The Light at the End of the Tunnel

I feel like I’m being dragged through a war. A war waged against my body, my spirit, my very own soul. This is the story of my 2nd HG pregnancy. This is Katelynn’s story. A story of (literally) blood, sweat, and tears…as well as months of vomiting…and ruthless nausea which gratingly lingers today, even as I write this post.

Imagine having the stomach flu or food poisoning…the constant wave of nausea is overbearing and you’re unable to eat anything because you are puking around the clock. The only thing you want to do is sleep so that you can escape the miserable feeling of queasiness in your stomach. It’s hard for you to smell anything because it triggers more waves of nausea. It’s tough to do much of anything except lie in bed and count the minutes that go by so slowly. The good news about the stomach flu or food poisoning is that the symptoms usually resolve within a week or so. And the good news with the stomach flu or food poisoning is that you usually feel better after you throw up.

But what if you just kept vomiting and the nausea never got better? And imagine if the nausea and vomiting continued for let’s say another week…and the week after that. What about if the symptoms lasted for a month, two months, four months, eight months?! At what point would you go insane or contemplate killing yourself to escape that dreadful, looming feeling of nausea? Welcome to my absolute worst nightmare.

I had hyperemesis with my first pregnancy so I was very much acquainted with this nightmare. You would think that such familiarity would make it easier the second time around…but I have to say it was actually much harder this time. Maybe because my hopes, that my second pregnancy would be easier, were viciously shattered. Or maybe because I faced unmet expectations that my symptoms would disappear by the end of the first trimester as it did with my first pregnancy. And this time around, we had Annelise to worry about too.

We had just moved to Los Angeles from San Diego this past April. I was looking forward to settling down and organizing our new condo. We had barely started unpacking our things when I got nauseous one day in May. I didn’t think too much about it. I have always had chronic stomach problems so it wasn’t too unusual for me to get nauseous from time to time. But when the nausea persisted and lasted for days…I began to wonder. Uh-oh…am I pregnant? I had a feeling that I was. The HG nausea was all too eerily familiar. I took a pregnancy test and sure enough, it read positive. Honestly, my initial reaction was one of anger and shock. How could I be pregnant again? And this soon? Annelise wasn’t even a year old! I was not ready to fight the HG monster again. I was still reeling from the trauma with my first pregnancy.

I set up my first doctor’s appointment and realized that even before I could see my OB, the HG would take me by full force once again. The nausea got worse every day and then the daily, non-stop vomiting started. I couldn’t eat anything because I couldn’t keep anything down. I called the doctor’s office and requested to see someone sooner than two weeks because of my history with hyperemesis. The receptionist said the physician assistant would be able to see me in a week. So I decided to meet with the PA.

But in the meantime, I was worried because I was rapidly losing weight, constantly vomiting and the nausea was overwhelming. I called my OB and complained about my symptoms and my worries about ending up in the ER like my first pregnancy. She said she could prescribe oral Zofran for the nausea but I explained to her that the oral Zofran had not worked for me with my first pregnancy. So the doctor prescribed another anti-emetic called Compazine.

Taking the Compazine turned out to be a very, very bad idea.

I tried the Compazine a couple times and found no relief from the nausea. Then one day after I took the Compazine, I felt a very strange sensation on my eyelids. It felt like my eyelids were involuntarily twitching. I didn’t think too much of it at first but when it continued, I started to feel very nervous. Then my neck started to spasm and I couldn’t control the muscles. I started to panic! I was having severe muscle spasms on my face and neck. I started sobbing uncontrollably because not only was I battling nausea, I was apparently having a negative reaction to the Compazine.

I yelled at Danny, “We have to go to the ER! Something is very wrong!” So Danny drove me quickly to the ER. It was the freakiest car ride of my life. I couldn’t lean back on the seat because my head kept moving back – I must have looked like the Hunchback of Notre Dame. I remember staring at the ceiling of the car and trying really hard to force my head back down to its normal place. It was maddening to not be able to control my own face and neck!

