Pregnancy was miserable, but I didn’t think you could actually become allergic to being pregnant.
Turns out, you can.
My arms started to itch. I looked for bug bites. Nothing. Just light redness.
My legs itched. Same thing. Andy wondered if I had perhaps eaten something problematic now that I could eat again and was eating everything.
“I’m not allergic to any foods,” I reminded him. “And I wash all my maternity clothes before wearing them.”
Though I was still smarting from my last pregnancy-related tongue-lashing from Judgmental Genius Doctor Sister, the itching drove me to risk further verbal flagellation.
Busy Dr. Sis answered the phone with, “What’s wrong now?”
Her voice turned sympathetic. “Oh. Oh, no.”
My family isn’t much for sympathy. I instantly freaked out. “IS BABY D OKAY?!”
“He’s fine, don’t worry. You’re not yellow or puking again, are you?”
“Okay, then your liver is fine. It’s probably PUPPP.”
“Pruritic urticarial papules and plaques of pregnancy.”
“And I repeat, what’s that?”
“Being allergic to pregnancy.”
“THE HELL YOU SAY.”
“No one is exactly sure what causes it, though there seems to be a genetic component. Might be a reaction to increased hormones like progesterone. It’s a lot more common in first pregnancies, large fetuses, and male fetuses.”
“Three for three,” I groaned. “Fuck. How do I get rid of it?”
“Not be pregnant.”
“That’s your answer?! I hate you so much right now.”
“It’s pretty awful,” Dr. Sis agreed. “But you have to try not to scratch. That just makes it worse, and then you scratch even more. I had a patient come in with most of the skin scratched off both her arms and still moaning, ‘I can’t stand it, it itches so bad.’ Try oatmeal or baking soda baths.”
I did. And while I soaked, there was some relief. But the itching always returned.
Nights were the worst. I’m a night owl with a brain that prefers reliving the stupid fight I started in seventh grade to drifting peacefully off to sleep. Now, while I waited for unconsciousness, I’d unconsciously scratch my arms.
As my sister warned me, scratching increased the itchiness exponentially. I took a lot of midnight baths.
Andy liked to hold a soft, down-filled pillow when he slept. I had nicknamed the pillow “girlfriend.”
He visibly steeled himself one night before bed and held the pillow out to me. “Here. Maybe if you hold this it will keep you from scratching.”
I laughed scornfully. “Not a chance in hell I’m sleeping with your girlfriend.”
“How dare you,” said Andy. But he quickly pulled the pillow back into his embrace and did not offer her up again.
Instead, he brought me home a full body pillow the next night. “It’s supposed to help pregnant women sleep. You can prop your belly on it, or put it between your legs.”
“Between my legs? You bought me a kinky pillow?!” I giggled as Andy turned red and showed me the different suggestions for orthopedic pillow positioning.
I tried sleeping with Kinky Pillow. Kinky Pillow made me hot — in an utterly unsexy, temperature kind of way. Sweating made the itching worse.
Kinky pillow was returned the next day.
My obstetrician offered me an oral antihistamine. I took it and slept blissfully, without scratching in my sleep for the first time in days.
Unfortunately, it made Baby D sleep even more. My formerly active baby quit moving for more than twelve hours. About the time I was convinced I’d killed him, the medicine wore off and he resumed kicking my bladder.
The anxiety over immobile baby was worse than the itching. If something did go wrong with Baby D, I’d never know if he was sleeping all the time. I also didn’t like the idea of Baby D being drugged out of his normal activity, however restful it might be for his mother not to be pummeled in her sleep.
I put the meds away and tried to figure out a way to occupy my hands. During the day, there was always typing, folding laundry, walking dogs, or baking. It was when I sat or lay down to rest that my fingers automatically crept toward my hives.
I dug out my old cross-stitch pattern, but it’s hard to sew lying down. And as I got larger, it was safer and more comfortable to lie down rather than sit.
Even when I held a book, one hand would unconsciously start scratching, setting off a new wave of itchiness.
I tried to convince my cats to curl up by my torso so I could scratch them instead. At first they loved it. But after thirty minutes, they’d move out of reach so they could nap in peace.
Same with the dogs.
I often clicked a ballpoint pen in lieu of scratching. (No one had invented those fidget cubes yet, damn it.) As I clicked away one night, I wondered if I’d ever been so itchy in my life.
I’d had the chicken pox. My siblings and I got it when I was about 4. (No, my mom wasn’t a willfully ignorant anti-vaxxer–I was a kid before the vaccine became legal in the U.S.) Some of my siblings still had scars from scratching off their scabs. I didn’t. In fact, I didn’t remember the chicken pox being as torturously itchy as PUPPP.
And then I remembered Blankey, my constant childhood companion. He’d once been a blanket, but I’d reduced him to lining before putting him away decades ago. Blankey sat in a box in my ExStepmother’s basement until I unearthed him to fill a childhood vow.
After Andy and I married, Blankey was packed away with my dried wedding bouquet. He was still somewhere in our garage.
At midnight and eight months pregnant, I went to find him.
It took me an hour to find the storage container with Blankey. (But hey! Opening boxes and rummaging kept my hands occupied!)
My fingers felt the familiar folds and knots of his worn lining. My brain felt something akin to the comfort of slipping on comfy slippers after a day in heels. Or sliding in between warm flannel sheets on a cold night.
I said, “Hello, old friend,” and carried him inside.
That night, I slept with one hand tucked under my pillow and the other firmly wrapped up in my baby blanket.
I did not scratch. Hallelujah.
Blankey was once again my constant companion. He slept with me. When reading or watching TV, I fidgeted with Blankey, trying him in more knots or unpicking previous knots.
Blankey had comforted me during a less than ideal childhood. Now he kept me from scratching off my own skin for two months.
My husband was so relieved that I’d found something to keep me from scratching and tossing and turning that he said not a single word about our new bedmate.
In return, I quit teasing him about sleeping with his girlfriend pillow.