Having hyperemesis gravidarum was a miserable experience, but the pregnancy condition didn't stop me from growing my family.
When I became pregnant with my first child, I expected some discomforts. I knew I might have morning sickness, aches and pains, even swollen feet that didn't fit in my shoes. But I had always prided myself on being tough and capable. My body could certainly manage being pregnant, right? I looked at it as a natural event, not an illness, and imagined I could handle whatever came my way.
But I never expected to get hyperemesis gravidarum—otherwise known as severe morning sickness. Hyperemesis gravidarum is different from typical morning sickness in that it's marked by weight loss, dehydration, and persistent nausea and vomiting. It can't be cured with typical morning sickness remedies like crackers or ginger ale, and it often requires hospitalization. While I didn't expect to feel blissful throughout my pregnancy, I also didn't anticipate it to feel like one long nightmare that I couldn't wake up from. But that's exactly what HG feels like.
From spending long days hovering over the toilet, heaving every ounce of the contents of my stomach into it, to dry heaving for hours, I felt like I was being slowly tortured by the baby I was growing. I didn't feel love and tenderness towards my child. Not yet. In fact, it was hard to feel anything but the constant nausea that took over my entire body, my pounding head, and my burning throat. This wasn't morning sickness, as I was so often told by well-meaning friends and family. It was a much less common condition that we still know so little about treating.
But I got lucky: At the 16-week mark, a daily medication finally took effect and I could eat and drink again and usually keep it down. That's not true for every woman with HG. Sometimes women require home health care, or multiple hospitalizations, and vomit until the day they give birth because no medicine does the trick. So while I spent a good long time being miserable, I was unimaginably grateful when I finally got to eat again.
After my daughter was born, I swore up and down that I'd never get pregnant again, not in a year, or two. Not ever. It wasn't that I couldn't see myself with another baby. It was that I didn't think I could handle around bout with HG. It had been awful enough the first time, and I hadn't had another child to care for. I couldn't imagine having to meet the demands of a child while suffering day in and day out with unrelenting vomiting. For a long time, it wasn't even a discussion. I had already made up my mind that I was "one and done."
5 Things to Know About Hyperemesis Gravidarum
The one night, when my daughter was three and a half, my husband and I got to talking. I told him that I was starting to feel like my window for having another baby was closing, and I felt sad. My husband and I both felt like if we were going to have a sibling for our daughter, we wanted them to be close enough in age to enjoy one another's company. And all of the sudden, that relationship felt important to me. Having another baby seemed like something I not only wanted, but needed, to do.
"I think we should do it," I said. "It might be horrible, but who knows, maybe I won't have it this time." Though many women who have HG once are likely to get it again, I was trying to be optimistic.
A post shared by Sarah Bregel (@sarahbregel) on Apr 19, 2014 at 11:53am PDT
The next month, I found myself staring at a stick with a pink plus sign on it. I was four weeks pregnant to the day and while I had a million things to be nervous for knowing we would be adding another child to our family, wondering if I was going to get severely sick again weighed heavily on me. Two weeks later, my question was answered. At six weeks pregnant, I could barely lift my head to say good morning to my first child. I threw up all day, every day, and all over again, I resented being pregnant. I also had to cope with the guilt of feeling like I'd become a cold and distant mother because suddenly, just taking care of myself was my biggest challenge. While I spent ten weeks vomiting long and hard again, the good news was that once again, at week 16, medicine took effect. The worst was behind me. I felt like I could be a mother to my daughter again.
When my son was born, my daughter touched his soft hair and kissed the top of his head. She has looked out for him (and sometimes pummeled him to the ground) every day since. The love between them makes me unmistakably sure that my struggle was worth it. I also can't imagine life without my second baby, and while I wouldn't fault anyone for choosing differently, I feel certain I made the right choice for my family.
Getting pregnant again knowing I might get HG wasn't an easy choice. For me, it just came down to feeling like my family wasn't yet complete. I knew I wanted another child, and it more powerful than the cruel sickness that is hyperemesis gravidarum.