I whole-heartedly sympathize with pregnant women being nauseous and sensitive to smells. But do we need to talk about it all of the time? Does it have to dominate every conversation?
Molly is 8-weeks pregnant with twins today, and she is experiencing extreme nausea and smell-sensitivity. I can only imagine what this must be like, especially for her as she actually has emetophobia (phobia of vomiting). I completely understand that being nauseous causes her to be incredibly anxious all of the time, and talking about it helps ease her anxiety. I am one of the most patient people I know (if not the most patient – I have the word “patience” tattooed on me for Christ’s-sake), but I am having an extremely difficult time dealing with listening to every detail of every item eaten (or attempted to have been eaten), how sick she then felt, at what hour her nausea went from a rating of 5 out of 10 to 7 out of 10, how many minutes the Zofran worked for, how the smell of my empty dinner plate is bothering her, how we can’t do “normal” things like go to a movie because it smells in the movie theater, etc.
There is some background to why this is bothering me so much. Before the pregnancy, there was often a lot of attention around Molly feeling sick. She actually does have a very sensitive stomach and many food items don’t agree with her, especially dairy (both lactose and dairy fat). She’s gone through a lot with doctors in the past trying to diagnose her, putting her on various diets and medications, that in the end didn’t solve the problem. But she’s also very somatic – even the mere suggestion that one could get sick from someone or something makes her almost instantly feel sick. If a co-worker has the flu, she “comes down with it” the next day, even when the incubation period hasn’t yet passed. She’s open about being a self-diagnosed hypochondriac, but the point is that even before the pregnancy, there was a lot of attention given, and often, to how she feels sick, even when physiologically she’s most likely well. She thinks this is linked to her feeling that as a child, she got the most attention when she was sick. She’ll be the first to admit that drawing attention to feeling sick is perhaps a way of simply getting support and attention when she needs it.
I have no doubt that she physiologically feels nauseous, and in no way do I mean to belittle that experience. And maybe I’m an asshole for writing this (but this is my blog to express how I’m experiencing pregnancy while not being the one who’s actually pregnant, goshdarnit), but there’s probably also some psychological underpinnings to her feeling nauseous, too. Just knowing that pregnant women typically feel sick, usually until three months or so (but can last longer), could have something to do with it. The irony that her feeling sick started the very night of our appointment where we learned there were twins is not lost on me. A part of me wonders if it will magically go away at the three-month mark.
So, combine this baseline need for attention around feeling sick with the hormones of pregnancy, a physiological reason to feel nauseous, and probably some of a psychological origin of feeling nauseous and you get one very anxious wife who needs to talk about it all of the time. I can support through a lot, and I can tolerate even more, but this is really starting to push my buttons. It has been really difficult to pinpoint why it bothers me so much.
I really want to be a supportive partner throughout the pregnancy, and I was finding myself being short with her and basically shutting down when she would start talking about feeling sick – and this behavior is anything but supportive. So I saw someone at my school’s counseling center, in hopes they could help me come up with some coping strategies for when when I’m feeling irritated about listening to all of this. In reality, I sought out talking with someone also because, if something bad happens with this pregnancy, then I know I will need to be Molly’s primary support…and I need to have a backup support in place for me, too. At the appointment, I talked a lot about fear and anxiety, including my history of being incredibly anxious and my current fears about losing the pregnancy.
From the moment we saw those two pink lines on the positive pregnancy test, I said that I didn’t want our lives to become the pregnancy, at least until the three-month mark when the risk of miscarriage is lower, and until then, I wanted it to just be something happening in our lives. This has been my way of dealing with my fears and anxiety of something bad happening/miscarriage and preparing myself for the worst. That’s when the counselor made a connection for me that I hadn’t been able to make myself (isn’t that why we see counselors/therapists in the first place?). She suggested that maybe I have a hard time listening to Molly talk about feeling sick, because it brings up my own anxiety about the pregnancy. Me shutting down and not wanting to listen to Molly’s struggles with nausea is because it forces me to face my own fears of miscarriage, when really all I want to do is continue with my life as “normal” until we reach three months. That’s when I realized that maybe all of this doesn’t revolve around Molly’s anxiety, but rather revolves around mine.
I know there’s nothing particularly magical about the three-month mark, but it’s the point everyone talks about as being “out of the woods.” I know the risks won’t be much different between two months-30 days and three months, but it’s a goal. It’s the time I (and many many other expectant people) choose to lessen their worrying. I have so much anxiety and fear, that I need to have a time that I can look to as a goal. And until then, I still don’t want the pregnancy to become our lives, and while I realize Molly may have no choice but for it to become her life, I need it to stay in the background until this magical goal day.
I do think there is a compromise to be found. I probably haven’t expressed to Molly exactly how anxious I am about it, so maybe telling her that will help her realize that talking about it all of the time makes that worse for me. I also think we both need to build external supports, and having just moved to the area makes that difficult. I’ve joined a couple trans-based groups, which are mostly geared to provide support around transgender issues, but both groups have at least provided a sounding board for me.
The most ironic thing is that her feeling sick is actually a good sign, as that means her hCG level is still high (and pregnancy is likely continuing). For now I just take it day-by-day; every night and every morning that goes by without Molly mentioning cramps or bleeding, I am consciously thankful for.