Your whole life changes in an instant when you see those two little pink lines. I stared at mine for a good two minutes before bursting into tears. My husband and I had been trying for almost six months. I had this elaborate plan choreographed in my head on how I was going to surprise him. He would walk through the door and our wedding song could be heard in the background. Pink and blue streamers would hang from the ceiling. Balloons would be scattered throughout the house. I would hold a sign that would say, “Welcome Home Daddy.” I played this vision in my head over and over again, every time I sat on the toilet waiting for those lines to show up.
On the fourth of July, I finally got a positive pregnancy test. I busted out of the bathroom wailing like a lunatic and I shoved my pee covered stick into his hands. “We’re having a baby,” I proclaimed. Not exactly the surprise I had been visioning but he seemed excited.
I spent the next couple of weeks reading all the apps, articles, and books on what I should expect each week. I knew about the bloating, the cramping, the headaches, backaches, and yes even the dreaded morning sickness. I felt fully prepared and excited to take on each new pregnancy challenge and ride into motherhood. Then seven weeks came and I was not prepared for what was about to happen.
My husband and I were on our way to Wisconsin. We had packed up our whole lives from the East Coast and headed West. We stopped at our first hotel along the way. That morning, as we prepared for our next long drive, I was brushing my teeth in the bathroom when I reacted to the tooth brush in the back of my throat; I gagged. I heard my husband call from the next room, “Is that what I think it is?”
I spit out my tooth paste into the sink. With white foam around my lips, I stared down my own reflection. “So, it begins,” I said to the girl looking back at me.
On the drive to the next stop I could feel my stomach whoosh and whirl. I knew that at any day I would make best friends with the toilet. I ate lightly and stacked up on the ginger ale, preparing for my own natural disaster.
We finally made it to Milwaukee and settled down in our temporary housing. That morning my nausea hit hard. I spent most of the day in bed, milking the water on the night stand. My mom was visiting family in the area so I was lucky enough to have her there with me. By the third day, I was clenching the toilet, dry-heaving up my own stomach. My mom looked at me and said, “This is not normal Loretta. Something is wrong.” She picked me up off the bathroom floor and dragged my husband and I to the nearest walk-in clinic.
With a bucket on my lap and an IV in my arm, the doctor utters the words, Hyperemesis Gravidarum. Hyper-what? The doctor states that what I am experiencing is “extreme morning sickness” and it could stay with me my entire pregnancy. Or I could feel relief in a few weeks. I was hoping for the latter.
He filled my IV with anti-nausea, told me it was important to stay hydrated and sent me on my way. Weak and exhausted, I stammered out to the car. I had stopped vomiting but I still felt extremely nauseated.
By my thirteenth week, fifth hospital visit, tenth IV, and third medication, I was finally understanding just how severe my condition was and how this was not just “extreme morning sickness.” It was important for me to stay hydrated and nourished any way that I could. Mine and my baby’s lives depended on me fighting through this every day. Every single day.
It’s hard to explain to people how much this affected me both physically and emotionally. I read about how women terminated their pregnancies because their Hyperemesis was so severe. At first, I couldn’t imagine why in the world any one would even consider that option. I labeled those women weak and selfish. Yet, as I staggered to the bathroom for the tenth time and vomited every ounce of water I tried to drink, or as I sat in the ER at one in the morning, wrapped in tubes with my vomit bucket at my feet, I slowly began to understand.
“What’s it like,” I was asked. Or the famous one, “I guess I just don’t understand.” Well, it’s kind of like this. Remember that one time in college? That night you can’t remember but you know you had a good time because all the pictures say you did? You wake up the next morning displaced, with a pounding headache, dizzy, exhausted, and there’s vomit all over the place. You can’t look at food and you spend the entire day wrapped around your toilet seat. Gatorade and a greasy cheeseburger was not going to fix that hangover. It was kind of like that, without the good time, and every single day.
Think back at a time when you had vomiting and dehydration so severe that you believed you were going to die? Yea, that was how I spent most of my pregnancy. I cannot even begin to describe the tolls HG takes on a women’s body and mind.
Hyperemesis Gravidarum, or HG, is a pregnancy complication that causes severe dehydration, malnutrition, and extreme weight loss. I lost 10 pounds during my first trimester. Babies are at risk of being born underweight, pre-mature or in some rare occasions, have not survived the full pregnancy. HG ranges from moderate with a diet plan and vitamins, to severe where a woman spends most of her pregnancy hospitalized. Some women have had to terminate their pregnancies in order to survive. HG affects 1% of pregnant women. There are no known cures, no ways to prevent it, and many doctors are still very unfamiliar with it. HG did not get much attention until Princess Kate Middleton’s third round with it during her most recent pregnancy.
