Like the rest of the world, I smiled when I heard the news that Will & Kate are expecting a bebe. They seem like truly nice people, and I have admired so much how Prince William has conducted his life in the public eye since losing his mother in such an awful way. I hope that the baby brings them great joy. However, I hated to hear that the Duchess of Cambridge is suffering from Hyperemesis Gravidarum, AKA extreme morning sickness. I hate it because unfortunately, I know all too well just how bad she’s feeling.
Even hearing her condition discussed on TV has made me feel a sympathy wave of nausea as I recall how unbelievably horrible I felt during my last two pregnancies, and especially when I was pregnant with now-2-year-old G. before Hyperemesis happened to me, I never could have imagined how sick simply being pregnant could make someone feel. I’ve tried to describe the experience of having Hyperemesis to people, but honestly, there are no words I know of that truly do it justice. It was one of the worst experiences of my life, and if I weren’t done having children for other reasons, I would have to think long and hard about whether I would be willing to risk going through hyperemesis again in order to have another baby. I am honestly not sure I would do it.
In case anyone is wondering how Duchess Kate is likely feeling at this point in her pregnancy plagued with hyperemsis, I thought I’d republish a couuple of my blog posts from back in late 2009 and early 2010, when I was newly pregnant with G, and so sick that I thought I might die before the nausea relented. They are below.
Also, at the end of this post, I’ve offered links to some online support and community for women suffering with extreme pregnancy nausea that I found very helpful when I was going through it myself.
December 22, 2009
As has been noted many times before, whomever named the nausea that sometimes accompanies early pregnancy “MORNING Sickness” clearly wasn’t a pregnant woman. For those of us unlucky enough to have it, it’s really more like “24-7 Sickness.” So far in this pregnancy, I have been sicker than in any of the others. I’ve even had a few days – like all last weekend – where all I wanted to do was lie in a warm bath or my bed. It’s a terrible combo of nausea mixed with debilitating fatigue, and it really takes everything I’ve got to get through my work days. I am very grateful that my employer allows me to work from home when I feel the need (I am often more productive working remotely even when I feel just fine; fewer distractions for certain types of projects). If I feel really bad, I can work in my jammies from home, and run to my own bathroom to retch as often as I need to without drawing undue attention to myself from my coworkers.
Yesterday I felt so bad that I finally called my doctor and asked for something, anything to help with the nausea. I explained that if I didn’t get some relief soon, I could lose my job due to poor productivity, and then we would lose our house, and my children would go without shoes, and we would eventually all starve to death (yes, I was feeling a bit melodramatic and desperate after 24 hours straight of throwing up.) The nurse called in a prescription for generic Zofran, which I began taking last night.
So far, so good. The stuff really seems to do the trick. I have my fingers crossed that it keeps working as well as it has since last night, because I really can’t imagine how I will keep working, care for my other children AND feel as bad as I have been feeling without eventually dropping the ball somewhere in a major way.
I am grateful that my pharmacy had the generic kind, which only had a $10 copay because I had read horror stories online of women’s insurance denying them the Zofran for pregnancy nausea, and the women being forced to pay hundreds of dollars a month out of pocket to cover the stuff. If I hadn’t been able to get it cheap, I would not be able to buy it because we are on super austerity budget these days, between Christmas, my October medical bills, and now the costs we are anticipating for this pregnancy.
Keep your fingers crossed for me that the Zofran keeps doing its job. I know you don’t want to see my children hanging out on the street corner in the cold, wearing raggedy potato sacks and begging for loose change because their mother is so nauseated that she can’t earn a living…
December 29, 2009
I am really, REALLY starting to feel fed up with the unrelenting, ass-kicking nausea and fatigue that have come with this pregnancy. I have never experienced anything like it in previous pregnancies, and honestly, it’s pretty debilitating. I know that some women vomit so much in the first trimester that they end up hospitalized, and I am grateful that this is not my situation. I only actually toss my cookies a few times every 48 hours. But I feel like I am going to throw up at any second for most of each day, and it’s just wearing me out.
The Zofran that other women describe as a “miracle cure” helped not at all, dammit. The crystallized ginger helps a good bit, but now I’ve eaten so much of it that even looking at it makes me want to retch. After 48 hours of nibbling the stuff non-stop to try to keep the nausea at bay, I just don’t think I can eat any more of it for the time being.
