On the Grace of Perseverance (at 17 weeks)
I'm 17 weeks pregnant this week.
This pregnancy has followed the pattern of my first two. Once I hit 14-16 weeks or so, the hyperemesis gravidarum shifted. I went from moderate HG, spending all day every day in bed, throwing up every night, struggling to eat and stay hydrated...to mild HG/bad morning sickness. What does that look like?
The good news is that I'm not spending all day, every day in bed. I do need to retreat back to bed by mid-late afternoon, and stay there (or else I start having dry heaving fits and occasionally come close to throwing up). But I wake up at 7:00 a.m. or a little earlier every day....so there's a lot that can be accomplished in those hours. We were able to continue homeschooling while I was so sick (although we took some time off during Advent- I purposely started school a month early in case we were blessed with a new baby this academic year), but it's so nice to not being trying to do everything electronically (just looking at the Kindle Fire screen makes me nauseated, remembering how much time I spent looking at that screen when I was so sick).
We've moved our school supplies and work back to the playroom, which is next to our bedroom and requires less walking around for me. It's nice to be able to be cracking open actual paper books, and doing calendar time, and checking worksheets. We've also spent this month participating in the Gameschool Challenge over at My Little Poppies, and we've had so much fun spending time playing games together in the afternoon. Maria is currently obsessed with Zingo, Therese is enjoying checkers, and both girls are loving learning how to play chess with the help of this game. I started learning chess around kindergarten, and I love that I get to continue that tradition. ;-)
We can usually get through our main subjects in a couple of hours in the morning - Math, Reading, Handwriting, Art Appreciation, Religion, Literature/Before Five in a Row (Maria's preschool curriculum), music, poetry, and Latin. It sounds like a ton, but it really isn't! We use Mother of Divine Grace, which is an accredited, classical curriculum, and I substitute in Handwriting Without Tears (Therese's pre-K class used it last year and she and I both love it), All About Reading (pricey but fantastic phonics program that uses the Orton-Gillingham method, a method highly praised by one of our old speech therapists), Modern Curriculum Press Math (which I like, but which I'm not particularly attached to, so we'll probably switch over to Abeka next year, like MODG recommends). The subject that they beg for (and that I pop on for them every day while I make lunch) is Song School Latin. I can't recommend it highly enough! We just listen to the songs and watch the videos right now, but we'll probably use the worksheets with Therese next year. The girls are in love with Simeon the monkey, and their Latin professor father (and his students) get a kick out of occasionally hearing them say, "Salve, Pater!" when they seem him. This program makes Latin mainly a game, so they adore it. They have a version for Greek, too, which I might get next year.
So, if you can't tell...I really enjoy getting to teach them. Breaking up the occasional fight or dealing with the occasional tantrum/screaming fit isn't fun, but it also seems like such a small price to pay for getting to be out of bed and spending time with them!
When my nausea is at its worst (so, pretty much all of my first trimester) the only thing I can do is read books on my Kindle Paperwhite. Out of curiosity, once I got into my second trimester I decided to update Goodreads to figure out how many books I had read or re-read from the end of October to the beginning of January. I can't recommend the exact number, but I think it was right around seventy. SEVENTY books. Lots were kids classics or re-reads, but I also read some classics that had been on my list forever (I spent Christmas week reading Gone With the Wind, and followed it up immediately with Uncle Tom's Cabin, and the pairing was probably one of the most fruitful I've ever had in my reading). When I realized how much I had read, I decided to make myself a reading list for this year, and am already plowing through it. (Grapes of Wrath has surprisingly been one of my favorites so far this year, although I'm in the midst of Vanity Fair and Viper's Tangle and loving them both!) This has been the case in each of my pregnancies - my reading life has spared my sanity. It has reminded me that there's more to life than my nausea. Even when my body is weak, my brain can keep learning and working and pondering, and that is such a blessing.
Right before this pregnancy, I became the social media manager for our Archdiocesan Office of Natural Family Planning, and I also had two speaking engagements that I booked ages ago and happened to fall in my first twenty weeks of pregnancy. Thankfully, all of the above has been able to be done remotely (via e-mail, Google Hangouts, and , and that has been a blessing, and actually has worked out really well. and the wonders of Windows Movie Maker). Being able to still do work for the Church while being so sick has been a huge sanity saver, too.
I've regained all the weight that I lost during my first trimester, and starting gaining weight on top of that (i.e. weight toward my official pregnancy total). I can stay better hydrated, and tolerate more foods. I can go to Sunday Mass. I can walk short distances without getting a pounding heart. I even showered standing up this week...which is huge!
So, that the amazing, wonderful news. The baby is healthy and kicking every day (and we'll hoping get to find out if this is a little miss or mister next week). I'm able to do more around the house, to relieve Andrew of a lot of the burdens he took on for all of those weeks.
But, I have to be honest...there's another half of it.
