Hyperemesis Gravidarum. This is the official term for really bad morning sickness or “excessive vomiting during pregnancy”. I have 10 children (plus 2 miscarriages, equal a grand total of 12 children). Every single one of my pregnancies found me throwing up for several months. The first pregnancy the nausea didn’t stop till I was 20 weeks. Through each pregnancy that time period got a little bit shorter, but the shortest duration was still 15 weeks. Each pregnancy I averaged about a 20 pound weight loss at the beginning and usually had at least 2 trips to the ER for severe dehydration. I took a variety of medicine, but through trial and error, discovered that all but one gave me the wonderful side effects of severe panic attacks. My intense dislike of panic attacks meant I would choose vomiting over anxiety. I finally settled on taking Zofran which was very expensive and really just kept the edge off enough that I could stay alive. I know that sounds melodramatic, but that’s what it felt like.
This is what severe morning sickness is like. It’s your body saying to you, if you drink something, I’m going to make you throw up, if you eat something, I’m going to make you throw up, if you walk around at all, I’m going to make you throw up. So what do you do? Well, I eventually worked out a strategy. Get up, go throw up, quickly take a Zofran with a tiny bit of water, sit very still. Eat something high starch and very salty (the last several pregnancies I settled on Velveeta mac and cheese), take another sip of water, and then lay very very still. Don’t move. No interactions with people. My goal was to not throw up for at least 3 hours so that my body could at least digest some of the food. About 3 hours later, I would repeat the process, except maybe this time eat a little bit of melon or eat some frozen pomegranate juice. (I had a really weird diet, only a handful of things sounded doable, and it was always random. Later when I would start to feel a bit better and get some appetite back, I would always crave green beans and boiled potatoes. Weird.) I counted up the my daily calories once and I averaged somewhere between 600-900 calories a day, depending on what kind of day I was having. The hardest part was being constantly dehydrated. I kept a glass of ice water by my bed but could only manage a sip here and there, anything more made me throw up. I would lay in my bed and dream about water. I usually day dreamed about being up in the mountains at the river, jumping into the icy coldness, hearing the sound of bubbling water. I would think about waterfalls, and picturesque lakes. I craved water. Sometimes I would go and get a little stool and just sit in the shower, letting the water rush over me, hoping that my skin would absorb some of the water and make me feel better.
I did this 10 times. (The 2 pregnancies where I miscarried, I had no morning sickness. Which made me change my perspective as I started recognizing morning sickness as a sign of a healthy pregnancy.) I am sure you are wondering why I did this so many times. Well, very early in our marriage my husband and I decided that we wanted God to determine our family size. I was willing to commit to this method one child at a time. After each pregnancy, I would think there was No Way in Hell I would ever do that to myself again, but when it came time to discuss birth control, I never felt comfortable. I still felt like this was something I was supposed to do. I loved my children. I loved having a large family. Really, my only problem with lots of pregnancies was the morning sickness. I do think that we have the exact right number of children for us. I am going to base this on the fact that when we finally decided that we were done, I had no regrets, no second thoughts, no ambiguity. I knew we were done. I hadn’t felt that peace beforehand.
During my times of morning sickness I would worry about my family. I think for the first couple pregnancies I felt guilty, like I was somehow failing my husband and children because I wasn’t up and taking care of things. After a while, common sense kicked in and I stopped feeling guilty. It takes two to get pregnant and my husband knew that I was going to get sick, so he could now deal with the consequences and take care of the family while I laid in bed for a couple months. And, he rose to the occasion. No children were lost, no one starved to death, the house didn’t burn down. Everyone learned to appreciate mom a bit more.
Being in bed for months on end does something to you though. I usually had one of two responses when I got sick. I either got really depressed or I got really angry. Depressed because there was no end in sight. I knew I wanted more children which meant I would have to go through this again. Anger because why on earth would God give me the kind of body that hates pregnancy, but at the same time give me a desire to have lots of children? Each time I had to do a lot of soul searching, a lot of talks with God, and as I started feeling better, I had to give myself a lot of grace to just recover from the whole thing.
My last pregnancy was different. I found myself just feeling resigned. Ok. I’ve got to do this. I’m going to read a bunch of good books, I’m going to watch TV shows, I’m going to distract myself as much as possible and endure.
During this time God gave me the most interesting gift I’ve ever had. The nausea had reached the point of no return and I ran to the bathroom, knelt in front of the toilet and started throwing up. Suddenly God spoke to me. Very clearly. He said, “Am I still worthy of praise?” My first response was, “What? Now? You’re talking to me now?” and then, as I continued to throw up, I thought back to him, since talking was not an option, “Yes, you are worthy of praise. Even now. I give you praise.” And suddenly I felt God’s presence heavy on me and now I was crying and sobbing. The sickness finally passed. I got up, cleaned up, staggered back to my bed. I lay there feeling a bit confused. I had just gone through a holy moment. A very unexpected, out of the box holy moment. I must say I did not expect God’s presence to show up while I was kneeling in front of a toilet. God had just let me participate in that thing called “a sacrifice of praise”. Praising God when things aren’t going well, when you’re not feeling blessed, when life kind of sucks. I call this a gift from God because I can tell you that in my own strength I never would have thought about praising God while I was throwing up. Never. It was a gift because he got my attention, he gave me an opportunity to offer him a sacrifice of praise, and I think it’s one of the most holy moments I have ever had in my life. Because He is Worthy. He is Worthy of our Praise. No matter what is happening in your life, he is Worthy. And when we praise him it actually strengthens us, because we step into his presence for a moment. We experience his Love and Peace and Goodness, and in my experience, that’s what I need to make it through this life.