Hyperemesis Gravidarum – Don’t Abort My Baby!
Before cell phones. Before answering machines and long before cars had GPS systems to show one driving directions, I would spend hours driving home from work having taken the wrong turn from my nursing job in Fort Oglethorpe, Georgia to our small newlywed apartment in Collegedale, Tennessee.
It wasn’t that I didn’t know how to follow directions or learn my way to and from work, but my mind was blurry after 2 months of severe, constant nausea and vomiting of pregnancy!
Often I had to pull over to the side of the road with intense waves of dizzying nausea and powerful racking episodes of retching. I usually had to wave away several Good Samaritans who would stop to see if I needed help.
Hardly so. I just needed to kneel down in the grass to be sick or sit by the side of the road with my head between my legs to keep from fainting.
During the day at work while making round with the doctors on the medical floor and stopping at every other bathroom to gag and be sick, the concerned doctors would ask a few questions and confidently write out a prescription for yet another antiemetic drug that they assured me would get rid of the perpetual, awful nausea. I accepted shots that knocked me out for hours, pills that didn’t stay down and suppositories that made me sleepy for days!
In desperation, we bought most every natural products suggested by well meaning friends and relatives. Every time someone else mentioned, “Morning sickness. Eat some crackers,” I was tempted to scream at them – but I didn’t have the energy! This was nothing compared to ‘morning sickness’. The thought of a cracker: The odor of any food at all: Fragrance of any type: Lights, noise or motions – all tied my stomach in knots and started the uncontrollable retching again.
It continued unabated day and night. I felt miserable, repulsive and vile. I looked ghastly and felt exhausted and depressed.
Everyone, including the doctors, said it would stop after a few weeks, but this did not show signs of slowing down!
Bill was confused and frustrated. He had heard this might be physiological and this assumption prevailed since no one had found any cause of cure for what we discovered had a name! Hyperemesis gravidarum. Excessive nausea and vomiting of pregnancy that could last the entire nine months!
Today there is much more information about this recognized disorder of pregnancy. It affects over 60,000 pregnant women each year making them unable to care for themselves or family for months at a time. It prevents adequate intake of food and fluids and can last the entire pregnancy as mine did. It causes prolonged fatigue, dehydration and metabolic imbalances. It can cause severe depression, and relationships can be badly strained. Thousands of women (25 percent) choose abortion out of desperation to relieve the misery and stress they face.
There’s a foundation called HER Foundation that is devoted exclusively to understanding Hyperemesis and it offers a network of support for all aspects of this often-misunderstood problem of pregnancy.
Now I understand that mothers with HG are unable to tolerate blinking or bright lights, the sight, thought or smell of food and even noise or movement.
Those who care for mothers-to-be with HG should understand that she will need to mourn the loss of a normal pregnancy and missing out on the ‘fun” of being pregnant. She will need help finding the path to healing emotionally. Because doctors are reluctant offer a treatment and the cause is virtually unknown, she may feel guilty and ashamed. Others often blame the mother for this extreme reaction. It is expected that she will have difficulty being assertive or thinking clearly due to metabolic imbalances. She may risk starvation, dehydration and need IV’s for hydration or even a feeding tube for nutrition.
Mothers with HG often don’t ask for help when they need it. They should be surrounded by loving people who understand them and will be supported in times of depression and with their feelings of helplessness and dependency. There is the longing to eat and drink normally, feeling of isolation and inability to prepare for the arrival of the baby.
Perhaps the most frustrating is other people’s perception that all this is only in her mind! I know all this to be true because I can remember feeling this way so many times and knowing that no one understood what was happening to my body. I did feel responsible, not only for the unplanned pregnancy but I constantly searched my mind for something terrible I had done to cause such catastrophic sickness.
But, this was in the early 70’s and we had even more trouble on the horizon. Bill had just graduated from college but had no job because Uncle Sam was beckoning to the call of war. Now it looked like I couldn’t hold down a job much longer if this excessive sickness didn’t stop. Bill simply didn’t know what to do with me.
