Glory in Suffering

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Mother’s Day has passed and today is HG Awareness Day. Almost a year and a half has passed since I suffered from hyperemesis gravidarum for the second time. HG is a rare, debilitating pregnancy disorder which occurs in about 1-2% of pregnant women. It is a disorder which is commonly misunderstood and routinely minimized by the public as well as by the medical community. Often times family members and friends are clueless as to the severity of the disorder which complicates matters and the HG sufferer suffers alone and in isolation.

HG is characterized by severe and excessive nausea and vomiting which can lead to dehydration (and subsequent visits to the ER for IV treatment), weight loss due to the excessive vomiting and inability to hold down food or water, hyper olfaction (extremely strong sense of smell), fatigue, lightheadedness, and overall inability to function due to the severity of nausea. HG causes disruption in day to day activities – inability to care for oneself, inability to work, inability to care for children, inability to shower, etc, etc! Many HG sufferers are forced to stay on bed rest simply to avoid movement which makes the nausea worse.

HG symptoms are the absolute worst the first trimester. Some women find relief after the first trimester but many HG sufferers still battle severe nausea/vomiting to the very end of their pregnancy. Severe cases require in-home IV treatment or a PICC line for continuous IV fluids to make sure the HG sufferer is hydrated.

Heavy doses of anti-emetics (anti-nausea med’s) are given – Zofran, Phenergan and Compazine. The most severe case would require a feeding tube so that the woman is not completely malnourished. Fortunately most HG pregnancies end with successful full term births! However, I have heard of cases in which the pregnancy was terminated by the doctor due to the severity of the disorder in order to preserve the mom’s life.

Nausea seems like such a harmless thing at first glance but imagine being so nauseous that you cannot stand the smell of your own, dear husband. Walking around or trying to take a shower becomes an insurmountable task because you end up puking due to the motion. I have described HG as a 9 month bout of severe food poisoning or stomach flu.

The most challenging part about HG is not the physical suffering (as difficult as that is!) but the emotional toll it takes on the sufferer. Many women with HG suffer from depression due to the chronic medical issues day in and day out. Many women contemplate abortion as well as suicide due to the immense burden that excessive nausea/vomiting and dehydration take on the body and subsequently on the mind and soul.

My journey with HG started with my first pregnancy in November 2011. We didn’t even have a chance to rejoice in our first pregnancy because of how fast HG ravaged my body. I had no clue that this nightmare would hit me. But I found out very quickly that my pregnancy was not going to be normal when I threw up everything I tried to eat very early on in my first trimester. My mom kept insisting that I try to eat for the baby’s sake but I would get extremely frustrated knowing that it didn’t matter what I ate, my body was simply rejecting it! I remember telling my OB about my excessive nausea/vomiting and she brushed it off, saying that it was just normal morning sickness and that I should feel much better soon.

She, unfortunately, was very, very wrong. It got to the point that I was starving, not eating anything, but still vomiting! I was vomiting water and bile. I was on bed rest and the nausea was very relentless and there 24/7. My only relief from the nausea was to sleep. I remember very distinctly on Christmas day of 2011 just vomiting all day (maybe 10 times). I felt very out of it. I stepped onto our scale and was shocked to see that I had lost 15 pounds! My gut told me that something was very, very wrong. This could not be normal morning sickness.

We went to the ER that day and I was immediately admitted to the hospital and diagnosed with hyperemesis gravidarum. The doctor ordered a PICC line (a long term IV line) for me and set up in-home IV treatment. I received in-home IV treatment for one whole month before I was able to start eating normally. During this time, Danny faithfully took care of me and even administered the anti-nausea medications through the PICC line for me daily. After my first trimester, I felt much better and was able to go back to work. I still had mild-grade nausea and had nausea till the day I delivered. Annelise was 8 pounds, 5 ounces – a healthy and big girl!

My second battle with HG was much, much harder than the first. I remember finding out I was pregnant and feeling angry that it happened so soon (Annelise was not even a year old)! I was not ready to face hyperemesis again. I hoped and prayed that my second time would be easier. But those prayers were not answered and my second HG pregnancy was an even darker nightmare than the first.

My symptoms were worse and lasted the whole pregnancy. I lost a total of 20 pounds with my second pregnancy. Again, the doctor ordered home health care and I received in-home IV treatment for two, long months. I hoped that by the end of the first trimester, I would feel much better. But no relief came and I continued to vomit through my second and even my third trimester. There were occasional good days where I felt good enough to go out and eat. But those were really rare. Most days were spent at home, in bed, watching television around the clock just to keep my mind distracted from the nausea. I had insomnia at night due to the nausea and would stay up till 3 am.

