The Climb: My Second Pregnancy With Hyperemesis Gravidarum
I am not great with patience. Somewhere over the past 14 months, I had grown weary of spending money on countless early pregnancy tests only to find out 5 days sooner that I was not pregnant. I think it was when the doctors began to throw around the term “secondary infertility” I gave up on taking them, but this month was a bit of an exception. “Lucky me” I thought. My birthday just happened to line up perfectly with my “monthly calendar” this year. In an attempt to not manage my disappointment with yet another month of “not being pregnant” right on my birthday, I decided to take the final pregnancy test that had been lingering in the corner of the medicine cabinet. “It always seems to be glaring at me anyway so let’s just ‘rip off the Band-Aid’ a few days early” I thought. I was so rehearsed in responding to my barren condition that when the second line appeared, my heart still sunk and I prayed my normal “God, I know no matter what, you're good and I trust you with our family”. Before I could toss the test in the trash, something stopped me dead in my tracks. I looked down at the test again. Wait. Two lines meant I WAS pregnant. My heart started to race while joy and adrenaline flooded my body. Then, out of nowhere, my hands began to shake and an immense terror crept in. This was real, and there was no going back. I was elated that we were having a baby. I was thrilled we had not even needed to start the impending line of infertility treatments that I was about the schedule the following month. I also knew that those two red lines meant 9 months of me actually being pregnant.
You see, pregnancy for me has not been a season of marveling over the miracle of life while filling my amazon cart with the latest “must have” baby items. During my first pregnancy, I was diagnosed with a condition called Hyperemesis Graviderum (extreme and debilitating nausea) that affects 2% of women. It had meant 9 months of suffering like I had never imagined possible and even experiencing symptoms of PTSD long after my pregnancy. Based on the studies I had read on this condition, I knew there was about an 85% chance of it returning with this pregnancy. Tears flooded my eyes as I began to grieve for the months I might loose with my daughter and husband. As much as I had “prepared” for this moment, I still felt paralyzed with the fear of walking through that kind of darkness and what I can only describe as months of agony again. I sunk to the floor with my back against the cold porcelain tub, gave my self a minute to cry (I mean really ugly cry) and then with all the resolve I could muster, I desperately grasped at every promise I could think of that God had ever given me. “God you are good. I don’t need to fear because you are WITH me. You will give us grace for what we need in each moment.” Promise by promise I started to feel my heart slow and the dizzying fear gently lift. Then as if transported back in time, God reminded me of a memory from a number of years earlier.
Shortly after completing my masters program, I moved to Ecuador to volunteer for 4 months. During my time there I attempted a weekend backpacking trip up a local volcano. I found myself completely unprepared for the high altitudes and difficulty of the hike. I ended up more than halfway up the mountain with altitude sickness and a badly sprained ankle that was impossible to walk on. I was a bit astonished when our tour guide, a local farmer, asked me to climb onto his back and then proceeded to tie me up with thick rope to turn me into a sort of back pack. Being the only non-Ecuadorian there only added to my self-consciousness as the others in the group make jokes in Spanish about how “sometimes you backpack and sometimes you are the backpack”.
My embarrassment quickly turned to fear as my new BFF scaled steep cliffs with me dangling from his back. At times there was easily more than a 100 foot drop, and I could not believe everyone was making this climb without harnesses or proper equipment. Perhaps this was an extreme example of “cultural differences”, but no one else seemed to bat an eye at the danger. Yet, there I was clinging for life to this poor farmers back as he looked for the next foot hold or rock to grab hold of on our way up the steep incline. My arms and legs began to burn and it took all the strength I had to hold on around his neck. During the stretches that did not require my farmer friend to climb using his hands, he would grab hold of my arms and help pull me up to ease my exhaustion. I felt such relief knowing that in those moments I wouldn’t fall. When we would begin to climb a vertical stretch I would hold as tight as I could, close my eyes, burry my head into his back and pray that I would survive this crazy hike. We miraculously made it both up and back down the mountain and I have never felt so thankful to another human. Although this young farmer had been a complete stranger, I had literally entrusted my life to him and now felt as if I owed him every passing breath.
