I have been thinking a lot about courage in preparation for this week’s Finish the Sentence Friday, in which we are to share the bravest thing we’ve ever done. I don’t consider “courage” to be one of my defining attributes- I’m kind of a wuss, and I care too much about other people’s opinions to act “out of the box” very often. Which makes me not very brave. I tried to remember if there was a moment when my quick-thinking and level-headed disposition saved one of my children from a near-disaster. Then I remembered that I am neither quick-thinking nor level-headed.
And I wondered- can it be considered brave to merely survive something challenging? Is it innately courageous to come out the other end of a stressful tunnel, when there really isn’t any alternative but to get through it? I’ve decided that yes, it is sometimes brave simply to make the best of a scary situation. Which is why I’m going to go out on a limb and say,
The bravest thing I ever did was to give birth to my second daughter, Sophie, two years ago, after an extremely challenging pregnancy.
See what I mean? How is it brave that I endured a pregnancy? But I will give myself credit for this- I could have fallen apart, had I really stepped back from the situation to see precisely how miserable I was. I didn’t really have the perspective until I was many months removed from the situation. So here’s what happened:
As soon as I got pregnant, I started experiencing regular heartburn. Not that jarring, right, given that indigestion and heartburn can frequently accompany a pregnancy? Then I started to have difficulty swallowing. One night, when I was in my early second trimester, my dinner got stuck in my throat and I threw up every ten minutes for hours. I couldn’t even drink water. My OB quickly decided I needed a GI consult, and in the meantime, put me on a medication that would help me swallow.
The medication worked surprisingly well, and although ideally, an immediate endoscopy would be the best course of action, in light of my pregnancy we decided to wait until after delivery. The next few months passed with regular bouts of heartburn, but without any additional frightening experiences. However, by my third trimester, I continued to have frequent reflux, increasing difficulty swallowing both food and liquid, and I often woke up choking.
Every time I would have an appointment with my OB or GI doctor, we would form a new hypothesis about what might be causing these symptoms, but it boiled down to this- nobody had any idea what was wrong with me. This purgatory of not knowing seemed to be a recurring theme in my life; it wasn’t the first time I experienced unusual medication symptoms and waited months for a diagnosis. Those who have endured unexplained medical conditions or watched their children suffer without a diagnosis understand what a uniquely maddening situation this can be.
By the end of my pregnancy, I was attempting to choke down a daily cocktail of ineffective medications in between vomiting episodes. I had to quit my job after one unfortunate morning, in which I spent the minutes preceding my class throwing up in the bathroom; I walked into my classroom in tears, finally realizing that there was no way I could do my job anymore. It wasn’t worth it. I felt a mixture of desperation and relief when I walked out to my car that morning, knowing that I would spend the remaining month of my pregnancy at home on the couch, clocking in as a professional up-chucker.
Every 5-7 days I would go to the hospital to receive several bags of fluids, as I was so dehydrated that my bi-weekly urine samples looked like a shot of orange juice. I would rejoice when a small bowl of mashed potatoes stayed down, even though I knew it was the only a matter of hours before I would be throwing up again. I gave up drinking water all together, and sipped ginger ale throughout the day, celebrating whenever I managed to retain 20 ounces of fluid in one day.
I was a wreck, and my medical team still had no idea what was the cause of my bizarre swallowing and vomiting. My OB team didn’t seem overly concerned; likely they had seen many cases of hyper-emesis in their careers, but I knew my condition was more complicated. I couldn’t swallow anything. They performed several ultrasounds to confirm the fact that my unborn baby was a healthy size and thriving despite the lack of incoming nutrients. My extreme dehydration resulted in contractions that added to my discomfort; as if it weren’t already uncomfortable to spend 8 hours a day flopping around on the couch like a beached whale watching 10 daily episodes of The Closer. But who was I to complain? I had suffered an ectopic pregnancy several months prior to conceiving Sophie, and the fact that my baby was healthy dwarfed the importance of my own health and comfort.
My husband maintained a sense of absolute calm and responded neutrally whenever I would stand up from the dinner table to go barf in the sink, or worse yet, throw up into the car trashcan while we were running errands. I think his unflappable temperament may have been the only reason I never actually lost my shit and succumbed to panic: “Oh my GOD, I’m nine months pregnant, I’m not gaining any weight, I can’t drink water, and I can’t swallow my food! I’m going to DIE!!!”
As it turns out, I had a condition known as achalacia, in which my esophagus had become peaked, resulting in a lack of muscle propulsion to push my food down. Additionally, the muscle at the bottom of the esophagus remains tight, which causes food and liquid to get stuck on its way down. This condition had absolutely nothing to do with my pregnancy- it was simply a bad coincidence.