Because I have a relatively demanding full-time job, I simply can’t be off my game like this. My husband and family can help with the kids and the house right now, but no one else can do my job for me. I have to be productive most of the time, most days. But I have to admit that this week and last, I am truly struggling. Thank goodness it’s the holidays, when things are a little slower at our office and with our clients. My company is incredibly family friendly and accomodating, but I am extremely uncomfortable letting on just how bad I feel right now because of the unfortunate coincidence that this horrible first trimester nausea has come only 8 weeks after worst of the weird, serious virus that knocked me out for most of October. The two medical maladies are unrelated; in fact, I am generally an incredibly energetic and productive and healthy person. But after being so sick for almost an entire month in October, I really don’t feel comfortable asking for even minor sympathy for the fact that lightning seems to have struck me twice in the past few months with the virus, and now with this extreme pregnancy nausea. So when people at work ask me how I am feeling, I mostly say “great” in as cheery a voice as I can muster. If I am feeling particularly horrible at that moment, I may say I am feeling a little sick, but I try to do it in sort of a jokey, self-deprecating way. I just don’t want to become known as that whiny, sick, underperforming employee, so when I am in the office, I am trying to keep the extent of my current nausea and fatigue mostly on the downlow ’til they pass, which SURELY will be any day now, right?
I work as efficiently and productively as I can while in the office each day, but in the past 3 weeks I have taken full advantage of the fact that I can work from home pretty much whenever I need to (told ya it was a great company). Working from home instead of in my office after lunch on many days has helped me mask the fact that afternoons are very, very hard for me right now. I still get my work done at home, but I can run to the bathroom without bothering or interrupting anyone. I can also put on a ratty bathrobe or old gym shorts and a t-shirt and feel more comfortable than I do in work clothes, which are starting to get too tight and uncomfortable. And if I need to lie down for 15 minutes before getting back to a project, I can. That helps.
WHY is my regular office attire starting to feel so constricting at only 10 weeks pregnant, you may ask? Well, as it turns out, I have already gained NINE POUNDS in this pregnancy! Yes, when I went to the doctor yesterday afternoon for my check-up (I am happy to report that the ultrasound showed ONE healthy bambino in there), I was informed after stepping on the scale that I had packed on almost ten pounds in only three weeks since my last appointment. No one lectured me, but I know this is a huge weight gain. The weird thing is that the sicker I feel, the more I seem to eat. It’s like I keep thinking that some SOMETHING will be the magical food item that will finally settle my stomach and make me feel better. But nothing helps much. I get ravenously hungry and then eat some huge quantity of, say, Taco Bell bean burritos or peanut butter and honey sandwiches and then I either moan in misery or it all comes back up. But I am clearly keeping enough of it down to gain enormous amounts of weight. I am sure it doesn’t help that I feel so bad and it’s freezing cold, so my normal activity level has been hammered down to almost nothing. All I do is go to work, come home, lie on the couch or in bed or in the bathttub, and whine.
Which brings us to my husband, Saint Jonathan Adair Hickman, THE FINEST MAN WHO EVER LIVED…EVER. You know those sitcoms and rom-com movies where the adorable, handsome, sweet husband rubs his pregnant wife’s feet and back, insists that she take a nap instead of cooking dinner, or indulges her 2am cravings for pickles and ice cream without complaint? Well, Jon is that guy. He has to be utterly exhausted himself from working full time, commuting 65 miles round trip each day, taking our two year old to the office with him most days (his mom comes to their family business to provide childcare, but he is still Daddy at the office), plus running the household, cleaning, doing laundry and stepfathering the older kiddos (who are currently at their Dad’s because of the holidays; lucky for them, considering their mom’s sad state).
Sweet Jon has EVERYTHING on his shoulders right now, but he never, ever complains, and he has been taking such amazingly good, loving care of me through this. He really does rub my feet and bring me whatever food or drink I whine for, and he is always reminding me that this unpleasantness should pass very soon. He never fails to cheer me up with his good humor and sunny outlook. He’s really been quite amazing, and again, this comes after my weird illness in October where I was sick for weeks and he had to take care of everything then, too. I am really happy to see how excited Jon is about the pregnancy, and it was great that he got to be at the ultrasound yesterday and see Mr. Darcy wiggling around, and hear the nice, strong heartbeat. Sometimes I think that blog readers may think that I exaggerate how sweet and kind and good and wonderful Jon is, but those of you who know him in person can attest that he really is just as good a man as I make him out to be. I have no idea how I happened to end up married to this guy, or why he puts up with me, but at times like these when I am barely functional myself, I say a little extra prayer of thanks for having someone so dear to lean on. He’s a keeper, fo’ sho’. And I owe him BIG TIME after the events of recent months.