I was unable to take care of Annelise so I stayed with my parents for several months so that they could take care of me and Annelise. I was unable to shower regularly during my first trimester so my mom would wash my hair for me once a week. My hair would get so tangled; I felt utterly inhuman, like an animal, like a zombie.

I battled depression with my first pregnancy but the depression with my 2nd pregnancy was worse due to the longer lasting symptoms and my frustrations that I wasn’t feeling better. Every day, I wanted to die just to escape the merciless nausea. Every day, I asked my husband to shoot me, to end my misery. Every day, I felt the temptation to abort the pregnancy just to feel normal again. The spiritual battle was enormous and I am so thankful for God’s grace, the unconditional love of my husband and parents, and many friends’ prayers – for protecting me not only physically but spiritually.

Even after giving birth to a very healthy and even bigger baby (Katelynn was a whopping 9 pound, 5 ounces!), I had mild-grade nausea that lasted a month! I was petrified that this nausea would never leave me, but it did. And I’m grateful to have survived this ordeal. I’m thankful for my two, lovely girls – my reward and my gift after the suffering. If there is anything I’ve learned from all of this – it is this – that God is good all the time.

This is the lesson that Job and Joseph learned. This is the lesson God forced me to learn. There is glory and a purpose to our suffering because it molds us into Christlikeness. Suffering from HG has taught me to appreciate life and health. It has brought me a greater compassion and empathy for those suffering from chronic medical illnesses.

I am reminded of these verses from the book of Job which ministered to me during the long, dark nights I battled insomnia and nausea.

Job 1:8-12

“Did you notice my servant Job?” the Lord asked. “There is no one on earth as faithful and good as he is. He worships me and is careful not to do anything evil.”

Satan replied, “Would Job worship you if he got nothing out of it? 10 You have always protected him and his family and everything he owns. You bless everything he does, and you have given him enough cattle to fill the whole country. 11 But now suppose you take away everything he has—he will curse you to your face!”

12 “All right,” the Lord said to Satan, “everything he has is in your power, but you must not hurt Job himself.” So Satan left.

At the end of all of this, I still have my faith in Christ and that was the great test that Satan requested and that God allowed in Job’s life.

I hope that you have a better understanding of how debilitating hyperemesis is. If you have the means, please consider making a donation to the HER Foundation at helpher.org. We need to raise awareness as well as funds to research this disorder in order to find the cause and cure!

I hope my story inspires you to fight whatever battle you’re going through and to come out stronger at the end of it!

Blessings,
Mimi

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Depths of Despair

When I was in the midst of the worst state of HG during my first and second trimesters, it was a very dark and scary time not only physically but even more so emotionally/spiritually. I think when your body is going through hell and when your life is on the line, inevitably your thoughts turn very bleak. My mind was clouded with this fog of overwhelming nausea that I couldn’t escape.

I couldn’t think or concentrate. I couldn’t read anything. Any movement or motion would trigger a vomiting episode. So I slept a lot or stayed in bed. I watched a lot of TV to try to take my mind off of the nausea. I was on daily IV treatment at home. My life was dependent on this contraption attached to my arm. I had to push the IV pole everywhere I went…and the only places I went were the bathroom, my room, and the living room.

I was bed-ridden for almost three months. The isolation, loneliness, dehydration, constant vomiting and nausea, and starvation really start to eat away at your soul. HG strips away all semblance of a normal life. I couldn’t eat. I couldn’t sleep at night because of the nausea. I couldn’t go out because I was attached to the IV and was too weak. I couldn’t take a shower because the heat from the water would trigger my nausea. I didn’t feel human. I felt like a shell of a person…like an animal barely surviving.

It felt like I was on the brink of utter insanity. Every week, I would hope that I would feel better and every week, I wouldn’t feel better. With my first HG pregnancy, I felt so much better after my first trimester so I expected the same relief at the end of the first trimester with this pregnancy. So when it didn’t come and I was still throwing up and still not gaining weight, it felt absolutely hopeless. It felt like I was on this long, dark path with no end in sight and no relief from the nausea. Every meal I threw up felt like a slap on my face. Every time I weighed myself on the scale, I would get frustrated at the low number.

Depression and anger stewed in my heart. I had fleeting thoughts of death. A lot of death fantasies. I would tell Danny – “Just shoot me. Just kill me now.” Pain sounded better than nausea. Death sounded better than nausea. Anything seemed better than nausea! I wanted to die every day just to escape the never-ending nausea. So many women who experience hyperemesis battle depression on top of the physical disease.

Many women with HG contemplate terminating the pregnancy to end the battle with nausea. Some women actually follow through with the termination. Every minute of the day, I was tempted to terminate the pregnancy. But somehow I couldn’t. I had to focus on the end goal. That it would be worth it in the end when we have our little baby girl. I had to fight every instinct to die, give up, or to terminate the pregnancy.

