The Rules of the Asian Body in America
On my wife’s battle with cancer during a fraught time for healthcare and immigration
What are the rules we expect the body to follow?
When my wife, Cathreen, had our second child, on Thanksgiving Day 2016, we expected her body to return to its pre-pregnant state. For nearly the entire nine months, Cathreen had horrible morning sickness and could barely eat. She threw up constantly. She was dizzy and spent most of the day in bed. Everyone waited for the baby, and not only for the baby, but also for the end of The Sickness.
The last pregnancy had also been difficult. Cathreen had pruritic urticarial papules and plaques of pregnancy (PUPPP), which is basically an incredibly itchy hive-like rash. She couldn’t sleep for the itch. She had to take oatmeal baths and slather herself in aloe. Eventually the doctor made her go on steroids.
According to her OB doctor, about one in 100 pregnant women get PUPPP (the internet says one in 160), but they often hardly notice, as PUPPP usually comes late in the third term before the baby is born, and birth makes the symptoms disappear. For PUPPP to appear in the third month (my wife’s case), the odds were one in 100 cases of one in 100-something pregnancies — rarer than one in 10,000.
In addition to PUPPP, Cathreen had morning sickness for four and a half months, a month and a half longer than is typical. We would try to go out, and she would make it to the end of the driveway before she threw up and had to turn back.
About halfway through the pregnancy, Cathreen noticed that her body also itched in the cold. In the supermarket, if she reached for milk, her hand would break out in a rash. I had trouble believing an allergy to the cold was possible until the doctor confirmed it, to my shame.
Once Cathreen gave birth, she was so happy for her body’s old freedom that we immediately went for a walk, though this is not advised. She blames that walk for the pain that came afterward — for a year, she had postpartum fibromyalgia. Korean tradition calls for the…