Finally, it was decided that we would move in with his parents in Maryland where he could work with his brother roofing houses and I could try to work part time. I would be welcome to stay there until I was on my feet again if he was sent overseas.
The packing and travel made me feel even worse. Movements, riding in a car, flashing lights were all the things I shouldn’t have been exposed to but we didn’t know that and I didn’t have a choice. With no privacy for the constant retching that was aggravated by the movement of the car, I was almost out of my mind by the time we arrived. I was extremely ill.
Bill’s parents quickly helped him find medical care and a reputable doctor. I remember sitting with Bill looking across the doctor’s massive desk feeling like I was an object being spoken about and not addressed as a person. He said the only thing that would stop the nausea was an abortion. Directing his words to Bill, he said he would be willing to terminate the pregnancy if that was what I wanted.
I realized that if I didn’t take a stand for my baby, or if I got so sick that I couldn’t make a decision, that might be the end of my baby. We both wanted our baby more than anything! It might not have been planned, but there was never a question about how delighted we were to know we were going to be parents!
Right then and there I made Bill promise in front of that doctor that no matter how sick I got, or even if I ASKED for an abortion, that he would PROMISE me that it would NOT BE DONE! It was agreed that an abortion would not be a solution and I knew that I wouldn’t take any more medication for the nausea. That was about 3 months into a very long nine months.
The doctor said one good thing in my favor was that each time I was sick, I would have a few minutes of peace before the nausea started again. He urged to me eat as often as I could even if it didn’t stay down very long. I would get some nourishment from the food, he said.
Back then good Seventh-day Adventist did not drink carbonated beverages that had caffeine added, but when a well-meaning friend suggested that Coca-cola might help relieve the nausea, I tried it and found that at least it didn’t burn my throat coming back up like 7-Up did! I was embarrassed to have the family watch me sipping ice cold Coke, but in the end, that was the only fluid that I could tolerate.
So, my first real experience with Bill’s parents was not under the best of circumstances and I don’t think I ever got to put my best foot forward during our marriage. I always felt that I walked a tight rope and my many talents that seemed rather trite by their standards. They were always kind and loving but I often had the feeling that I didn’t quite measure up. Major decisions were made without my input and our personal problems came under parental scrutiny. The first year of our marriage set the stage for the emotional roller coaster that never quite got a chance to slow down.
During that long hot summer of 1971, Bill worked from sunrise to sunset on the hot roofs with his brother, Lerry. They made a good team and both worked hard. Sunburns turned to suntans and the days melted together with no let up in my sickness and no information on what the future held for us.
By summer’s end, I knew we couldn’t continue living with his parents. I didn’t want to be a burden especially if Bill wasn’t gong to be there. One day someone came up with an unusual but excellent idea! Why not go back to Laurelbrook School at Dayton, Tennessee and Bill could teach until he was called up and I could work at the nursing home when I felt better. The calls of inquiry were made and we were accepted!
So off we went again, pulling our little U-Haul trailer behind us and holding the little pink bucket bucket between us! Now I was six months pregnant. We had been married seven months. We had moved twice and I was looking to get my nursing license in the third state before I’d worked one year. It’s a good thing we were needed at Laurelbrook because by now neither of us were good placement material!
We set up housekeeping in a small trailer on the back property at Laurelbrook. Water and sewer was sporadic and we were fairly isolated back in the wooded area, but I deeply appreciated the solitude and finally knowing that we would have the stability of our own home and work for both of us. We wouldn’t have any money because Laurelbrook paid “in kind” and we were obliged to follow the strict regulations of the Seventh-day Adventist community, but medical expenses would be covered and food was always available.
We were both returning to familiar people and friends. Bill quickly became entrenched with teaching and the responsibilities of being a staff member. I was allowed to work short hours at the nursing home in the afternoons when the nausea was slightly less intense by my eighth month of pregnancy. I trusted my doctor down in Dayton who said the baby was doing well. I felt well enough to play my flute with the student choir for the Christmas programs! And, it looked like Bill might not be drafted after all!