Hyperemesis Gravidarum

 

It’s been a little over two years since I delivered my wonderfully healthy baby boy. I’ve been awash in the stress of life as a working mom, wife, and teacher. Yet not a day passes that I don’t think of you, my sisters in suffering. Hyperemesis gravidarum, or HG, is a temporary condition but it does leave an impact on its sufferers. If you’re in the middle of an hg pregnancy and dreaming about life without this debilitating condition, here’s a look from someone two years out.

Here’s the good news:

  • I have not experienced the nausea, fatigue, and vomiting (nvp) I did when I was pregnant since I delivered my child. Not once.
  • I have a happy, healthy, normal son who has brought me more joy than I ever imagined possible.
  • I am a stronger person than I once was. The feeling that I can survive anything has not left me.

Yet life is not perfect. I don’t expect it to be, but I hadn’t counted on these hurdles:

  • I had the stomach flu last year and the four times I vomited brought me back to that very dark place when it felt like the nausea and vomiting would never end.
  • As much as my husband and I want another child, thinking of being pregnant makes me feel nauseous. Seriously.
  • The fear of experiencing hyperemesis gravidarum again scares me.

So if you’re slogging your way through an hg pregnancy, reach for the hope that you will survive. I did, and I know many others who have as well. It is difficult, this business of bringing life into the world– even without hg. Yet it is possible to make it through the days, weeks, and months of sick. Avoid the soft slide into isolation by surrounding yourself with your supporters– friends, family, nurses, and spouses. When it comes to food, try everything you can. If you can keep down Pringles, Jolly Ranchers, and V-8 (the hg safe foods early in my pregnancy) then so be it. Distract yourself from the illness. If that means watching every season of Desperate Housewives, reading the Twilight Series again, or knitting everyone’s Christmas presents in July then do it. But most important, remember Buzz Light Year’s motto: Never give up, never surrender. You CAN survive this. And two years from now, when you’re chasing after a toddler whose favorite word is “no,” you’ll understand: life is not perfect, but you’re strong enough to face anything that comes your way.

 

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Crawford Road

Crawford Road (Photo credit: kevincollins123)

When you spend most of your day in the bathroom, heaving up the crackers and ginger ale your mother just knew would make you feel better, it’s difficult to look on the bright side of things. When you have hyperemesis gravidarum, you barely have strength to get to the toilet let alone summon the energy needed to vomit for the tenth time that day. As if the constant nausea and hyper salivation weren’t enough, you’re saddled with common pregnancy complaints: swelling, back pain, perhaps carpal tunnel in your wrists. No one understands why you’ve isolated yourself from the world, no one understands that you’ve already tried every form of ginger and anti-nausea wives tale that exists. Hyperemesis gravidarum makes it impossible to see any silver lining in the cloud of nausea that follows you 24/7.

And yet… is there a bright side? When you’re fighting a chronic condition like hyperemesis gravidarum, it’s nearly impossible to remove yourself from the debilitating condition you’re in. I encourage you to try, even for a miniscule moment, to push aside how you feel and think about your future. When the baby comes, this illness will go away. You have hope. There is a light ahead of you. You have to battle through the darkness to get there, but there is no other disease I can think of that offers a happy ending like hyperemesis gravidarum.  When you deliver your child, you will have conquered your foe. There is no other ending.

So today, my sisters in suffering, try your best to keep the future in mind. Yes, your body is dragging you down and telling you that something is terribly wrong. Yes, everything hurts and you feel miserable and this isn’t the pregnancy experience you had imagined. Accept those things and focus on the road ahead. It’s dark, difficult, and lonely. It’s not easy. But that road leads to a beauty and joy that has the power to erase the suffering you’re enduring. All you have to do is put one foot in front of the other and believe.

Pregnant Lotus Smile

Pregnant Lotus Smile (Photo credit: bettina n)

I’ve accepted it: life doesn’t get easier. We trick ourselves into thinking that a new car, house, partner, or job will lead us to a happier, easier life. I’m still caught up in this cycle. I seem to need a hope, something to keep me going. I think that’s how many of us were made. Often, when that hope or dream is realized, it rarely solves my problems. Yet there is something about the journey that is rewarding; a sharpening of character occurs, a resolve to do better develops, and a new dream is birthed.

