Maybe my father’s right. Maybe I don’t appreciate anything. Since I never fulfilled his dream of landing a secure job in the insurance industry, I didn’t fully appreciate the college education he funded. He says I never appreciated anything he did for me. It’s got to be true. If I had already mastered appreciation, there would be no way to justify what I’ve been through these last few months.
I thought I was a pretty appreicative person. For more than 10 years, I’ve shared a gratitude list with a group of women five days a week. I stop and smell the roses. I say “thank you” a lot. So up until a few months ago, I thought I was leading a pretty grateful life. Then I got pregnant. I was more than grateful for that. We’d given up on pregnancy and decided to adopt a second child. I’d been researching adoption for two months, thinking God, it would be so much easier if I could just get pregnant and Boom! Two lines on the pee stick.
So yaay, we would have a second child. Cool. About a week after I took the test, a close friend confided that she’d just suffered a miscarriage, nine weeks into her pregnancy. She didn’t know until she saw her ultrasound. I reassured her and she eventually recovered, but I could not stop thinking: I could lose this baby. I’m 41, the risks escalate as women age. Oh, God, I hope I don’t have a miscarriage!
A couple of weeks later, the morning sickness started. Every day, all day, all night, I felt like puking. I did not puke. Puking offers about an hour of relief. No such break for this mama. With the nausea came overwhelming headaches. I would also awaken in the middle of the night for an hour or two, unable to fall back to sleep. It was natural insomnia but my current worries about miscarriage and a million other things didn’t help alleviate it.
Last year while we were actively trying to get pregnant, I thought about the truly horrible morning sickness I’d suffered with Rose. (See “Pregnancy: It’s Not Pretty” for a full description.) I maintained that I’d go through it all again if it meant we could have another girl. Yes, it’s a wives’ tale that girls make you sick, but it’d proven itself with Rose so I was willing to believe.
Eight weeks into the pregnancy, I had some spotting and freaked out. I’d never spotted with Rose and I was so obsessed with miscarrying that I thought this was it. Bye-bye baby. The doctor ordered an ultrasound and the baby was fine, and I was not eight, but nine weeks pregnant. Woohoo! My doctor reassured me that it’s very rare to miscarry after nine weeks. In fact, she said, it usually happens at four or five weeks, but unless they bleed, women don’t find out until nine weeks, when they have their first ultrasound.
Nine weeks along also meant I had only five more weeks of morning sickness to go. With Rose, it stopped at 14 weeks. They say the first pregnancy’s a good predictor of the second for things like that.
Well, Week 14 came and went, and the sickness raged on. I couldn’t take it anymore. For 10 weeks so far, I’d struggled to function every day. Back at 12 weeks I’d begun to cry every day, just asking for relief from the sickness. One night during Week 14, I fell to my knees in the dark, sobbing for an hour, begging God to take the morning sickness away. I’d still take good care of the baby, I promised. Just please, please, make it stop! I can’t take it anymore! I cried myself to sleep. The next morning, I thought about all the prayers He hears from people who really suffer — prayers for adequate food and clean water, prayers for safety in war-torn countries, prayers pleading for relief from daily abuse. I felt guilty. Here I was, a financially secure woman with a loving husband and daughter and a healthy pregnancy and I wanted relief from something as trivial as morning sickness. How many of those people would willingly suffer sickness for two and a half months if they had what I had? Why did I think I was entitled to feel better?
At about Week 15, the morning sickness began to subside. At first, I had four hours of nausea-free bliss, then it came back. Oh well, I thought, with Rose it went away 30 percent and then for good. The next day I was sick all day. Soon after, I had a nausea-free day but the following day it came back. This went on for about 10 days. Then I had three sickness-free days in a row. Wow, I thought. This is it. It’s gone!! The next day it was back. But as it improved, I learned real gratitude. I learned to appreciate the hell out of every moment I didn’t feel sick. I took advantage when I felt well and wrote or cooked or gardened until I felt sick again.
I realized that morning sickness had robbed me of something that was not as crucial as basic needs or safety but was indeed important: my freedom. Every day I was sick, I had to take an afternoon nap just to feel well enough to make it through the evening. Before that, those two hours during Rose’s nap used to be my “mom time” – the time I used to write or read or do something that was a “want to” not a “have to.” I used to look forward to those hours. I would never squander them doing anything I could do when Rose was awake. I would plan them, so that I could utilize every single minute. And suddenly my two daily hours of freedom were gone. For three months, everything I did was a “have to.” I enjoyed nothing. Even the fun moments with Rose and Matt were diminished because I was too sick to feel happy. That’s what took such a toll on me. Imagine going three months without cracking a smile.
So when I started to feel better, I realized that I had learned a lot about gratitude and more about living in the moment. Sometimes a few moments of wellness were all I had, so I had to make each one count. And I did.
I believe that when the student is ready, the teacher comes. Experience is the biggest teacher of all. I thought I knew how to appreciate the present but I tend to worry about a lot of things that never happen. I tend to construct disaster scenarios in my head. I guess I needed a lesson in staying present. I don’t think it needed to be quite so harsh, but at least I can count it as the one reward for enduring 3 months of morning sickness. I’ll begin to appreciate the other reward when he or she is born.