“Excessive vomiting during pregnancy”.
This is the medical definition for Hyperemesis Gravidarum. I’ve thought about that term so many times over the years. It seems to be such a simple term to sum up such a horrifying illness. Especially one that so many people don’t consider to be a “real” illness.
When I first fell pregnant, about four months after we were married, we were shell shocked – to put it mildly. Allan and I always said we “didn’t need to have children and didn’t care if we had any”. They were cute enough little beings, but we didn’t need them really. We were content with the legions of nieces and nephews we already had – at the time, we had 12 between us! So we were happy enough to buy them gifts, spend time with them and then hand the cute and sometimes smelly little beings over to their parents.
However, after the first shock subsided, we were ok with the idea and even started to get a little excited. Although we were naturally worried (we were spending all our cash every month, having fun, with little thought for the future – hey, we were in our 20’s and who thinks of the future then?!).
Having such a big family, I was very comfortable with babies and also knew exactly about the joys of morning sickness…….my brother and his wife lived with us when she was first pregnant, and I knew Szerena had terrible morning sickness. But, naive as I was, I KNEW with certainty that it would be light and by week 12, like magic, it would disappear instantly and everything would be just perfect. We excitedly shared our news with everyone and were happy as clams for a while. We were living with my brother at the time (see above comment about spending our cash every month and having fun!) and we were all excited at the thought of a baby in the flat.
Reality soon set in.
At about 6 weeks, my first signs of morning sickness appeared. With a vengeance. I woke one morning feeling sick to my core, shivering, shaking and barely able to brush my teeth. I couldn’t even bother to put eyeliner on (a HUGE thing for me, as I am convinced I look like a troll without some form of make-up). My ever polite brother actually asked me “WHAT is wrong with your face today?” Sigh….brothers.
Allan dropped me at work and during my lunch break I gamely walked up to the local Spar in Kloof Street to stock up on Ginger Biscuits (because they cure everything right?), ginger beer…..in fact anything ginger.
For the next few days (was it only a few days? Looking back at the timelines, it felt like months), I gamely struggled on, trying every cure for morning sickness I could find. The crappy thing was, to my great surprise, the hell didn’t get better as morning passed. It remained 24/7. I wish I could explain the feeling, but the only way to explain it is that your WHOLE body feels sick.
During lunch hour, I would drag myself to the boardroom and put my head down on the table and try to sleep to at least escape the misery for an hour.
After a few days of this, I told my boss that I had to go home early. Luckily, he was quite understanding. I don’t know how I made it during that train ride as well as the long walk from the train station home. I remember thinking “one step at a time, just get home”.
As I am writing this, I have to pause now and then to make sure I have my timelines correct. It was 15 years ago after all and timelines get distorted. I’m amazed all over again at how short the whole period really was.
Anyway, my sister got me in to see her gynae, and wow, what a doozy he was (doozy as in “total chauvinistic ass). Not knowing any better about most things, least of all what was happening to me, I had to trust him. The first thing he told me was …… wait for it, I’m sure you’ve heard it before….”you’re not sick my girl, you’re just pregnant”.
He prescribed some anti-nausea medication and sent me on my merry little way. Two days after that Allan and my mom took me emergency room at 9pm and they had to admit me for severe dehydration. I will never forget that ER Doctor (I still see her at our local Pick ‘n Pay sometimes, doing mundane things, like buying porridge). Her blonde hair shone like a halo (or maybe that was just me hallucinating). That was when I first heard the term Hyperemesis Gravidarum.
My Doctor Angel held my hand and explained what was happening and why I was SO sick. I lay there and closed my eyes, finally not feeling the full extent of the blatant terror of the last couple of weeks, finally understanding that someone out there had a solution. The nurses wheeled me to my room, reassuring me that all would be ok. They gave me four beanbags to help me stop shivering so violently. After the drip was inserted and my teeth had stopped rattling, Allan and my mom kissed me goodbye and had to leave. My poor Allan, always so supportive of me, yet I am sure he must have been panicked in his own way.
Anyway, after a few days, I was pronounced well enough to go home, as the throwing up had stopped and I was eating normally. Allan fetched me and we proceeded home, cautiously optimistic that all was well.
Boy were we so, so wrong. After 3 days the vomiting returned, possibly even worse than before. I had two more hospital stays but each time it returned vigorously. At that point I was taking the day hour by hour….
