Hyperemesis Gravidarum, Suffering, and Christmas

Sorry I left you hanging!

We've had two ultrasounds since my last post, and both have revealed a beautifully developing baby, with a strong heartbeat, debuting this summer! Here's a little wave from the newest member of our family:

However, not one to break with tradition...I've had hyperemesis gravidarum again. And it's the worst bout I've ever had. Hospital trips for IVs, multiple oral meds, and even home health for a subcutaneous pump. I keep telling Andrew that this pregnancy has made our marriage "level up", as he's by my side in the ER watching IV bags drain, held back my hair and cleaned out my puke bucket more times than I can count, and helped me change my pump site. The pump is really what made us level up. The medicine it pumps into me 24/7 is a skin irritant, and, since the tube is feeding medicine into my skin, we have to change its location every day or two. It leaves behind a lovely trail of bumps and bruises on my belly, but I think it's helping. Oh, but the catch is that my needle fearing husband has to assist me with changing the location of my tube, which...drumroll please... means watching me stick a needle in my belly every day or two! So, yes...our "in sickness" vow continues to be one we get to practice.

Despite more aggressive treatment than I had in any of my previous pregnancies, I'm sicker than I was for any of them. I have one foot out the door of my first trimester, and I still live in bed. This pregnancy motion, noise, light, talking, my phone screen, watching TV, touch (including the feeling of my feet touching, certain fabrics, plastic bags, etc.), smell, drinking, and eating have all triggered intense nausea as well as dry heaving and vomitting. I've lost weight, scraping by on 500-1000 calories on a good day (usually way less than 1000), and fight a battle against dehydration every day. I can't sit up or walk without feeling sick. I've missed Mass multiple times, and when I go to Mass I sit quietly in the pew and don't move to keep from getting sick. I use a wheelchair at the doctor's office, because walking through the building to get to it would make me too sick otherwise. For just about two months, I've spent almost every day, all day, in a dark, quiet bedroom, by myself (save when I've been on duty watching the girls...then I have to leave my door open so I can supervise from bed). It's been incredibly lonely. Talking on the phone or being around people makes me sicker, so I've had to be mostly cut off from everyone. Adding to that all the stress and worry that comes with a first pregnancy after a miscarriage and it's quite overwhelming at times.

I share all of that, not to say, "Woe is me!" But because hyperemesis gravidarum is so rare a condition (often confused with normal morning sickness) that people don't understand it. It's hard to understand the toll of being a young, healthy woman who is suddenly too ill to leave bed for months. A woman with hyperemesis gravidarum lives like a terminally ill person for months...And sometimes, you forget that you're pregnant, not dying. You forget what it's like to eat, drink, walk, and talk without it all causing you to throw up and be crippled by nausea.

This is my second time that I've had HG at Christmas. Unlike last time, I am too sick to even have Christmas lights in my bedroom (because light is a trigger). Since I've been stuck in bed, I haven't gotten to partake in any of our Advent traditions, didn't get to decorate the tree (or even be well enough to lay on the couch and look at the lights). I can't eat Christmas cookies -let alone bake them- or partake in the usual Christmas treats. I can't sing Christmas carols, and I'm often too sick to even listen to them. I can't watch Christmas movies. I can't enjoy the company of family or friends. I can't eat a Christmas meal with loved ones.

Lots of moms with HG struggle during the holidays. There isn't the guilt of, "I didn't get to do everything I wanted to do with my kids!" There's just the realization, that, "I didn't get to do anything."

But something strange and wonderful happens. When you've lost all the trappings of Christmas - the lights, the food, the music, the parties - you're left with only one thing.

The Christ child.

If I can do almost nothing else, most days I try to read the readings for the day. And in them, I find an answer for my loneliness and longing. When life is literally darkness and loneliness, you find yourself straining to look for light. And as the days count down to Christmas, the daily Scriptures are full of promise. "Hark! My Lover, here he comes!" "He will come to you!" "The people in darkness, have seen a great light!"

All of us, whether we realize it or not, are yearning desperately for that light. But normally, it's easy to forget that. It's easy to forget that suffering borne for love, is what Christmas is actually about. It's easy to forget the longing for Christ and heaven imprinted on each of our hearts.

But when all the comforts, company, and festivities are taken from you by suffering, you are able to realize what they are all for. You are able to approach the manger with empty, yearning hands. When you have no Christmas feast to look forward to, but the hope of being well enough for Mass
..you long for that feast. When you feel so alone, you realize that, in the end, He is all you have. But you also realize what those poor, cold shepherds did on a Christmas night long ago...He is enough.

The first Christmas was one of great joy, because Love Made Flesh, embraced suffering for love of us. He was born in a poor, strange place, not a palace. He did not choose a life of ease. He choose to bear suffering for love of us.

That is the real meaning of Christmas. The great love of a God who loves enough to suffer by taking on our human nature. To suffer, even as a newborn, in a cold, poor stable.

We don't think of Christmas and suffering being so intimately connected, but they are. Don't you see? The cross is foretold by the manger.

In realizing that, I've found comfort. As with my other three children, I love this fourth child with all my heart. I have suffered so much this pregnancy, but I willingly embrace it because of how passionately I love this child. I willingly bear suffering, for the sake of love. When I said my wedding vows, I never imagined this. I never imagined how real God would make His love to me, in the midst of suffering.

And so, it is in suffering in love for this baby in my womb, that I've been led in adoration to the Baby who chose to suffer for love of me. In suffering in love to bring forth life, I am reminded of the One who suffered that I might live.

Because, don't you see??? The whole Incarnation has transformed our human suffering into an opportunity to partake in the Divine love.

Dear one, if you are reading this and suffering in any way this Christmas, know...You do not suffer alone. For God chose to take on flesh, so we needn't ever be alone in our suffering again.

And, in a real way, if you are suffering in any way this Christmas - as many are - know that you experience Christmas in a more real way than it seems. Know of the incredible love of that Child in the manger for you - the love of He who chose to suffer in love, so that you would know that you are never alone.

Merry Christmas!


  1. Michele, I'm so sorry for the loss of Gabriel and for your suffering now, but I do rejoice that you are making your suffering something beautiful for God. I'll join you in your prayers to St Rita: she's a favorite of mine too!

  2. Michele, I am also suffering from HG (third time), though milder than yours, and I have been praying for you daily. God bless you and keep you!

  3. Michele, I've only met you once (at the NFP panel I helped to organize at SLU in 2015), but I wanted to say I'm praying for you, your family, and your little one!

    Rachel K.


Post a Comment

Popular Posts