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It really is harder
My new queasy not normal. And memories of vomiting in labor as the strangest best thing
content warning: lots about throwing up, and also about challenges with eating.
I’ve been queasy every morning lately. A few weeks ago, with an empty stomach first thing in the morning, I threw up. What even was that?
When I was in the final stages of labor, a little more than 13 years ago, I threw up every time I drank water. There was a metal mixing bowl nearby for that purpose, I clung to it between episodes. It was so very nice and cold. It felt like the best thing in that part of the process.
I was at home. I mean, I was having a home birth, but now that I typed that I see what I also mean was that I was content. Content to take some sips, throw up, take some sips, throw up.
It was so simple - I drank water, it was refreshing and helpful, and then I threw up. It was predictable, brief, repetitive. When I told people that the next day, they didn’t seem to understand how I could have enjoyed that part but I guess all that says is that they hadn’t just been in labor.
All in all, I was in labor for 18 hours. My water broke first -- just like it always happens on TV but rarely does in real life. I think it’s about 10% of births. And without that, it means a kind of liquid cushion was gone, labor is more raw. And I was in labor soon after - hard and fast, contractions every five minutes, then every two. I didn’t like it.
I had watched the videos, read the books on orgasmic birth. I’d planned on being good at labor.
I felt shame that I wasn’t.
It just hurt so much, for so long. And there were no breaks. I felt like if I could have just had a 10-15 minute break, maybe that would have been enough. But that’s not a thing during active labor - at least it wasn’t for me.
I’d thought my biggest challenge in labor was going to be the early labor, waiting out the early parts before contractions got bad. People talked about watching movies, getting pedicures even. I thought I would lose it, just waiting.
But instead it was relentless.
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I couldn’t soak in a tub because my water had broken and that means there’s infection risks. I took a million showers.
I kept yelling NO NO NO when I had contractions because it hurt so fucking much, and then the midwife suggested maybe going with something more positive, so I started yelling YES YES YES.
It was convincing enough that my partner thought maybe the orgasmic birth stuff was kicking in! But no, I was just saying the opposite of no even though I still meant NO NO NO.
So by hour 17 or so, I couldn’t use any of fancy birth positions I learned about in prenatal class. I was flat on the bed, laying on my back while the midwife and doula held up my legs. I was pretty spent. I was falling asleep and having hallucinatory dreams between contractions.
I didn’t know at the time, but the pros were worrying that I wasn’t going to have enough energy to get the baby out.
So, yeah, in that context, the smooth cool bowl and the watery vomit was a positive highlight.
Throwing up the other day, first thing in the morning though? I didn’t like that. It happened just before my kid left for school. I was hoping to fend it off until they left but I reached over for something, and that was it, there it was, unstoppable.
I know they’re worrying about me. And I hate that they have to do that.
Last month, I went to the pharmacy to pick up a prescription -- unrelated to this -- and started feeling queasy. By the time they came to wait on me, I started throwing up, again. In my KN95 mask.
They brought me back behind the counter. They were so nice. I kept throwing up in the trash can. I felt bad for them.
They brought me water and then I asked for another mask and they gave me a surgical mask. I finally stopped throwing up and slowly biked home.
The day after my baby was born, one of the midwives came over to do a check-up. She said, “you know, I really admire you having a home birth at your age. It really is harder.” I’d turned 42 a week and a half before that.
That’s how they do it, they tell or don’t tell you stuff ahead of time so you can go ahead with the birth plan without anticipating it being undoable. Because they are midwives and they are awesome. I know if I had directly asked if it was harder when older, she would have told me what she thought.
After many years of vaguely shitty health and pain, and then a few years more with very scary acute neurodegenerative symptoms and a bevy of diagnostic scans, I already had a multiple sclerosis diagnosis at that point (later changed to something else but that’s for other stories).
Like all of my health weirdness, my experience was atypical for the diagnosis and relatively mild — the symptoms scary but mostly sensory, not deeply debilitating, and almost fully resolved. But I’d struggled in those last months of pregnancy with a lot of weird pains, some increasing fatigue, and anemia.
Soon after the baby was born, I’d be in the worse flare I’d ever had, getting to the point of barely being able to pick them up.
Since the pain was worst in my chest, at first we thought it was from nursing. Within a few months, I was on opiate painkillers. I didn’t have any appetite and was still nursing, and this vibrant, joyous baby was getting bigger and bigger and I was getting smaller and smaller. It was kinda ghoulish.
These days, I’m close to the weight I was when I was pregnant. I don’t mind it in any abstract or aesthetic sense, but gaining a bunch of weight in a year is sort of triggering as a chronically ill person. Like, why is this happening?
And the irony is that I’m once again struggling to get food in, the first time to this degree since nursing on opiates. I now have a lot of reactions to food as part of the my flavor of Long COVID -- mild to moderate, but cumulatively burdensome, from instant allergy-ish or flu-ey feelings most times I eat a meal to fatigue, brain fog and digestive woes that can last a lot longer. It’s from histamine sensitivity and perhaps other chemical triggers of what’s called Mast Cell Activation Syndrome. And I can’t seem to drink alcohol at all anymore, that’s a drag.
To try to keep the MCAS in check, I take a bunch of stuff, including an almost flavorless liquid I drink in water 4 times a day -- cromolyn sodium -- that needs to be taken a half hour before eating or two hours after eating anything, even including pills or other medicine.
So that restricts when I could actually eat anything, and I end up not eating and then I feel queasy from not eating and then I don’t want to eat because I’m queasy.
Like right now.
I talked to a health coach and she speculated that sometimes bodies actually hang on to weight when people aren’t eating enough -- seeking to store up and save what’s not being replenished enough from outside sources.
We now pay my friend to shop at the food coop for us every other week, hoping to exchange some of that energy exertion for actually cooking and eating. And I try to batch cook, like making 2 heads of leafy greens at once, then bagging it up into 8 portions and throwing into the chest freezer that now incongruously lives in the apartment -- because keeping food in the refrigerator increases histamine content.
I even paid for one of those frozen entree delivery services to send six meals last week, to see what that was like. It was exactly like I thought -- it did make it easier to eat more, including having them for breakfast… but I resented paying $9 (and it would be more like $13 here on out without the newcomer discount code) for a small basic meal I could have made myself -- chicken on rice with balsamic glaze, blueberries and kale; salmon with herb sauce, wild rice and kabocha squash - and none of the places has a low histamine menu so I was trying to approximate.
But hell yeah, I’d eat one of those right about now. But now we’re out and I didn’t reorder and it takes a week or so for the order to arrive. Instead it’s 5 pm and I just nibbled the second piece of toast I didn’t finish for breakfast, oops no lunch again.
I had COVID again in the end of December (probably thanks to the NYC Department of Education, thanks guys), likely RSV in January, and had to take antibiotics for a UTI in February. That’s the prescription I puked while picking up.
Now it’s March and I’m still queasy every day. It really is harder.
I just got this text from a beloved: “How have you managed to deal with life so long? You’ve had all those lives and had to deal with all the shittiness. Sometimes I can’t imagine dealing through the next few months.”
I said “I try not to imagine dealing through the next few months, most of the time.”
But I don’t know if that’s actually true.