It was a daily battle. I clung to the fact that my suffering had to have some meaning, right? I read stories of women with HG who were actually recommended by their doctor to terminate the pregnancy because their symptoms were so severe that if they didn’t terminate, their own life would be in danger. I cannot fathom the thought of being forced to make that choice. I also read stories of women with HG who miscarried even in their third trimester. I can’t imagine suffering HG for that long only to have your baby taken away from you.

So I was thankful – thankful that despite how miserable I felt, my baby was alive and well. And I was also grateful that Annelise survived an HG pregnancy and is so healthy today. I’m also reminded of what Marilla Cuthbert would say to Anne Shirley when she was going through the “depths of despair” – “To despair is to turn your back on God.” Somehow by God’s grace, I survived my first and second trimester.

Thankfully, most women with HG get through this period of darkness until the nausea subsides into a more manageable level. However, if you or someone you know is experiencing persistent suicidal ideation, please contact: 1-800-SUICIDE

If you want to vent or talk to someone about your HG experience, please take a look at the following resources:

Hyperemesis Education & Research Foundation, www.helpher.org (leading source of information for moms, family members, and medical professionals; contains medical studies and treatment options)

Baby Center’s online support group for hyperemesis suffers, http://community.babycenter.com/groups/a986645/hyperemesis_sufferers

Beyond Morning Sickness, http://beyondmorningsickness.com/ (offering books for moms and kids, forums, and phone mentoring support)

Ayden Rae Foundation, http://www.aydenraefoundation.org/ (HG advocacy and research organization)

What is Hyperemesis Gravidarum?

According to website helpher.org, “HG is a debilitating and potentially life-threatening pregnancy disease marked by rapid weight loss, malnutrition, and dehydration due to unrelenting nausea and/or vomiting with potential adverse consequences for the newborn(s).”

Morning Sickness: Hyperemesis Gravidarum:
Nausea sometimes accompanied by vomiting Nausea accompanied by severe vomiting
Nausea that subsides at 12 weeks or soon after Nausea that does not subside
Vomiting that does not cause severe dehydration Vomiting that causes severe dehydration
Vomiting that allows you to keep some food down Vomiting that does not allow you to keep any food down

Signs and symptoms of hyperemesis gravidarum:

  • Severe nausea and vomiting
  • Food aversions
  • Weight loss of 5% or more of pre-pregnancy weight
  • Decrease in urination
  • Dehydration
  • Headaches
  • Confusion
  • Fainting
  • Jaundice
  • Extreme fatigue
  • Low blood pressure
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Loss of skin elasticity

It is important to distinguish normal morning sickness from hyperemesis. Many pregnant women experience normal morning sickness during their first trimester. The difference between morning sickness and HG is that women with morning sickness are still able to eat and go about daily functioning. Someone with HG has a lot of trouble eating and gaining weight and actually loses weight. An HG sufferer struggles with daily functioning – including going to work, taking care of the children, doing simple daily chores, even taking a shower.

Many women with HG end up in the ER due to dehydration and usually undergo long-term IV treatment to prevent dehydration and also to administer anti-nausea medication through the IV. The worst case scenario with HG is someone with symptoms so severe that the liver malfunctions and the pregnancy ends in a natural miscarriage or mom’s body is shutting down to the point where the doctor recommends termination of the pregnancy in order to save mom’s life.

I am so thankful that I am not one with HG symptoms so severe that it has threatened my baby’s life…I cannot imagine going through all the suffering of hyperemesis only to find out that the baby cannot make it. When I read stories of moms who have lost their babies due to HG, all I can do is cry and thank God that I have not had to go through that. The good news is that most HG pregnancies end up with healthy babies born full-term! It really is amazing how these babies are so resilient. It certainly brings a new image to mind when I think about “the miracle of life.”

Because hyperemesis is so rare (only 1-2% of pregnant women get HG), many people have never heard of it and do not understand this disorder properly. I hope this blog clears up common misconceptions about women with HG. Please share this information with the women in your lives – it can possibly save someone’s life!

Resources:

Hyperemesis Education & Research Foundation, www.helpher.org (leading source of information for moms, family members, and medical professionals; contains medical studies and treatment options)

Baby Center’s online support group for hyperemesis suffers, http://community.babycenter.com/groups/a986645/hyperemesis_sufferers

Beyond Morning Sickness, http://beyondmorningsickness.com/ (offering books for moms and kids, forums, and phone mentoring support)

Ayden Rae Foundation, http://www.aydenraefoundation.org/ (HG advocacy and research organization)