What I Want You to Know is a series of reader submissions. It is an attempt to allow people to tell their personal stories, in the hopes of bringing greater compassion to the unique issues each of us face. If you would like to submit a story, email me. Today’s story was written by Amanda of Our Wee Family.
Looking through my 3-year-old’s baby box last week, I held his first outfit, first shoes and first paci with wonderment and warmth. These keepsakes bring back joyous memories.
Then, I picked up the baggie that holds the PICC line I wore for three months during his pregnancy, my lifeline to hydration and the medication my body desperately needed. Now it serves as a reminder of being gravely ill during pregnancy, but also, thankfully, of the wonderful medical care that got me through it.
I’m a two-time survivor of Hyperemesis Gravidarum, a rare and serious condition affecting about one percent of pregnant women. HG, as it's called for short, is a very extreme form of morning sickness. Women become dangerously ill, throwing up many times a day, losing about 10 percent of their body weight and, without medical intervention, it can lead to death. Some doctors still dismiss the condition, telling women it's psychological and they're overreacting. It's hard for women to find adequate support from family and friends as well because most people know very little about the condition. Good news is, with proper care, mom and baby are fine at the end of the pregnancy.
I had HG with my first pregnancy, but it was considered mild. I threw up many times a day, was unable to work for a few weeks and lost weight during the first trimester – all while taking strong doses of Zofran, an anti-nausea medication usually prescribed for cancer patients going through chemo. I remained on Zofran the entire pregnancy and was instantly nausea-free after my daughter was born.
When we became pregnant with my son 16 months later, I figured I’d be ill again, but at least I knew how to get through it. I was wrong. I started taking large doses of Zofran as soon as I began throwing up, but it wasn’t enough. I was in and out of the hospital for IV hydration and medication. Quickly, my doctor ordered a PIC line inserted, a more permanent IV running from my arm to my chest. He sent me home with home health nurses and medication.
I pushed Zofran and fluids through my PIC line a few times a day and took a handful of other medications all aimed at reducing my nausea. My dresser was piled high in IV bags, saline locks and IV tubing. My fridge was stocked with medication. Nurses stopped by to change my PIC dressing.
I was a mess. I took a leave from work and spent my days lying in bed, forcing myself to eat and promptly throwing up. I was so nauseated I couldn’t read, send an e-mail, complete a phone call or even muster the energy for a shower many days, much less care for my toddler. Sleep was my only relief.
Blessedly, by week 12, my symptoms started to ease. It took another month before I could wean off the IV medications, but I eventually had the PIC line removed and returned to oral Zofran for the remainder of the pregnancy. The instant my healthy 8-pound son was born, my symptoms disappeared.
I'm just one of thousands of women each year who faces HG. What I’d like you to know about HG is that it’s not a psychological disorder, although it does – not surprisingly - cause depression. As HG sufferers, we’re not fighting against our pregnancies. We’re just regular women who were once excited to be pregnant, until this illness threatened to kill us. Some are able to muster the courage to carry another child. Others, like me, are so terrified of pregnancy, we struggle to let go of our dreams of carrying future babies.
If you hear of a friend or family member who’s suffering from HG, please don’t minimize their symptoms. Instead, reach out to them with offers to do laundry, help with other children, bring a meal for the rest of the family and say prayers. Bring music to listen to, a stuffed animal to snuggle or offer to sit quietly bedside. It’s hard to ask for help when you’re too sick to use the phone or pull together sentences.
I’m incredibly thankful for my doctors who understood HG and did everything they could to keep me safe and healthy. I’m thankful for my husband, family and friends who helped me fight, sending many prayers my way. Most of all, I’m thankful for my two healthy children, babies who somehow thrived in my body while it was nearly destroying itself.
Amanda blogs at Our Wee Family.