Reminiscing on Hyperemesis Gravidarum
Kate Middleton’s pregnant again. She has HG again too. Hyperemesis Gravidarum. If you haven’t heard already, this pregnancy malaise is not even worthy to be called “morning sickness.” It basically means extreme vomiting but it’s so much more than that.
It’s like the baby inside your body is attacking you, usually for much longer than just the first trimester. Kate’s HG is personal to me, not only because I experienced it, but because I experienced it “with her” the first time. I thought I was over my awful pregnancy with Baby Bear. Finally, I was at a point where I was able to think about it without shuddering. I was able to mention it without wide eyes and fear to my husband. He’s not quite there. Sometimes, I think HG was far more traumatizing for him, having to come home late at night and pick up the pieces of our house and give our daughter all the love and one-one-one time I was unable to give, all the while being utterly exhausted and losing out on his relationship with me for months at a time. It was like The Dark Ages of our little family’s life. It was awful, and I didn’t even have HG as severely as most do.
I feel that when one starts to be healed from a traumatic experience, they start to forget some of the gory details. At least that’s how it is with me. I remember that it was awful to feel so sick all the time. I remember that I threw up at least five times a day in the first few weeks. I remember the day when that all changed and I lost count of how many times I threw up. That day I knew I had to keep hydrated and I knew that hunger exacerbated the situation, so every time I wretched, I’d take a sip, maybe two of water. It would send me right back to the toilet five or ten minutes later, depleting me of even more of my fluids. After a day of this my digestive system was such a wreck I was writhing on the floor of the bathroom in a cold sweat with intestinal cramps so fierce I couldn’t move.
Part of me knew what they were, and part of me was still afraid it was the baby. Poor little guy was only seven weeks along and even though it felt like he was killing me from the inside out, I knew I didn’t want to lose him. I remember, before that moment, that I didn’t think it would be so bad if I miscarried. I felt immediate remorse for that feeling, “God,” I lamented shamefully, “I didn’t mean that. I’m so sorry! I don’t want to lose this baby.” I know this all like knowledge from a textbook and with very little of the emotions and dread that used to accompany these memories. I look back and smile at what God brought us through, unscathed and more blessed than every before. I don’t feel the trauma of those nine months like I did in Baby Bear’s first six to nine months of life outside of the womb.
After my ER trip(s), my HG vomiting was controlled by Zofran and acid reflux meds. I only threw up as much as I had without meds in my first pregnancy and I stopped losing weight. I still felt like throwing up, all the time, I still felt just as worse, but Zofran was very effective in blocking that reflex. Many women can’t even get that relief. I was one of the lucky ones who was still miserable, but at least still surviving. Reading about Kate and all the ensuing articles on HG are bringing a lot of that fear back. During the whole ordeal I couldn’t even cry about how awful my life had become or how unfair it was that I can’t enjoy a pregnancy. Crying would disrupt the delicate balance of my breathing, sense of smell, and control, and would cause me to throw up, sending me into a cycle of dehydration that would land me in the ER. Again. In fact, I avoided tears almost the whole pregnancy. But I wanted to cry. I wanted to weep and sob and tell God that this was not okay. I wanted to be on my knees like Hannah but begging him for a nice pregnancy instead of the child I’d already begged for. But I chose contentment out of necessity. It’s best that I did. Contentment always makes things easier. But sometimes, I would have loved to be able to give in to the solace of tears. I remember my mouth filling with saliva—copious amounts of it—all the time and I couldn’t swallow it or I’d throw up. It was gross. I was slightly dehydrated all the time because drinking too much water would make me sick, and yet I was losing all this water because I was constantly spitting the extra saliva my mouth made. And I remember how I couldn’t bear to put a foreign object in my mouth to brush my teeth. It might send me to the toilet again which would necessitate another round of toothpaste and brushing which might cause more vomiting...
Eating made me sick, but not eating made me more sick, because pregnancy hunger (at least with HG) isn’t even worthy of being called hunger. It’s more like an attack on your insides and your entire system. Not eating is not an option, but eating doesn’t feel like an option either because the wrong thing, the wrong amount of it, or eating at the wrong time will empty your stomach again and necessitate the repetition of the whole, horrid process of trying to gain nourishment. If I threw up, what frustrated me most was that I would have to eat again.
