Just the other day I saw an image of a Southeastern landscape in mid-winter. Absent was the refreshing tang of snow, there was only a snarl of bare tree limbs against an equally bare grey sky, dead grass the color of straw covering the ground. Seeing it brought a rush of nausea starting in the center of my body, where my core used to be, and rushing up through the top of my head. I looked away. The sight of bare trees makes me sick.
I was about six weeks pregnant when the nausea set in. It was early February. We'd survived the women's march in DC, and the inauguration. The four pound creature who flails around inside me all day long and hosts nightly basketball tournaments for herself, the yet to be born mystery girl we now call Ollie, was then just the size of a gnat.
I'd been feeling fine since learning she was on her way- better than fine, actually, as my very first pregnancy symptom was a complete lack of the cyclical chronic body pain I'd experienced for the past 18 months. I'd completely deluded myself into thinking that I'd skirt pass the first trimester without a drop of morning sickness or an ounce of fatigue. After all, what could pregnancy dole out that Lyme hadn't already punished me with? With my extensive understanding of bone broth and selenium, etc, who on earth was better nourished than I? A number of the wholistic pregnancy and preconception books I'd read thoroughly had all but assured me that women who follow a specific regiment of diet and supplements will entirely avoid the uncomfortable symptoms of pregnancy- even the pain of labor. This is because natural, tapped-in women (like me) are just a littlest bit wiser, healthier, and overall better than everyone else.
The sickness hit at 6 weeks, just like normal, and lasted till week 12. Just six weeks, but in first-trimester adjusted time that equals about 25 months. Time slowed down, time began to crawl, some evenings around 7pm time came to a revolting stop all together. It was a sickness that I'd never experienced, an all consuming nausea coupled with a hunger that I could only describe, at the time, as desperate.
This may have been exacerbated by the fact that I began the endeavor about 15 pounds beneath my ideal body weight. Maybe not, maybe that's just how it is. I have nothing to compare it with. All I know is that every day was a battle against the mind-blowing nausea that could only be cured by eating copious amounts of one thing- one specific thing and that thing only.
Figuring out that acceptable food and where to find it was like playing unsettling game of slots. In my imagination I'd pull the lever and watch as the spinning icons arranged themselves: Italian food? No, spin it again. Sandwich? No- GOD no. Chicken? I'm going to throw up, I can feel the contents in my stomach start to rise, I have to figure this out- soup? Yes- Yes that's it! What kind of soup? Minestrone? NO! Pho? Yes! From where? Wild Ginger? NO! The tea house up the street- that's it!
Then I'd grab my jacket and a book and drive as fast as safety would permit to the tea house, where I'd place a hand firmly over my mouth and try not to look desperate or deranged as I waited for the soup to arrive in front of me on the table, neatly arranged next to the iced tea and the side plate of lime slices.
Most of the time I could enjoy the allowable food only once, and then it would be off limits- inconceivable, really- for the remainder of the six weeks. Other dishes I could eat into oblivion. I devoured the aforementioned Pho 13 times in two weeks. Upon hearing this, Dave, who had been out of town, sank down into chair in the kitchen, rested his head in his hands and said, "That's like...two hundred dollars of soup."
The secret food was the key to the day. If I correctly identified it in my head was able to locate and consume it in a timely fashion, I'd buy myself a few hours of feeling somewhat normal. Those were the good days, the pockets of relief. When the craving was more slippery to identify, was beyond my ability to locate within the city limits, required more effort to create than either David or myself had to give, or hit in the middle of the night when the food world was asleep-those were dark times.
Even beyond my own physical complaints, those were dark times. The new president was appointing his cabinet members - Betsty Devos, who believes that schools should be stocked with guns to prevent Grizzly attacks, was now in charge of American public schools, climate change denier Scott Pruitt is the head of the EPA. A white haired lady in my gerrymandering action group who knit her way through every meeting and constantly swayed back and forth in a manner I found oddly soothing described listening to the news every day as a fresh horror. "What fresh horror awaits me tomorrow?" She asked, rocking in her seat. "That's what I want to know."
That's the very question I found myself waking up to every day, my first thought of the day. I suppose I should have been thrilled out of my mind that I was pregnant at all, I'd been terrified that the absurd amount of medications I'd swallowed the past year would have left me sterilized. But the gnat-embryo was nothing to me at the moment but a hazy potential of an imagination baby, nothing but a constellation of nausea and fatigue and soreness. The news headlines were the absolute opposite: hard, happening, real.
I suppose they had the fatigue and nausea in common.
I never actually threw up. I wonder if that would have been better in a way. Instead the nausea swelled and took up epic proportions, reaching no conclusion, finding no retched relief. It wasn't only smells that set me off, although that was an insane trick of the brain. The world was a carnival of unfortunate and eerily specific smells. (One day David walked in the house and I stopped in my tracks, halfway to the door to greet him. "Why does it smell suddenly like someone ate a lot of meat in a hurry, then had a hard work out at the gym?" I asked, a full on accusation. "....Accurate," he said, feebly, setting down his bag on the living room table. I wonder if, before walking in the door every evening after the work day he'd ask himself, "What fresh horror....")
Certain sounds brought on the nausea, the spinning all-consuming sense of ill-ease. There was a certain early-morning bird call. I grew to detest it. Then I detested all birds and the racket they made. Colors and shapes did the same thing- the faintly orange straw-like grass that covered the mountainsides, the tangle of bare branches against the winter sky. How had I never noticed before how sickening these sights were?!
The only solution, then, was to avoid as much stimulation as possible. I put myself to bed by 6pm. Eyes lightly closed, fan on, an episode of Pod Save America playing if it were a Monday or Thursday. This is when time began to slouch. Making it out of the first trimester was looking more and more impossible as the minutes crawled by, a slow cockroach marching down an endless hallway. I had to change something. I had to go back in time and change the election outcome. I had to transport myself to Antarctica, where there was nothing but clean whiteness, freezing air and no smells.
If those things were not to be, then I'd have to get a job. I had a job, of course, but I worked from home, and home housed my cast-iron skillets, and they smelled terribly, as if the ghost of every bit of meat they'd ever roasted were coming back to haunt me. If that wasn't bad enough, I was lonely. I needed a job with co-workers who would break me out of stupor of political podcasts and white noise machines. Something that required me to get out of bed, put on clothes and leave the house.
Around week ten, I sat up in bed. I had an idea.