This week, the world celebrated its first annual Hyperemesis Awareness Day (May 15th).
I had never heard of such a thing until yesterday when I stumbled upon an oranization dedicated to furthering research and educating the public about this life threatening pregnancy related illness.
And suddenly, there were others who had suffered like I had;
others who had experienced the pain and torture of something so awful I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy.
Suddenly, I didn’t feel so alone.
My first pregnancy was a surprise to begin with.
I was a sophomore in high school, had no job,
no money, and my boyfriend (who would someday become my husband) and I had broken up three weeks prior.
About three days after I saw those two pink lines, I woke up feeling the most intense nausea I had ever felt. It was like my entire stomach was trying to escape from my body. It would hit me in waves, one after another, smacking me in the face and knocking me flat on my back. I lay in bed for days with a bowl, trying to make sense of all of this. My brain was still attempting to grasp the fact that I was expecting, and my body had to decided to revolt.
Weeks went by, and at 5’6 I went from a slim 120 lbs to a sickly 107 lbs.
The doctor prescribed medicine to help with the nausea, and my body had a bad reaction to it.
One kind made me vomit worse. Another caused my throat to burn a horrendous, chemical kind of burning feeling that made me bawl. Uncontrollable muscle spasms and facial ticks. Horrendous intestinal cramps…just to name a few of the side effects.
I felt like I lived in the E.R. My mother would wheel me inside in a hospital wheelchair, so weak I couldn’t stand much less walk; barf bowl in my lap and head hanging because keeping it raised was more energy than I could muster. They would hook my frail, dehydrated body to IV’s to pump in fluids. Then they would give me an IV push of Zofran, a very expensive and relatively new medication at the time designed to help cancer patients nausea during chemotherapy. The Zofran and IV combination helped and I would start to feel slightly better. My eyes would be a little less foggy, and I could answer questions without feeling like each word was sucking life from my body.
But then they would send me home with a different brand of medicine because my insurance didn’t want to pay for Zofran. The cheaper stuff didn’t work, and actually made my symptoms worse. I would be right back in the E.R within a few days, literally on the verge of death from dehydration, malnourishment and exhaustion.
I was getting so thin I looked like one of those cocaine addicted models you see in magazines; I remember looking in the mirror as a I got dressed and being able to count each of the ribs that poked through my yellow, loose skin.
Eventually, my insurance decided to acknowledge the Zofran was less expensive than E.R visits every few days, and slowly but surely I began to feel better. Don’t get me wrong, nothing even close to my normal self, but better than I had in several months. It was a long road to the place where I could eat again. Applesauce, cereal, every now and then some soup. Without the medicine in my system the vomiting came right back, and even with it I still threw up frequently, but I wasn’t dying anymore. That was a plus.
Each pregnancy that followed was this way, although my first was definitely the worst.
A fight to stay alive.
The heartbreaking part was being too weak to play with my children; so exhausted and drained and sick that all I could do was lay in one place and exert every ounce of energy in my being into not throwing up. Having them stand outside the bathroom listening to me wretch, quietly asking me if I was okay.
The hardest part of all though, was food. I am not afraid to admit I am one of those women who tends to eat her feelings.
I love food.
Food adds so much spice and enjoyment to life. It was like some sort of sick torture to think of nothing but food and the aching and longing in my empty stomach, knowing that anything that touched my lips would resurface within the next five minutes.
I could not eat anything.
I threw up water, stomach bile, blood, and when none of that was left I would huddle over the toilet and dry heave until I wet my pants and was on the verge of passing out from exhausted and lack of air.
My esophagus red and bleeding from the acid corroding it. My gums bleeding from malnourishment and irritation.
Eat some crackers before getting out of bed (despite the fact some days I couldn’t even leave my bed).
Drink some ginger ale.
I cant tell you how many times that I beat the crap out of people (in my mind of course) for saying things like that to me.
Gee, crackers you say? Because I never thought of that.
((Insert sarcastic Willy Wonka tone here)).
I would muster some sort of half smile and mumble
“Thanks, that didn’t work for me though.”
When all I was saying in my mind was “Shut up. I hate you. I hate you for thinking I am THAT stupid it would never occur to me to try crackers. Now go take a long walk off a tall building.”
Thats another thing, HG brings out emotions in you that you never thought you could have.
Something about literally starving, and being sleep deprived, and feeling so miserable that you have honestly wished you could die just so you never have to hug another toilet seat does a horrible thing to a persons psyche.
I have never been so depressed as I was while pregnant. Its dark, and lonely. No one can truly understand how you feel unless they have been through it. Being too sick to go anywhere or do anything or even really function makes it all so much worse, because you feel completely cut off from the world. Even phone calls require energy, energy I just didn’t have to give,
And so I lay there, in bed or on a couch or wherever, wishing it could just be over with.
It’s hard to admit the tremendous amount of effort it takes not to resent your growing little one. Once they are born, everything is fine, and you feel better, and you see them and instantly fall in love all over agan.
But especially in the early stages, before you can feel the baby kick, or have pictures from an ultrasound, it was so hard to get past the way that I felt, and remember that there is a little baby that needs me to stay strong. A baby whose whole world is me.
That first pregnancy was by far the hardest, although my third was also very traumatic.
But somehow I survived it all.
Here I am, 26 weeks and counting with my fourth and final child and I look at my family and am reminded that I fought, and I lived. It is nothing short of a miracle to me that my children are all healthy, each with normal birthweights and no lasting effects from my illness.
They are fighters too.
Some of the longest hours, and darkest days of my life were during my pregnancies, wondering if my child was going to make it, and wondering if I was going to make it. Nothing can compare. But when I look at what came from my sickness, it was all worth it. I did it three (and soon to be four) times, and something about knowing what I conquered to bring those boys into this world is so empowering. I am a fighter. I didn’t just have my children, I warred for them.
I fought my mind and my depression,
I fought my body and its constant sickness.
I went days without food and water,
vomiting almost constantly but pushing myself to eat anyway and praying that my body would be able to absorb at least some of the nutrients before my stomach rejected it.
I fought, and I won.
Not every woman or baby is so fortunate.
I cannot begin to explain to you how blessed I am to be typing this today, because the truth is I could so easily have died, as could any one of my little boys.
But they survived; we survived.
I wont ever stop being thankful that.
My prayer in all of this, is that some day my story will help encourage other women suffering from HG. That they will feel less alone, and forgotten, because someone else knows what they are going through and survived it, and so can they. Finding out about Help HER and all that they are doing to help raise awareness, and how many other women have gone through what I went through, made it all seem a little less awful. Suffering alone is something no one should ever have to do. And maybe, just maybe, someone may be encouraged by my story, and it could help inspire her to make it through.
This is dedicated to all those who have lost their life to Hyperemesis,
Mothers and babies.
We Wont Stop Fighting For Answers And A Cure.
May You Rest In Peace.