I hated eating. But I wanted to eat. I wanted and craved decadent chocolate sundaes and bags of potato chips, and all the junk I don’t eat in real life. I guess I wanted them more because I couldn’t have them. Or maybe I wanted them for all the same reasons most normal pregnant women want them—our bodies crave weird things. It felt cruel to experience these cravings all the time and not to be able to indulge them. Eating those things made me so sick—much more than normal, even. And then there were all those cute maternity photos with women surrounded by foods they craved, or all those sweet articles about controlling your diet and eating healthy food for your baby and I just wanted to scream because neither of those was an option for me. I couldn’t choose what would stay down.
“Drink lots of milk or yogurt.”
“Make sure you eat some grains!”
“Have a healthy dose of fruits and vegetables.”
It was just a joke. All of it. Eventually the HG calmed down to a more manageable level (and when I say manageable, I mean only about 10x worse than the normal pregnant woman’s “morning sickness”). I figured out that my body was revolted by grains. I’d been on a Paleo diet when I got pregnant and couldn’t seem to get off of it. That was fine. I ate eggs, sausages, meatloaf, bacon, and all the red meat I could get my hands on. That, grapefruit, and veggies were all I could stomach. No bread for me. No rice. No corn. No sugar. All I really wanted to eat was bread. Rice. Corn. Sugar. And of course everyone had their input. I can’t tell you how many well meaning people told me, “Just eat crackers before you get out of bed!” OBs, friends, strangers, Facebook friends, even my midwife suggested it. I wanted to scream at them. “Do you think I’m an idiot???” Ginger, crackers, sea bands, B12—it was all a joke, crueler still was the fact that these things worked for all these well meaning people. It just made me want to cry more.
“THIS BABY THAT I LOVE IS ATTACKING ME FROM THE INSIDE OUT!!! YOU CAN’T POSSIBLY KNOW WHAT THAT FEELS LIKE SO JUST DON’T TALK TO ME, PLEASE!!!”
That’s what I wanted to say to them. I didn’t. I was as kind as I could be, but also reclusive out of necessity. I felt so, very alone.
I was most upset about missing my daughter’s life. I don’t know as much about her as I would like as a three year old because I was curled up in a ball on the bed with a movie going, hoping to fall asleep to escape the misery. I had to work in the mornings, so my best energy (which wasn’t much) was spent trying to teach my high schoolers Spanish— though I did that very poorly as well, managing to get through the morning only by constantly sucking on fruit filled popsicles and giving my students book work (which is a no-no with good teaching pedagogy).
I remember sometime after her brother was born, finally having the time to look at my daughter and see her the way I used to, only she was so different. It was like I’d been asleep all that time and I could finally open my eyes and look at her with clarity, and time had passed without pausing to wait for me. That moment was such an awful one. I wanted to weep because she had changed and I’d been there, I’d seen it, but I hadn’t been paying attention like I’d wanted too. I’d just been trying to survive. I’d been wishing those months away, but as they disappeared, so did beautiful moments about my daughter’s growth and development. Any sane, only mildly nauseated moments I had during pregnancy, I tried to spend with her on walks or playing with dollies, but they were always so short lived, and I was never fully with her when they happened. I was watching her life fly by me as I held my head over the toilet, slept, or obsessed about finding foods I could keep down, and there was nothing I could do about it. The worst was when she’d say things like, “Why don’t you want to play with me, Mommy? Don’t you want to snuggle?” She might as well have been asking, “Don’t you love me anymore?” That’s how I felt, at least.
Yesterday, I looked in the mirror as me and my two beautiful children did one of the mundane, daily, beautiful tasks of our daily life and I saw it all differently. I saw Baby Bear as the treasure he is and I connected it, for the first time on this side of pregnancy, to my HG. I don’t know why I’ve always seen my HG and my son as two, separate things, but they are not. They’re completely intertwined. We were just brushing our teeth together—he loves to brush his teeth—and I was looking at all of us in the mirror and my heart was so full. His sweet blue eyes and fluffy white hair, his soft, round cheeks and tiny little boy body, they were all worth it. My daughter’s face was full of the same joy. She loves her brother. She has a playmate. A best friend who will always be there for her. I gave her that when I sacrificed everything to go through HG. Those moments that could have been spent with her or away from the TV, or feeling normal, or actually staying awake for more than 810 hours a day were the price for this little guy she adores more than life itself. Those weeks where I never saw my husband because I couldn’t manage to stay awake to greet him when he came home, were what he required to achieve life.
