Chances are if you've had a baby, you've experienced the perks of pregnancy: glowing skin, being able to eat whatever you want, heightened nail growth, thick, shiny hair, and barfing your brains out.
Morning sickness, feeling nauseated and/or vomiting, affects the majority of pregnant women at some point in their pregnancy. But as those who have experienced morning sickness at its worst can attest to, it isn't just "morning" sickness. It can be an all-day, and sometimes all-night, sickness that leaves you feeling weak, hungry, inadequate, exhausted, frustrated, sad and angry all at once. (Yes, my husband is a lucky guy).
With my first pregnancy, I threw up for 13 weeks. I'm now 29 weeks into my second pregnancy, and I've been throwing up almost every day since I was five weeks pregnant. While now I just feel nauseous briefly before being sick, and am only sick a few times a week, there were weeks when I was always nauseous and puked up to 14 times a day.
It got so bad, my 19-month-old can now imitate me, complete with a horrible gagging sound, any time someone says "throw up," "puke," "hurl," or "barf" in passing conversation. I guess I should be excited that these 25 weeks of upchuck hell have expanded his vocabulary and led to a strong understanding of synonyms but I've been too miserable to appreciate anything.
I've thrown up water, had to race out of grocery stores because just the sight of produce made me violently ill, and projectile vomited with the mere mention of no-no foods like green beans. For a few months, someone else had to feed my son his meals because the thought of oatmeal or lentils or quinoa made me sick. In hindsight, why didn't I just feed him ice cream and fries, the only foods that didn't make me nauseous, even though they never stayed in me more than 10 minutes? Since the sickness started, I have yet to have been able to brush my teeth at night without gagging. And it's not just me. My friends have thrown up on themselves while driving, one poor friend got to experience the joy of a bowel movement while vomiting, and another friend's grandmother threw up decades ago in her pregnancies just by looking at the puke colored paint in her neighbor's living room.
That's right. The color of someone's wall made her vomit.
If you've experienced morning sickness you know the triggers aren't bound by logic. But what I find even stranger is that while you're the one throwing up, your sickness can induce a bizarre verbal vomiting in others, where advice and assumptions spew out of their mouths like bile, without any warning.
I've had strangers advise me to take medications that didn't help me last time, or to eat or drink certain things, when just the mention of those foods made me ill. When I would tell them that I throw up when I eat apples or crackers or yogurt or whatever else was the cure-all of the day, they would look at me utterly confused, as if I had just asked them to explain what the God Particle was, (side note: I do need someone to explain what the God Particle is but since particle physics might inexplicably make me hurl, maybe we should wait until after I have had this baby).
I've had friends assume I was lying about the severity of the sickness to get out of social events and others who thought I was faking it altogether.
And worst of all, I've been told that I would stop throwing up if I just thought positively, and told myself I wasn't going to be sick. After all, my advisers would remind me, I can do anything I set my mind to. Lucky for them I really can't do anything I set my mind to because these gratuitous recommendations leave me wanting to barf. On the people dishing out the advice.
Normally, I'm all for the power of positive thinking. I believe it can help with childbirth, overcoming adversity, and achieving physical feats. But while I believe in the power of positive thinking, I'm also positive it cannot help in this situation. And the very suggestion is rather offensive. No one would dare tell someone who was constantly running to the bathroom with food poisoning that if he just told himself he wasn't going to have explosive diarrhea he wouldn't. Yet with pregnancy it seems easy for everyone to praise the power of positive thinking.
These mantras are offensive because they imply that I somehow enjoy having jagged peanut crumbles come out of my nose, burning my sinuses as I'm doubled over throwing up the homemade vegetable pad Thai I spent an hour cooking while holding my breath. Or that I could stop it somehow. I'm all for positive thoughts but I can tell you they just don't help in this situation.
Yes, I get that most of this verbal vomit comes from a good place, that people are just concerned and want me to feel better. And lest you think I left out the word "bitter" in my list of sickness-induced adjectives, I've been lucky enough to have wonderful friends and family members, male and female, who have had children and have not had children, who understand what I am going through with no explanations needed. They offer their sympathy, support and help and without them I'd probably be lying in a pool of puke.
Pregnancy is a steppingstone to parenthood so I guess I should just take everyone's advice with a grain of salt, be it a family member, friend, or the old lady grabbing my belly at the gym. (Okay, in line for ice cream. I haven't been to the gym in weeks). Perhaps this is a way to prep mothers for the thick skin needed to deal with all the unwanted advice they will get when the baby arrives. So I'll start doing my part, and try not to let other people's words get to me. I just wish others could do their part and keep their comments to themselves.
There isn't an easy explanation to this sickness. Maybe it is hormones, maybe it is the heightened sense of smell, maybe it is stress, maybe it is a combination of all three or something different altogether. No matter what the cause of the nausea and vomiting, I guarantee it isn't something a pregnant person is doing wrong that leads to it.
So here's the deal for all you folks suffering from the not-so-silent disease of verbal vomit. Whether or not you have a uterus, or have had a child, or have had food poisoning, the next time a pregnant woman tells you how sick she is, stop the cycle of vomit and just tell her you're sorry. Be a peach and offer her some sympathy, not your judgment, and definitely don't tell her she can psych her way out of this.
Oh God. A peach. Excuse me as I go narf. I think my son is about to learn another synonym...
Supriya Kelkar works as a screenwriter for the acclaimed Indian production house, Vinod Chopra Films, and she blogs about green living and green parenting at www.wadingthroughsoup.blogspot.com, where this post first appeared.