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Rant #239
(published August 11, 2005)
Morning Sickness
by Sara Swanson
Morning sickness (a misnomer, by the way) started for me with plausible deniability: The first time I threw up was at the end of a 36-hour drive from Michigan to New Mexico. I embarked on the trip well, happy, and with full knowledge that I was pregnant; but pulled into the driveway nauseated with a pounding headache and staggered into the tiny bathroom of our rented house to throw-up the chicken McNuggets and trail mix I had consumed hours earlier in Oklahoma. Although it is exceedingly rare for me to throw up (I've probably thrown up 5 times in my adult life) I could easily chalk this up to carsickness or nausea from the excruciating headache. The stress alone of traveling for 36 hours straight in one vehicle with one's husband, mother, father, brother and brother's wife would be enough to bring on a migraine in almost anyone.

My bare knees on the wool Navaho rug, I leaned my head against the sink, flushed the toilet, cracked the door and asked if should take more Excedrin; I'd taken two ten minutes before I'd thrown up. My mom called out from the living room, "Did you see the pills come back out?" I answered honestly that I hadn't been looking.

Morning sickness? Maybe. Or maybe car sickness, or stress, or exhaustion.

Days later, it happened again and under just as questionable circumstances: We were about an hour outside of Santa Fe and stopped at Clines Corner's, an impressive tourist trap existing solely due to it's favorable location at the one exit linking the interstate to the state highway that goes north to Santa Fe. Imagine a Wal-Mart sized gift-shop with a leather belt room and a room of things made of porcelain personalized with your name. Imagine an aisle of scorpions encased in glass paperweights. Imagine 15 women waiting in line to get into a 4-stall bathroom in the 90+ degree heat. The condition of the restroom and the eye-watering smell was itself enough to induce vomiting. This also could not be confirmed as morning sickness.

Of course when I got home to my clean, comfortable bathroom, away from my nuclear family, away from continuous motion, and continued to vomit, I was starting to be convinced.

It really was morning sickness.

Wheat Thins are the best thing ever for morning sickness. If you have Wheat Thins in the car with you and can slowly maul them and suck off the salt; they keep you from throwing up. They are magic. You thank God for Wheat Thins, and vow you will never travel again without Wheat Thins. You suspect Wheat Thins could bring back the dead. That is, until you throw Wheat Thins up, at which time you vow never again to touch the Devil's Crackers, you hide the box you'd been cradling under the seat and force back an involuntary gag whenever anyone mentions them. Cursˇd Wheat Thins.

Long hair can be a liability with morning sickness. I have become quite skilled in gathering all of my hair in one hand while I lift up the toilet lid in the other. Constantly wearing my hair in braided pigtails seems to help. While keeping my hair entirely up in a bun would be most efficient (no hands required), a plastic hair clip makes it hard to sleep, and impossible to wear my cool New Mexico cowboy hat, purchased at Cline's Corners. Pigtails allows for both of these, while still necessitating grabbing and holding back only two discrete units of hair while I puke.

So I have morning sickness. What is morning sickness, you ask? Apparently morning sickness is the body's reaction to the huge amount of the hormone hCG (human chorionic gonadotropin) which begins to be produced by the body and dumped in large amounts into the system after the implantation of the fetus into the uterine wall takes place. This is one theory. There are others. One is that the increased levels of estrogen are responsible and estrogen makes you queasy because . . . I don't know what reason, but proponents of this theory argue that whatever the reason, it's the reason why birth control pills and hormone replacement therapy make some women nauseated. Another is that progesterone levels in the body begin to skyrocket. Progesterone "softens" the muscles in the intestines and stomach and slows down the process of digestion, which leads to a build up of excess stomach acid which leads to nausea, in addition, of course, to constipation, another joy of pregnancy. My favorite explanation of morning sickness that I've run across in multiple locations, is exhaustion and the emotional stress of being pregnant. "What the fuck?", you ask. "Why are there so many theories regarding the causes of morning sickness?" Well, it turns out very few scientific studies have been done on the causes of morning sickness.

Morning sickness has occurred throughout recorded human history. This is not a new thing. It's unclear, in fact, whether or not other primates experience it, again no studies, but anecdotal evidence suggests they do. So why no studies? Could it be that it is because it is a temporary condition, usually around 8 weeks, or that in most cases it results in no permanent damage to the mother, or that it's not a sickness but a natural stage of pregnancy?

Could it be that it is because morning sickness doesn't happen to men? Or is that too cynical?

One of the few studies out there on morning sickness is a British study on the economic impact of morning sickness. The results of the study demonstrated that morning sickness has a markˇd economic impact. Women with morning sickness, 50% to 90% of pregnant women, call in sick a lot, and when they are at work are less productive. Imagine going to work with food poisoning, or that feeling after you've recently finished violently vomiting from food poisoning, the feeling that your stomach has relocated somewhere else in your body and you are not sure swallowing food down your esophagus will actually result in food entering your stomach. Imagine going to work with the worst hangover you've ever had. A childhood friend of mine had morning sickness earlier this year that landed her in the hospital more than once to be rehydrated. She vomited so much that she threw up blood, regularly. This occurred well past the first trimester and she had to go back to work, an office job. She would bring two changes of clothes with her everyday, knowing that she would be throwing up at least twice, and would either: 1. not make it to the bathroom, requiring a change of clothes; or 2. make it to the bathroom, where there was often a lot of splashing.

As a high school science teacher I know that everything we are as humans has occurred through one of two mechanisms: natural selection, or genetic drift. Genetic Drift is the random change in genes in a population from one generation to the next, occurring for reasons other than selective forces. Basically, if morning sickness were a result of genetic drift, morning sickness would have developed as a mutation and because it did not result in the death or sterility of the mother or the child, or negatively impact the sexual desirability of the mother (sure, short-term, but probably not long-term), it was not selected against genetically and the genes for morning sickness bounced around until, by coincidence, most humans ended up with this set of genes. This is a reasonable theory.

On the other hand, there is a theory that morning sickness is a product of natural selection. This theory goes that the first 14 weeks, the common duration of morning sickness, is the time span during which the embryo is developing bones and organs. It is during this time span that the ingestion of toxins is the most dangerous. The theory goes that morning sickness prevents the mother from consuming any phyto-toxins; the chemicals plants produce to defend themselves against animals. Phyto-toxins are found in many plants and are what make medicinal plants medicinal and plants used as seasoning flavorful. Some of these phyto-toxins result in birth defects. Lupine, a pretty wildflower munched on by sheep, results in terrible birth defects among lambs. The theory is that it is evolutionarily beneficial to not eat anything for 14 weeks, to avoid eating something that will damage the growing fetus during the time it's most vulnerable. This also prevents the mother from contracting any food borne illnesses while her immune system is suppressed during early pregnancy. This is a good theory, too.

But I have my own theory, and it is also a theory that morning sickness is a product of natural selection. My theory is that this period of morning sickness is an investment. Because I have to get up at 2 am to run to the bathroom and vomit, because the smell of dry cat food—hardly noticeable before I became pregnant—now makes me wretch uncontrollably, because I can get motion sickness now from watching TV, I'm going to be a better mother. Nature makes pregnancy miserable, long and miserable, so that when you finally do have that baby you take care of it, because holy crap, you don't want to go through that again . . . at least not for awhile. Morning sickness means I'll love the baby more than a baby that I find on the street, not consciously, but automatically.

I'm a teacher. I love other people's kids, sticky elementary kids and the moody, self-absorbed high schoolers. I love them so much I would step in front of a bus to save any of them. I can't even conceive of how much I will love the one currently inside of me.

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