I was seen right away at the ER thankfully. I was put in a wheelchair and wheeled to a bed. The ER doctor told me that I must have had a dystonic reaction to the Compazine. He gave me Benadryl via IV to relax my muscles. It worked! He explained how Compazine was a Class C drug and that in rare cases, people can have this negative reaction to the drug. Of course, I have to be one of the atypical cases with this reaction to Compazine. And of course, I am one of those scarce cases who have to battle hyperemesis. I wanted to laugh…here I was at the ER with my 2nd HG pregnancy when I had been so determined not end up in the ER this time.

After that horrific experience, I realized that I need to be careful about what medications I take. I was upset with my OB for not clarifying with me that Compazine was a class C drug. I stopped taking the Compazine and the vomiting/nausea continued to get worse.

The constant nausea was galling and the perpetual retching with no relief from the nausea was a nightmare. I was either in bed or hanging out at the toilet. Everything smelled putrid and food became a curse and a chore. Nothing stayed down, everything came out.

When I saw the PA a week later, I found out that I was 8 weeks along. I brought up my concerns about HG and how I had ended up in the ER with my first pregnancy due to dehydration from excessive vomiting. The PA remarked about how miserable I looked and that it was obvious to her how bad the nausea was. The PA said she would set me up with home health care (continuous IV treatment) so that I wouldn’t have to go to the ER or stay in the hospital. I had home health care with my first pregnancy so this sounded like a good plan.

At this time, Danny and I decided that it would be better for me to stay at my parents’ house since I was incapable of taking care of our daughter. My parents agreed to help take care of Annelise. I have no idea what we would have done without my parents’ help.

The home health nurse came a week later and set me up with a Zofran pump. This was something new to me. With my first pregnancy, I had a PICC line which is a long-term IV line. The Zofran pump is less invasive than a regular IV line. It is a subcutaneous IV which slowly administers the medication 24/7. You have to prick yourself in the stomach or thigh (any fatty area on your body) and the Zofran is administered slowly via the pump. It didn’t hurt as much as an IV needle. Danny would prick me in the belly and changed the site daily. You had to change the pump site because after one day, the area on your belly would get swollen and tender.

I kept calling the home health care agency to ask them to raise the dosage for the Zofran because I was not feeling any relief from the nausea/vomiting. After a week of trying the Zofran pump, I called the PA and told her that the Zofran pump was not working. She became frustrated with me and told me that there was nothing she could do and that the first trimester of HG was the worst time for nausea. I insisted that something needed to be done and that I wasn’t getting IV fluids. The PA seemed surprised that the home health care agency had not set me up with IV treatment already. So she said she would call Alere and recommend IV treatment for me. It was absolutely infuriating that the PA was getting frustrated with me – it wasn’t my fault that the med’s weren’t working!

So my home health nurse came out again and set up the IV line for me. She explained that I would need to call her whenever the IV site became sore so that she could come out and change it for me. I called the nurse once a week to change the IV site for me. After weeks and weeks of IV pricks, my veins became destroyed. It got harder and harder for the nurse to find a good vein. Sometimes, she would prick me four times to get the IV in. Pricking someone who is starving and very nauseous is really not a good idea. The sight of blood running down my arm triggered horrible nausea so I threw up a couple times during the IV site changes.

I was on IV treatment for two, very long months. Every day I would vomit several times a day and I would also dry-heave. The nausea was ever-present but for some reason, it would get worse at night. Since I wasn’t eating much of anything, I would just throw up bile and saliva. Sometimes, my throat would burn from all the stomach acid coming up. The toilet and my throw-up bucket were my constant companions. I had to have the throw-up bucket by my side 24/7 because I never knew when I would throw up and the vomiting was so unpredictable that there were many times I did not make it to the bathroom in time. I lost 15 pounds due to HG. I battled insomnia every night. I couldn’t sleep till 3 or 4 am because the nausea was so potent.

