24/7 morning sickness -– but still a sense of humor

Caitlin Shetterly’s memoir, “Made for You and Me: Going West, Going Broke, Finding Home,” tells the story of her “dream” move, by car, from Maine to California, with her husband, dog and cat. Once there, she learns she’s pregnant, unfortunately timed nearly perfectly with the country’s recession and the loss of work for her husband. An additional complication is a difficult condition she develops known as hyperemesis gravidarum.

Hyperemesis gravidarum occurs in only about 1 to 2 percent of pregnant women. It is a severe form of morning sickness. Persistent nausea and vomiting often lead to dehydration, hospitalization, IV fluids and monitoring.

A Maine resident, Shetterly is the founder and artistic director of the Winter Harbor Theatre Company. She is also a co-founder of Maine Women Write, a statewide book club bringing Maine women authors, readers, libraries and bookstores together. She teaches creative nonfiction at the Salt Institute for Documentary Studies in Porland.

Shetterly took some time to answer a few questions about that difficult time in her life.

Q: In what ways did this condition affect your relationship with your husband?

A: You know, it actually made us closer! Poor Dan, though. We had just crossed America and moved to a new city and he had to do everything – walk our dog, search for work, unpack our stuff, work, etc. While I spent the first five weeks of my pregnancy mostly in bed.

Q: Given the nature of hyperemesis gravidarum, how were you able to keep some level of optimism?

A: Well, the great thing about this particular condition is that it’s only going to last nine months – even though that can seem like an eternity. And, also, at the end of it there’s a baby, so I can’t imagine a nicer consolation prize that that!

Q: What kinds of things did you learn from your doctor or other resources that helped alleviate symptoms?

A: Firstly, I tried to have a sense of humor. There was this one hilarious morning when Dan was desperate for me to eat something and made me some scrambled eggs. I forced them down, because I could sense that if I didn’t, Dan might just start to cave. A few moments later I ran, followed by our dog, Hopper, into the bathroom and emptied my stomach. Hopper stood there watching, my guardian angel, and then turned and walked out to the kitchen and threw up on poor Dan’s feet! Another thing I did was swim. I went, as often as I could pull myself out of bed, to the Santa Monica pool and swam outside in the lovely L.A. sun. Strangely, as I swam, my nausea dissipated. So that was my window – one which I was so grateful for.

Q: You refer to a spiritual awakening after hearing a sermon describing Mary’s hardships around the time of delivery of Jesus during which you begin to see things differently. Can you share some of the thoughts you had, and how this may have affected your outlook toward other pregnant women?

A: You know, I don’t care who you are or what you believe, when your child comes out of you, it’s a miracle. And, for me, being blessed to have a body that was able, even through a struggle, to carry my son to birth was something I was so grateful for. In fact, I actually felt I’d been waiting my whole life to do this. I just didn’t know it until it happened. I think it takes tremendous courage to be heavy with child and, also, such bravery to be a mother. And then, of course, you always feel such kinship with anyone else who is journeying on that same, beautiful path.

Q: Although statistically, hyperemesis gravidarum occurs more often in first pregnancies and multiple-birth pregnancies, given what you experienced, would you think about embarking on another pregnancy?

A: So funny you ask this. This is a nightly topic between my husband and me. We have so many things to weigh, but a big one is the illness piece and what would happen to us if I were taken out of the action for five months again. Stay tuned on that, though, because babies have mysterious ways of coming to us, even when we think we aren’t ready.

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