarder, roaming my friend circles, asking for hand-outs to lay up for those days when Tylenol and an ice pack couldn’t cure whatever excruciating woe I was experiencing.
That sounds way worse in writing then it did in my head.
(Is it better if I explain that I’m allergic to Ibuprofren, and pain relief is like a fairy land I got kicked out of in my teens? No?)
The biggest surprise, in the midst of all of the Vicodin and drug dealing, was my doctors pronouncement that, in light of my reproductive history, apparently I have always had “fertility problems.” It confounded reason that I had three children and no miscarriages.
I’m a Scientific marvel.
Seriously though. I thought back to my wretched periods and the puking and pain and horror of it all and it started to make sense.
“If you want to have more children we’re probably going to have to help you,” my OBGYN kindly told me. I believed him. And basically considered myself sterile. (And that is how we got pregnant with baby number four. On our anniversary trip. While I was ovulating. And on Vicodin.)
Well played, you utterly uncooperative body, well played.
13 years ago, when I discovered that I had vestibulodynia, I unintentionally started out on a journey of exploring the relationship between myself and my body. It seemed so utterly unfair, how the physical part of Me holds such power to dictate my EVERY FREAKING DAY experience of life.
I DON’T LIKE IT.
But I'm working it out, guys. I'm working it out. I am learning to appreciate the obnoxious sensitivity I have. I recently had an epiphanal moment when I realized that my hard external structure of coping may work on my emotions, but it’s defied by my body.
I can’t muscle through. I can’t man-handle myself.
The poo starts. Headaches. The alarms go off in a network of nerves, muscles, digestive lining, screaming utterly useless things like, “Abandon ship!” or “Toxic waste!”…too late to actually help me. (Of course.)
Many a time I’ve wished I could replace half of my body with computer chips and organs grown from kelp. Seriously. But I am learning that, despite the pain, my sensitivity is a gift. (I mean, I was way ahead of the game eating Paleo…cause I had to. That’s something, right?)
Sometimes I get all kinds of irritated in how weird my life choices may look from afar. Because there is a trying reality that most people you meet won’t know your story.
When people see me and my four kids and my pregnant belly and say things like, “You guys are like rabbits!” or, my favorite, “You’re quite a breeder!” I want to sucker punch them in their faces. I want to say, “You stupid twit. You have no idea what you’re talking about. I’m a medical mystery. And I hate being pregnant.”
Maybe it’s just me, but when you have more than one child, people seem to assume there must be no cost to yourself in it, that it’s one of your favoritest, easiest things to do. And their own small family makes them better citizens, or their childless plight gives them the status of a martyr.
Whilst you are the Bakers Wife with a passel of younguns, happily pooping out babies left and right whilst industriously navigating your way through your years.
I want to punch ‘em right in the face.
But it can be a hard thing to talk about, the hating of being pregnant. Especially for those of us that believe that life begins at conception.
So here’s the thing that I have come to peace with, after all these wretched pregnancies: it is totally valid to believe in the sanctity of life and yet be absolutely bummed out that you are pregnant.
There is nothing wrong with grieving the hardness of a journey and the loss of things you enjoy and value. Even when you want a family. Even when you responsibly take charge of your fertility. You can still grieve the journey.
Let’s face it. Pregnancy is hard.
Growing life inside of you always comes at a cost. There is always a sacrifice to bring something, anything forth. It is in that cost that we encounter ourselves. And God.
Your first pregnancy is always a shock. I watched friends experience the ups and downs. Puking. Constipation. Heart burn. Stretch marks. Colostrum coming in and leaving dry itchy crusts on their nipples. (It joins us women together, the commiseration about the cost of pregnancy...except for those bitches who glow the whole time and emanate womanly wholeness and maternal beauty.)
Nothing prepared me for the awfulness that pregnancy was. (Why I expected to have a typical pregnancy is beyond me.) Maybe someone hit me real hard on the head and I forgot my like, whole life.
