"If I peel one more orange I'm going to throw up," I said 30 minutes before Thanksgiving dinner at the house in Alabama. I stopped preparing the ambrosia, but the nausea didn't go away. It was the first glimmer of the beast (HG). "I must have a stomach virus or something," I moaned. "I'll bet you're pregnant," teased my husband's 74-year-old grandmother. I argued, "Nawww." But what uplanned joy! I WAS pregnant!
The rest is history.
I just got back from a trip to that old 'bama home. All along the way I noticed the antique stores I had once passed on that hell-ride back home 7 years ago. Four hours of horrible nausea in the car. Kids' stuff compared to what was to come. The stores passed by the window. On the other side of my son's silhouette, images of yesterday rolled by. I'm not "dying" anymore, and I ask myself how. How could I have done it?
This is the 64 dollar question, and I've asked it a million times. When I got HG again I remembered how. It's an unfathomable illness that sounds deceptively simple. As an OB once told me, "Your poor kid. I wonder what the angels said when he went to heaven. "Gee, Johnny, I'm sorry your mommy killed you, but she didn't like throwing up.'"
I spoke to the husband of a woman who DIED from HG in the 90's. It's rare, but her doctors sucked royale, and she and their son paid the price. I have to remind myself what HG is like. I've been through it three times, but when I'm not in it, it's hard to remember how excruciating and unrelenting it is. If I were 9 weeks pregnant right now, I would understand a lot more clearly how I could have done it. But I'm not currently on the stretching rack, so it's easy for me to only be aware of my love and desire for that child without the distraction of 1,512 successive hours of tremendous physical suffering.
I just got this snippet from an HG sufferer in the email today:
"You talk to people and tell them that you ate NOTHING for at least two months - (you can hear it their voice - they think you must be exaggerating... surely you got to eat something!)!"
I have to remember what I went through, I have to remember.
I realize this type of suffering is beyond the realm of usual human experience. I realize I'm not supposed to be able to understand it or integrate it into my life. I know there are women who do not lose their children but who sustain post traumatic stress disorder from having gone through HG. They also have trouble assimilating the experience. I imagine that suffering of this ilk normally comes at the end of one's life, a result of some deadly disease after which there's no life and no need to understand what you've just been through. I've met two people with Chrone's disease (can involve similar puking and inability to eat/drink) who felt we could relate. One of them died from it in the hospital and then revived. They both told me they understood how I could get to that point. I seem to need constant reassurance. But it doesn't do the trick. No matter the reason, the child met a devastating end. A child I loved was dismembered unto death. I know it, you know it, the rest is just babble.
This weekend, before we got to the grandmother's house, we pulled over to eat. I sat down and the intense feelings of grief prevented me from even picking up the menu. I felt the tears coming, and "cheerfully" excused myself from the table in order to "wash my hands". I locked myself in the stall and silently, heavily sobbed as the woman in the stall next to me berated her 3-year-old daughter for misbehaving in the restaurant. I secretly begged them to leave. They lingered as tears splashed onto rust-colored tile and one-ply toilet paper. Finally they were gone, and I had a few moments to get myself together. "I must be inconspicuous." I washed my hands, and sat for a moment to cure my pink "pig eyes". On the way back to the table I noticed every baby in the joint. Every girl, every boy - did I have a daughter or a son? I don't even know which I'm grieving, damn it!
It was late when we arrived. "Little-little" was sleeping. I tucked him under covers and thought to myself how I had no memories of my first child other than a few sonograms and a beautiful pumping heart. No memories other than that. I say I never held him/her, but I did. I held him/her deep within me, and we visited Greatgrandma's house together.
The next morning (yesterday) I awoke to sounds of a little boy laughing and singing songs with his Meemaw. I have another child to whom this love and laughter also belonged. No song for that child, no laughter, only silence and death. I took a cup of coffee off the counter where I stopped peeling oranges seven years earlier. I drank half a cup and went on about the business of the day's distractions wading through a hundred years of antiques until lunch.
The catfish was excellent and all-you-can-eat. I remind myself how thankful I am to be able to chew and swallow and have it stay down. I thank God for the ability. How lucky I am to take sustenance in, to metabolize it, and live. I drank my tea and was steeped in gratefulness for the ability to take it in and keep myself alive. It's a necessary thing, and so frightening when you are growing a new human and your body refuses to care for either of you. But how did I lay myself down on that meat table? Why couldn't I have just lived or died without forsaking myself and my child?
I was the last one up last night (this morning). I turned off all the lights and crept back to the bedroom. The moonlight poured over the mile-long lashes delicately fanned out beneath my son's sleeping eyes. I watched his chest rise and fall and went into the bathroom to cry. For a brief moment I thought, "Ohh, this can't possibly end well." Sometimes I wonder if one day I'll kill myself. Sometimes I think, "Well, how could I not?" The boy will grow up one day and move out. Will I lose my head? Will I fly away?
The first one up this AM, I packed the car, eager to make the move homeward. In the still of the morning, the ancient clock ticking through shadows on the wall, I whispered down an empty hallway, "You were here."