My childhood religious experience was all about me and god and the relationship between myself and this mysterious all powerful, all loving being. “He” was all I had to cling to – my sense of love, acceptance, belonging, and hope. I was surrounded by believers – most more broken than I. We masked our brokenness so others were oblivious to our hidden pain.
For 10 years after leaving that life, I worked endlessly to rewrite my future. It was both rewarding and exhausting. As I shed my old views and needs, this “god” who I’d so desperately craved and loved hovered in the background, sometimes existing only as what I tentatively considered “a figment of my imagination”.
Then in August 2012, I followed my husband to West Hills Friends (WHF). It was a tumultuous time. He had just lost his job, I was 4 months pregnant, and I was sick with hyperemesis gravidarum – a rare illness of pregnancy associated with excessive vomiting, dehydration, medications, weight loss, hospitalization, and IV fluids.
I went to the hospital 5 times, spent over 100 hours on IV fluids, was poked around 20 times, took over 500 orally dissolvable tablets of Zofran and 150 tablets of Reglan, vomited more times than I want to remember, and urinated myself every morning. Without medication, I could hold nothing down.
I came to WHF at the perfect time. This community did not know me or my struggles. But unlike my past religious experience, I was not alone and “god” could not possibly be attributed to my imagination. Instead, the Light existed within the people of WHF. And here I found strength.
When my husband lost his job, many changes happened very quickly. We moved. I increased my workload to full time. We lost health insurance and a company car. I swayed between a state of hope and fear.
But at WHF, as people shared their experiences, I found the mantra that would help me survive. In my darkest times, when sound, smell, temperature, lighting, or movement could send me into a state of nausea followed by vomiting, panic, and fear – I closed my eyes, breathed deeply, and quietly repeated, “I am okay. I have everything I need.”
The hyperemesis did not go away. But my internal sense of panic did. And though the journey was tumultuous, I did have everything I needed – a present husband, a caring OB who trusted me and advocated for my health care needs, an aunt and uncle who cared for me during the worst part of the first trimester, a job that provided enough flexibility for my self-care, a state that guarantees health care to children and pregnant women, and a community with some of the kindest, most generous transparent people I’ve ever met.
Throughout pregnancy, I found solace in the silence at WHF and comfort in the words of wisdom shared by its members. They inspired optimism, and I found power in my mantra and what it meant for everyone. Because in the end, “the what” doesn’t matter – illness, financial instability, food, managing material possessions, or any other human struggle that has been shared or even those that haven’t. We have what we need. And somehow just knowing this changes the experience for the good.
Looking back on my journey, I now realize that I not only have what I need, but as a member of community, I and my family have been blessed with significantly more.
Thank you, WHF.