While I was on IV treatment, I was so weak and nauseous that I couldn’t even muster enough energy to take a shower. So my mom faithfully washed my hair for me once a week. During this time, any and all smells would set off the nausea. I couldn’t even have Danny sit close to me because of his body odor (not that he smelled bad but any smell would trigger the nausea!). Any type of motion/movement would also cause me to throw up. Car rides were impossible. Sometimes even talking would make the nausea worse so I stayed in bed or tried to sit still for most of the day. Sipping even water was the biggest task due to the nausea. Thank goodness for the IV fluids which kept me hydrated.

I thought for sure that by the end of my first trimester, I would start to feel better since that was what happened with my first pregnancy. But the nausea/vomiting persisted well past the first trimester, and into the second trimester.

HG took its toll on me physically as well as emotionally. I had many meltdowns during this time. In addition to feeling very depressed and frustrated, I battled a lot of guilt about not being able to do anything and having multiple identities stolen from me. I was no longer capable as a mother to Annelise. I was no longer a wife who could do anything for her husband. I was no longer a daughter who could take care of my parents. I was no longer a friend who could be by your side.

This proved be the darkest period of my pregnancy. My relationship with my daughter was nonexistent. My relationship with my husband was tenuous. My faith in God was waning. HG really started to bring forth irrationality. Starvation, dehydration, and malnutrition take a toll on your body and mind. I couldn’t think clearly because the nausea was so over-powering and it felt like I was dying. And every day, I wanted to die, to end it all. It’s funny…I was terrified of dying but I also readily welcomed death to escape the nausea/vomiting. But every morning I would wake up…still alive and still having to face the nagging nausea!

By mid-July, all of my veins had collapsed due to the multiple IV pokes and the nurse could no longer start an IV for me. She recommended that I get a PICC line to continue with the IV treatment. My mom encouraged me to try and see how I would do without the IV fluids since my nausea was somewhat better and I was able to eat a little bit more than before. The PICC line is more susceptible to infection so I decided to heed my mom’s advice and tried going without the PICC. I still had not gained my weight back but I was vomiting less. I was making very slow progress but it was progress nevertheless.

July 13th was Annelise’s first birthday. I thought that I would be much better by her birthday…but July came and I still felt miserable.

I thought that by the beginning of August, I would feel better…August came and I still battled perpetual nausea and vomiting. I don’t know how many times I broke down and sobbed bitterly because it felt absolutely hopeless. This is when I realized that the HG monster was much, much stronger this time and would battle me to the very end of my pregnancy. I no longer became surprised when I didn’t feel better the next week and the next and the next.

HG destroys your digestive system. Starvation and continuous vomiting really annihilate your body. It took me a long time to be able to eat again. It was like my body forgot how to eat and digest food. Every time I ate anything, my stomach would churn and spasm in pain. It was a struggle to force myself to eat when my body seemed to be rejecting food with every bite. I ate very small amounts and drank a lot of Jamba Juice smoothies. Eventually, I was able to eat without pain or major indigestion.

By mid-August, I was feeling somewhat normal. I didn’t feel good but I felt better. At least better than when I was on IV treatment. I started to go out again…but very carefully and always with a Ziploc bag in case I threw up in public. I started going out to restaurants and I started going to church again. I limited going out though because anything could trigger the nausea. The smell of public restrooms really got to me. The summer heat was so oppressive and would make the nausea worse so I tried to stay indoors with the AC on as much as possible.

I moved back to our place in Culver City and started to take care of Annelise on my own. My parents would come over a couple times a week to help though. And if the nausea got really bad, I would call my parents. Taking care of an active toddler when you have HG is a challenge. Every morning, I would wake up to the sounds of Annelise babbling or crying in her crib. It would take every bit of willpower to fight the nausea and get up from bed, go to her crib, change her diaper, and feed her breakfast to start the day.

I slowly gained my weight back. Over time, the vomiting reduced but stubbornly persisted well into my third trimester! I would still throw up once every week or two. The nausea was very erratic. One day I would feel okay enough to go out. Then the next day, the nausea would hit me hard and I would have to stay in bed all day. The unpredictability of the nausea/vomiting really drove me crazy. It was impossible to make plans with anyone because I never knew how I would feel that day.

