I’m 10 weeks pregnant and have been so continually sick that I’ve been unable to enjoy almost any of it. I get a good hour or half day here and there, but the rest of the time I am deeply miserable. The nausea is intense, to the point where I sweat, salivate, and tremble. Sometimes even the vibration of speaking will set off my gag reflex. Smells are intense and mostly horrible. The hot weather has left me weak and exhausted. 2 months of this has thrown me into a perpetual flashback of sick years where this was my life. It’s my nightmare – sick and needing Rose to do everything. Useless, exhausted, and depressed. Housebound, often bed bound. Joint pain, muscle pain, headaches. Thinking with sad longing of my old electric scooter. Visiting friends as long as Rose can drive both ways, and falling asleep on their couch anyway. I’ve been here before and the memories are so painful. I am so tired of being sick.
I know what it’s like to have an unborn child die, and I know that one of the things that burns is hearing women who are pregnant complaining about how difficult they are finding things like morning sickness when you’d give anything to be dealing with that and still have hope of a living child. So I don’t say much.
And I don’t say much because people love to tell me that what I’m going through now is only the tip of the iceberg, that the third trimester is exhausting, that labour is far worse, that chronic sleep deprivation and caring for an infant will make these days happy memories of vigour and health.
And I don’t say much because even my own lovely doctor wasn’t particularly sympathetic about morning sickness that doesn’t involve frequent vomiting, at least until she discovered my significant weight loss and realised I have been very sick. Then she told me that actually lots of women find the first trimester incredibly difficult, and it’s not uncommon for them to be in at their doctors in tears, ashamed and overwhelmed and saying they can’t cope after all and maybe they shouldn’t be doing this.
I don’t say much because I’m grateful grateful grateful and don’t want to lose this baby.
I don’t say much.
I, who have bared so much, find myself silent and stoic, head bowed, making bargains with the universe. If I accept this, will you turn tragedy aside from my family? Does the suffering make my child stronger? I have fought shaming and silencing in so many ways and yet here in a second pregnancy after loss, I find everything has changed. It’s such an effort to share this time, I stir myself from muddy deeps and swim oh so slowly towards the surface, weighted by dread. I fear attack, fear shaming, fear all those who believe that the world is just, that good people are taken care of, that fertility is somehow fair: an indication of boon or blessing or divine right. In my mind I can follow the tortured logic and understand people’s need to calm their own hearts but my heart doesn’t understand, doesn’t forgive, it’s just dark and thick tongued and wordless and afraid.
I didn’t just lose Tam, I’ve lost those beautiful weeks and months of heartfelt joy this time around. That calm certainty that things would be okay; all the stars in their right place and me in mine. (We think we are kind when in fact we are merely happy – CS Lewis) This time around the highs are followed by plunges into deep lows. We talk with qualifiers – if the baby comes, if everything works out. I find myself drawn to stories of tragedy with children and feel like I’m falling into a dark world I can’t get out of. Infants dying in the NICU, 3 year olds with cancer, 7 year olds who drown. I feel like I was so arrogant to think that if I did everything right, I could somehow bypass more savage loss. I could move out of the underclass, plagued by poverty, homelessness, and sickness into a bright ‘normal’ place where things like this don’t happen. That I’ve suffered enough and worked hard enough, earned my way out of more pain, as if life is about what we deserve. Isn’t that the illusion all hopeful parents have? That we can build a pastel coloured wall around our children and keep them from all harm? And when harm comes to your family anyway, the whole strange pastel mummy world seems so bizarre, such a fiction of security. We lie and lie and lie, and create these strange microcosms where nothing casts a shadow and nothing ever dies, and I cannot even breathe in them.
On good days I don’t just feel better, with the health unlocks all the memories of strength, hope, and vigour. I sing and play and work and find myself for moments in the sunlight feeling connected or excited or content. On good days I feel stronger than the bad stories, stronger than the fear and the sense of loneliness and cabin fever. On good days I feel like I will be my own kind of parent, strange and deeply loving, not squeezed into the strange mould I feel advancing upon me, I remember that there’s more than one way to do this right and that authenticity is more important than people pretend, and that some mothers climb trees too and understand both the lure and the fear of the backyard after dark. On good days I can breathe.
Most days, Rose sings to our unborn child, lullabies to quiet all three anxious fluttering hearts. Recently we lay naked in the summer night and she asked me to teach her a new song, something I loved. I thought of us the week before, driving to our first scan, making ourselves face this terrible laying bare of all our hopes and illusions. We sat upright in the car seats, that willing of the body to do what it does not wish to do. We sang to each other, tears masking our faces as we breathed in terror and breathed out our last courage. I sang songs by one of my favourite artists, Nick Cave, and so in bed I sang Into My Arms to her again. There in the warm dark, her fingers tracing my skin, I felt some shadowed part of my heart unlock and found a small sense of peace. A vision of myself rocking a baby and singing Cave rather than inane children’s songs to them in the small hours. It’s the first image of motherhood that exists in my mind beyond the fears of loss and the laughing tales of misery my culture gives me at every turn. I feel like myself in that vision, and in that moment I’m not afraid.
Another night recently we go to bed and I lose my grip on the crumbling stoicism and howl with a broken heart about so many things. How different this pregnancy is and how much I want to enjoy it and feel excited and connected to our growing baby. How deeply sad I am about my business failures and losses, and all the jobs I applied for last year and didn’t get, and the career that I so deeply wanted and have worked so hard for and now… realise that I might never have. Grief, grief like losing a piece of myself. My broken, frozen system, out far beyond all certainties and lost past the edges of the maps. All these dreams. She holds me, my love. She holds me and I weep onto her chest, she soothes me running her hands along my back as I shudder with pain. I find my voice in the darkness and I stop being strong and I stop accepting the pain as my part of the bargain and a little love seeps in through her arms, her kisses. My dark and silent prison unlocks a little. A little light reaches me, and I don’t feel so alone or so afraid anymore.