When I suffered from hyperemesis gravidarum, I lived for the day when I could eat again. I dreamed of vomit-free nights,  a life filled with people, of a beautiful baby to cuddle. All of those wonderful dreams have come to pass, and they will come for you, too. Right now, you are probably slogging through each day and night, laying as still as you can in the hope that you won’t throw up again. I’m sure that you, as I did, were often unable to think past the nausea.

So today, allow yourself to dream of the future. Use that dream to push you forward. Keep pressing on. When your hyperemesis gravidarum goes away, and it will, life will not magically become easier, and it won’t turn into a slice of perfection. You will face another set of challenges. But your health will improve. You will hold your child in your arms. And you will have forged a strength of spirit unimaginable.

I’m a big sci-fi fan. Something about the unknown fascinates and terrifies me. But it’s a good curiosity, a safe fear, because I expect little in the world of science fiction to ever happen. When I suffered from hyperemesis gravidarum, I faced a different kind of unknown. Why couldn’t I keep any food down? Why would my body reject even drinking water? Would my baby survive? These fears were not safe because they were real, and they terrified me.

Recently, I viewed a trailer for Will Smith’s upcoming scifi film, After Earth. The story of two soldiers lost on a dangerous planet, facing unbelievable odds, must survive. Sounds fun. The voiceover, however, struck something deep inside my mind. Smith’s character says, “if we are going to survive this, you must realize that fear is not real. It is a product of thoughts you create… danger is very real, but fear is a choice.”

Think about that for a moment. Is fear a choice? Yes, fear is an instinctual reaction we have to danger. In some situations, it can be very healthy and help us protect ourselves. Yet the fear I felt while suffering through my hyperemesis gravidarum pregnancy– on the bad days, when I lay in bed crying, weak, and so very nauseous– was not healthy. I tried to remind myself that my doctors (and I had a team helping me through my hyperemesis gravidarum pregnancy), said the baby was doing well. But these logical thoughts seldom overcame the fear that overwhelmed me.

Toward the end of my pregnancy, I remember discussing my zofran pump with my doctor in her examination room. Suddenly, I felt faint. I passed out, had what I felt was at least a forty-five minute dream in which I road different rides at a sea-side carnival, and then woke up to my doctor saying my name. I instantly became terrified and started to cry. When I asked what happened, my doctor said that I had just had “a little seizure.” I had been out for less than a minute. I was so worried that the seizure would have somehow hurt my baby. Luckily, he was fine. But as my pregnancy continued, the sharp memory of that fear stabbed at my mind. It was growing stronger. I knew that I had to fight to overcome my fearful thoughts. Some days I was successful. Other days, I failed terribly.

Having survived a hyperemesis gravidarum pregnancy, I feel qualified (at least on some level), to give those who are in the midst of suffering some advice. So here it is, dear ones. Will Smith is right: fear isn’t real. It is a product of our thoughts. It is a choice. Sometimes, that choice is made for you by your body’s instinctual reaction to danger and the unknown. When that happens, recognize what you’re feeling. Try to understand why you’re afraid. Know that it’s okay to be scared. But don’t wallow in fear. When you feel unable to overcome those emotions, it’s time to start fighting. How can you do that when you’re an exhausted, vommity mess?

Start with distraction. Immerse your mind in something else. Browse online stores for baby clothes, listen to a book on cd, call a friend, or watch a comedy. Districting your mind is a great way to give it rest.

Next, gather information. When I was pregnant, I read every blog, every journal article, every website about hyperemesis gravidarum I could find. The unknown is always scary, so the more you learn about what’s going on with your body the quieter your fears will become. Forget about being annoying and call your nurse, doctor, a psychologist—anyone who can offer you information— three times a day if you need to. You’ve got one of the toughest jobs known to humanity: carrying a child. If you need to know something, do not hesitate to ask.

And lastly, be cognizant of the tiny moments when things are okay. It may seem like life is a constant, grueling, miserable experience. Even so, look for the good: feeling a kick, going a day without vomiting, being able to eat a potato. Notice these times and remember them. Write them down on post-it notes if it will help. And when you’re feeling scared, recall those moments and know that you will have them again. Hyperemesis gravidarum comes with an array of complicated and miserable symptoms. It’s downright awful. But it is survivable, and you are a survivor. You will do anything you need to produce a healthy baby. That may mean facing your fears of blood draws, medicine pumps, PICC lines, and even hospitalization, but if that’s what it takes to keep your child alive you will do it. And you can do it.

