In July 2014, in Okinawa, Japan, I got pregnant with our second boy. Fresh off a miscarriage and two months before we were due to move eastward across the Pacific, this little one was anything but planned.
I know the trend today is to say ‘We are pregnant’, emphasizing the marriage and the father’s role, which I think is important. But this pregnancy became increasingly more mine, and mine alone. The day before we left Japan, I threw up 23 times in the hotel toilet while my husband and toddler went to sell our remaining car. The trip from Naha to Honolulu took 27 hours (also the length of my first labor) and I spent most of the time in and out of the tiny closet bathroom in the airplane that I knew couldn’t muffle my sickness. Even if it had, my face and the smell was sure to tip anyone off.
My first pregnancy had been hard, I hadn’t gained weight by 6 months and was never sure I would keep any meal down, but this pregnancy was a whole different level. By the time we got to our hotel in Honolulu I was losing at least one meal a day, and was, physically and emotionally, totally unequipped for the relocating process which included new phones, new cars, and unfortunately for me, a healthcare provider switch which because of errors on both sides, took several months.
I ended up not seeing a doctor until I was almost 6 months along and by then I had lost almost 10 pounds.
There is something deep inside us all that convinces us that our circumstances are tied to how we behave, and this is felt most viscerally when it is directly physical. The combination of a miscarriage followed shortly by this pregnancy, where I felt that my baby was struggling every day to stay alive while my body fought against him, created such a storm.
I was raised to be a woman, in every conservative sense of the word. I was taught that women were women when they dressed modestly didn’t question things (especially not things that men said), and when something good happened in our lives we would always say we were blessed, and we would double down on doing the right things.
I imagine this is a bad recipe for dealing with any type of personal adversity, but when I was dealing with a situation where my physical body had already not sustained life, and now continued to actively oppose it, it was worse than a hardship. And when a healthy dose of Midwestern self-sufficiency and a ‘just get through it’ mentality was added to that, it was a disaster. I was afraid to ask for help because I didn’t know where to go, I was afraid no one would take me seriously and that they would just tell me that I needed to toughen up (a couple doctors did end up telling me that anyway), and I thought maybe, after all, I was just weak.
Now, looking back, there were many things I should have done. I should have insisted for IVs, I should have gone to the ER even if I wasn’t approved for doctors, I should have done more research and found the diagnosis of hyperemesis gravidarum more quickly since it appeared that no one else would find it for me.
There were many reasons I didn’t fight harder for myself and my baby. One of them was simply that I was disoriented. I was in a new place, a different country, with a toddler who stopped sleeping for weeks when the jet lag hit. I was dehydrated constantly, dizzy and tired, and my husband was overwhelmed starting a new job.
But always in the back of my mind was something I had read during my last pregnancy, on one of those rabbit trails online that you take when you are exhausted and overwhelmed. It was an extremely conservative, illogical belief that if you have morning sickness, it is because you must not want your baby.
I had grown up with many of these beliefs all around me. And in the back of my mind, on my worst days, this would shudder there, like the nausea that never left. I had been read book after book growing up about a woman’s place; in the home, under her husband, with children around her, and here was the worst part of it: I had never wanted it. I had wanted a family, probably, but I wanted a career and freedom and maybe my secret wish for freedom was now punishing my little baby, as big now as the newly flowering avocados on our new tree in our new yard. Maybe, deep inside, my 12 year old contrarian mind had connected to my uterus, and those thoughts had physically changed my body.
I knew it wasn’t true. But when you are taught something your whole life it is hard to release, especially on the days when you haven’t eaten at all, when you wake up that morning and run to the bathroom to throw up before you have even had a drink of water, and when you are trying to buy your first house in a crowded and competitive market while throwing up in the bathrooms behind the realtor’s back.
And then one Wednesday I started spotting, the same way that my miscarriage had started. I called my husband sobbing, and afterwards he said he felt ‘immediately sick’, and a bitter part of me wondered what freedom it must have been like to have those moments before. I had forgotten what it meant to feel good.
It took us 2 hours to find a doctor to do an ultrasound, and he found the heartbeat immediately.
Somehow this little boy whom my body hated was just fine, and as I saw him wiggling vigorously on the little black screen, I hated my body for hating him; this little boy who was fighting valiantly to stay alive. But he was there, and he was fine, despite me, despite my tortured mind.
Despite me, he was born full term, extremely skinny but absolutely healthy. Despite me, he does not seem to have any neurological issues like have been documented in some hyperemesis gravidarum cases. Despite me, he is far more active than his older brother ever was, and far happier too.
Some days when I slip, when I think it matters that I have it all together and correct, when I think that my worth is determined by what I do, I look at my little boy, and I remember. I remember things aren’t always about me, or my background. And that despite either my old beliefs that I can’t quite root out, or even when my body actively fights on the wrong side, things can still be sustained.
And more than that, they can grow, they can develop, and they can live.