Letting Go of Annelise

One of the most painful aspects of this HG pregnancy has been surrendering my daughter. It was an odd process…to let go of my little baby who had been so attached to me. For five months (when Danny was in Virginia for training) last year, it was just Annelise and her mama. And then all of a sudden, when I got so ill with hyperemesis, we were forced to separate.

I was unwillingly pushed to surrender my precious Lisi. I had no choice. My body gave me no choice. I was bed ridden and on IV treatment for two months. I had absolutely no energy for anyone but myself. I was on survival mode. It took every ounce of energy just to breathe and live, manage the nausea, and get through each day.

So I relinquished her…to my husband who took care of her after work and on the weekends. And to my parents who took care of her during the day while Danny was at work. My mother-in-law and sister-in-law have also been so wonderful with taking care of Annelise when they would visit us.

On the one hand, I was so relieved to have them take care of her – I knew I didn’t need to worry about her and I could focus on getting better. On the other hand, I was heart-broken that she no longer looked to mama. She looked to grandma, grandpa, or daddy to feed her, change her diaper, play with her, and hold her tight.

Some days, I couldn’t even look at her…I was just too exhausted to even acknowledge her presence. So that’s how two, long months passed, with our paths barely crossing. My parents and my husband became responsible for taking care of Annelise as well as me. They were overwhelmed with the dual responsibilities.

I had to grieve and mourn the loss of our relationship. HG killed our mother/daughter relationship. But the wonderfully amazing thing is how resilient Annelise has been throughout this agonizing ordeal. She adapted quite quickly to her new care-takers. And once I started getting better, when I could start eating again and had more energy, we began the process of rebuilding our relationship. I started to play with her and sing to her. I taught her “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star.” In fact, “twinkle” was her first sign. She loved that darn song. She would always sign “twinkle” for me to sing to her.

It’s been an excruciating journey to say the least. There are still days I feel as if I’m a half-hearted mommy to a very active toddler. Half-hearted because I’m still nauseous 24/7. I have battled feelings of guilt because I couldn’t be there for her when I was really sick. It’s heart-rending that I cannot fully be there for her even now. I find myself emotionally disconnected from her especially on my bad days. But I guess it’s something that an HG mama has to battle.

I’m letting go of Annelise in order to survive and in order to save her baby sister.

lisi sf

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Third Trimester Relapse

I’m 34 weeks and the HG monster seems to be rearing its grotesque head with a vengeance. This week my nausea has been so much worse. It feels like I’m on the verge of throwing up all the time. My sense of smell is ultra-heightened again. Everything smells disgusting and nothing tastes good. I’m having a hard time eating due to the nausea. I’m sticking to bland food items. I’m back to being in bed half the time to manage the nausea. I was really hoping to get a bunch of things done before the baby comes but now I’m not sure I’ll even have energy to get things done. I know I’m getting closer to the due date but it still feels like an eternity!

In  the middle of the storm...hoping to come out cleaner & brighter in the end.

In the middle of the storm…hoping to come out cleaner & brighter in the end.

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)

Annelise’s Birth Story

This is the story of my first HG pregnancy. Danny and I got married in December of 2008. He left for a deployment to Africa in April of 2009. He was gone for seven months! It was such an emotionally challenging time to be away from each other as newlyweds for more than half a year. A lot of emails, phone calls, video-chatting and many prayers helped us to survive the deployment. When he came back in November of 2009, we decided to wait to have kids till we settled down as a couple.

A year later, we made the decision to forgo contraception. We weren’t preventing pregnancy but we weren’t really actively trying either. When I missed my period in November of 2010, I decided to take a pregnancy test – just in case. I really didn’t think I would actually be pregnant…but there I was holding a positive pregnancy test in early November 2010 (on Veterans Day)! Danny was pretty excited. Me…I was just shocked.

The nausea wasted no time rearing its ugly face into my life. It started out slowly…what you might call normal morning sickness. I was still able to eat and function. Then the nausea kicked into full-force and slammed me with an overwhelming sickness that I was totally unprepared for. I knew that I would have some nausea because my mom had a lot of morning sickness with her pregnancies. But I had no idea how bad it would get.

I still remember the very first meal I threw up. It’s etched into my memory because HG can be so violent and relentless in its symptoms. I had had dinner with a few friends to celebrate a birthday. We went to Tofu House and I distinctly remember the stench of mushrooms from my friend’s spicy tofu and mushroom soup. My sense of smell was extremely heightened and the mushrooms just smelled disgusting. That night, I threw up the spicy tofu soup – not a pleasant thing to throw up. That was just the beginning of my hyperemesis…

The nausea and vomiting got worse and worse day by day. Eventually, I couldn’t eat anything without throwing it back up. I remember my mom being so concerned with my eating and like any Korean mom would, she kept pushing me to eat despite the nausea. I would get frustrated and tell her – “You don’t understand, I can’t eat because I’m so nauseous and I’m going to throw it up anyway so what’s the point?” This was the daily battle I struggled with. Every part of my body was screaming nausea and telling me not to eat. At the same time, I knew I should try to eat for the baby’s sake. But inevitably, whatever I ate would come back up.

I told my OB about my excessive nausea. She told me it’s normal morning sickness in the first trimester and that it would get better soon.

It didn’t.

A week later, I called my OB nurse and complained about my nausea and vomiting. She said – as long as you’re keeping fluids down, it’s fine.

