The Closeted Monster: Hyperemesis Gravidarum

01/15/2017 02:04 pm ET Updated Sep 06, 2017
L and I at the hospital.
L and I at the hospital.

When one sees those two lines pop up on a home pregnancy kit, one usually feel a mix of emotions. Whether it’s joy or fear or nervousness or downright sadness, the cocktail of emotions is nothing less than intense. Your life is about to change. Drastically. And somehow, you already realize it. Right there, in that bathroom, holding that measly plastic stick, you just know that what you were two minutes ago is something you will never be again.

Your brain goes into overdrive, and you prepare yourself to step out and share your news. From here on out, there’s just so much to do. The tests, the preparation, the doctor’s visits. The list goes on. You’re bubbling over with emotion until, you’re bubbling over with something else. You run to the bathroom, prepared for what you’ve seen so many times in Bollywood movies. The gut-wrenching nausea. It’s okay. You’re prepared for this. It’s what you’ve always prepared for.

It’s what I had prepared for. And with my first pregnancy, that is exactly what happened. The constant nausea, the vomiting, the lack of appetite. It lasted three months, and then it disappeared. Just as fast as it came. I survived it and to be honest, I lost a few pounds, but my sanity remained intact, no matter how many times I was forced to double over in random bathrooms.

But then the second pregnancy happened. It started off similar to the first one so I took it in a stride. I went for my first doctor’s appointment. I provisioned for being a bit sick. I realized there may be some moments I’d have to ignore my daughter in order to rush to the bathroom. But I didn’t prepare for what was in store for me.

Over the course of two days, my 10-20 incidences of vomiting increased to double that. I wasn’t just rushing to the bathroom, I was living there. It came to a point where standing up to wash my face became a chore. My husband, seeing me struggle to even walk, much less care for our daughter, took the decision to immediately fly us back home where we would be surrounded by family and people who could take care of us. Within four hours we were on a plane back, but my nightmare was just beginning.

The day after I landed, my condition became worse. I couldn’t eat anything, or even take a sip of water. I was rushed to a doctor who prescribed anti-nausea medicines. I looked at them with nervousness. In my previous pregnancy I had been overly cautious. I’m talking organic food, no medicines, regular exercise, everything. This time, I was popping pills only a few weeks in.

But even breaking my vow to remain meds-free did nothing to help my condition. Just five days later, I was admitted into the hospital with severe dehydration, reduced liver function and extreme weight loss. I remember watching the nurses constantly administer medicines intravenously and feeling a nagging sense of guilt and helplessness. Was I already a bad mother? Did I hurt this child before it even had a chance?

People visited me on and off. But everyone maintained the stance of this being a ‘bittersweet’ incidence. But to me, I couldn’t see the ‘sweetness’ of feeling this way. I didn’t understand why I was feeling this way and how this could in any which way be related to a ‘blessed’ or ‘happy’ event. I couldn’t shake the dark cloud that had taken up permanent residence over me.

A few days after being medicated and brought back to a functional state, I was discharged, with instructions to continue the drips (IV) at home. I lasted two days at home. The third day, I was rushed back to the hospital, holding a trash can in my lap, because even a 20-minute journey was not manageable without vomiting. My head was cloudy, yet a frenzy of thoughts scurried back and forth. Why wasn’t this ending? Why couldn’t I just stop feeling this way? It came to a point where I truly forgot what it was like to be normal. What it felt like to eat a proper meal, or even have a glass on water without being stressed about it coming right back up.

Then began another round of medicines. My question to every nurse and doctor was, ‘Is this safe?’ because it just didn’t feel to be so. But they kept giving me the medicines. And I continued to feel as I did. My doctor could be found sitting on the armchair, every morning, staring at me worryingly. You can imagine what that would do a patient. Then he would dart concerned looks towards my mother and I knew he was rapidly running out of options to make me feel better.

Then one day he walked in. He had found a miracle drug that had been flown in from London. It had a high success rate of curing extreme nausea and he was confident it would work. I was excited. This could mean I was about to go home. The days of staring out of a window, feeling a mixture of exhaustion and fear might just come to an end. So they brought out this miracle in a syringe. Cyclizine. I watched it make bubbles as it whooshed into my IV tube and I held my breath in the hope it would work. But the opposite happened. I watched in horror as the veins on my hand crept to the surface, creating a network of red intertwined threads on my hand and down my arm. Then began the hustle bustle of the nurses looking for a physician to come assess my reaction to the meds. In due time, I would find out I was allergic to this miracle med. What are the odds, right? They quickly gave me a dose of steroids to calm the reaction and the last thing I remember is falling into a deep sleep, birds chirping outside my window, maybe trying to hint that things would get better from here on.

The next few days, I stayed on the steroids. Once introduced into the system, it’s imperative to keep taking them until they can be tapered off. I was prescribed steroids for a month with a cautionary note: this was my last resort as asserted my doctor.

The new few weeks flew by in a blur. I mostly slept, and luckily the steroids did their job. They managed to get my nausea under control, but did little to uplift my spirits or my energy levels. I felt like I was constantly trapped within my black cloud, unable to care for my toddler, unable to walk without getting tired, unable to eat. The question that kept nagging at me was: ‘Would this ever get better? Would I ever be able to play with my daughter? Why would I go through something like this, when pregnancy was meant to be a happy event?’

It took me three months more to get my energy to an acceptable level. I can’t say I’m mentally over the stress of something so sudden, but I am actively trying to find the positive in everyday.

I write this, because I feel so many women go through this, but the issue is never given its due importance. The condition is sidelined as something ‘you have to go through to get the reward.’ People don’t give the support you expect because they cannot comprehend the magnitude of the situation or put your condition down as an actual ‘sickness’. But you’re not alone. You’re allowed to feel the frustration, You’re allowed to feel helpless. And you’re allowed to feel unhappy. It’s not easy for the mind to accept that congratulations are in order when you can barely lift your head off the pillow. I strongly urge anyone who has the misfortune of going through this to try and reach out to a support system, which can be there to remind you that things will get better.

And remember, you’re stronger than you know. You owe no one any explanations and you must do what feels right. Always.

If you would like to reach out, the author can be reached at sarahbkhan@gmail.com

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