Research shows that 1 in 3 HG pregnancies ends in loss. Vaness shares her story of HG and loss. Grief resources can be found here.
It was Family Day in Canada, and my husband and I were enjoying our time off after eleven years of marriage. We exchanged casual banter about how maybe next year we’d have a plus one to celebrate with. We had been trying for six years and were ready for children. As a dogged type-A personality, I took my prenatals, exercised, and ate right, doing everything possible to ensure a healthy pregnancy. But despite our efforts, I had been failing.
Vanessa’s HG Reality and HG Loss
My first pregnancy was a sham. It lasted nine weeks and was marked by mild pregnancy symptoms and an ultrasound that showed 4 ½ weeks with no heartbeat. I needed an abortion because my body was clinging to the corpse of the baby we wanted. This was how I celebrated my 30th birthday and how I learned that the first trimester of pregnancy could be deadly.
The trauma carried for years. So when we saw the “Yes” on the pregnancy test, we were guarded. I hoped for better and was ready to face the exhaustion and morning sickness. Except, it wasn’t normal. At five weeks, I was begging my doctor for a magical cure-all to the perpetual nausea. In the end, she prescribed Diclectin, the Canadian frontline drug for morning sickness. When I got those pills, I was in heaven. The nausea began to subside over a few days but so, too, did my pregnancy symptoms.
An eight-week ultrasound showed a void where the baby should have been. We had lost another one. I had no pregnancy symptoms because the second baby had also failed to thrive. The medication had done nothing. I was left alone to rationalize what had gone wrong and why. “It was a blighted ovum. Maybe there were multiples?”
At five weeks, my morning sickness was bad enough that I had begged for Diclectin. The Google searches sent a chill down my spine. Hyperemesis gravidarum (HG) became part of my vocabulary. It is a frightful mutation of genes, often hallmarked with early and violent onset of NVP, nausea and vomiting of pregnancy. But I had also been pregnant and miscarried twice. No way was it that. The narrative I convinced myself of was that I was tired, stressed, and that it was the flawed embryo that had made me sick. I drank in this delusion believing it was why I started feeling nauseous so soon. The third time would be fine. It had to be.
Family Day 2021, day 30, and what told me I was pregnant was the nausea. A positive pregnancy test confirmed it. Day 32, I came home from a run, shuddering and trying to suppress heaves. Day 33, I started on the Diclectin. Day 34, Gravol’s help was moot, B6 did nothing. Ginger tablets, screw those. I started gobbling Diclectin and Gravol in six-hour cycles. Then every four hours. I didn’t care when I took them, only that I felt sick, and I needed them now!
HG Treatment and HG Loneliness
My doctor’s appointment was scheduled for day 37; instead, I put myself into the hospital overdosing on Gravol. I was 37 days pregnant, couldn’t swallow food, could barely handle water, lost 2 kgs, and the last line of defense for women suffering crippling morning sickness had been breached.
HG is a very lonely and deeply misunderstood condition, and I didn’t realize how badly until I went to emergency, slurring words, and stumbling. It was when the nurses hooked up my IV and administered ondansetron, choice antiemetic for chemo patients, I sobbed.
The HER Foundation was my go-to resource. The hospital gave me 4 mg of ondansetron that dissolve under the tongue. It didn’t help. My doctor, in desperation, prescribed me 8 mg of ondansetron knowing that I was trending towards severe HG.
Not only was I deteriorating rapidly, my mind had one thought, “Either abort or die.” I had been down this road before. At 39 days, 5 ½ weeks into a pregnancy scarred by disease, I was inadmissible for a surgical abortion. They reserved this procedure for those who are further along in their pregnancies, for when pharmaceutical methods no longer work. The clinic took me in regardless, showed me compassion, and did not judge. I chose to live and grieve an HG loss.
Some HG sufferers terminate their wanted pregnancies, primarily due to lack of compassion from the medical community and the world at large. Those who go on to a second pregnancy, fear it. The difference between those women and me is that I stood at HG’s dark, foreboding gates once before, saw the shadow of what was beyond, and turned away.
HG robs women of the joy of a healthy pregnancy, and HG robs families of a mom, a sister, and wife. HG destroys society with the expense and burden of caring for someone. No one should ever be so ill and wanting a child that she makes the choice I ended up making. In the end, my husband and I will be seeking surrogacy to build our family.
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