HICCUPS

WRITTEN BY KERRI HARPER-HOWIE
Kerri Harper-Howie is an attorney, turned entrepreneur, turned occasional writer. She hopes to publish a book chronicling the intersection of these three lives, but finds her efforts regularly derailed by the demands that come with working while being a mother, wife and overseer of a household. As is her writing, she is a work in progress.
Hiccups

I am well aware that hiccups are harmless. But, sometimes they come on so suddenly and painfully that I actually get a little nervous. Brushing teeth, drinking water, shopping for groceries, talking on the phone. That first one shocks and startles me every time. It comes out of nowhere; and, no matter how familiar the sensation, it takes a few moments to figure out what caused it. Did someone just push me? Oh, no; I have the hiccups. Was that a burp? Oh, no; I have the hiccups. What just happened? Oh, yeah; I have the hiccups.

I never thought to ask. But now, I must—what are hiccups? It depends on who you ask. Slavic, Baltic, and Hungarian folklorists say that hiccups occur when someone is talking about you behind your back. Canadian, Japanese and French scientists contend that hiccups are an evolutionary respiratory remnant of having evolved from amphibians. Wikipedia defines hiccups as “a single or a series of breathing diaphragm spasms, of variable spacing and duration.”

I DO NOT LIKE BEING OUT OF CONTROL, JUMPING INVOLUNTARILY OR MAKING WEIRD NOISES

If you ask me, I describe hiccups as a momentary loss of control of my body that makes me jump involuntarily and make weird noises. I do not like being out of control, jumping involuntarily or making weird noises. Moreover, I detest having to wait for said loss of control and involuntary movements and sounds to reoccur indefinitely.

In fact, the waiting can be more nerve-wracking than the hiccup. Action, hiccup, ouch, wait. Repeat. It becomes necessary to perfectly time the next gargle, sip, produce, word. Interrupted by a hiccup, it seems any of these things could quickly turn into another’s cautionary tale. But, that perception dissipates as soon as I realize that I have forgotten that I even had them. Inexplicably, the hiccups go right back where they came from—silently and uneventfully. Action, hiccup, ouch, wait, wait, wait, wait. I have finished brushing my teeth, drinking my water, paying for my groceries and talking to my sister, only to realize five minutes later I am no longer hiccupping. Excellent, now I can move on without the waiting.

When I was in high school, someone gave me two foolproof methods to cure hiccups. Why I needed more than one fool proof way was never explained to me; but, I am always grateful for a backup plan to the foolproof plan.

Method number one: get frightened.

Method number two: press your ears closed while taking eight giant gulps of water without stopping to breathe in between.

For obvious reasons, method number one is fairly impossible to implement solo. Short of carrying around an iPad loaded with The Blair Witch Project, I cannot startle myself out of the hiccups.

Method number two seemed straight forward until I realized that my hands needed to do two things at the same time—hold my ears and hold my cup. Genius solve: use a straw! Naturally, method number two became my go to any time I got the hiccups. My morning smoothies compel me to have straws in my house always; and, I usually have at least one dirty smoothie cup/straw combination in my car. I don’t enjoy gulping down smoothie-dirtied water; but, if it helps get rid of a random, painful bout of hiccups, I am all for it.

What I had no solution for were Caleb’s in utero hiccups that not only jolted my belly, but heightened and awakened every ounce of fear in my body.

I did not expect to get pregnant, in spite of my status as a grown woman who was having unprotected sex. I was an informed grown woman who knew enough about fertility to know that ovulation happened around day 14 of one’s cycle. I was a responsible grown woman who kept track of my cycle so that I could avoid having sex during my most fertile days. I was a wrong grown woman who did not recognize that all women are different, and I actually ovulate on day 10 of my cycle. I became a surprised grown woman who visited the doctor four days before I got a positive home pregnancy test because I thought I was going through early menopause.

My then 35 year-old best friend had recently been told by her doctor that she had the ovaries of a 48 year old woman. There was pretty much no chance she would have another child (her now-five year old is a testament to what her doctor knew). I was one day older than her, and had calculated that in each of the four preceding months my cycle had gotten one day shorter. 26 days. 25 days. 24 days. 23 days. If things continued this way, I would be down to zero days of a cycle and menopausal in less than two years. I was not ready to be menopausal.

As Kaiser doctors tend to do, my doctor assured me all was fine. A 23-day cycle was within the realm of normal. What she was more interested in was my sex life: did I have one and was I using protection. Yes and no. She advised me to take prenatal vitamins just in case. Turns out I was in case.

My pregnancy flowed with textbook ease. No morning sickness, no food aversions, no adverse symptoms at all. I was scrupulous about my diet and took my vitamins religiously. I controlled as much as I could. My well-developed control mechanisms, however, could not stop the tidal wave of hormonal emotions that washed over, under and through me.

TEARS AND FEARS WERE FOR THE WEAK. AND, I NEVER FELT WEAK. I WAS A MASTER OF AVOIDING WEAKNESS.

