Oh my goodness! You’re pregnant! Isn’t it awesome/amazing/magical/JUST THE BEST (insert any word that can also apply to unicorns)!
Three years ago while carrying my second child, my reaction to such well intentioned comments would be a sampling of meek “uh huh”s, blank stares, and blatantly honest “sure, except for the parts where I can’t sleep, everything hurts and I’m being assaulted from the inside AND OHMYGOD NO. Actually this sucks”.
Honesty came easier the second time around. Perhaps it was because I knew for certain my general distaste for being pregnant in no way spoke to how I felt about the actual fetus. It would come out eventually, be laid on my chest and after a whisper in the ear of “you owe me”, the baby would blink, I’d fall hopelessly face first in love and all would be forgiven. I don’t think it’s as easy to lean on that confidence without the experience.
With a combined 560 days of playing host to another human, I can say without hesitation that on NONE of those days did I feel better than I ever have on any non-pregnant day. In the beginning both times, I nibbled on snacks all day long to keep the nausea at bay. Yet most food made me want to puke. MAKE UP YOUR MIND, FREELOADER. I was plagued with charlie horses that woke me from (tearfully elusive) sleep with such fury that at least once my husband bolted upright and yelled “HOLY CRAP ARE YOU HAVING THE BABY?”. Another time I flailed around like a dying fish, slid out of bed and attempted to stand only to drop to the floor with a leg that was utterly useless.
In the fourth month of my second pregnancy, I woke up one day nearly unable to open my eyes. They burned horribly and tears ran down my cheeks. So I googled “eye pain” only to find halfway down the list of suggestions “eye pain pregnancy”. Dear god! Is there any part of my body left alone? Take my uterus. LEAVE ME THE REST, JERK BABY.
Nearing the end of my first pregnancy I began getting this absolutely maddening itch on the soles of my feet and the palms of my hands. It would travel a bit up my arms and legs, but mostly stayed fixed where it originated. As a special feature, it got worse at night and would keep me up for hours at a time near tears with discomfort and exhaustion. I tried every topical cream Rite Aid had to offer. I’d have Bobby scratch them just to give me a break from the monotony of doing it myself. I felt quite close to losing my mind.
My son arrived one week late, at home, into the arms of my midwife while Bobby attempted (unsuccessfully) to move her Saab from the driveway so our downstairs neighbors could leave. (“Remember when you MISSED THE BIRTH OF OUR SON?” is a solid card to hold.) With his entrance into the world, the itching exited.
In the time between one and two, I had a couple friends that I kept up with on social media who were pregnant and developed the same symptoms. In the end they were diagnosed with a condition called Obstetric Cholestasis, which is a pregnancy induced liver disease caused by the normal flow of bile in the gallbladder being affected by the high level of hormones. So I delved deeper and self diagnosed. Post pregnancy it usually resolves on it’s own, but when identified (by blood testing) pregnancies are likely induced early to prevent still birth. I felt lucky. Things had turned out great. The birth was natural and uneventful and my son was no worse for the wear. Yet the 90% recurrence rate filed itself in my brain.
I spent the first 36 weeks the next time around waiting for the itch. It’s like waiting for a drunk uncle to arrive for Thanksgiving dinner. The later it gets, you convince yourself he’s just not going to bother this year. Maybe he forgot where you live. But of course he’s coming. He didn’t put on pants for nothing.
At 37 weeks, it creeped in. Radiating through my hands and feet. At first I told myself it was psychosomatic. But by the third night in a row and on the brink of tears, I let myself admit it was real. At my regularly scheduled midwife appointment the next day, I broke down. I was exhausted. We had discussed my suspicions of Cholestasis at one of my first appointments and agreed to test if and when I exhibited the symptoms (which are pretty much limited to soul sucking itching of the soles and palms). They drew blood, finished the rest of the routine stuff and I left. One week later, I arrived again for an appointment and heard my midwife’s assistant on the phone. I knew instantly they were reviewing my results.
Slipping into the exam room to wait, I ran through all the possible scenarios. Perhaps as self preservation, I never once allowed my thoughts to travel into the dark of my baby being in distress. I stayed surface and instead began to let go of the expectation of another routine home birth. I was right. The condition was confirmed and it was out of my midwife’s hands. Once a bed was available, I was to head directly to the hospital to begin induction.
Just over 24 hours (with only 2 hours of any sort of action) later, my daughter was born. Bobby wasn’t being outsmarted by a Saab with a stick shift and what seemed like 47 people I never saw before were there too. They slowly dissolved, and just the three of us remained.
“Can you believe it? We have one of each. Which is perfect. Because I’M NEVER DOING THAT SHIT AGAIN. Now can you go get me some ice for my vagina?”