So there you have it; I am sick as a dog at the moment, and trying not to get too blue about it. I am generally such an active, energetic person that it’s hard to be unable to get anything much done. I haven’t seen friends in weeks, I missed all the holiday parties I very much wanted to attend (particularly my friend K’s), and I have unreturned emails that I feel terrible about. But all I want to do after I plow through my job-related tasks each day is sleep, because it’s only when I am asleep that the nausea stops. I’m heading into the home stretch for Trimester #1, so I am telling myself as often as possible that any day now, the nausea will start to fade and my normally abundant energy will start to come back, and before I know it, I’ll be dancing on tables wearing a lampshade…or at least able to vaccuum my living room without resting halfway through.
January 5, 2010
Warning: this blog post is going to be VERY heavy on the whining, self pity and general depressive angst, so if that’s a turn off to you, or if you just don’t feel like listening, close the browser window now.
OK, you’ve been warned!
So I am nearing the end of my first trimester and I can honestly say that I have rarely felt worse in my life. I certainly haven’t ever felt THIS bad for THIS long with no break or significant relief from super unpleasant physical symptoms. And I can tell you that none of my previous FOUR pregnancies (so you would have thought I’d known what I was getting myself into!) caused me any sort of discomfort even close to what I am experiencing now. They weren’t even in the same stratosphere of physical unpleasantness. No comparison. I had no idea that pregnancy could make someone feel this bad.
In fact, I have now been miserably ill for weeks, and I have to tell you, it’s starting to get me down. Even though I apparently don’t expel enough actual vomit in any given 24 hour period to qualify for an official diagnosis of Hyperemesis Gravidarum (and I am grateful for that, and feel tremendous sympathy for those women who DO end up dehydrated and on IV fluids during pregnancy), I can tell you that my level of functioning has been SIGNIFICANTLY impaired by this situation. As a working mom, it’s necessary for me to reserve every ounce of energy and productivity for my job. So with a lot of focused determination and a gritty dose of, “I‘ll be damned if I will let this stupid nausea make me fall apart on the job,” I am managing to do my work at pretty much the same level overall. I’ve made some adjustments, like trying to schedule as many of my meetings as possible in the mornings, which is my best time of the day, and working from home when I feel the worst, but I am getting the work done and staying on top of things with clients. Not an easy task right now, but that’s my top priority because no one else can do my job or keep my job to support my family. That’s totally up to me, and it’s a responsibility that I take very seriously.
But outside of work, it’s another matter. I am completely and utterly useless. Once I muster that amount of productivity each day for work tasks, I just kind of fall apart for the other hours and days of the week. I cannot prepare food for my family because the smells make me nauseated to the point of wanting to pass out. I cannot clean because I have to sit down every two minutes to rest, and once again, the smell of cleaning supplies sends me running to the bathroom. I cannot bathe my toddler because it exhausts me and – you guessed it – the smell of baby shampoo currently makes me gag. I cannot socialize with friends because I feel too sick to chat and I just want to go lie down. The other night my friend Julianne came over – I’d invited her and was really looking forward to seeing her and her children – but I felt so bad that right before she got to our house, I went into our bedroom, got into the bed and was unable to get up for the rest of the evening. So Julianne and Jon and all of the kids hung out (and I think they all had fun), but I completely missed out on seeing anyone and instead just slept in another room. The only time I got up all night was to throw up. Then I went back to bed. Pathetic. People have stopped coming over or attempting to get me to go anywhere. They know I am at home in my bathrobe, whining.
