Meeting Elijah Reece
Anytime I hear the word pregnancy, a feeling of terror takes over me. Pregnancy is not always beautiful, easy, or filled with great moments. Some women, like myself, suffer from a pregnancy condition called Hyperemesis Gravidarum. Hyperemesis is defined as a potentially life-threatening pregnancy disease that may cause weight loss, malnutrition, dehydration, and debility due to severe nausea and/or vomiting and may cause long-term health issues for mother and baby(ies). I suffered from this condition not once but twice and survived. With my first son in January of 2019, I remember seeing those two pink lines and feeling so much joy and excitement. My husband and I had been married just 8 months, and it was not planned, but we were so excited. We had no idea the terror and struggle we were about to face.
At 6 weeks and 1-day pregnant, I woke up and was puking relentlessly, and it was not stopping. No matter what I did, I could not drink or eat anything. I was puking stomach acid. I just thought this was normal, morning sickness at this point. This went on for 3 days before I had to go to the ER for the first of 30+ times. I was given fluids and told to go home and stay hydrated. I was told I had morning sickness and was given some anti-nausea medicines that I could not keep down. By 9 weeks pregnant, this was still continuing, and I had my first appointment with the OB I chose. I had a few more ER trips in those 3 weeks, each time being sent home after some fluids. I had lost 30 pounds before I even saw my OB the first time. My OB diagnosed me with Hyperemesis Gravidarum after explaining the past three weeks. She also said that it usually goes away by 20 weeks. The ER trip I will never forget occurred at 16 weeks. My urine was so dark it looked brown. They tried to tell me that I was not dehydrated, but I ended up being admitted to another hospital because I had ketones in my urine and was severely dehydrated. They sent me home knowing that I had not eaten or drank in days. The nurse also proceeded to tell me that “I was not trying hard enough to eat” and also told my mom that she needed to “make me” eat. I wish it was that easy. I would have done anything to make it stop. On my worst days, I was throwing up 100+ times a day. Typically it was 40 ish times on decent days. My family watched me wither away to nothing. I was told several times that a lot of pregnant women throw up. This was not just throwing up. It is not being able to eat or drink for 9 months. I was also told that I was just seeking attention. I could think of a million ways to do that than making myself sick. I was dismissed by ER nurses and staff quite a bit, and it added so much more stress to the pregnancy on top of dealing with Hyperemesis.
I felt so helpless and lonely. I cried all day, every day, knowing I could not make this stop and nobody was listening to me. I was told I was being dramatic and that all pregnant women get sick, and I needed to stop complaining so much. I was being dismissed time and time again, and I thought for sure that I would die trying to get my son here. I felt my body shutting down slowly. I was so weak that my husband had to help me out of bed and hold me up to puke. He had to help me bathe and brush my hair. I was bedridden for so much of my pregnancy. I continued the cycle of not eating or drinking for the next 4-5 weeks and was hospitalized numerous times for dehydration and malnutrition. I was given a steroid taper, and that did not really help. I was continuing to lose weight and was down 10 more pounds. This was not stopping. My OB set up infusion visits for fluids and IV Phenergan 3 times a week. We tried numerous medicines and food choices from 9-24 weeks, but all failed. At 24 weeks, after so many peripheral IVs and all of my veins shot, my OB decided on a PICC line (central line to the heart) and Zofran pump. My PICC line was placed, and a Zofran pump was ordered. Home health came to me and showed me how to administer my meds and fluids and work my pump.
Over the next few weeks, we were also trying some new medicines to see if they would help. It still was not getting better. I had fewer ER trips because of fluids and IV meds being done at home. I had to have extra growth scans to make sure my son was growing properly, and he was not. He was IUGR and small for his gestational age. At 33 weeks and 4 days, I went in for a routine scan and appointment. My BP was slightly elevated. I was told to keep an eye on it and come back if it got worse. I was scheduled for an appointment one week later to come back to check it again. 2 days later, it was increasing more and more, and I was advised to go into OB triage. I went in, and a battery of tests were run. It was determined that I had pre-eclampsia and needed to go to a bigger hospital in case of delivery, and my son needed the NICU. I was started on a magnesium drip and other BP meds, and I was flown to that hospital a few hours later. When I got there, I was greeted by so many doctors and the OR staff. I met my high-risk doctor. He was absolutely amazing. He was blunt and honest with me and what we were looking at. He said I would be there until delivery. Two days after I got there, I developed HELLP Syndrome. My kidneys were not working right, my pre-eclampsia worsened, and my son was taken via emergency C-Section. He was 3 pounds 11 ounces at his lowest weight. He was in the NICU for over two weeks before coming home. He fought just as hard as I did and survived this gruelling condition.
