When Kate Middleton was admitted to the hospital with hyperemesis gravidarum I was surprised how many people had never heard of it. With further explanation, people inevitably respond the same way — “oh, you mean morning sickness.”
Let me let you in on a little secret: this is so much more than morning sickness. I had morning sickness with my first pregnancy. Throwing up all day and night it was 24/7 sickness. However, it wasn’t until I was pregnant with my second – a daughter – that I was diagnosed with hyperemesis. It started out just like the first, vomiting almost the day after I took the pregnancy test.
At seven weeks, just after my doctor found the heartbeat, my sickness took an extreme turn. The vomiting got so bad I couldn’t keep down a sip of water. I spent many days in the hospital hooked up to an IV. After the IV, I would force myself to eat peanut butter and jelly sandwiches (the only thing I could stand) until the vomiting began again. The reprieve lasted just over an hour.
Nine weeks into my pregnancy I was completely incapacitated. My 18-month-old son and I were forced to move in with my parents. I felt like such a failure as a mother – unable to care for the child I already had and the one I was trying to nurture in utereo. I was too weak to walk, dizzy all the time, and any smell set off the intense vomiting. I stayed in the bed in their guest room trying to sip soup or juice and immediately sleep in an effort to hold it down. It rarely worked. I went days without eating or drinking anything. Even on the days I felt brave enough to try, the food came right up preventing me from absorbing any of the nutrients. With or without food I was throwing up 8-12 times through the day and night.
By 15-weeks, a time when my baby bump should have been making my regular pants uncomfortable, my jeans were falling down. At the doctor’s office I stood on the scale. I was down to an alarming 92 pounds. As I looked at that horrifying number I could do nothing but weep uncontrollably. What was happening to me? It didn’t make any sense. This is supposed to be an exciting and joyous time and instead I was locked in a room, abandoning my husband and child. I could barely get through the day.
At this point they became concerned with the baby. Prior to my last weigh-in, the doctors assured that the baby was getting all the nutrition it needed from my body. They were clear that I was the one who was suffering but that the baby was growing and developing according to schedule. However, when things weren’t turning around in my second trimester, they began to worry. All my reserves were gone and the baby would need more to continue to thrive. Until that point I was dead set against taking medication but it was time to re-evaluate. My doctor prescribed Zofran, an anti-nausea drug. Just like after a hospital IV, I would take a dose, binge eat and go immediately to sleep, willing myself to hold some of it down long enough to nourish my unborn baby.
My case of hyperemesis gravidarum faded out just as it faded in. At 18-weeks I could eat again and the sickness had resumed to “normal” morning sickness, which meant for me I was vomiting 3-4 times per day. I could go two hours or more after eating, which meant the food was being at least partially digested. Finally, by 22-weeks I was slowly gaining weight, though it would be another four weeks until I gained the appropriate amount of weight at that stage in my pregnancy. The good news was I ate like a truck driver for the remainder of my pregnancy. Eggs, bagels, and ice cream were my staples. I probably ate a wheel of cheese daily – yummmm!
A few months later my baby girl was born full term at a healthy 7 pounds, 4 ounces. That baby girl is nearly two years old now and – while I will never forget that scary period in our lives together – if she has any recollection, her constant laughter and grinning face certainly don’t show it.