By Naomi Goldberg
I was drowning in waves of nausea. I felt lousy, and then some. My stomach wasn’t cooperating, but my appetite was, an irony that I felt too ill to appreciate. I figured there was nothing I could do but mope hungrily about, watching as my family scarfed down the bounty that a Sunday night barbeque had to offer. “Don’t you want anything to eat?” my sister asked me, noticing my empty plate. “It’s really good.” “No thanks, I’m just here as a spectator,” I replied. “Perhaps I’ll eat later.”
Perhaps! My mind said bitterly. “Perhaps”-yeah right! As if your stomach is capable of holding down anything besides crackers these days! As if the nausea ever abates! But it’s a good thing, another part of me said, so be grateful! Recognizing the truth of this I resolved to stop the internal sarcasm and complaints, but I was fighting a losing battle. Nevertheless, I resolutely pasted a smile on my face. If there was a tinge of bitterness to the smile, all I could hope was that my family would interpret it as a grimace of polite deferment to any offers of nourishment.
My husband was the first to notice my discomfiture (or perhaps it was my barely-suppressed snarl that alerted him.) Joining me with a plate of food that was emitting several noxious odors, he attempted to offer me solace. “You’ll feel better soon,” were his words of encouragement. “You generally do. Just give it a few hours.”
He’s wonderful, my husband is, aptly named Ian, a true “blessed gift” to me. But I was in no mood for comfort. I just wanted to feel better already, to walk around feeling fine, to just end this battle with nausea for good. For my husbands’ sake, I wished I could pledge that my mental state would no longer be aligned to my physical one, but it was just too hard. I was cranky, I wasn’t feeling well, and I was still covering new ground on the hostility barometer with each passing moment.
I also felt betrayed. Motherhood was supposed to be hard, but not before it even started! When I signed on for this deal, I wasn’t expecting anything nearly this challenging. “Morning sickness” had sounded like a prim little term for what I figured would be a couple of minute’s worth of nausea in the morning. It had almost sounded glamorous-a few moments of self-sacrifice for the sake of your offspring, and then you went on with your day. I wasn’t expecting the gagging, the vomiting, the desperation of it all! Plus, I felt overlooked; I was getting no recognition for all my pain. I was carrying this baby, I was suffering, and I wanted to be acknowledged, maybe even heralded for it. Why was it, then, that everyone else got to reap the rewards-like the ability to just eat food without throwing up afterwards? Sunday night barbeques, I felt, should be dedicated as feasts to celebrate me, to acknowledge the important role I was selflessly playing. I would be the main one to partake in the food while everyone else ate side dishes or something. Instead, everyone else was eating, was enjoying, and I was left to sulk. It was two hours later that the stomach cramps hit. Great! Was my first thought. Another lovely and painful element of this motherhood business. What a pleasant surprise. But when the cramps didn’t lessen, and my stomach felt like it was the victim of multiple seizures, my self-pity was replaced with raw fear. My husband and I called the obstetrician, and to our alarm, she instructed us to come in immediately. My mind switched to panic mode, and all I could process was: Urgent! Urgent! In a matter of minutes, we had made an emergency dash to the car, and were on our way..
It was a long drive, and I felt frozen for all of it. I insisted on driving so that I could distract myself, but in the face of something this huge, distraction was out of the question. For three hours we drove, overwhelmed by silence, fears, hope, and tears. I had not known before that I cared so much about this child-to-be, but my tears that night told me more about maternal love that all my internal self-awareness dialogues ever could. I cried the whole way, tears of mourning that I hoped would count as prayer. I knew that it wasn’t over yet, but I felt that there was no hop. To lose a baby, a child, a dream!
My husband, during one of his gentle attempts to look at the situation rationally in order to calm us down, asked me to assess my physical condition. “How are you feeling now, dear?” he asked. “I know about the stomach cramps. But are you still feeling nauseous?” No, I answered him, I was not. My only link with the baby was gone, and I felt devastated.
Two hours later, we were waiting fearfully in the doctor’s office. I was scared. I had always assumed that a miscarriage wouldn’t affect me so much (after all, how attached could you get to an unborn child in three months?), but here I was so quickly proved wrong. Crises, I have always known, break down barriers, but I had not known this breaking sometimes brings you closer to the truth within yourself. I looked over at my husband, and he was shaking. For one brief moment, my fear was replaced with love-for him, for his commitment and his steady loving presence, and for this baby, which meant so much to both of us.
The doctor was quick and efficient. The cramping was worrisome, she declared, but not a cause for serious concern. Rest up, she said to me, and to us: Don’t worry. There are ups and downs in every pregnancy, but this one’s doing fine. Come, see the heartbeat on the screen? That tells you all you need to know. And it did.
But it didn’t tell me how relieved I’d feel, how in love with life, with this potential life, with the world. My husband and I went to Starbucks to celebrate and calm down a bit. We didn’t need stimulants to feel alive and awake, but we did need the peaceful atmosphere to feel normal.
It’s two days later, and I still feel incredibly happy but also a little shaky. Recovering from such an intense reminder of how precious everything is is not a simple thing. Before, I had rarely reflected on the fragility of life, and on an intellectual level only. Now it was all I could think of. “That’s how it goes,” my mother said to me when she heard that everything was all right. “Motherhood’s a lot of things, but most of all, it’s humbling.”
The phone was ringing, and it was my husband calling from work. Another day had passed. “How are you feeling?” he wanted to know. “Nauseous,” I replied, and I could almost hear his grateful smile at the other end. Life’s gentle blows had taught us an important lesson.
It was Sunday evening, and my family was enjoying a barbeque. I didn’t feel well enough to eat; I was too nauseous. And it was the best feeling in the world.