Now here I was years later sitting on my bathroom floor staring at a pregnancy test that I knew meant another mountain to climb. In that moment I felt like God gave me eyes to see the story from a different angle. While often I feel like God calls me into seasons where he asks me to climb one foot in front of the other, there are season where I simply can’t. Those are the seasons, where like my farmer in Ecuador, Jesus puts me on his back and climbs for me. All I have to do is hold on. I say “all” but really that is no small thing. I remember how my arms burned from holding on hour after hour. I remember thinking I just couldn’t hold on anymore. Yet every time “I couldn’t,” I would feel the strong hands of that farmer grab my arms around his neck and pull me tighter to help ease the strain of my burning muscles. No matter how hard it became my only choice was to hold on.
I am now 15 weeks pregnant and can tell you that already this has been an incredibly difficult journey. Despite taking 3 strong anti-nausea medications, I have felt sick day in and day out. I have not been able to cook, clean or take care of my daughter. Many days I listen to my 2 year old cry that she “just wants mommy” as the babysitter gets her out of her crib after her nap. Some days I have been able to spend an hour with her, some days I have hardly seen her at all as I lay in bed fighting to hydrate and keep food down. Although the sickness has been intense enough to keep me in bed, overall, the intensity has not been near what it was during my first pregnancy, and for that I feel so incredibly thankful. While I do still just meet the criteria for Hyperemesis Gravidarum, this time I have so much hope that perhaps I won’t be in bed for all 40 weeks of my pregnancy. I have hope that I will have time with my daughter and husband before this new babe arrives.
I won’t lie. The hard days are really hard. For me, that picture of the mountain is where the battle begins and ends. The question in this season for me is how do I hold on to Jesus? I know he is ultimately holding onto me, and yet I am still called to hold onto him. As the temperatures drop and there is less oxygen in the air and the climb is steeper, how do I hold on? I first had to realize that my entire hope of reaching the top of the mountain is in him bringing me there. My second is to realize that the one who I am clinging to is more than my transport up the mountain, He is also my treasure. My greatest prize is not just a healthy baby at the end of this. My greatest prize is not actually reaching the top of this mountain. My prize is the one who is carrying me there. It changes everything. I have come to realize that reaching the top without Him is no reward at all. I can even begin to find some enjoyment in the climb when my greatest reward is knowing Jesus more. Every day when the nausea sets in and my heart aches to be with my daughter and husband, I am setting out to climb. Every trial is a chance to gain more of Him. Every meal a friend brings, every pile of laundry someone folds for me, every person who has loved and comforted my daughter while I could not, has enabled me to experience Jesus more. What I have found is that when Jesus is my treasure and my eyes are on eternity, my body may feel tired and miserable but there is nothing that can touch my soul. Trust me friends, chronic illness is not just a physical battle. It wages war on your mind and your soul and it tries to break you. And yet trials are one of life’s greatest opportunities to gain more of Jesus if we allow them to lead us into his arms. When you have known the comfort of those arms, it becomes easy to see that no amount of ease can compare to knowing Jesus.
I have found that when walking with the Lord sometimes we backpack, but more often than not we are the backpack. We don’t climb so we can get to the top of the mountain and experience joy and peace. We climb to be with our greatest treasure who climbs for us and is our joy and peace. We wrap our arms around our joy, our peace, and our hope, and we cling to him until our arms burn and shake with exhaustion. We enjoy the warmth of his presence and touch as he grabs hold of our arms around his neck, pulls them a little tighter and says “You are also my treasure. I wont let you let go. You are mine.”
**If you or someone you know is suffering with HG (just a difficult pregnancy in general) please feel free to reach out to me. I would love to pray for you or provide support in any way I can!