My first two pregnancies, my midwives smiled sympathetically and patted me on the back when I told them of my abject misery. I suppose that my unprecedented over-functioning and very matter-of-fact delivery of, “I vomit all day long and I feel like I’m dying and I’m so nauseated I can’t stand up and it’s been five months,” wasn’t particularly convincing. Perhaps you’d expect someone in that situation to be…I don’t know…emoting?I was tightly controlled and delivering facts. And I also kept getting chubbier. (Like 80 pounds chubbier.) So they patted me on the back and assumed I don’t do well with pain or discomfort.
Listen people. I once drove 9 hours there and back to Pennsylvania while I was internally bleeding.
By my third pregnancy I had two toddlers and my over-functioning was defeated. I went through the emotionally wrenching debate that many women go through, and decided to try Ondansetron. The guilt of, “Am I debilitating or killing my baby at the sake of not wanting to puke all day?” was a hard one.
When I got pregnant with my fourth and I had three kids under six, and vertigo was added to my list of symptoms, I didn’t hesitate to call up my friend (and current midwife) and tell her I needed drugs.
Honestly though, I think I’ve got some mild PTSD from my pregnancies. (And labors. And postpartum. We'll go there another time.) That first pregnancy was a brutal shock. So many expectations were left in the dust. I remember waiting for that second trimester “glow.”
But it came and went and I was like an overweight seasick hungover patient escaped from a mental institution.
My joints were maxed out. (I now have chronic tendonitis.) I had PUPPs, which is like the worst god-awful nightmare of itching insanity covering your whole body. (They theorize it might be an allergic reaction to your placenta.)
WHO THE HELL IS ALLERGIC TO THEIR PLACENTA?
I would have had a mental breakdown except for my older sister. (Who, with paint-by-numbers and fried chicken and x-box lego star wars and making me drink pregnant tea, loved me well in the midst of my suffering.)
It’s a difficult thing to admit, but pregnancy defeats me, undoes me.
I cease to be myself. I lay (bed/ground) for months, with essentially no way to pass the time but focusing on breathing, too nauseous to watch television or read. For my first three pregnancies I was mostly on my own. Bastian didn’t crawl until 9 months, so for the first trimester of my second pregnancy I’d park him beside me in the bathroom. He started doing a spot on impression of explosive vomiting. (That’s when I started parking him in front of the television. He preferred musicals with a lot of dancing.) And so the television became an unwanted but integral part of my survival.
The guilt goes deep.
Pregnancy, for me, is not a place of glowing life or vibrant Being. Life stops for me, with the ups and downs, events, relationships, projects. It’s just me, the nausea, the heartburn, the cramping, and the pukes. And the dizziness. And the weight. Depression. Ten other things.
I’m powerless to change my body’s response to hormones. It’s inability to detox. I can’t do much about it. I can’t set it to the side, like emotions, and keep going. There’s no capacity to think thoughts, to feel feelings, to enjoy, to grieve, to Be. It’s lonely, that place. It’s a place of enduring.
That loss of myself is the hardest. The loss of doing the things that I love.
It’s ok to grieve all of this, friends.
You’d think that after Bastian I would have said, “To hell with this"...instead of doing it four times in quick succession. I guess I see it in terms of, “what does it cost to bring a human life into the world?” Is it going to kill me? Probably not. Will it last forever? No. Is their life worth my momentary pain? Of course. Their value is beyond worth.
But by January of this year, after four babies and one miscarriage and a kind invitation from God to mother again, I had come to peace with the reality that I never EVER wanted to be pregnant again. EVER. And it was time to take permanent action.
We could adopt. When it was time.
But then, the unthinkable happened.
I got knocked up.
It was a shock beyond a shock, a reality I realized I was absolutely and completely not ok with. And for the first time in pregnancy, anxiety hit me like a charging bull.
End of Part III…to be continued next week