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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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!