I thought long and hard about posting this. It's a story from some of the darkest days of my life. I decided to go ahead and post it because I want to:
1) help raise awareness of hyperemesis gravidarum in light of the First Annual Hyperemesis Gravidarum World Awareness Day coming up on May 15,
2) get as many people as possible to sign the Hyperemesis Gravidarum Education, Research and Awareness Petition
. Even if you've never been affected by HG directly, more research could protect your wives, daughters, granddaughters, etc., from this devastating disease. And it could prevent them from having to consider the horrible decision that I had to wrestle with (but thankfully, never had to make).
So I invite you to read my story and sign the petition. But I have to ask two things of you:
1) This is not the place for an abortion debate--especially if you have never been as ill as I was.
2) If you know my daughter who is mentioned in this story, please do not discuss this with her. I don't know why anyone would do that, but you never know!
Crumpled in a heap on the bathroom floor, I decided to just stay there. Making my way back to bed would require a bigger effort than I was willing to make. I slowly rose up on one elbow and reached an emaciated arm up to the bathroom counter. A streetlight through the window illuminated the brown, yellow and purple bruises along the inside of my elbow. I must look like an anorexic junkie, I thought. I felt around on the counter, located the ponytail holder I was looking for, and tied my hair back before dropping to the floor with a thud. Now I was ready for the next round of vomiting. Until then, I closed my eyes and tried not to pray that prayer again.
I had gotten pregnant. That’s all I had done. Just a few weeks earlier, I had stumbled out of the bathroom holding a pregnancy test that showed an unexpected extra line. I couldn’t say the word “pregnant;” it was too unreal—too unbelievable. So I stammered to Chad, my husband of five years, “Honey, I think you knocked me up.” I was a healthy 26-year-old with a fun job coordinating alumni events at a university while Chad worked on his ministry degree at seminary. We had meant to wait until he had graduated to start a family. But it was happening now. That was OK. We were elated.
When you are newly pregnant and overjoyed about your condition, the symptoms of pregnancy are greeted with near-giddiness because they serve as confirmation that the pregnancy is truly happening. My period had disappeared, so I gleefully threw boxes of tampons into the back of the bathroom closet. Wouldn’t be needing those for a while! Coffee and toothpaste began to smell funny. Because I was pregnant! I started feeling queasy. Because I was pregnant! When I threw up one Thursday evening, I proudly told my husband, “I just threw up because I’m pregnant! Isn’t that cute?”
Life can have a way of taking our joy and crushing it to dust in the cruelest of ways. When I threw up that Thursday night, something began that neither Chad nor I saw coming. Something that would strip everything away from me and leave me nearly dead before it was over. Something that would impact me so deeply that I would never be the same.
That Friday morning, I woke up and kept vomiting. It never stopped that day, or that night, or the next day. Every half hour or so, I threw up. Even when there was nothing to throw up. I tried to go to work the next week, but there was no restroom on my floor. I would stay only a few hours and come home. My doctor said nausea and vomiting were normal in pregnancy, but he was concerned about how badly I had dehydrated. Even one sip of water would come right back up. He admitted me to the hospital for IV fluids and large doses of Phenergan. They were able to get the vomiting stopped and sent me home. I had been home a few hours when the sickness came back with a vengeance. Then I remembered something. In one of my pregnancy books, I had read a short paragraph about a pregnancy complication called hyperemesis gravidarum. That’s the name they give “morning sickness” when it escalates to life-threatening levels. Other than IV therapy and tranquilizers, not much could be done for this condition. The paragraph ended with the reassurance that this condition is extremely rare.
Surely this was not happening to me. Surely the vomiting would stop at any moment and I could start eating again and going to work and having a healthy, normal pregnancy. But everything kept pointing to hyperemesis. My life had become a miserable succession of vomiting for days, going to the hospital and getting rehydrated, and returning home to start vomiting again. I missed more work—sometimes days at a time. The weeks turned into months and I was a prisoner inside my own body. I was so weak that getting out of bed required monumental effort. And there was no escape from the unrelenting nausea and vomiting. My pregnant friends were wearing cute maternity clothes and picking out colors for their nurseries while I wasted away on the bathroom floor, so sick that I wanted to die. Chad was at a loss. This had blindsided both of us, but he did everything he could to take care of me. I was too weak to stand in the shower, so he would get in with me so I could lean against him. I began praying at night for God to either let me miscarry or let me die in my sleep so I wouldn’t have to wake up in the morning and face another day of vomiting. My doctor had never seen anyone that sick and did not know what to do with me. My weight dropped. I had started the pregnancy at 133, which was a healthy weight for someone with my height and frame. As my weight plummeted into the 120s and teens, and then below 110, my doctor became exasperated with me. “You really could stop this if you tried,” he said. “I believe at least half of this is in your head.” Why would anyone choose to live this way if they had any control over it at all? I had been healthy and active before this happened. Did he think I enjoyed being this ill? My weight neared 100, and I hadn’t weighed 100 since junior high. “If it gets below 100, we may need to consider terminating this pregnancy,” my doctor said.
One day, I threw up for the last time. That was September 19. The first day I had thrown up was June 4. I had thrown up for 15 weeks, missed two months of work, been hospitalized seven times and lost 35 pounds—more than a quarter of my body weight. I slowly began eating again and eventually gained my weight back, plus some pregnancy weight. On January 19, I gave birth to a baby girl that was and has always been in perfect health. I will never know why she was not harmed by that pregnancy.
When you’re that sick for that long, you change. When you’re that sick for that long, abortion stops being something to vote against and becomes something that could have saved your life. When you’re that sick for that long and your daughter, when she’s five, gives you a flowerpot with her handprint on it for Mothers Day, or when she’s 12 and the two of you are laughing at YouTube videos together, a haunting voice in the back of your mind reminds you that you once considered ending her life to save yours. That’s what hyperemesis does. It steals your joy and tears it to pieces and once you’ve wrestled it back and pieced it back together, it’s never the same. And that’s something a mother can never reconcile.