Like Princess Kate, all my pregnancies come with hyperemesis gravidarum. That’s the polite way to say it. Really, I know I’m knocked up because I throw up—a lot. It’s gotten worse with every kid, and by baby No. 3, my beloved OB/GYN was sending in prescriptions at week seven. The meds tamped down the nausea somewhat, but they also made me desperately sleepy. And since I was still nauseated, I had to eat what I could, when I could. Hankering for french fries? Great. Ice cream? Eat it. Pizza? Snarf it down. Who knew when I would eat next?
I just kept throwing up. And yet, I wasn’t losing weight. I was gaining weight—a lot of it. At the 12-week mark, I'd already gained at least 15 pounds. With a strong family history of type two diabetes, I called my OB. “I think I need a glucose test,” I told her.
At twelve weeks pregnant, when many women are coming in for their first prenatal visit, I was prescribed metformin, a drug intended to control blood sugar. But no matter what diet I stuck to (and it was very hard to stick to a diet when I was throwing up), I couldn’t control my blood sugar. My numbers swung up and down, up and down, every time I pricked my finger for a home glucose test.
So they prescribed insulin, which meant shots.
Three times a day, I carefully measured my dose and injected it into my thigh. I’d like to make it sound nicer. But when you’re sitting in a bathroom, usually on a toilet seat, stabbing yourself with a needle around your increasingly large belly, there’s a whiff of shame. How did I get here? you ask yourself, because society tells us that type two diabetes, especially uncontrolled diabetes, is caused by bad eating and a lack of exercise. If only I could eat better. If I could only get up and move. Then maybe I wouldn’t have to toss these needles in a box labelled “medical waste.”
But I could not eat better—I threw up everything. I also couldn’t exercise. Everyone tells pregnant women they should go for gentle walks? Try that when you’re sleeping for sixteen hours straight and utterly exhausted for another eight because the medication you take to sustain the life inside you turns you into a total zombie. Oh, and that medication? It likely has a side effect of weight gain.
And I gained. And gained. And gained. My blood sugar only remained stable when I ate something sweet before bed, a trick recommended by my friend who’d been there, done that. Every night, one teensy bowl of ice cream to get me through. That ice cream went straight to wherever ice cream goes and stays on a pregnant body.
They decided to induce my son’s delivery in case his own blood sugar numbers crashed after birth. At delivery, I wasn’t a cute, roly-poly kind of pregnant. I’d been mistaken for full-term pregnant since four months. By six months, people were asking about my twins. At this point, I outweighed my German Shepherd by around 17 pounds (admittedly, he’s very, very large). When they started my Pitocin drip, I tipped the scales at about 220 pounds.
I’d gained a total of 100 pounds during my pregnancy, with hyperemesis. And it’s all well and good to be big when you’re pregnant. People brush it off: you’re growing an excuse in your belly. But once that baby pops out, you’re supposed to—what, get liposuctioned off in the delivery room? I lost some weight when I delivered that nine-pound baby and all the stuff that came with him. But I was still big. And if I explained I’d had gestational diabetes, people just blinked at me. “Why didn’t you exercise more?” they'd sometimes ask.
Fat discrimination is real. Society sees women with babies as cute. Society sees women with babies and double-chins as not cute. The body positivity movement aside, most of society is still obsessed with “losing the baby weight” and “dropping those pregnancy pounds” and women who don’t, won’t or can’t are judged and vilified.
Eventually, I did drop the weight. I have to eat carefully, work out, and practice intermittent fasting to stay healthy as I age; half of all women with gestational diabetes go on to develop type two diabetes. Gestational diabetes sucked. Between the blood sugar checks, the insulin, the dietary restrictions and the sheer hassle, I don’t want to live a permanent case of it.
Nor do I want to live with the judgment that tags along behind it.