There it is. The big blue plus sign. We’re pregnant!
We were newlyweds, pregnant for the very first time with our first baby, and life couldn’t have been any more perfect. I was on a cloud of happiness. I was already thinking of cute ways to share the news with both sets of grandparents, all our close friends, the big social media announcement. I spent the whole rest of that day day-dreaming about cravings and gender reveal parties and maternity photo shoots and how much fun I was going to have waddling around my workplace with a big beautiful bump, glowing. My husband and I were overjoyed. All was right in the world.
Until around 8 PM that night. At not even 4 weeks pregnant, the nausea hit. It hit HARD. It hit so hard that I had to excuse myself abruptly from our house guests to head straight upstairs, swallowing my ginger tablets and vitamin B6 (I was informed would help the morning sickness), and went straight to bed.
I woke up feeling worse. In fact, each subsequent day I woke up feeling worse and worse. The nausea was peaking to levels I didn’t know were humanly possible. I couldn’t eat. I couldn’t drink. I had no sense of time or day or week or month. It was unbearable. I wanted to die. In fact, I told my husband, family, and doctors that phrase over and over again. I couldn’t get a second of relief. I couldn’t function. I was bed-ridden or bathroom-ridden. All I could do was lay as still as possible and cry.
At 5 weeks, after losing 13 pounds in one week, I was diagnosed with Hyperemesis Gravidarum. I was started on every antiemetic under the sun, around the clock – drugs that they give cancer patients. Nothing felt real but the pain. I was still dehydrated and still not eating. The drugs controlled the vomiting but didn’t touch the relentless nausea. I was eventually in the hospital across the country in Dublin due to extreme dehydration at 12 weeks pregnant. I truly thought I was dying.
I wanted this baby so badly. My husband and I had planned this baby, prayed for this baby. But suddenly, I didn’t feel like I could go on. I was in so much constant, relentless pain. I was depressed and became suicidal for the first time in my life. I just wanted the pain to stop.
The first trimester ended and nothing got better. In fact, it got worse. I was a shell of existence. I was in pure misery. Nausea so intense it took over mind, body, and thoughts. I couldn’t move. Migraines had me digging my nails into my skin to try to cause a pain elsewhere, anywhere else but the pounding in my head. I couldn’t swallow my spit because it made me gag, and I carried around a “spit cup” and spit every few seconds instead of swallowing. My body ached from dehydration. It’s a sickness that never ends. Think of the worst bout of food poisoning – now multiply that by 20 and extend it to a time period of 24/7 for 9 straight months.
At 4 months pregnant, I was so sick and in so much pain that my husband contacted my parents to fly over to Ireland from California (during the pandemic) to accompany me on a flight back to California. We had found the HER Foundation HG Treatment Protocol and medication information and knew I had to be seen the United States by an OB who could prescribe the one drug I hadn’t tried, a drug Ireland couldn’t provide for me.
I was started on Gabapentin immediately and within 3 hours of my first dose, I was able to swallow, drink water, and nibble food. I got dressed for the first time in months. I brushed my own hair. I smiled. I was still so insanely nauseous, but the Gabapentin helped me get water and food down. It helped me function.
The heart-breaking downside to the success of Gabapentin for me is that no Irish doctors will prescribe it to a pregnant woman. If I was going to stay on it, if I was going to continue to fight for my baby and stay pregnant, I was going to have to stay in California with my parents and be treated in the States for the duration of my pregnancy. My Irish husband had to stay in Ireland to maintain our home and work and wouldn’t be able to visit, especially during a pandemic, until our baby’s birth.
Hyperemesis Gravidarum stole more from me than a joyous pregnancy. It left me in another country and time zone, separated from my newlywed husband so that the baby and I could survive until birth. My husband didn’t get to find out our daughter’s gender with me. He didn’t get to feel her kick for the first time, or the fifth time, or at all. He didn’t get to hold my hand during ultrasounds – he had to watch via Facetime. He didn’t get to hold the both of us at night – we had to time our calls because we were in different time zones. We both slept alone, separated by an entire ocean and a continent. It took away all my dreams for a big family – or even a second baby, a sibling for our daughter. It brought me more misery than I’ve ever experienced.
But it also brought me to a wonderful community of strong women. Reaching out to others who have had the misfortune of experiencing an HG pregnancy and sharing our pain gave me the strength I needed to get through the worst experience of my life. HG Mamas are strong, and I’m honoured to stand with them and rally for awareness and support for this horrific pregnancy disease.
No woman should have to suffer so much and risk her own life to bring life into the world. My sincerest wish is that by the time my own daughter is ready to start her family, there will be more than a few medications to help remedy the severity of Hyperemesis Gravidarum – there will be a cure.