All The Rest Is Just Icing
Warning: this post involves vomit. You might want to put down your sandwich.
I might have mentioned before that I am not a puker. I have not vomited in 22 years, except when I was in labor with Elan, and labor doesn’t count. I have weathered three 3-month-long bouts of terrible morning-sickness, garden-variety food poisoning in Mexico, a few instances of being room-spinningly drunk, and several severe cases of various third-world intestinal parasites without ever actually throwing up.
Sometimes I thought I’d feel better if I could just puke, and I’d try to make myself. One of those happened many years ago in New York City, in the middle of the night, when I woke up with a head cold several days before my friend Meg’s wedding (I was her maid of honor) and took a zinc tablet on an empty stomach. Several hours of cold-sweat nausea later, in desperation I stuck my finger down my throat, activated a reflex that drops your blood pressure, and passed out cold on the bathroom floor. When I came to, Mikhail and Meg were crouched over me. It turned out that on the way down, I managed to hit my cheek on the edge of the sink, though I did miss cracking my head on the tub or landing in the kitty litter by several inches each. For the wedding, I sported a thin cut running from the side of my mouth to my chin that made me look like a pirate, a hugely swollen cheek, and a head cold. Luckily, Meg had a good make-up artist.
It is a point of pride in my father’s family: we are not pukers. When I got my 3-hour glucose tolerance test a few weeks ago (pregnant lady torture involving 15 hours of fasting, drinking a disgusting beverage chock-full of sugar, and 4 blood draws in 3 hours), the technician warned me I might throw up, and if I did, they would have to start the test again. “Don’t worry,” I said. “I won’t throw up.”
“You’d be surprised,” he said. “Women say that all the time, and then they do.” This guy also kept going on about how the time was flying by, just flying by those hours of fasting and blood draws. I really wanted to say something rude to him, but he kept sticking needles in my veins so I kept my mouth shut.
And so, a few days ago when I was visiting Meg in New York City and I started to feel nauseous, I went into the bathroom fully expecting that nothing would happen. At worst it would be those fun dry heaves that I remembered so well from my last love affair with morning-sickness. “If you need to throw up, just do it in the sink,” Meg, that veteran of four morning-sickness-filled pregnancies, called after me. I practically laughed to myself. Yeah, right. Who do you think you’re talking to?
Except. Then. It happened. I threw up. It happened so fast I barely had time to register it, though thankfully I got my hair out of my face. Before I knew it, I was sitting on the toilet seat panting, moaning and feeling a little bit better, while simultaneously thinking that is so gross I’m glad I never do it. I was shocked and confused. What was wrong with me: food poisoning, a sudden virus? And why now, when so many times I had felt much worse?
I was also worried. I had a taxicab, 2 trains, and a car ride in front of me before I got back to my aunt’s house in New Jersey. Thankfully I was not traveling alone with Elan, who tends to get fussy whenever I do not feel well. My parents were with me and they managed to keep him fairly distracted from his mother stretched prone across three train seats. Occasionally Elan would come check on me, and I would try to sound sufficiently peppy so that he wouldn’t get much more worried than he already was.
Then I puked on the train, as I walked down the aisle, in front of several people sitting innocently in their seats. My mom told the man nearest “you might want to move” and he gratefully scurried out of the way, while offering his help if we needed it. The woman nearby averted her face and entire body away from the scene I made, retching over a sturdy Meg-supplied plastic bag. When the train stopped and the passengers made their way down the aisle, I even managed to turn myself slightly out of the way for them to pass. It might be that public puking ranked as one of my worst embarrassment-fears; I suppose now I have conquered that one.
The next time was back at my aunt’s house, and that kicked off a sleepless night of low-grade fever, all-body aches, and most worryingly, non-stop Braxton Hicks contractions. Via phone my midwife reassured me that it is very rare for a stomach bug to start up pre-term labor, but some time after midnight, when the contractions were coming every 3-4 minutes, I started to consider going to the hospital. I was so afraid for this baby, afraid of having something go wrong after making it so far. I didn’t really think I was actually in labor, but I was worried I might miss some key signal from my body that something irreversible had begun. I kept thinking of those stories that start: I thought it was just X but it turned out to be Y. I have finally allowed myself to become attached to this baby kicking and kneeing and fluttering inside me; I don’t want to have one of those stories.
My father, a doctor himself, thought we could try waiting a few hours. Sometime in those hours, I hazily remembered that lying on your left side was the best position for blood flow to the uterus. I managed to turn myself over without puking, and the contractions lengthened out to every 10 minutes. Despite still feeling terrible, I was incredibly relieved. A few hours later, I finally managed to fall asleep, and when I woke up, the worst was over.
The next day, as I stayed in bed and started to recover, I decided something. For the next 10 weeks, I do not care what I accomplish or don’t accomplish, so long as this baby is healthy. I don’t care if I get to all or any of the writing goals I have listed in my head, or if the nesting projects turn from fantasy to reality. In the few weeks before this trip, I was feeling stressed about trying to GET EVERYTHING DONE before the baby comes. So much to do, so little time and energy. But crisis tends to clarify what’s truly important. The only truly important thing for me to do in the next 10 weeks is to grow this baby and take care of myself. Take care of both of us. All the rest is just icing on the cake.
Now that I’m home, still not feeling tip-top but with all my lists and aspirations and worries more present, I thought I should write that down and post it on my wall. And so I did the kind of 10-minute art project I never do, with a Sharpie pen and Elan’s watercolors.
Because it is.