Every time someone asks me how I am doing, I mostly lie. I say I’m “ok” or “hanging in there”. The truth is, I don’t think people want to hear the truth. But the more I think about it, the more I need to put myself out there and share how I really feel.
I’ve always been so open about infertility and what we’ve gone through to have our children – especially the boys. I want people to understand it, accept it, and hopefully not feel they need to hide it if they, too are suffering. I want the men and women struggling to have biological children to have the compassion and support they need, so I tell anyone who will listen what we’ve been through and let them know it’s ok to talk about it.
Yet for some reason, I choose to hide my hyperemesis gravidarum (HG) and tell people I’m “plugging along” when they ask.
Tonight, it dawned on me that I need to be honest. Not only with myself, but with others. And hopefully, by sharing my story, people will start to understand this terrible illness and stop patronizing women who are suffering.
The definition of hyperemesis gravidarum:
Hyperemesis gravidarum (HG) is a severe form of morning sickness, with “unrelenting, excessive pregnancy-related nausea and/or vomiting that prevents adequate intake of food and fluids.” Hyperemesis is considered a rare complication of pregnancy but, because nausea and vomiting during pregnancy exist on a continuum, there is often not a good diagnosis between common morning sickness and hyperemesis. Estimates of the percentage of pregnant women afflicted range from 0.3% to 2.0%.
First and foremost, HG is NOT morning sickness. If a woman ever tells you she has HG, please do NOT respond with stories of yours or your wife’s morning sickness unless you or she ended up surviving with the aid of endless medication, IV hydration and nutrition; unless you or she lost over 5% of your or her pre-pregnancy weight because eating was impossible, or everything eaten was vomited back up; unless you or she was sick well beyond the first trimester – sometimes until the baby is born; unless you or she could not care for herself let alone children or others; unless you or she could not shower or work; unless you or she contemplated termination of the pregnancy just to feel SOME relief… there is no comparison to morning sickness. No amount of ginger ale, saltines, sea bands, motion sickness patches or other morning sickness remedies will help.
I am almost 17 weeks. At this point, I take the following medications daily:
- 1/2 tablet Unisom twice a day, then 1 full tablet at bedtime (for nausea)
- 25 MG B6 three times a day (for nausea)
- 8 MG Zofran three times a day (to control vomiting)
- 300 MG Colace a day (for constipation, a side effect of Zofran)
I have a peripherally inserted central catheter (PICC) line in my arm through which I also receive:
- 2L fluids daily (for hydration)
- My daily vitamins (because oral vitamins increase nausea)
- Pepcid (for reflux)
Despite all of that, I live in a constant state of what I refer to as “puke purgatory”. Think about how you feel in the seconds before you vomit. Bad taste in the mouth, excess saliva, bile rising in your throat. Now imagine feeling that way 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, for 11 weeks straight (so far).
Sometimes I WANT to throw up, but I fight it. I choke back whatever rises to my mouth several times a day because I know that if I vomit even once, it will not stop. I vomited relentlessly when pregnant with my daughter as well as with my twins sons. I ended up in the ER severely dehydrated when pregnant with my daughter because so much as a sip of water would cause me to vomit. I couldn’t keep anything down and you know what my midwife told me? “It’s morning sickness. It will pass.”
I fired her. It was not morning sickness. It did not pass until somewhere in my late second trimester. I was over halfway through the pregnancy before I could eat. It was threatening my health, and the health of my daughter and no one would help me.
Fortunately, with the boys, my OB knew what it was and I received better care. But I still vomited daily despite a PICC line, medications and IVs. I was sick until I delivered the boys.
This time, I started medication before I got sick. I had read it is the BEST way to combat this illness… disease… curse… hell… whatever you choose to call it. The best it’s done for me is kept me from actually throwing up. It has not prevented weight loss, dehydration, my inability to eat, my 24/7 puke purgatory.
Right now, I am practically living off of macaroni and cheese, canned ravioli and Spaghetti-Os, and small bits of whatever else I can handle in the moment. The only fluids I am able to take in orally are Pepsi and Jet Tea. Of course, you’re not supposed to have too much caffeine in pregnancy, so I nurse a Pepsi all day long. I am LUCKY I can eat this much. I couldn’t eat at all in pregnancy with my daughter or my sons while the HG was active. Many women end up needing nutrition delivered intravenously.
For the past week, I have broken down every single night. I cry about all of it – how horrible I feel; how I am unable to do much of anything; the medications, the IVs, the PICC line; the uncertainty that I will feel better any time before the baby is born; the loss of the ability to just enjoy being pregnant; the unfairness of it all; the lack of understanding and the lack of acknowledgement.
A few people ask me how I am doing, and generally, I lie to them. Because really, who wants to hear the truth? I have always prided myself on being a strong individual, surviving anything that’s come my way. That’s who I am. I am not the weeping, unshowered, disheveled mess you will find in my recliner should you drop by my house one evening.
The unfortunate truth, however, is I AM that second person. I AM the one who can’t change out of her pajamas all weekend, let alone get a shower. I AM the one who sleeps half the day just to escape the sickness and dissolves into tears when I wake up because it’s still there. I AM the one angry that I can’t just enjoy the life growing inside of me because this is the hand I’ve been dealt.
There’s only one “cure” for HG: the end of the pregnancy. There are women who terminate wanted pregnancies because it’s that bad. I’d be lying if I said the thought has never crossed my mind.
I am hoping that this ceases somewhere in the second half of my pregnancy like it did with my daughter. I am terrified it will continue through delivery like it did with my sons. The only thing that keeps me going is the knowledge that the reward for enduring this torment is my very wanted son or daughter.
They don’t know what causes HG. My mom had it through two pregnancies; my sister did not. Some women do not get HG in every pregnancy; I have not been that lucky.
So that is the honest truth as to how I am doing.
Now I am going to post this entry before I lose my nerve, and I am going to share it with everyone I can. I am going to invite my fellow sufferers to share their stories in the comments and give a voice to this illness that so few people know about. And maybe, some where, some how, my story and the story of others will someday help someone else. I can only hope.
If you or someone you know is suffering from HG, I encourage you to join the forums at http://www.helpher.org. Also, contact the author, Ashli Fossee McCall, of Beyond Morning Sickness: Battling Hyperemesis Gravidarum to request your free copy of her book (you’ll probably get a response from her assistant, Lyle). You can tell them I sent you, as they know me well.