Help others by sharing some of the fears you face. How do you overcome them?

Writer's Block

With hyperemesis gravidarum in the news, I’ve been feeling convicted to share my journey. However, this is easier said than done. For a while I’ve known that I need to share more than the snippets I’ve included on this blog. So why have I hesitated?

It’s more than writer’s block. It’s fear. If I put my hyperemesis gravidarum pregnancy into words, it suddenly makes the nightmare that was last year more real. Writing my story means reaching inside, waking a person who wants to  hit the snooze button just a little longer. I’ve talked about those months plenty, but writing is somehow more real, more honest, more raw.

Not only does hyperemesis gravidarum damage your body, it devastates your emotional being. It takes time to heal. Perhaps writing my story will help. Until I’m ready to face that task, I’ll continue to offer encouragement to anyone who is struggling.

Today, dear sisters in suffering, that encouragement is written by Amber, a fellow hg survivor. It is these stories like these that helped me hold on during my pregnancy, and I am hoping that her words help you as well. Please read her story, and let me know if you have a story you’d like to share.

Moon and Saturn / Maan en Saturnus

Moon and Saturn / Maan en Saturnus (Photo credit: Arjan Almekinders)

As those of you suffering with hyperemesis gravidarum know, there isn’t really a light side to this condition. Women with hg suffer through each day of their pregnancy, unable to keep food and water down, weak and alone. Some have PICC lines (internal ivs placed near their hearts) that keep their bodies nourished and hydrated. Some have extended hospital stays. All vomit excessively.

Hyperemesis gravidarum offers the best payoff– a child. Yet the struggle to grow a child does not always lead to a happy ending. Some babies are lost to miscarriage, some to abortion.  It’s easy for those who have no experienced just how wretched a condition hg is to misunderstand, but the intense suffering women go through when they have hyperemesis gravidarum leads many to abort their child. To me, the loss of a life is the darkest event possible.

As someone who was raised in a conservative home, I never believed in abortion. Yet feeling so ill, for so long, helped me understand why someone would consider it an option. I truly felt like I was dying, and there were moments when I would have done anything to find some reprieve from the relentless nausea and vomiting. To me, that is the dark side of this condition. That is the horrific truth.

If you’ve ever stepped into the darkness, hg mama, I want you to know that there is light waiting for you. You may feel lost, like you’re in a dark cave with no light to guide you. But you are not alone on this journey. You have a little one growing inside you. Because you are carrying that precious gift, you have no choice: you must fight. Surrender is not an option. The good news is that you’re fighting for a worhty cause, and you will win this war. It won’t be easy. You will get sick– very sick. But you will also earn a reward, and you will treasure that reward because you had to fight so hard to earn it. You will be stronger, knowing that you can handle anything life throws at you. Keep your eye on the prize, dear sisters in suffering. It is worth all the sick.

Has your HG made you delve into the dark side? Help others by posting a comment below.

Family of Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge

Family of Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Hooray! The media is finally talking about hyperemesis gravidarum. As is common these days, it took a celebrity to bring an issue to the public eye. Like many, I’m excited to hear the ‘royal’ news. Yet the news that Kate Middleton is suffering from hyperemesis gravidarum does not make me happy.

I’ve often thought that I wouldn’t wish this condition on my worst enemy.  But I’ve never thought about someone I like encountering hyperemesis gravidarum. I don’t know her, but I do like the Kate Middleton I know through the media. As I’ve read report after report of her big news, I’ve wondered how she’s coping. Being pregnant isn’t easy. Being a celebrity isn’t easy. Those two factors added together make for a difficult time. Add hyperemesis gravidarum to the mix and she’s facing a rough nine months. I know she’ll receive good care and plenty of rest (she is carrying the heir, after all). But even with the best care, she’ll still feel like she’s dying. She’ll still feel nauseous. And she’ll still deal with the sad fact that there is no cure for hyperemesis gravidarum.

So what would I say to Kate if I had the chance to write her a letter? After a heart-felt congratulations, I’d tell her to be strong. I’d encourage her to get in touch with her inner survivor, because she’s going to need every part of herself to face the next few months. And lastly, I’d convey to her how entirely worthwhile the fight for your child will be. I would share with her what washed over me tonight as I rocked my little one to sleep: the misery of hyperemesis gravidarum is worth tremendous gift that awaits you at the end.

What advice would you give Cate if you had the chance?

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