Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Now if they'd just invent a magic pill for the exhaustion . . .

It's been three and a half days since I felt it . . . the overpowering nausea that has been the bane of my existence for about seven weeks. I'd like to say it's because I've moved past that stage of pregnancy or that it's because I've discovered some new form of hypnosis that solved the problem, but it's not. For the first time ever, I'm taking Zofran, the anti-nausea miracle pill originally intended for cancer patients. So far, it appears to be working. I haven't had to stop several times during dinner to rush to the bathroom and gag, and it's been strange to change diapers and be around lots of smells without that overpowering sensation of nausea.

Last Friday was my first appointment for this pregnancy. The doctor, after exclaiming, "Oh, you're back!" asked me how I was feeling. I told her the truth: "Awful. I hate pregnancy." She looked surprised, "You? You can't hate pregnancy!"

I get that reaction a lot, and it seems like the more children I have, the more I hear, "Oh, you must have easy pregnancies." or "But you don't get sick, do you." And in some ways, I do have it easy. I've never been hospitalized for dehydration, I've never been anemic, I've never been on bedrest, and I've never delivered a pre-term infant.

But like most women, pregnancy for me is hardly a walk in the park. It's hard to battle morning-sickness at all hours of the day for months at a time. It's hard to put aside a lot of the extras in order to focus on just getting through a challenging time. It's hard to depend more on my husband to do things I'd rather be doing for our family, such as a larger share of the cooking. And that's just the first few months -- those last few aren't exactly my favorite, either.

Recently, MSNBC reported on a story about the growing number of "bumpaholics" -- women addicted to pregnancy. The Today show jumped on the trend with a mostly-fluffy and offensive discussion of the subject -- "What would drive women to do something like this?" they asked. The reason psychologists were called in to explain the trend? "More than a quarter of [births in 2007] were to women having their third or fourth child" -- shocking, I know. Practically unbelievable. There must be something wrong with women like that, right?

There is, according to the article. It's called being a "Bumpaholic," and it's an addiction, at least according to the "professionals" they interviewed -- "Having babies isn't addictive in the way that alcohol and narcotics can be. But bumpaholics feel compelled to procreate for many of the same reasons that substance abusers turn to booze or drugs." Women do it, they say, to fill some void in their life or to compensate for a bad childhood. "Women who are obsessed with being pregnant are literally filling an emptiness inside of them, just as alcoholics and drug addicts use substances to fill a psychological void" says one expert, ironically practicing in Beverly Hills, where I'm sure she sees many women who have large families. These women supposedly crave the wonderful, euphoric feeling they get when they are pregnant. And let's not forget all that positive attention from strangers! "The belly-rubbing high hits the pregnant woman as well as the people who surround her. The expectant mother gets an oxytocin blast and rubs her belly as a way of bonding."

Not to worry, the article notes, most couples stop at one or two children. "This is because we can use our higher brain functions to keep those instincts in check, reminding ourselves that children cost money — about $950 a month until they're 18 — and require an extraordinary amount of time and energy."

Reading an article like this, besides making me rather angry, makes me wonder, "Have any of the psuedo-professionals they quote ever BEEN pregnant?" Because there is no way, short of amnesia, that someone would do this just to get a psychological "high." There are plenty of much easier ways to seek attention.

But according to these "experts," I must have some sort of psycological addiction to pregnancy. So I did a quick inventory of all the ways my body and life has changed over the last few months, hoping to figure out which one might be filling up the emptiness inside me:

* My hair has become lifeless and brittle and is coming out by the handful.
* I've been throwing up three or four times a week this month.
* I've spent many hours on the couch, willing myself not to throw up.
* I wake at odd times of the night and have weird, obnoxious dreams.
* I'm exhausted all the time.
* I was finally losing the extra weight from some of those previous baby bumps -- I lost 12 lbs this summer -- but I've had to put that on hold.
* I know that having more children puts off some of my own educational goals.
* With the twins in kindergarten, I finally felt like I was catching up on many long-awaited projects, but once the morning sickness took hold, I'm back to being hopelessly behind.
* I've had to cut back on a writing project I loved.
* My house, while still acceptable, is not kept as clean as it was a few months ago.
* I've dealt with some negative comments and criticism.

Pregnancy is hard. And being pregnant when you already have a couple of kids (or more) is even harder. The chances for much-needed rest get slimmer, and the demands on the mother are much greater. And as for craving attention, some of these professionals should go out in public with a mother and her five or six "addictions" and see for themselves how many positive comments come her way.

The fact is,being a mother of a large family is largely a thankless task. Your children don't thank you because, well, they're children and they don't really understand the sacrifices entailed in bringing them up. Your husband doesn't usually thank you because he's too busy pulling his own full weight and more. The world doesn't thank you because sadly, raising good children just isn't valued anymore -- go out and make a lot of money, and you're praised to the skies. But stay home and raise thoughtful, compassionate children? There must be something wrong with you. News reporters and psychologists make up fake disorders to describe what fifty years ago would have been considered normal. Perfect strangers question your sanity, ask you about your birth control choices, and make unkind judgments.

So why DO I do this?

First, why is any explanation necessary or demanded? What happened to people having children because they like them and feel like it's a good thing to do? I love what Meagan Francis has to say about it -- "it's become suspicious even to admit that we like kids, much less that we could be reasonably happy raising them. If someone volunteers for a nonprofit or has a large circle of friends, no armchair psychologist would bother to question whether she was trying to "fill a void" with meaningful activity or companionship. It would instead be accepted that creating relationships with other human beings is a normal, natural and human desire. When did it become weird to like children, to want them . . . even more than two?" And I love this article by Rabbi Shmuley, father of nine, who says to his critics, "“As soon as I find something I enjoy as much as my kids I will have a lot of that as well.”

I do enjoy children and I believe that they are gifts from God. Each one is precious and unique, and I feel that I can do no greater work than to raise happy, smart, kind, and compassionate children. It is worth every sacrifice and every inconvenience and yes, even every stare and thinly-veiled attack in the media. It may be a cliche, worthy of a song or two ("I believe the children are our future, teach them well and let them lead the way . . ."), but I believe that what the world needs now more than ever are good people. And how do people get to be good? By and large, by learning values in a caring environment in their homes.

I'm sure I can (and eventually I probably will) write a much longer, more detailed explanation about why I have a large family, but for now, I state it simply: I believe that children are a gift from God. I enjoy raising them, and I feel I am doing an important work. I believe that children raised in good homes have the power to change the world for the better. I believe that sacrificing on behalf of the next generation is one of the ways we become refined and better human beings. Our own rough, selfish, hedonistic tendencies are worn away as we serve and love our children.

Call me old-fashioned, if you will, but don't ever call me a bumpaholic.

(Cross-posted from my blog, Hands Full & Loving It)