I had planned to get a tubal, but shortly after my son was born, covid hit and nothing elective was being done. I was on the depo shot. I switched to a different OB closer to home and continued getting my depo shot. We continued using birth control and decided to start fostering. Our home was big enough for kids in need, and I knew I was not having anymore. In November 2020, we ended up welcoming a 16-year-old medically complex boy into our home( he eventually was adopted in November 2021.) We were getting used to adjusting to 4 people in the house, and everything was going really well. In July of 2021, we found out I was pregnant. When I saw those lines with him, the first thing that hit me was pure terror. Now, I love my baby, and it wasn’t about not loving him. I was terrified because I knew what was about to hit, and I had no idea if I was strong enough to endure this again. I had no idea if I would be able to give my family what they needed while being in and out of the hospital and bedridden. I was seeing a local OB in my town at first because I was hopeful this time would be different despite me knowing deep down. In my personal opinion, he was not very educated on what Hyperemesis was because he was not willing to help much. At 5 weeks, I started the excessive vomiting and not being able to eat or drink, and by 6 weeks, I was already down 10 pounds, and I had my first ER trip. After that, I knew I was going to have to go back to my high-risk doctor who delivered my firstborn and I scheduled an appointment with him. At 7.5 weeks, I was back again with my high-risk OB and down 6 more pounds. I was sent immediately from my appointment over to triage to be admitted and work on a game plan to try and get this under control. During this hospital stay, my PICC line was placed for fluids at home, and my Zofran pump was ordered. This was all done by 8 weeks, and I was losing more weight. I was sent home after being taught how to administer my meds and was scheduled another appointment for a few weeks later. By 9.5 weeks, I was still losing weight. I was not dehydrated as I had my fluids at home, but I could not eat still. I was back at OB triage, and a resident/med student mentioned termination due to risks for me. It was mentioned several times, and I refused each time. I was admitted for malnutrition, and I also needed some potassium and magnesium infusions. After consulting with my OB and the high-risk team, they decided it may be time to consider an NJ tube for nutrition if this continued. At 10.5 weeks, we decided to place the tube. When trying, I felt like my nose and throat were being ripped apart, and I could not stop puking long enough to finish placing it. After that failed, we decided since I already had a PICC line, we could do TPN( total parental nutrition.) I would end up being on this until delivery. TPN can be hard on the liver, so I had weekly labs down to check my liver enzymes and other levels such as magnesium, potassium, AST, ALT, and a few other things. My OB was okay with me staying on TPN as long as my liver enzymes were not bothered. TPN is not recommended for prolonged use. This was my longest hospital admission, it was 14 days, and there were many ups and downs.
I will never forget the sweetest nurse Elizabeth. She told me to advocate for myself, not take no for an answer, and trust that I knew my body best. I wish I knew her last name or where she was now. She made all the difference in believing in me. I was stuck in bed, unable to get up for most of my pregnancy. If I was up, I was stuck in the bathroom on the floor by the toilet. I couldn’t lift my head without puking. I missed out on 9 months of my 2-year-olds life and his milestones. I watched them from videos my husband, mom, or sister would take. I missed out on so many family things, taking Bentley to the pumpkin patch, dinners, Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, and so much more. I missed my niece’s first 9 months of life, and I will always feel guilty about that. I will never get those 9 months back because of Hyperemesis. I felt like a horrible mother when he would cry for me each time I left to go to the hospital or when he would scream for me on FaceTime when I was admitted to the hospital. Still, I also knew I was severely dehydrated/malnourished, and if I didn’t go, he may lose his mom, or we would lose the baby. Spending most of the first trimester in a hospital and away from him was the hardest thing as a mother. He would pat me on the back while I was puking and say, “mommy sick.” The guilt of not being able to play and interact with him as I had was unbearable some days. I felt like a horrible mother and a horrible wife. I felt like I was letting everyone down because I was completely useless for 9 months. Being so isolated, it is hard not to get depressed during that time. It is a very lonely and isolated struggle. Any sounds, lights, motions, or movements would send me into a vomiting spiral. I felt like my body was slowly breaking down piece by piece. I didn’t eat or drink for 9 months each pregnancy, and I could feel myself getting weaker and weaker. My own saliva would make me puke so bad. My nose bled almost every time I was in a puking fit. I got to where I could hardly lift my 20-pound toddler. I couldn’t stand without getting dizzy and lightheaded. I was not able to do anything around the house, and if it wasn’t for family, it would have been much worse. The feeling like you are failing everyone because you can’t even take care of your family without help from others.
