“I don’t remember who said this, but there really are places in the heart you don’t even know exist until you love a child.”
– Anne Lamott, Operating Instructions: A Journal of My Son’s First Year
Just as Week 35 of my pregnancy began, I woke up that weekend to an attack of horrible itchy rash on my pregnant body. The angry rash spread all over without mercy. I went to my doctor during the week, who put me on antihistamine and ordered some blood tests. When I asked her about relief from the itching, she said perhaps I could try cold water or ice? She sent me home with an appointment to see her the next week.
Those two weeks were the worst thing I have experienced. I couldn’t sleep, because I would wake up in the middle of the night to terrible itching, and sit for hours with ice packs over my raw skin, because nothing else helped. The antihistamine did not work, even though it came to a point where I was taking three tablets a day. I tried aloe vera gel, oatmeal baths, oatmeal paste, none of which worked for beyond a couple of hours. I’ve never missed calamine lotion more in my life. In the summer, I was cold and shivering most of the time, from ice packs and cold showers. This went on for about ten days till I found myself sitting on my couch one morning, applying another ice pack and crying. If I couldn’t deal with this, how was I going to deal with labour and motherhood?
I called my doctor and asked to see her one day before the scheduled appointment. I told her how bad the rash had become, that it felt like my skin was on fire. She said the blood tests revealed nothing out of the ordinary. In short, she did not know what was causing the rash. She decided to send me to the hospital for more thorough checks. She gave me a letter and asked me to go to the hospital first thing in the morning the next day. She observed that I had seen so many doctors throughout my pregnancy. She said perhaps they will deliver my baby at the hospital the next day!
That night I couldn’t sleep again. The itching was still bad. But the thought that they might have to induce me and deliver my baby the next day felt surreal. I don’t know how else to explain it, but it didn’t feel like it was time for my baby to arrive. It was too early. Or, I was in denial.
The next day, when my husband and I waited in the hospital to see a midwife, my mind was blank. I did not want to think about what could happen. I stayed positive as much as I could. The midwife led me into an examination room, while my husband waited outside. She placed some monitors on my belly to measure the baby’s heart rate and the contractions of my uterus. She gave me a button to press whenever I felt my baby move. She took some blood for more tests and asked me to relax on the bed for around twenty minutes. My eyes kept looking at the screen displaying the heart rate. But why wasn’t my baby moving? I silently urged my baby to move, to kick, to wiggle, something that would make me press that blue button in my hand. After what seemed like forever, finally I felt him move and I pressed the button hard. He made more movements by the time the midwife returned. She sat on the bed next to mine to explain what she was checking for. They were concerned that I might have obstetric cholestasis (OC). It is a condition among some pregnant women which affects the liver and causes intense itching.
She wanted me to see a doctor that day but offered me the option to go home and wait till she called me once the doctor was ready to see me, as it was a busy day. She did not want me to worry, but she said, if I did indeed have that condition, my baby could be dying inside my belly. No matter how much you think you are prepared to face things, no matter how strong you think you are, nothing prepares you to hear those words from a medical professional.
We went home and waited. Within a few hours, as we ate lunch, the midwife called. The doctor was ready to see us. We rushed back. We had to wait for some time before the doctor saw us. He did an ultrasound. Everything looked normal, baby was growing as he should be. The doctor ruled out OC and I think I finally breathed.
But what was causing the itching then? The doctor said I had a condition called polymorphic eruption of pregnancy, which affects some pregnant women in the form of itchy rashes, but doesn’t pose a risk to the mother or the child.
No one knows what causes it. So what was the solution? Clearly, there was no way I was going to last a few more weeks with the insufferable rash! And all those ice packs, was I freezing my poor baby? The doctor assured me I was not! He changed my antihistamine and recommended hydrocortisone cream for the itching. Well, I’m into my 38th week now and I’m still on the antihistamine. The itching subsided within a day or two after I stared taking the medicine. The rashes, though still visible, don’t look vicious anymore and are on their way to drying up. And my baby, he’s still in my belly, moving around, waiting for the right time to make his appearance.
This entire experience has made me realise something: nothing teaches us more about vulnerability as parenthood does. Suddenly we are responsible for a little life, innocent and pure, and we can’t help but crinkle our brows in worry over how we are going to keep our child safe, how we are going to raise him in our world, a world that can so easily crush the spirit of a sensitive child without even realising it, which led me to write my previous blog post, The way we look. I don’t think I want to be one of those parents who seek to bubble wrap their children against life. I would rather like to be a parent who gives her child the tools to face the challenges that life will bring his way. I know it’s easier said than done. My child hasn’t even arrived into this world yet, and already the instinct is to protect him, always.
While I wait, for the day my baby will arrive, to make the final sprint, to get across the last stretch, I look back at the eventful life my child has already had and I realise how grateful I am for the wonderful people I have been lucky to have around me, people who give their support and love without hesitation, without judgement, who understand that being a parent is a tight rope to walk.
I’m grateful for the man I married, the father of my child, the man who sometimes surprises me by knowing me better than I know myself, who accepts me for who I am, who stands by me even in times when I find it hard to believe in myself. As the years go by, we keep making each other better people, and I hope we will do the same as parents. I could not have asked for a better partner in this new adventure that we are embarking on together, and I’m grateful for his love, and for the cute little toys he’s been picking for our baby 🙂
I’m grateful for my mother, who has been calling / messaging me almost everyday since I became pregnant, asking me how I’m doing and if I’m feeling okay. Her enthusiasm is infectious 🙂
I’m grateful for our family – parents, sibling, uncles, aunts, cousins – spread around the world, across different time zones, who make time for us, who constantly send us their good wishes and prayers.
I’m grateful for the amazing friends and mothers I’m blessed to have in my life, who give with an open heart, who make me feel loved, who are kind and generous in their support and their understanding, and who are ready to help whenever I need them, and yet, they are the first to tell me that I am enough, as a mother, as a person.
I’m grateful for the doctors and midwives who have helped me so far, whose prompt response has turned otherwise dangerous circumstances into manageable situations, and have been just as quick to reassure me that my child and I are doing okay.
I’m grateful for the little boy growing in me, who is already teaching me so much about love. I hope I get to hold you in my arms and tell you that, once you are ready to come out.
I’m grateful, most of all, to God, for bringing all these people into my life, and filling it to the brim with his love and grace.
What are you grateful for? Share in Comments.