When I look at that awful misery and forget the result, there is bitterness. When I look at my boy and my beautiful family the way it is now, I realize that those were necessary things to endure to have him in our lives. It was the same with my daughter. I wouldn’t say I had HG with her, but I was sicker than %95 percent of women in her pregnancy too, and her sweet face made it all worth it. I would do it all again for them. I would do it all again. I know I can speak for my husband—my beautiful, loving, patient, giving husband —when I say that he would do it all again too. I can’t imagine how hard it must be to watch the one you love most go through HG.
One of my first thoughts in the moments just after both my babies were born was, “It’s over! I’m not pregnant anymore!” and I remember looking at both of them all slimy and discolored and saying, “You were worth it. I would do it all over again for you.” Then, as soon as I could, I ate a large meal full of the things that had made me sick during my pregnancy and I relished the feeling of wholeness and the newness of feeling normal again.
My kids are so worth it. I would spend a lifetime suffering from HG for them if that’s what they needed. I would.
In retrospect, my love softens all those awful moments. Baby Bear needed me when I was losing my lunch again or when I was rushed to the hospital for an IV. He somehow needed me to be that sick so he could survive. Needed me to experience the mind- numbing aversion to smell, the excessive and awful oversalivation, the headaches and the tummy aches, the acid reflux on steroids, losing weight instead of gaining it... For some reason those awful things were necessary for his growth and development. It was like I had to sacrifice myself for him. All that awfulness was a means to the end of having this bouncy, happy, sweet, energetic boy in my arms. Maybe he was “poisoning” my body, or whatever it is you want to call it, but without the awful journey of HG, he wouldn’t be here.
I’m still sorry I couldn’t spend as much time with my daughter as I could, but those months helped her to mature in ways she needed to in order to be an independent big sister and now she has the best playmate she could have ever hoped for. She’s not sorry either. We talk about it and she remembers Mommy being sick, but somehow she understands and doesn’t hold it against me. I don’t know how a fiveyearold can be so wise, but she is. I think we had enough good moments that she held them against her heart, treasuring them to keep her going and seeking the next, good Mommy moment. I always thought I’d be so happy pregnant. I always envisioned myself with a house full of kids running the halls. I always wanted five kids. I haven’t given up on that dream completely, but I’m not going to lie—HG has definitely affected our family planning. We always intended to leave getting pregnant up to God. We strongly believe that he will prevent pregnancy if we aren’t ready and give it when we are. After our daughter Bunny’s awful pregnancy, we rescinded and used birth control for nearly two years. When it took us an extra seventeen months to conceive her brother, I deeply regretted having taking the whole matter into our hands. I begged God for my son. I pleaded for him. And when He gave us the blessing of our little boy, I did the best I could not to complain about the circumstances through which the gift was given, but failed much of the time.
Baby Bear is a year old and still nursing which may offer just a tad bit more “protection” against pregnancy than normal, but we’re still determined to leave it up to God this time.
I’m not going to lie, though, we are both terrified, seriously terrified of getting pregnant again and it’s a huge buzz kill on “the mood” during any intimate times. Being a Christian, though, there is no way to separate our faith from our daily lives and I know that God will ultimately work even the worst things out for good as we seek him, even though it may not appear that way to us. So we’re trying to trust Him with our next pregnancy while practicing more natural methods of family planning—basically, “Honey, I think we should stay away from each other for the next couple of days.” Ultimately, though, I know God got us through Bear’s pregnancy, made us stronger through it, and ultimately gave us an amazing gift. Despite my fear, I completely trust Him that even if he allows me more HG pregnancies, He will ultimately sustain us. And that gives me peace. In the meantime, I pray for Kate and all the mothers like her who are so disheartened by what HG does to their bodies, their children, and their families as a whole. I pray they get all the emotional and physical support they need. And I pray that one day soon, someone will find the cause for this awful disease, and ultimately, a cure.