By 30 weeks, the vomiting significantly reduced but I still had nausea 24/7. The lingering nausea was so vexing but my countdown to the delivery date began!

Then the morning of Thanksgiving, I threw up my breakfast. I was amazed that I was still barfing at 33 weeks! This is when I realized that I had a relapse in my third trimester – the nausea was worse than before and I threw up more than usual. I am now back to throwing up once a week and the nausea has been crippling. My sense of smell is again very heightened and it’s hard for me to smell anything without getting sick. It’s been a challenge to get things ready for the baby when I still feel so nauseous.

After vomiting this past week, I lost six pounds recently which alarmed me. But the past couple days have been better and I haven’t lost any more weight. I’m hoping the vomiting will calm down till I deliver.

Without a doubt, HG has been the most difficult thing I’ve had to endure. It was harder than when my husband left for a 7 month deployment four months after we got married. It was even harder than when Danny left me to take care of 2 month old Annelise for a five-month training out of state last year.

I am finally at 37 weeks and I can see the bright light at the end of this long, dark, and torturous tunnel I’ve been crawling through the past 8 months.

I would not have made it to this point without the Lord’s grace, my husband’s faithfulness, my parents’ outpouring of love, my daughter’s laughter, many friends’ prayers, Babycenter’s online support group for hyperemesis sufferers, and the generous volunteers at Beyond Morning Sickness!

I cannot wait to deliver! I’m excited to be rid of the nausea once and for all. I’m looking forward to being able to fully enjoy food without the sour/bitter taste of nausea in my mouth. Most of all, I’m so thrilled to finally meet my little girl Katelynn!

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My Rock – My Husband

Where do I even begin to describe how grateful I am for my husband? He has been the steadiest of rocks throughout this harrowing experience of HG for the second time. Danny used to be a Navy EOD officer so I guess that should tell you a little bit about his personality. Being a military man, he’s one of the toughest people I know.

I’ve heard ill-fated stories of husbands bailing on their wives who are battling hyperemesis – it was just too much for them to handle. One of the best qualities about Danny is his loyalty and dutifulness. He didn’t waver once in terms of his commitment to take care of me and Annelise during our tumultuous nightmare with HG.

When I was on daily IV treatment for two months at my parents’ house, he faithfully would go to work, swing by my parents’ to spend time with Annelise and to check up on me, and go back to our place in Culver City at night to take  care of our dog. On the weekends, he would take Annelise out to give my parents a break. Danny would administer the Zofran pump for me and change IV bags for me like a pro. I think some men would be squeamish about doing things like that but it never fazed my husband.

There were myriad times I broke down crying and countless times I wanted to give up, but Danny was there to reassure me and tell me that this was temporary, that it would end, and that we would have our little girl in the end. HG is so unpredictable and I felt so out of control but I took comfort in knowing that I could depend on my husband. Danny took on extra responsibilities that I couldn’t do because the nausea was so debilitating. There were days where the nausea would completely knock me out and I would have to ask Danny to watch Annelise the whole day. He ended up doing the bulk of the chores and cooking.

HG robbed us of a normal marriage. We went from being best friends, lovers, co-parents, and partners to simply a very sick patient and her devoted care-taker. Danny also became a single dad overnight. It’s funny because when Annelise was just 2 months old last September, Danny left for a five-month training out of state, so I essentially became a single mom for those five months. And now that he had just gotten back from his training, here we were with reversed roles with him the being sole care-taker of our daughter.

This December marks our 4th wedding anniversary. I’m sure Danny never imagined when we got married that he would have to deal with a wife suffering from HG twice! He has truly exemplified the marriage vows we hear so often but take so lightly  – “I take you to be my wife, to have and to hold from this day forward, for better or for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish; from this day forward until death do us part.” I’m so thankful for my fellow HG warrior. I would not have made it this far (34 weeks!) without him.