Pre-Caleb, I was hard-hearted and I liked it that way. I felt empowered knowing that I could navigate any situation with emotional equilibrium. One night stand? Excellent sex. No issue whatsoever with no spooning or other post-coital emotional entanglement. Screw up a work assignment? No stress. Send the partner an email taking personal responsibility and asking for a second chance. Tears and fears were for the weak. And, I never felt weak. I was a master of avoiding weakness.

I once fell in love with a guy I met while standing in the line at Roscoe’s Chicken & Waffles. We stood hugging tightly by the time our respective groups reached the front of the line and were led to our tables to eat. We made eyes at each other across the room all night. We had our first date and kiss about a week later. We picked a song and made out to it for hours two weeks later. Three weeks later, I inexplicably cut him off completely. I was the guy in the Taylor Swift song: bored and cruel. The guy called me an ice queen; and, as far as I could tell he was devastated. I have rarely thought of him since then, and felt not one iota of guilt for treating him that way. This was high school. I wish I could say that my outlook and treatment of guys changed much over the years. But, then I would not be telling the truth. I simply did not care about his feelings.

BY THE TIME A THERAPIST TOLD ME IN MY EARLY 30S THAT FEELINGS WERE SUPPOSED TO BE EXPERIENCED AND PROCESSED, I WAS A BLANK STARE OF NON-UNDERSTANDING.

I did not even know that feelings were actually things. By the time a therapist told me in my early 30s that feelings were supposed to be experienced and processed, I was a blank stare of non-understanding. Wait, what do you mean? How does one experience and/or process feelings? It was a foreign concept to me. When my mom told my sister and I that she and my father were divorcing after 18 years of marriage, I cried a little bit. Then my sister cried a little bit. Then, we all never spoke of it again. Like, ever. The square life I lived for my 12 years was being replaced with this new three-sided dynamic. No discussion, no explanation, no hugging, no processing; just dealing. I never even thought to question whether the absence of experiencing or processing feelings was right. Even if I had, my mother was completely incapable of any alternative. That conversation in the kitchen was where the ice in my heart began to solidify. I always assumed it was able to stick because a cold enough surface was there for it to cling to.

Turns out a baby growing in my belly was the antifreeze to my iced-over heart. Avoiding my feelings was no longer a choice. On the daily pregnancy menu: random tears, mood swings, emotions, vulnerability. God forbid: tenderness. These things were absurd and unnecessary; yet, they pervaded and prevailed in spite of my best attempts to silence and suppress them.

When I awoke one night to an odd tremor in my 23-week rounded belly, I was not sure what was happening. I dismissed it and tried to go back to sleep. A few seconds later, the same thing. And, again, a few seconds later. I knew I wasn’t in labor because it was too easy. I don’t know how I knew it was hiccups, but I just knew.

MY ANNOYINGLY SOFTENED HEART MELTED WITH FEAR AND SADNESS FOR THE INEVITABLE DOOM THAT WOULD BEFALL MY POOR SWEET BABY WHO COULD NOT USE ANY OF MY FOOLPROOF METHODS TO GET RID OF HIS HICCUPS.

My first reaction was, “Aww how cute. My sweet little baby has baby hiccups.” I decided to google fetal hiccups. Mistake number one. No problem, the first few articles said. Babies in utero often get hiccups and it is perfectly normal. I wanted more and more information though so I kept reading more and more articles. Mistake number two. The next few articles warned that some hiccups are just fine; but, if they go on too long DANGER… if they seem too strong DANGER… if they are… DANGER! DANGER! DANGER! My annoyingly softened heart melted with fear and sadness for the inevitable doom that would befall my poor sweet baby who could not use any of my foolproof methods to get rid of his hiccups. Tears flowed, and my sobs rang through my bedroom. I questioned how it could all have come to an end so quickly. Why had I been given this gift only to have it snatched away so needlessly and mercilessly? How had any woman ever gotten over the loss of a baby who had an endless bout of hiccups?

I decided to time how long the hiccups lasted. If they lasted more than five minutes, I told myself, I would dress and immediately go to the emergency room. I turned on my phone’s stopwatch and I waited. Then, I waited some more. Then, I realized that the waiting was over. In the throes of my hysterics, my baby’s hiccups had, as my own had so many times, gone right back where they came from—silently and uneventfully.

I worked out and ate well in the 13.5 months that I breastfed Caleb. While I never returned to my pre-pregnancy weight, my body recovered relatively well. My melted heart, however, never fully recovered to its rock-solid icy state. The agony of loving a child renders me emotionally immobile at times. Mommy guilt and the mental load are real and often overwhelming. The desire for unachievable perfection is stifling and exhausting. But, that same complicated mix of love, guilt and load thaw my frosty heart, propelling me to keep one foot moving in front of the other. It renders me out of control, jumping involuntarily and making weird noises. It even moves me to spoon with my husband sometimes. I still do not like this melted, noisy state. But, at least it is constant and I don’t have to wait for it.

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