My body was trying to rid itself of my baby. Without treatment, my body rejected any type of nutrition or hydration. I would vomit until there was nothing left. I continued to be sick where nothing stay would down and nothing got to the baby. My body was intentionally starving my baby to death. It’s like I was fighting a war with myself. Like this extremely evil version of me would stop at nothing to rid the life that was growing inside of me. The evilness was so determined that it wanted to destroy all of us in the process. So, I fought a never-ending war with myself to protect my baby and keep myself alive. I utilized every resource that I could to fight off the evil version of me. Every day, I kept fighting. Some days, HG won and I ended back in the ER with more fluids and more nausea medication. I mix and matched until I found something else that worked. I continued to keep fighting and I didn’t give up.
My day to day eating habits were scheduled around my gag reflex. I couldn’t eat heavy foods and had to eat small meals throughout the day. I took a concoction of Metoclopramide (Reglan) – a medication used to treat Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease, Ondansetron (Zofran) – used to prevent nausea and vomiting in chemotherapy patients, and B6. Those helped to reduce the urge to vomit, yet didn’t take away the nausea feeling. I toke one of each in the morning and then again in the evening just so I could swallow liquids and keep food down. As soon as my medication wore off, I rushed to the medicine cabinet before my body figured out what was going on.
I had a mental break down at the pharmacist because my doctor forgot to call in my prescription. I dreaded the thought of feeling as bad as I did. I was so afraid of ending back in the fetal position contemplating abortion that I screamed at the pharmacist who had no control over what my doctor did or did not do. The thought of ending back in the ER with another IV sent me into a panic attack so severe that I turned into a raging lunatic. If you think that’s extreme, you have never lost a war with yourself.
It was chewing an entire pack of gum a day to rid that disgusting taste in the back of my throat. It was snacking on tums like skittles to feel relief from that nagging feeling in my esophagus. It was pulling over on a long car ride to steady my equilibrium. Bracing myself every time I burb. Waking up exhausted from not being able to sleep and then getting up early so I could take my medication as soon as possible. It was wrapped in the fetal position on my only day off while the dishes pile up in the sink and my new house goes unfurnished because I had to cancel my plans for the one hundredth time. It’s forcing myself to go to work because life doesn’t break for a pregnancy complication. Yet, end up being sent home anyway because I’m vomiting in the bathroom. It’s hating myself so severely for wanting the pregnancy to end and feeling like a terrible mother. It was mentally exhausting and frustrating; overwhelming and depressing.
People who have never experienced HG don’t understand that you are fighting for your baby to survive. They say things like, “try eating crackers, just enjoy this time,” or my favorite, “at least you were able to get pregnant.” Women and their babies have died from HG before treatments were available.
Some women have HG so severe they are forced to be tube fed in the hospital their entire pregnancy. These women are my hero’s. After experiencing the level that I have, being able to endure much worse is absolutely stunning to me. How do these women continue with two, three, four more pregnancies? It takes amazing will power to get up every day and participate in society when all you want to do is curl up in bed and die. We do it, however, for our babies. We fight through it. We fought to get them here and we continue to fight to keep them healthy for nine months. When we see them moving around during our ultrasounds, we gain more persistence. More strength to keep fighting because we already love them so much.
It is so relieving to know that there are women out there like me who suffered from the same thing. These women are the only other ones that fully understand that it is not just “extreme morning sickness.” These women don’t tell you to eat crackers or that you should be enjoying this time, or they were “really sick too.” They tell you their version of their own nightmares, they ask you how you are doing, and they tell you that you are strong and to keep fighting. Women with HG know what it’s like to want to give up and we know we are not terrible mothers for thinking it. We are just done with feeling tired and sick all the time. We are tired of fighting. Women are amazing creatures and we are capable of just about anything. If you are suffering from HG then don’t you dare allow someone to tell you that you are not a survivor. You are the truest of Wonder Women.
I could not have survived HG with out the amazing support from the health services that I had at my fingertips. To the pregnant ER doctor that had taken care of me each time I ended up in the ER. To the OBGYN clinic for monitoring my baby and helping me figure out which medications worked the best. To my family and friends who have shown me endless support. Most importantly to my amazing husband and the father of our Wonder Baby; who has sat with me until all hours of the morning at the hospital, who has made it to every doctor visit, and has done his absolute best to be as understanding as possible. Who fights just as hard for our baby as I have.
Messy Baby was born at a healthy 7 pounds 9 ounces. When she grows and feels defeated over losing a sports game, or falls from riding her bike, or faces a challenge and she thinks she can not win, I will tell her a story of a little Wonder Girl who has been fighting hard since before she was born. I will call her my warrior and show her that she is capable of anything that comes her way. This was just one of many battles, and together we will defeat them all.
For more information on Hyperemesis Gravidarum visit http://www.helpher.org and if you think you may be suffering from HG please consult with your doctor.
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