The end to my tale of woe is that I lost that baby. I remember coming out of the theatre and the first face I saw was my darling Allan. The tears in his eyes as he fed me apricot yoghurt made me love him so much more. He and I shared that sorrow together and he held my hand as I took my cousin’s call and told her the news.
He took me home the next day and we stopped at Hout Bay beach. We bought ice-cream and I sat on the sand while he walked along the shoreline and stared out to sea.
I think I felt like we had finally grown up….but what a horrible way to do so. Sharing the joy of that new spark of life, the awful struggle and eventually the loss of that precious baby that would never get to be our firstborn was heartbreaking. But it bound us together all that more firmly.
After a few weeks, when our bruised hearts had healed over slightly and we had gotten back to normal life, I started to do research on HG. I googled and read and then read some more. The stories of all the countless woman who experienced exactly what I did gave me hope. And also made me extremely angry. Angry at that ignorant gynae who brushed my illness aside with a wave of his hand and angry at all those people who said it was “all in my head” and to “buck up”.
However, as time went by, Allan and I realised what we had almost had and lost. We decided that we so desperately wanted to be parents to a beautiful baby (because let’s face it, our baby would be the most beautiful baby in the world, right?!).
I fell pregnant again – I refuse to say “we fell pregnant”…I mean seriously, the mom is pregnant NOT the dad – and this pregnancy stuck. Being the sucker for punishment, I went back to the same chauvinistic gynae….better the devil you know I guess. Surprise, surprise, he was still an idiot.
Exactly the same symptoms, nausea, vomiting, sometimes up to 30 times a day. Countless hospital stays. But through it all, my family kept me strong. My sister would drop my mom at my house in the morning and she would keep me as hydrated as possible. On my worst days, when I felt that death would be easier than pregnancy, they kept me motivated and told me to keep going. My mom knitted countless booties and jackets, my sister bought me the cutest baby things and I took it one day at a time. Allan would get home from work and take over and then drag himself to work the next morning.
After about 4 months, I was beyond thrilled when it started to ease off. I had the usual aches and pains, but I bore these burdens with a smile and a wave. My darling son, Kieran, arrived one day early. After a long labour, I had to have an emergency C-section. Naturally, my gynae managed to make this a horrid experience as well, but hey, I had grown used to him by then and would expect nothing less.
Kieran was an easy baby and was healthy and happy and we fell in love with that gorgeous soul as soon as we laid eyes on him.
Fast forward 8 years and I managed to pluck up the courage to do it again. This time was so much better. Over the years I had done extensive research on HG. I read up on the medication used…what worked, what didn’t and the side effects of each one. I found a new gynae and told him my history and what medication I thought would work. He listened, we discussed it and he did some research of his own. He called me the same afternoon and agreed with me! Oh joy!
After a while of trying, we hit the jackpot again. I got in to see my gynae immediately and we started the medication – 16 various tablets each night. I started feeling sick quite early on, but NO THROWING UP! In fact, during the whole pregnancy, I only actually threw up about 4 times. I was terribly nauseous, had that “whole body sick” feeling all the time, gagged (sorry, I hate that work too) several times a day, but I was coping. I ate constantly and am pleased to say I was quite a big girl, by the time I gave birth.
All because my gynae listened and researched.
My birth experience was totally different…..Allan and I were chatting away happily when it was announced that we should be camera ready because baby was ready to come out. Reilly arrived kicking and screaming in rage and stole our hearts.
As is the tradition in my big, crazy family, all the women were waiting in the waiting room while I was in theatre. Yip, we are a special bunch, lol. They were there to welcome Reilly to this world and see us both when I was wheeled back in.
My boys are my true joy in the world and I can’t imagine a day without them in our lives.
My road through HG took me through the two most herculean tasks I have ever undertaken. But it also brought me to the greatest happiness. Happiness that I never knew existed before my precious boys arrived in my life.
It’s made me strong. Strong enough to know that I can push through anything. Above all, it has united Allan and I through a shared, sometimes horrific experience that, unless you have been through it, you may never understand.
Please, when someone you know is suffering, for the love of Pete (whoever he is), don’t tell them to buy ginger biscuits….don’t tell them pregnancy is a condition, not an illness and DON’T tell them to “buck up”!
Many sufferers choose to terminate their desperately wanted pregnancies, simply because they cannot go on. Don’t judge them. You haven’t “walked a mile in her shoes”. That woman has suffered more than most people could endure. And will suffer all the more because of the guilt that will inevitably rise from her decision.
To all those HG “survivors”……you go girl.
You are a stronger than what any one realises.
You made it.
For more information, please visit www.helpher.org/