When my daughter was 2 weeks old, I had the endoscopy that confirmed this diagnosis. Everybody hoped that my symptoms would go away after delivery, but they didn’t, and I couldn’t stand to experience one more day or week of throwing up. When Sophie was 3 weeks old, my GI doctor performed a procedure that successfully opened my esophagus again, and though I may always be on medication and finish meals freakishly slowly, I am able to eat normally again.
Sophie turns 2 years old this weekend (sob!) and I can hardly believe that I made it through this surreal, disorienting, sometimes terrifying experience. Does that make me brave? I’m not sure. The actually birth of my daughter was one of the most powerful and redeeming experiences I have ever had, and perhaps even an act of bravery in and of itself. If you are the type of person who enjoys reading birth stories, (I totally am) you can read this post I wrote a year ago in honor of my daughter’s first birthday. It’s a happy birth story, in case you were worried that the post is a chronicle of 57 hours of labor followed by an emergency C-section.
I know there are people who have survived far, far worse than I have, and in addition to those brave folks, there are people who have made a conscious choice to do something selfless or heroic. Read the links below for Finish the Sentence Friday, and maybe you’ll find one of those stories! But I think at the end of a harrowing experience, even mere survival can be an act of courage.
Oh, and happy second birthday, Sophie. You were worth every second of misery.
Happy 2nd Birthday Sophie!! But seriously, I cannot imagine what you went through. I had horrible nausea and heartburn for about 5 months with each of my pregnancies, but never did I actually throw up. And seriously just reading this my heart what out to you for all you did go through. You are definitely brave for this and so much more. And don’t sell yourself short on that one ever!! 🙂
Thanks Janine! I know it was no walk in the park for you, either!
I think you were totally brave, and still are for sharing. I did a similar thing tonight where I confessed to not actually feeling brave but concluding that sometimes, surviving unexpected life things, is brave. I had no idea you had such a hard time swallowing during your pregnancy with Sophie. What a scary and horrible thing. And yeah, I agree with you that she was most absolutely worth it. And also? You, pregnant, photos, are over the top adorable. Happy, Happy Birthday to Sophie. May it be beautiful and princessy and perfect and amazing.
Thanks pal. Her birthday party is going to be kind of lame- more for the adults- but at least there will be a Wiggles cake! Score!
Wow, Stephanie, what an ordeal! I cannot imagine going through pregnancy like that. I think it is indeed brave! My post is not about a particularly “stand up and fight the man” or “rescue orphans from a burning vehicle” brand of bravery, but about the every day, show up, try, fail, try, keep going type of bravery. I just LOVE your pregnancy pictures! I so wish I had more pics from my pregnancies!! Lovely lovely post, my friend.
I LOVED your post. I kind of wish I had taken more pregnant photos, too. I didn’t think about it as much as I wish I had. And yes, the pregnancy wasn’t great, but it’s amazing how bad I realize it actually was, now that I look back on it with perspective!
You were very brave, Stephanie – you don’t give yourself enough credit. You took care of your daughter while you were miserable and scared, and you survived. And I can’t think of a better reward for your bravery – happy birthday Sophie! Oh – and you wore much cuter maternity clothes than I did. I don’t think I would want to share mine!
Thanks for that, Dana. Here’s my confession: sometimes I wish I could wear my maternity clothes all the time. :p
Oh my–those CHEEKS. Edible.
And yes, I think it WAS brave to make it through that pregnancy. Yikes–sounds like the worst I’ve heard, I think.
My youngest will be 2 in early Nov. I didn’t realize they were so close in age!
Thanks Nina. It’s amazing, whenever I hear horror stories about pregnancy and bedrest, or 9 months of morning sickness, I always think that is sounds awful. Then I remember that my pregnancy was actually pretty bad. And I didn’t realize how close our kids were either- how funny!
Oh, I would call that brave! And also, you deserve a medal for surviving that. Yikes! Happy Birthday to Sophie!
It most certainly DOES make you brave because I would have lost not only lunch, but my mind. Wowsa. Sophie is a doll.
Yeah, she’s a total doll. Mostly. 🙂 And thanks for that!
Your esophagus was closed? And they didn’t catch that? I suppose that they couldn’t do more invasive testing because you were pregnant, but hell. They should have had an inkling.
I’m sorry that you had to endure all that pain and you did and that makes you a rock star.
Happy Birthday sweet cheeks. You have a brave and beautiful momma.
Kind of crazy, right? Yeah, there wasn’t any way for them to see in there without an endoscopy, which is supposedly risky when you are pregnant, with the anesthesia. But sometimes I wonder if it would have been better to just do one and get some answers. It pretty much sucked. And thanks for that! 🙂
We’ve all jumped our own hurdles, and any time it concerns our health, it is scary. And you said it best: the purgatory of not knowing is wrenching. Good for you for keeping your head about you (as best you could!), and birthing a beautiful baby girl…again!! xo
Well put, my friend! And thanks! Also, I should have totally added a WARNING: DO NOT READ THIS POST IF PREGNANT! Sorry, pal. 🙁
I totally think you were brave! That would have been frustrating and a little scary even if you weren’t pregnant. Keeping it together and soldiering on through the whole thing is certainly a brave thing to have accomplished! (BTW – my dad has that condition. He has had his esophagus stretched at least 2 or 3 times and he is the slowest eater I know. Better than another trip to the ER to dislodge food, though!)
