The one about sickness.
I was recently at a delightful group lunch hosted by a dear friend, surrounded by even more dear friends and delicious plates of share food (hello, chimichurri sauce I’m looking at you!) Prior to the lunch most of the attendees had been warned about the difficulties one guest was having with food allergies. You see, dear reader, this friend was, at the time, on a restricted diet and only able to eat very specific, non-inflammatory foods. Those of us who’s appetites were not dictated by the delicate requirements of our digestive systems were warned not to mention it to her - under no circumstances were we to comment on the fact that she was subsisting solely on lentils. We wouldn’t want to upset her.
To understand why this is a particular point of interest for me we must, yet again, relive the horrors of my pregnancy. Remember how I vomited 10+ times a day for 36 weeks? Remember how I burst a heap of capillaries in my face from vomiting so violently, so frequently? Remember - yada yada yada you get the gist. My pregnancy sucked harder than a Dyson cordless vac. While I was pregnant I had the pleasure of luncheoning with the same group of people previously mentioned - prior to my friend discovering her wayward gut flora. I know, FOR A FACT (because I grilled my friends on it later) that no such warning about my delicate state was given ahead of this lunch. My friends were not asked to be careful with me while I heaved into a Coles reusable shopping bag. They were not warned that I was feeling incredibly self conscious about my state and that mentioning my illness, or the pregnancy causing it, would have me running back to my husband a sopping, snotty, hysterical, crying mess.
What we have here is the makings of a wonderful social experiment - the same group of people, under the same set of conditions, with one slight tweak and POW! Different reactions, different care and, ultimately, a totally different experience for the individuals at the centre of it all. While my friend and her microbiome were treated with kid gloves, I was held up as a side show spectacle. Let’s all marvel out how thin Caitlin is despite being six months pregnant. Let’s all comment feverishly on how little she’s eaten at this glorious lunch despite our host slaving for many an hour. Shall we stand idly by while Caitlin struggles to heave the contents of her stomach into that eco bag? Yes we should. And then we should fill her head with such nonsensical advice as ‘ginger will fix you right up’ and ‘really you should try to drink a bit more water’.
Pregnancy is not an illness, that’s what my grandma always said. But pregnancy causes illness - roughly 75% of all pregnant women will experience some nausea and/or vomiting in the first twelve weeks of being knocked up. And, of that group, a very unlucky 2-5% (no one does research into this condition so the numbers are sketchy AF) will experience Hyperemesis Gravidarum. And then there are the unlucky fuckers who find themselves with Gestational Diabetes, Preeclampsia, Hypertension, Symphysis Pubis Dysfunction and the list goes on. But because we live in a totally mad society we all walk around blissfully believing that pregnant women are basket weaving in meadows with flowers in their hair, all while sipping iced tea and listening to Katy Perry.
HG was an inconvenience - for myself, my husband, my parents and siblings. But it seems that it was the most inconvenient to random friends, acquaintances, strangers, the woman at the chemist, a strange lady in the hospital car park and the postman. They were so put out that they couldn’t a) listen to me wax lyrical about the miracle of life nestled deep inside me and/or b) that I would have the gall to COMPLAIN about how difficult I was finding the whole miraculous event.
When people are sick we, absolutely rightfully, treat them with care and dignity. We go out of our way to make them comfortable in whatever way we can. If that means ignoring the giant elephant in the room and pretending like everything is fine when they only eat cannellini beans for six weeks, then that’s the degree to which we bend our backs. But when a pregnant woman finds herself sharing her innermost feelings on her newfound biological capabilities - should they be even remotely skewed to the negative - the world throws up its arms in frustration at her ungrateful and pessimistic attitude.
I faced A LOT of trying times navigating this part of my pregnancy - not least of all from the medical practitioners responsible for my care. It’s as if we all think that because a woman has been blessed with all the necessary components to carry a child she should just shut up and be grateful for nine months. A doctor told me that all he cared about was the health of my child - and while that was undoubtedly at the forefront of my mind at all times, I wanted someone to spare a moment for what it would be like to vomit that many times a day. If I’d been living like that as the result of some terrible disease I would have been wrapped in a dressing gown, installed in a king sized bed and offered the sympathetic ear of passersby. But I was having a baby and if that meant losing my sanity, twelve kilos and all the happiness in my life, then so be it.
In many ways we, as a society, are very good at caring for our sick and injured. Pregnant women do not belong in that category as a rule, but some of us find ourselves there. And when we do, the least you can offer is a word of warning to anyone you can find: this woman needs understanding, respect and most importantly, not to be told to eat any more ginger.