I was well acquainted with vomit before I had kids. I have Crohn’s disease, so I’m no amateur when it comes to creative, discreet puking solutions: I’ve thrown up in garbage cans, between parked cars, into bushes and out of windows. But motherhood has been, among other wonderful things, a series of even greater physical degradations. And by far the most permanent fixture has been the fire hose of vomit that has seemed to gush through my life at all times in the past 14 years, since I first became pregnant.
As is common, I was nauseated a lot in my first trimester with twins. I even threw up water on the delivery table during my C-section, when the anesthesia didn’t work properly. Yet nothing really prepared me for what it would be like to have three beautiful, wonderful, prolific vomiters of my own. (If there was an Olympics of dealing with vomit, my husband — who literally never throws up — would take the gold.)
I have turned from the front seat of a moving vehicle, reached toward the car seats in back, and cupped my hands to catch projectile vomit, then flung it out the window as we sped down the BQE. One of the first things we taught our daughter to do was hold a Ziploc in the car so we could contain her carsickness. “Mommy puke is coming,” was one of her first full sentences.
During their preschool years I learned the gestation period for literally every variation of stomach bug. I have wandered, zombielike, through JFK’s Jet Blue Terminal soaked through to my underwear from head to toe in my son’s regurgitated Jamba Juice, knowing all too well that in 24 hours, the whole family will be spending our vacation in Miami holed up in a hotel room with the norovirus. Norovirus doesn’t care that it’s Christmas.
I have spent weeks trying to clean a shag carpet after my son didn’t make it to the bathroom in the middle of the night. I have hacked a spongy bean-bag chair to pieces to rid my house of the ever-present scent of Lysol spray, which now triggers its own Pavlovian gag reflex.
This month on the Cut we’re celebrating Mother’s Day, and when I pondered what that made me think of, it was all the times I’ve been covered in other people’s vomit. For me, being a mother has meant doing all kinds of things I wouldn’t voluntarily choose to do and being okay with them. This month, we’ve got a whole series of stories devoted to being a new mom; it’s called NEW MOM. Whether you’re a new mom yourself, or just baby curious, there’s going to be a lot for you to relate to. If you’re looking for reasons never to have kids or a lot of things to point at that make you glad you didn’t have kids, this series will also do the trick. We’ve also got Molly Fischer profiling Sheila Heti, whose novel Motherhood explores one woman’s ambivalence about becoming a mom. We’ve got every gift you could want to give your own mom or to ask for if you have someone who wants to celebrate your procreating. Personally, the greatest gift my kids have ever given me was growing out of the phase where they woke me up in the middle of the night covered in vomit, having trailed rivulets of it from room to room. And for that I am truly grateful.
The cover image above, which is arguably the opposite of this entire letter, is of a couture ensemble by Dior, worn by the most lovely Wayne Booth. Sometimes, when I’m at an over-the-top, gorgeous event, wearing a perfect black dress or interviewing someone I admire, I think about how I once sat in vomit for 11 hours straight on a United flight from Hawaii, when my 4-year-old daughter awoke an hour into the overnight trip, threw up all over my lap and her own hair, then promptly fell back asleep. And then I go back to sipping Champagne.