I lost 40 pounds total the entire pregnancy and had so many blown veins due to failed IV placements before I got my PICC line. It is the fear of the deadly infection PICC lines can cause but knowing I desperately need it in order to survive and get the nutrients I need. The thought of a direct line to my heart was terrifying, but the alternative was worse. I was on TPN, a Zofran pump, thousands of pills, and IV fluids at home until delivery. The TPN usage caused gall stones and liver issues. I required around the clock care, typically from home health nurses, but in my case, my mom, sister, and husband because there were no nurses available due to covid. I was completely dependent on someone else to do even basic things like shower, change clothes, use the bathroom, brush my hair, walk, and to puke. Yes, I had to have help holding myself up to even puke. My husband would have to lift me into the bath and bathe me because I was literally too weak. My mom had to try and get me up to OB triage on her own while I was fainting numerous times on her. My sister was on call pretty much all of the time to watch my firstborn if I had to go back to triage. I had endless amounts of medications being pumped into my body just to be able to survive. At 22 and 25, I was completely dependent on someone else for basic care. I never imagined that would happen to me. I had to get weekly labs and weekly dressing changes for my PICC line, as I mentioned earlier, and I had to go to the infusion centre once a week. The girls there became like friends to me. They treated me so well and always asked me about my life and made sure I was heard. They will never know how much their support and rooting for me meant to me. So much stress, anxiety, and worry during the entire pregnancy. Will my husband understand this time around and pick up the extra slack? Will these medicines hurt the baby? Can I push through without this medicine? Am I getting enough nutrients to my baby for him to make it? 34% of severe HG pregnancies are lost. I wondered if I was going to make it through the pregnancy alive. My husband was wondering if he would have to raise 3 kids alone. He had to watch his wife wither away to nothing knowing there was nothing he could do to help. My brother visited and asked my mom if I “looked like a skeleton again.”
This condition is ruthless and unfair. My potassium levels stayed so low that I had to go get infusions even though I was already on 3 potassium pills a day. It was causing the vomiting to get worse and extreme muscle spasms and cramps. Then I developed gall stones from prolonged TPN usage, but I couldn't eat, so I continued to have the TPN. Gall bladder attacks are excruciating, but because it wasn’t blocking anything at the time, I couldn’t have it removed until after the baby was born. In the third trimester, I developed what they thought was cholestasis, but the labs came back good even though I had all of the symptoms and a gall bladder that needed to come out. I had to start doing NSTs weekly and keep an eye on liver levels and bile acids until delivery. Over the next few weeks, my enzymes kept trending upwards slowly. At my 37 week appointment, my labs were back; my liver enzymes were extremely elevated, my BP was at stroke level, and I was in active labour on my own. I was sent to the OB triage to be admitted, and my son was born 3 hours later. He was completely healthy at 7 pounds 3 ounces and didn't need NICU time. I am beyond blessed that my husband stepped up and did what was necessary. He still made me feel loved when I did not want to be touched because of the nausea and vomiting. He was always running and getting me anything I thought I could potentially stomach. He would sit and hold my hair while I puked it back up. He never made me worry if I was enough during this time. He never made me worry about anything in our marriage and was an amazing support system. He is a godsend, and I am so thankful for him. After working all day and cooking dinner for the kids, he went out to get me some crushed ice just to watch me puke it back up 5 minutes after chewing on some. But he said it was worth it because of the enjoyment it brought for all of 5 minutes. I am so thankful for his love and support and for sticking with me through all of this. So many people would’ve left when it got tough. After our son was born, he smiled at me, saying it was the first time he had seen me smile in 9 months. By the end of both pregnancies, I had:
- 11 hospital admissions
- over 50 ER visits
- 3 PICC lines
- 275 days with a PICC line
- 62 visits to the infusion centre
- 32% and 25% of body weight loss
- 91 Banana Bags
- 29 High-Risk doctor appointments
- 10 regular OB appointments
- 187 bags of TPN (my food in a bag as I call it)
- 155 bags of IV Zofran
- 155 subcutaneous infusions (needle in my belly or thigh)
- 400 bags of IV fluids
- 22 different medicines
- Organ Failure
- Vomiting 40+ times a day the entire pregnancy
- Nose bleeds from puking so much
- Gall Stones
- Critically low Potassium levels all throughout pregnancy
- HELLP Syndrome
- Preterm delivery
- NICU stay
- Muscle Atrophy from being bedridden
- Millions of prayers
I just want to share my story and bring more awareness to this condition. I would not wish this condition on my worst enemy and hope no woman has to endure this. I want more attention brought to Hyperemesis (HG) because hardly anyone knows about this condition. So many other women are getting dismissed and told it is just morning sickness. I was dismissed by ER staff and physicians with my firstborn. This condition is still killing too many women and babies. It needs more awareness. Today I am employed full time and raising our three kids with my husband. They are all healthy, and I am recovering very well. I am working on gaining back the weight I lost and eating everything that I have missed out on. I have been asked my friends and family, "What is the best way to support someone with HG?" and I have always said the best way is advocating for them. Most women like me are too weak to advocate for themselves.
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