It just got worse. Not only could I not eat, I couldn’t keep liquids down either. So I decided to go to urgent care one day when I was feeling horrible. They told me I was dehydrated and gave me fluids via IV. The doctor said, “You have something called hyperemesis which means you have excessive nausea and vomiting. There isn’t much we can do. Here’s some information about HG.” I felt a bit better after receiving the IV fluids but they sent me home soon after with a prescription for Zofran (anti-nausea medication). The Zofran did not work and I was back to vomiting multiple times a day. This continued for days.

I decided to go to urgent care again since nothing was working. This time we waited three hours in the waiting room to be seen. I remember sitting in the waiting room and just wanting to die because the nausea was so strong. I silently cried because I was so frustrated and tired of waiting. I think the people in the waiting room probably thought I was crazy or something. I was seen again and given fluids via IV and again immediately sent home. Literally the moment I stepped back into the car, I threw up again – just the smell of the car caused me to retch. The around-the-clock vomiting continued again for days.

Finally, on Christmas day of all days – I knew something was seriously wrong and that short-term IV fluids and oral Zofran were not enough to help me get better. I literally felt like I was dying. I had absolutely no energy. I was either in bed or throwing up into the toilet. The nausea was so bad. I was still throwing up multiple times a day but now I was vomiting bile. At this point, I wasn’t eating or drinking anything but still throwing up! I weighed myself and was shocked to find out that I had lost 15 pounds. I should be gaining weight my first trimester not losing weight! That scared me and I called my doctor’s office and spoke to the on-call nurse

I expressed my concerns and frustrations to her over the phone – between pathetic sobs. She told me to go to the ER. I asked her – “Well, will they admit me?” She said “I don’t know.” I was so frustrated at that point and wondered if it would even be worth it to go to the ER. But in my heart, I knew something was wrong and if I continued going like this, I would just die.

So we went to the ER on Christmas day. Thankfully, there weren’t too many people there and I was seen quite quickly. The doctor gave me Phenergan (another anti-nausea med) via IV and it made me so sleepy – I loved it! Something to finally take the nausea away. They ran some blood tests and the ER doctor consulted with my OB and they concluded that I should be admitted because the numbers from the blood tests were off. I think my electrolyte level was really low due to the dehydration. I was so happy to hear that someone finally was taking my condition seriously!

I stayed in the hospital for about four days. I was on continuous IV – getting fluids as well as Zofran and Phenergan. I was still throwing up but at least the fluids were keeping me from being dehydrated. When my OB came to see me, she had a totally different attitude. She clearly didn’t think this was ‘normal’ morning sickness anymore. She wanted to do an ultrasound to make sure the baby was okay. The baby turned out to be perfectly healthy and quite active!

My OB decided to have me to get a PICC line for long term in-home IV treatment. A PICC line is a peripherally inserted central catheter. It is a long, slender, flexible tube inserted into a peripheral vein, typically in the upper arm and advanced until the catheter tip reaches into a large vein in the chest near the heart to obtain IV access. Because I would be receiving IV treatment daily 24 hours a day, it would be a hassle and also difficult on my veins to change the IV site every week. With the PICC line, you don’t have to get pricked every week for the IV treatment. I loved my PICC line! It was truly a lifesaver.

I received IV treatment for a month. A home health nurse would come every week to change the dressing and check up on me. The rest of the time, Danny changed my IV bags and administered the medications into the PICC line for me. He was a pro! His navy medical training definitely came in handy. He already knew how to administer an IV so it was a piece of cake for him.

After a month of continuous IV treatment, I finally started to feel better and could start eating again. By the end of my first trimester in January, I started to feel somewhat normal and I gained my weight back. I still had nausea 24/7 but it was at a much more manageable level and the vomiting significantly reduced. That was my traumatic introduction to HG. I was forced to take three months of sick leave from my job. I went back to work in February and thankfully, the rest of my pregnancy went more smoothly.

My labor and delivery – compared to my pregnancy – was so easy. I was actually kind of surprised at how smooth and fast my labor and delivery was. My water broke at 7 am on July 13th, 2011. I called the hospital and they told me to take a shower, eat breakfast and head over to the hospital in a couple hours. So I took my time and showered and ate some cereal. I started feeling sharp contractions and we drove to the hospital.

By 9 am, the nurse measured me and I was already 6 cm dilated! (I had been dilating even before labor started) The nurse told me I could get the epidural then since I was already 6 cm or that I could wait. I decided to just get the epidural because the contractions were quite painful. The anesthesiologist was wonderful and the epidural was wonderful! Now I was in no pain and just waited to push. By 2 pm, I was fully dilated at 10 cm. I threw up a couple times (of course!) during the pushing. I pushed for a couple hours and Annelise was born at 4 pm! She weighed 8 lbs 5 oz! The doctor was amazed at how big she was. My OB told me I was the worst case of nausea/vomiting she had seen.

The best part about delivering the baby was of course meeting Annelise finally but also the fact that my nausea was finally and completely gone! Food never tasted so good as when I ate the hospital food that day. I’m still amazed at how big and healthy Annelise is despite the HG. Annelise means “grace”. It was truly by God’s grace and many people’s prayers that I survived my first pregnancy and that Annelise was born full-term at a very healthy weight and that Annelise is such a good eater!

Here’s a picture of my little chub-chub doing her favorite thing…eating!