Nothing helps that much. I’ve tried pretty much every medication, home remedy, vitamin and herbal option that I’ve run across or had recommended. I had accupressure. I tried Sea Bands. Sometimes crystallized ginger helps – more than anything else, actually - and sometimes the Zofran takes the edge off. But overall, nothing really makes a meaningful difference. And on top of the upset stomach, exhaustion and throwing up, I have another symptom that I do seem to get with increasing severity with each pregnancy. I didn’t have it at all when I was pregnant with H, but starting with J, it’s gotten worse each time. It’s called ptyalism, and it sounds ridiculous unless you have experienced it, but this particular weird pregnancy-related “issue” is incredibly unpleasant and icky. And I’ve yet to ever meet or talk to another woman who has experienced at the level I have. As a standalone problem, I can deal with it. Unfortunately, the ptyalism has started earlier and much worse this time, and in combination with the nausea, it’s just about to push me over the edge. I can tell you this: if my first pregnancy, or my second, had been anything like this, I would not be the mother of the large brood of offspring that you see before you today. No way. I just don’t have it in me.
Being this sick for this long with no identifiable end in sight is hard to accept. I am a sunny person by nature, and an optimist. I always believe that tomorrow will be a better day. But 24-7 nausea, vomiting and unrelenting fatigue is enough to kill off anyone’s inner Pollyanna, even mine. I am finding myself feeling resentful and even angry about this pregnancy that I didn’t ask for or expect. And then I feel unbelievably guilty for allowing those dark thoughts any safe harbor in my psyche. I mean, how bad would I feel if I were to end up miscarrying if I had been secretly thinking about how much better life was before I got pregnant? So I try to push the resentment and self-pity about the pregnancy out of my head and just focus on getting through the next hour without throwing up and/or weeping. But at night when I sleep, I can’t hold back the negativity. My dreams are full of weird and unpleasant pregnancy outcomes, some that would be right at home in a horror movie. I don’t even want to tell you how weird some of these dreams have been, but I will tell you that last night’s edition involved me giving birth to six disgusting baby lizards who bit me and then died. Yeah. Pretty bad.
For the first time ever, I understand those very rare cases where women decide (or are advised by doctors) to terminate a pregnancy because they simply cannot go on with the level of nausea and vomiting which they are experiencing. What if I were this sick and I had young children at home, no helpful partner, and a job in retail where I couldn’t work from home when needed or take the occasional sick day? What if continuing a pregnancy complicated with extreme nausea truly meant risking my employment and my ability to care for my other children? As bad as I feel, and as much as I have allowed myself to wallow in some self pity with this, I thank God every day that I have a support system and a good job that offers me the flexibility to get through this experience while remaining gainfuly employed. I am blessed, and I know it.
(But is it okay to say that as blessed as I am, that I still REALLY, REALLY want to feel better now? Please, please, please, PLEASE let this ease up soon. Please?)
Yesterday was the best day I’ve had since this started. I actually had a reprieve of about six hours where I felt blissfully normal. And when you’ve felt really bad for a while, normal feels FANTASTIC. I was so excited, but by afternoon, the nausea kicked back in, and by evening, I was struggling. And I felt so let down. I had allowed myself to believe that maybe “it” was over for good. That was naive, I know, to think that it would just suddenly stop like that. More likely it will be a slow fade over time. But I am ready for the fade to begin.
OK, whining session for today is over. But I can’t promise you that there won’t be more whiny blog posts to come if this %6*7%7$# pregnancy doesn’t get easier pretty soon.
And for those of you readers who found this blog post when you Googled something like “miserable first trimester” because you wanted to find out whether ANYONE out there could possibly relate to how bad you feel right now, maybe you discovered - like I did as I obsessively Googled that phrase and similar ones recently – that reading another woman’s tale of pregnancy woe (mine, in this case) made you feel a little less alone as you go through this. If so, I’m glad that my sob story might have served some kind of purpose. And hang in there. I hear that this eventually gets better.(See, Pollyanna isn’t completely defeated yet!)
And now flash forward two years. My experience with hyperemesis is but a distant, horrible memory for me now, but I know that some of you are in the throes of it right now, or may face it in the future. Please know that you are not alone, and there is support out there on the interwebz that I found quite helpful when I was bedridden and in misery. Here are some of the best Hyperemesis Gravidarum online communities that I found when I was so very sick:
Have you ever suffered with extreme morning sickness? Was it with only one pregnancy or with all of your pregnancies? Were you carrying multiples at the time? Were you actually diagnosed with Hyperemesis? Did you have trouble making the people around you understand just how terrible you felt? Did you find that any particular medications or other remedies made a difference? At what point in your pregnancy did your severe nausea finally let up? Share your experience with other mamas in the comments below. Who knows, maybe Duchess Kate will be Googling around whilst stuck in bed and end up reading our conversation here.