Danielle Bean, a wife and mother of eight, is editorial director of Faith & Family magazine and author of My Cup of Tea, Mom to Mom, Day to Day, and most recently Small Steps for Catholic Moms. Read more of her blogging at Faith & Family Live and DanielleBean.com.
I know morning sickness. I have known it—intimately—eight times, in fact.
I have never needed to be hospitalized with severe pregnancy-related nausea, or hyperemesis gravidarum, but I have known women who have and I have nothing but sympathy for women who suffer from this severe form of morning sickness.
After my experience with morning sickness with my last pregnancy, I was prompted to write a post describing the insanity of so-called “morning sickness” and I have heard from countless women since then saying they too had suffered through months of sickness that no one seemed to understand or take seriously.
Like I said, I know that morning sickness is real, I know that some women have it even worse than I do, and I have oodles of sympathy for any mom who suffers in that way. It was with great sadness, though, that I read about Cheryl Harrison, a 34-year-old mom who decided to abort her baby because she could not cope with the sickness.
She has no illusions about what she did:
‘‘It was the most horrendous decision I have ever made. I know I can’t have any more children, even if they develop a treatment for morning sickness. I had severe hypertension, I was putting my life in danger and I sacrificed my baby’s life. I could never risk that again.”
She felt desperate because she had no support. Harrison has one child already—and the memories of the sickness she suffered that first time were vivid in her mind:
“When I was pregnant with Scarlett I thought I had some sort of undetected cancer. I was vomiting morning, noon and night for my entire pregnancy and my mouth watered 24 hours a day. I was extremely depressed. I had a good job, a career that I loved, but I couldn’t even stand up. There was no way I could work.
‘The 20-week scan showed I had a beautiful baby girl but I was almost disappointed because I just wanted the pregnancy to end. I was desperate to have another baby and thought I would be mentally prepared and able to cope, but the sickness was worse than ever. I had one day where I could not move from the bathroom, I was sick 27 times. I couldn’t get Scarlett anything to eat even though she was starving. I dragged myself across the floor, managed to get her some chocolate from the fridge and thought ‘I can’t do this again’.’‘
The fact is, she could have done it again, if she had been given proper medical care and support. Moms who suffer from this kind of debilitating illness need help—keeping their jobs, managing their homes, and caring for their children.
I am disappointed that the article refers to Harrison’s hyperemesis gravidarum as “morning sickness” because I think that term trivializes the seriousness of her condition. I also hate that the subtitle reads, “A mother has aborted her healthy baby because she could not cope with the chronic effects of her morning sickness.” As if the shocking and scandalous thing here is that she threw away the life of a “healthy” baby. People throw away the lives of “healthy” babies all the time, for reasons even more trivial than the fact that pregnancy renders them so sick they can’t function.
The most scandalous part of this story, of course, is the fact that we fail to meet the needs of pregnant mothers who suffer from debilitating illness.
Dr. Brian Swallow, coordinator of Pregnancy Sickness Support 1st National Conference, said it was a condition that was too often trivialised. Dr Swallow, of the University of Lincoln, said: ‘‘Hyperemesis gravidarum can be far more serious than anyone realises. Women consistently say they feel quite alone because there is insufficient help. ‘‘In some parts of the country hospital staff are very sympathetic, in other parts morning sickness is just seen as something women are going to have to put up with. ‘‘We need to see a national protocol developed to offer counselling and support.’”
Even before the rest of society catches up, though, I would suggest that those of us who call ourselves pro-life need to step up.
You might not know of anyone suffering from hyperemesis gravidarum, but you very likely know some pregnant mom who is tired, who is sick, or who is overwhelmed. Maybe this sad story can be the impetus many of us need to make a phone call and offer to support a pregnant mom-hero in whatever way she needs.