No way Lisa! I have *never* heard of anyone else who has it! Wow! What a coincidence!
Oh my gosh, Stephanie!!! What an awful ordeal for you. I’d say you definitely were brave. No doubt about that. Surviving is one thing. But you did more than just that.
Happy Birthday to your sweet little one!! I could just nibble on those cheeks!!! What a cutie 🙂
Thanks for that, Jen, I appreciate it! And yeah… I nibble her cheeks a lot! 🙂
HELL YES that makes you brave! I would have lost my shit, completely. I would have insisted on checking into the hospital and being hooked up to IVs and whatnot.
Thanks- that makes me feel better! I have no idea how I didn’t lose my shit altogether. Maybe the calm husband? No idea.
That little face – gah! What a cutie! It’s easy for me to say it’s worth all the pain, but I mean, just look at those big brown eyes. 😉
No seriously, to go 9 months without enjoying food I think would kill me, so my hat’s off to you.
I know- those eyes! The cheeks! I love so much about toddlers…
Wow! Glad they were finally able to diagnose and correct/relieve the problem! I thought it was me walking around with that storm cloud over my head, but that really was lousy timing!! 🙁
It was definitely a relief to have a diagnosis- that’s for sure!
OMG! That’s a HORRIBLE story! You couldn’t SWALLOW?! So you didn’t get the enjoy the great things of pregnancy, like endless bowls of Kraft dinner and jars of Nutella? Oh honey, I’m SO sorry. BUT, look on the bright side – you didn’t have any baby weight to lose! 😉 xo
I had a few good months when I got to be a hog. Which was good, because those few months had to tide me over for the rest of the pregnancy in terms of calories and weight gain. And yep, I just slipped back into my old jeans a few weeks after delivery! (That’s not bragging- two years later, those pants no longer fit. I suck.)
Any pregnancy is brave but yours takes the cake. Lordy! Congrats on surviving!
Thanks Sarah! I agree- pregnancy and parenthood is a courageous undertaking no matter what the circumstances!
Oh, Steph, I had no idea that your pregnancy was that bad! You were definitely very, very brave. I can’t even imagine. I couldn’t even handle it when I had some intense nausea during my first trimester. But I never even threw up once. Wow! That’s really intense. And a wonderful birthday to Sophie!
Yeah, it was pretty intense. So interesting to look back on it now that it’s a distant memory!
Oh wow. I think you can consider yourself brave for that, my dear. When I was 7 months pregnant I tried to get off a PLANE as it pushed away from the gate because I was so uncomfortable. I think my husband gets the medal for bravery that day….
Oh, I can totally picture that! And thanks for the solidarity! 🙂
What a damn nightmare!! As I was reading your story, I thought, “Wait…I think she has achalacia, but I don’t know that it’s associated with pregnancy so maybe not?” I absolutely can’t believe you faced achalacia during a pregnancy. How frightening and horrific. That you made it through is DEFINITE proof of bravery in my book. Dealing with something like that on an even playing field is tough enough. Dealing with it under the physical, emotional, and hormonal stress of pregnancy is beyond tough. You are a rock star and a hero. Period!
Happy, happy birthday to your sweet Sophie! She’s adorable! –Lisa
I always told my students that courage meant you were afraid but you did the right thing anyway. I’m pretty sure you fit that. I had a hard second pregnancy and about 2 minutes after my daughter was born, I broke down in the OR. They thought I was hyperventilating but I was just crying. Out of relief and joy that it was over and that my daughter had survived when I was certain that she was lost in my first trimester. Millions have had babies which means there are millions of courageous people out there. It IS hard.
Oh, how I remember the daily or twice/thrice phone calls to update me on Stephanie’s ability to keep food down. Sometimes it’s worse for the “loved one” to watch from afar; you really wish you could jut take the pain and worry away and saddle it on your own shoulders. I felt that every day. I do remember Stephanie’s OB Doc saying that unborn babies are like parasites, “They take from their mommy what they need to grow and leave what is left – or not – for mommy.” That gave me such comfort; I knew my unborn granddaughter was thriving, and I also knew my daughter would be OK, albeit the number of IV drips she had to endure. As we celebrated Sophie’s 2nd birthday yesterday, I remembered vividly the month I spent at their house a year ago, a week before Sophie’s birth, and the weeks after. Hats off to my daughter, who had to endure, my son-in-law, for being a “rock,” and the joy of the birth of Sophie Jane.