I knew I was about eight weeks pregnant. But I didn’t know why I was tossing my cookies more than 10 times a day. I was surviving on ice chips, Frito crumbs and vanilla shakes from McDonald’s. The way I felt made food poisoning seem like fun.
I didn’t just have morning sickness, I had morning sickness on crack. In desperate need of relief, I called my doctor who told me to come in. He took blood tests, and sent me home. The next day, April 1, 2005, he called to tell me my hormone levels were extremely high, and I had to come back. Those were not words a puking pregnant lady wanted to hear. I was sure he meant I was losing my baby. I rushed to his office, hurling on trees along the way. People on the street stared at me like I was a drug addict.
My obgyn hooked me up to his ultrasound machine to study my insides. On a dark, fuzzy computer screen, he showed me two blobs (technically, they’re called yolk sacs) and explained that I was having twins. Two babies meant twice the hormones. Twice the hormones can sometimes lead to hyperemesis gravidarum, a condition that affects 1 to 2 percent of pregnant women. Hyperemesis is fancy for puking–like, a lot.
“It’s just April Fools’ Day, right?” I asked. He told me he wasn’t playing. He assured me that my babies were fine even if I was under the weather. I excused myself from his examination table to hang my head in his toilet.
The intense nausea curtailed any happiness I was supposed to feel. I wasn’t thrilled because babies weren’t BOGO deals, and I was scared. I was scared to carry them, to give birth to them, to take care of them and to puke for them. My nausea–and mental state–was so bad that I was sent directly to the hospital. I was severely dehydrated and received fluids intravenously.
The nurses had seen hyperemesis many times, and they treated me as if I had a little cut on my finger. Losing 10 pounds in the first two months of pregnancy was no biggie to them. They didn’t care that I puked at the scent of them. I could smell their lunches digesting in their stomachs. I could smell it if someone had walked past a hot dog vendor an hour before. My insane nose became my arch enemy.
I hadn’t intended to use medication while I was pregnant, but desperate times call for 8 or 9 prescriptions. I was admitted to the hospital twice for dehydration. Finally, my doctor put me on Zofran, a drug used for chemo patients. It didn’t help the nausea, but I was able to keep enough liquids down to keep me out of the maternity unit.
I couldn’t work because I couldn’t keep my mouth shut–in the grossest way. I couldn’t leave my home because it was too embarrassing to barf in front of people uncontrollably. My husband couldn’t eat in our apartment because any food–any smell–made me sick. For 9 weeks, he had to eat sandwiches on the street or in restaurants by himself. He made daily treks to McDonald’s to buy me the only thing that would stay down: vanilla shakes. He did this while I yelled at him for living. Hyperemesis doesn’t do anything for a pregnant woman’s mood.
By week 17, I weighed about 97 pounds. But the nausea subsided, and I was able to smell and eat fairly normally until I gave birth to two healthy baby girls in October, 2005. I was, at long last, very happy. I was so happy that I thought it would be a good idea to get pregnant again 22 month later. After all, it was just the twins that caused my hyperemesis, right?
My nausea was so bad with my singleton that my doctor told me abortion was one of my options. I didn’t consider that. Instead, I had a PICC line inserted deep into my veins so I could stay hooked up to a saline bag of liquid nutrition 24 hours a day. I never expected to be that sick, and I became depressed. I barely saw my husband or twins for 8 weeks because I couldn’t stand the smell of them. We spent a fortune on babysitting because I wasn’t able to take care of my toddlers. At least the vanilla milkshakes were cheap.
I hid away in my house crying while I watched Garden State and read The Enquirer. I have no idea how many times I barfed. But I do know I felt completely alone until my hyperemesis ended on my birthday, when I was 17 weeks pregnant. In August of 2007, I gave birth to a healthy little boy. Once again, I was finally happy.
I was at the Health Shoppe on Bloomfield Avenue in Montclair recently when I finally met someone who had been through hyperemesis. I don’t know how the subject came up. We were talking vitamins, then babies, then we got around to morning sickness. We rolled up our sleeves and showed each other our PICC line scars. I felt a little less like a head case. I wasn’t the only one with a bizarre and grotesque reaction to early pregnancy.
My closest friends knew about my condition, so every once and awhile, I still get a desperate email from a friend of a friend of a friend who is trying to survive hyperemesis. I send all of my advice and sympathy. I tell them to get a PICC line, some Zofran and a huge stack of trashy magazines. I tell them that it’s okay to feel crazy, and the only thing that feels good is a good cry.
Around the time my son was 18 months, I had this idea that I wanted another baby. My husband wanted one, too, but he said absolutely not. He didn’t think either one of us could survive another one of my pregnancies. He is a wise man. He was right.
We got a puppy instead.