Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Together Through Pain {hyperemesis}

Today is our last installment in this series, and I have learned so much! It has been a serious blessing to hear over and over the way the honesty from the guest bloggers has served y'all. I simply cannot thank these women enough. My prayer is that the effects of this series continue far into the future. There are so many more topics we could have covered, but I hope you can see some of the themes of caring that these girls have presented and use that in your unique situations.

I seriously debated whether or not to contribute to this group of posts. While it is true that mulling over my experience with hyperemesis was in some way the inspiration God used to get this series rolling, I still felt hesitant to put a post about a 9 month trial next to those involving chronic illness or miscarriage. And yet, I've found a great void when it comes to material on this topic, and for reasons I'll go into further, it seems to be something that can be really tricky for people to understand how to help.

I'm doing this with a sort of ghost writer. A girlfriend of mine is currently in the mire of this valley. Through correspondence she has helped bring back the memories of what it really was like to walk through this, and she has had some raw, helpful things to say. So with her permission, I'll be quoting her a couple times.

When You Can't Understand Your Own Trial, But Others Think They Can
I have told people that because of my pregnancies, if my girls had come before my boys, there would be no boys in our family. With my pregnancies with my boys, I experienced serious morning sickness. I remember with my first the 12 week mark passing, holding out for all the promises of the nausea and vomiting to end. Then the 15 week mark. Then the 18. It was my first clue that my body wasn't going to function the way all the books told me it was supposed to. Still it was just morning sickness and somewhat manageable; halfway through my pregnancy, my nausea subsided to an occasional event.

Then there were the girls' pregnancies. If I thought straight-up morning sickness was bad, I was about to enter the world of hyperemesis. If you don't know what hyperemesis is, let me put it in terms anyone can understand- imagine the worst flu you've ever had, the kind that leaves you crawling to the bathroom with your gut cramping from all the vomiting. Now image that it kept going. For nine months. Until your throat burns, your stomach involuntarily tightens in atrociously painful spasms, you're too weak to stand, your head feels it's going to explode from the pressure, you struggle to process one complete thought, and most times you're left incapable of functioning on your own. This is hyperemesis. I'm not trying to be overly dramatic in describing it, but simply trying explain difference between this and morning sickness. It's quite misunderstood since only 2% of women experience true hyperemesis.

So how can you be a friend to the woman you love who is walking through this? Here are a couple thoughts...

1. Avoid identifying
Without exception, the couple of other women that I have talked to who dealt with hyperemesis found this the most unhelpful thing in this trial: most women who had experienced morning sickness fall into the trap imaging they could identify with you. It's tricky, I know! All women who have been pregnant want to identify with other pregnant women. It's like our little "war story" bonding, but in this case it is so unhelpful. I remember having a woman go on about the nausea she used to feel while pregnant and how she wished she could have at least thrown up. I listened with a forced smile on my face while my throat burned from having to face my toilet for millionth time. The words: "I know what you're going through" felt like nails on a chalkboard.

My friend and "ghost writer" puts it much more bluntly: 
"Many women think they know what you are going through, but really don't have the slightest clue. Yesterday I threw up so much that I started to throw up blood and my nose was bleeding and throat was burning and my stomach was permanently cramped from all the pumping/spasms. I asked someone for help and they told me to take heart in knowing that God specifically designed this suffering for me. I went to another friend for help, she basically said she would tell me she was sorry but that she wasn't going to because I should be grateful that it is a sign of a healthy pregnancy...  It was just so unhelpful and I don't want to hear that I am being ungodly or that I'm ungrateful for pregnancy. I was tossing in bed until 3am, not just because of nausea, but also struggling with battling roots of bitterness and just pleading to God for mercy. Every minute seems like a year and sometimes the suffering is so bad that your mind feels like its going insane and having to escape to an alternate reality." 
I found it interesting that the only two women in my church that I knew could truly identify after their own journeys through hyperemesis both responded in the exact same way to me. They simply looked me deep in the eye, and said, "I'm so sorry." Those three simple words felt like salve on gaping wound.

2. Understand that she might be lonely
While this may not be true for all women, I found hyperemesis to be a very lonely place especially during my first trimester; hours upon hours with my only scenery change being from the bedroom wall to the mouth of my toilet. I felt out of the loop as week after week ticked by. A couple dear friends called me on a regular basis just to talk and let me know that they hadn't forgotten about me. They talked to me about more than just my nausea, and for a few minutes I almost felt human again. One of the sweetest gestures was when two friends I had been meeting with frequently came to the house for our regular time together. I spent the time laid out on the couch, and they were so patient as I excused myself to the bathroom when the nausea was too much. It made me feel loved and included.

3. Be careful when handing out advice
Many well-meaning people, some strangers, told me what I should do to get rid of my "morning sickness". And I tried it all, ginger tea, magnetic bracelets, every kind of vitamin B known to man, without even a hint of relief. (Tea doesn't work to well when it's coming right back up!) After awhile I learned to just smile and nod. But in the end, the reminder that nothing could be done to curb the sickness brought fresh frustration instead of help.

4. Help carry her physical burden
Behind any woman with hyperemesis is a husband and maybe other children who probably haven't had a home-cooked meal in weeks. She knows it; and sometimes the guilt of it can compound the trial. Bring them a meal! Even though mom may not be able to eat it (or even smell it), the thought of her family getting to eat something beside pizza will help her sleep easier.

Clean her toilets. (If she's comfortable with that.) Talk about being a servant to all! This may sound gross, but I know that that having to hang my head over a filthy toilet that I was too weak to clean was like adding insult to injury.

Take her other kids. They can probably recite every episode of Wonder Pets by now and could use a change of scenery while mom gets a quiet nap.

Even if you see a friend with hyperemesis out in public later in her pregnancy, understand that she may be just be to the point that she can conjure up some version of normalcy while quietly taking breaks to keep her tell-tale signs of hyperemesis hidden in the bathroom. Even if she's tired of talking about her trial and keeps quiet, she probably still needs your care!

5. Help carry her spiritual burden 
There were times when hyperemesis messed with my mind. It's exhausting to be intensely ill week after week. I felt like I couldn't put a complete thought together, let alone a prayer that consisted of more than, "Please help!" Avoid trying to help your friend see the reason for this trial. My friend writes again:
"Proverbs 18:14 says, 'A man's spirit will endure sickness,but a crushed spirit who can bear?'  
A commentary says: 'A person's spirit, if it is hopeful and good, can endure sickness and adversity, but if the spirit is despondent, even when there is nothing wrong, then life itself becomes difficult to bear'
I don't think women understand how their words can crush a broken spirit, when God uses a hopeful spirit to endure sickness and to enable a woman to persevere. Not that we should give other women that much power, but sometimes words can crush or force unrealistic expectations that crush."  
Give your friend words of hope from God's Word. Remind your friend that God is the God of the valley and validate she is in a deep, dark valley. Remind her that her Father's power is made perfect in her weakness, that when she is weak, He is strong. Let your friend know that when she can't pray, you will be praying for her. Set your the alarm on your smart phone to go off at the time of the day when her nausea is the worst. Let her know that you will be praying for her during that time.

Let's walk together humbly, willing to get down in the valley together.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for sharing that Alyssa. It was very helpful. I hope I wasn't adding insult to injury when you were walking that path. I remember it well and I didn't know what to do to help you... Thanks for encouraging me as I seek to serve others in similar situations.


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