The other half is the fact that I still feel nauseous all day, every day, and will until I give birth. The nausea is much milder in the morning (and when I wake up in the middle of the night), and just builds as the day goes on. I typically need to spend evenings and nights in bed, so I can't hang out with friends, eat dinner with my family, or even spend a lot of time with them in the evening. If I talk to much or am up too much in the evening, it leads to a dry heaving fit and me praying not to puke. Even during the days, I have to be mindful of not doing too much, although I can do more as my physical strength returns (it usually takes me a month or two to regain the strength I lost from being in bed for so long). We've been needing to avoid being too social, because if I were to get a cold or stomach flu, I could have a major HG relapse. (I got a cold over Christmas, and it resulted in weight loss, dehydration, and throwing up.) But even as I'm strong enough to spend more time out of the house...I won't be at my usual level of functioning for another 5-6 months or so.
The good thing is that, at this point, those around me around suffering much from this. I'm able to be present to the girls all day. Andrew is still having to take on extra responsibility and make extra sacrifices, but is getting some relief as I'm able to take on more. And the baby is thriving, and we're well past the point where my HG could be dangerous for him/her. The only piece of the puzzle left is me.
I've been looking back at some of what I wrote during Maria's pregnancy, and finding comfort in the knowledge that I've survived this process twice before. But at this stage - I start to feel overwhelmed. I start to panic when I realize I will still feel miserable and nauseous for at least another 5 months, if not longer (the nausea lingered for a while after I gave birth to Maria). I'm also aware of the fact that I could have a repeat of my last post-partum experience with kidney stones. And I try not to feel too afraid, too overwhelmed. I try to just focus on getting through one day at a time - enjoying the days when I'm doing really well, and resting more on the days when I'm not.
But the reality is, as most HG moms will tell you, this latter part of pregnancy is hard in an entirely different way. I seem to be totally normal, smiling and going through my day. But I feel miserable all day, every day. Relentless nausea for so many months wears on you. It wears on your sanity. It is hard. And it's hard to still be cheerful and kind when you just feel so miserable. I'm still on four different nausea meds, including my lovely subcutaneous pump. And even on four different nausea medicines, I still feel nauseous all the time. It sounds like something so minor, but imagine a time you have been really nauseous - a bout of motion sicknesses or stomach flu - and imagining feeling that way non-stop for at least eight months. You would go crazy!
HG can be so isolating. so lonely. Because it is a rare condition, most people haven't experienced it or anything like this, and it can be hard to explain to someone else. Thankfully, I've been able to join an amazing HG Facebook group, and it feels like such a relief to talk to women who know exactly what I'm going through (many who are even sicker than I have been, and some of whom have nearly lost their lives to HG).
But there is still this struggle, this struggle to not give up. The struggle to maintain friendships when you can't talk on the phone, or have friends come visit, or hang out with anyone in the evening (which is when all family/friend dinners, mom's night outs, and social get togethers seem to happen). The struggle to not be too hard on yourself when you aren't able to function as fully as you're used to. The struggle to not constantly snap at every person in sight because you just don't feel well.
So, I pray for the grace of endurance, and perseverance. I normally have antenatal depression begin to kick in by now, but having so much support this time around has made a huge difference. The care and concern and prayers of so many people have made a huge difference.
And my Gabriel has made a huge difference, too. He showed me that there is something worse than HG. And his prayers...his prayers have sustained me like nothing else. It sounds strange, but this little big brother has already done so much for his younger sibling. I've struggled with infertility in the past and chart my cycle, and although we were certainly hoping that we would be able to have this child...it shouldn't have been possible, given my specific history. And after that first scary ultrasound, it didn't even look like this child would make it. But here I am, more pregnant by the day, and still in total disbelief. I can't believe that we've been given this child, and that this child continues to survive (and make his or her presence known in the form of the world's most adorable kicks). I'm just in such disbelief, and so incredible grateful. Before Gabriel, I knew that each child is a gift - but now I know it with more certainty than I ever thought possible. And the love in my heart really has grown. I love each of my four children more than I could ever say, and am so grateful for their existence. Every time I hear my girls talk about their baby brother, it comforts me. And every time I ask him to pray for his baby brother/sister, I feel such peace. He will always be a part of our family.
Many times a day, I tell my girls how grateful I am for my children, and how much I love them. Every night, we ask God to bless each one of them by name. And every time we talk about the children in our family, Gabriel's name is sure to be mentioned. I am so grateful that he is the big brother of this child, and that his love for our family is still so felt. We certainly love him.
So now, two prayer intentions. Please continue to pray for the health and survival of this sweet newest baby. And please pray that God gives me the grace of perseverance in spades. The very real suffering of an HG pregnancy is so hard - but I believe with all of my heart that it is worthwhile. I believe each of these children are worthwhile. I would trade them, or their pregnancies, for anything. They were worth the suffering.
Long ago, back when I was discerning my vocation, I prayed for the grace to learn to love as Christ loves. I had no idea that this was how God would teach me how to love through suffering, for the sake of another. But honestly? Can you think of an easier way to learn that lesson? These four children of mine have taught me that suffering is as nothing, when undertaken in love. I don't always bear that suffering with patience, but I'm grateful for the opportunity to learn to love in this way.
Honestly? Hyperemesis gravidarum, in all its awfulness, seems like such a small price to way for the gift of a Therese, Maria, Gabriel, and Little Baby in my life. They are so worth it.