“Any woman who knows she will have an HG pregnancy and chooses to get pregnant again is nothing but selfish. If she knows she can’t take care of herself and will burden others, she has no right to put her family and friends through that.”
I blinked at the words on the screen. Battling extreme morning sickness for the fourth time led me to online support groups for my condition, hyperemesis gravidarum (extreme and debilitating 24/7 morning sickness). While it’s often deeply helpful to share the challenges of this experience with other women online, it is sometimes heartbreaking to see negative attitudes toward expanding your family in spite of HG.
Selfish. Foolish. A burden. In addition to the truly torturous experience of relentless nausea and vomiting, with this attitude toward HG moms, it’s no wonder that more than 10% of HG pregnancies result in termination.
Having been through this condition three times before, I knew what I was signing up for with this new pregnancy. It is not easy to become helpless, childlike, in need of assistance even to eat and drink, incapable of caring for oneself and one’s family. It can be humiliating.
And in the eyes of our capitalistic culture that lauds individualism, self-reliance, and productivity I am merely a selfish burden during these months of nausea. But not when we try to view life through the eyes of the Gospel.
St Teresa of Calcutta says, “If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other.” I belong to my family and they belong to me. My husband and children care for me during these months of sickness because we belong to each other. But I also belong to a wider community. I have had friends eager to jump in and help in any way they could. Because they see this new pregnancy as a gift. A gift to our family, yes, but also a gift to the world–a new soul unrepeatable and worthy of love.
A dear friend’s mother who I do not know well, apart from seeing her at daily Mass, has brought us a meal weekly since she knew I could not prepare food due to my nausea. I was almost in tears with gratitude and stumbling over words of thanks when she arrived for the first time on my doorstep. She said, “No! Thank YOU for having another baby! We are all so excited.” I was stunned. Instead of seeing me as a burden or drain on her energy, she was thanking me.
Shouldn’t we take joy in the gift of life even when inconvenient and requiring us to sacrifice? Shouldn’t we revel in the opportunity to hold each other up and offer charity? And on the flipside, shouldn’t we have the humility to be willing to accept the help of others? We are gifts to each other, especially in our helplessness and brokenness.
I worry every pregnancy that by being out of commission for a few months, I will be depriving my children. But especially as my kids grow older, I see that their sibling is an unbelievable gift even in utero. I see my children grow in kindness and empathy. My willful 4yo has matured so much in the past few weeks. I see the wheels turning in her mind when my prone-to-tantruming strong-willed girl says, “Okay, mom. I’ll obey. Because I’m being a good big sister.” My 6yo draws family portraits featuring the baby and whispers sweet nothings to my belly. My 9yo has practiced preparing meals, running the dishwasher, and loading laundry. He now LOOKS for things to clean up and do to be helpful, because he knows I need help. They have the opportunity to practice loving even when it’s hard in loving two helpless people through this season, me and the baby, one of whom they’ve never even met!
When we accept an individualistic attitude that can only laud self-sufficiency and productivity we lose the sense of the value of each human person. How can we reconcile such an attitude with valuing the unborn, the elderly, those with medical conditions that require lifelong care, the refugee, the poor? If every life matters, we are called to care for each life. In fact, doing so should be our privilege and our joy. And it would change the world. I wish I could look every woman in an HG pregnancy in the eye and tell her, “you are not a burden. You are a gift. Your baby is a gift. You are valuable and deserving of support. There is no way to put a price on the work you are doing in carrying this life because it is of infinite worth.”
Every woman deserves to be honored for who she is, not merely what she can accomplish or produce. Every child deserves that. Every human being deserves that.
If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other.