Extreme Morning Sickness? It Could Be Hyperemesis

woman vomiting in a toilet and hold her hand up hyperemesis

“You look great!” they said. “Are there really two in there?” they asked. “You carry so well,” they complimented. But I was devastated. I didn’t want to be so skinny. I didn’t feel complimented. I was trying so hard to pack on the pounds but I couldn’t eat, couldn’t drink, and couldn’t even keep the weight I had. And I was in my second trimester with twins. I had Hyperemesis. I was barely making it.

Hyperemesis gravidarum (HG) is a rare complication occurring in less than 2% of pregnancies. Symptoms include severe nausea, vomiting, and dehydration that can lead to extreme weight loss and malnutrition. As I explained to concerned friends and family, it’s “morning sickness on steroids”.

I was nine weeks pregnant, and didn’t even know there were two, and I couldn’t get out of bed. For two weeks I had been vomiting 12-16 times a day. And I was losing weight, rapidly. Having confirmed the pregnancy with my OB/GYN at around 7 weeks, we stayed in daily contact. Every three days or so they would try new medications; a barrage of different strengths, different brands… and nothing was working. I knew I couldn’t do this for 9 months and if medication didn’t work, what options did I have? As I cried in the nurse practitioner’s office, she said there was one more thing we could try… and on the spot she called my insurance company to seek approval for a medication pump.

hyperemesis zofran pumpWithin two days a home healthcare service was in my living room with boxes of equipment, freezer bags full of medication, and a manual to rival any college textbook. I was going to be trained on how to use a Zofran Pump. Zofran is a popular brand of Ondansetron, an anti-nausea medication safe for pregnancy. The pump would keep these meds flowing into my system 24 hours a day. I learned how to stick myself with a subcutaneous needle, how to handle the medication and load the pump, and how to take a shower while attached to this little machine. I wore the pump bag like a Miss America sash… everywhere. And I made it! But it wasn’t easy. If you think you might have hyperemesis (or even if you just have morning sickness), here are a few things I learned from my journey…

Eat

I wanted to take a swing at people when they told me to do this. Whether it was my well-intentioned husband, my concerned doctor, or my nagging mother. The last thing a sick person wants to do is eat. But eat, we must. I learned that I had to change my expectations of myself and what “eating” meant. I wasn’t going to be able to sit down at the table and eat a meal. I wasn’t even going to be able to handle half a sandwich. Eating, for me, meant popping a goldfish cracker in my mouth and washing it down with a swig of water every five minutes. I would pace myself and eat one tortilla chip every time a commercial came on while I was laying down and watching TV. And I tried to eat one popsicle a day… even if I had to keep putting it back in the freezer in between bites.

Be wary, but don’t worry

Meghan's twin girls

Meghan’s twin girls

I was hypersensitive of what was happening to my body. I lost over 15 lbs in the first trimester of pregnancy. And even while I was on the pump, I was nauseous every day and vomiting most days (though it was tons better than before). The emotional toll this diagnosis took on me was overwhelming and the only thing worse that being nauseous is being nauseous and depressed.

Hyperemesis requires a lot of tracking. I spoke to a nurse by phone every day to report my weight and my ketones (a measure of the level of dehydration in my body found by peeing on a little stick that turned colors). And I was instructed to be wary. As often happens when women get pregnant, we are told that we know best about our bodies and we should always seek help if ANYTHING seems off. But when wary becomes worry… it’s time to take a step back. Worry is debilitating. Scenarios that were highly unlikely played like a bad gag reel in my mind, on repeat. I couldn’t sleep and I made those around me miserable.

There is a little tidbit that got me through. The home healthcare service included the services of an on-call nutritionist. I will never forget the tearful conversation I had with her at the start of my second trimester. She reassured me that my body would do what was necessary to care for my little girls. I would be weak and exhausted but the babies would be OK. It was her care and advice that took this insurmountable battle and made it one I could fight. We talked about different things to try, small attainable goals to strive for, and how to beat the mind games. I could now watch my body and be wary of potential threats to the girls’ health, but I wasn’t worrisome.

Hang on

There isn’t anything I won’t do for my kids. I would endure anything for them, now. So why not when they are in the womb? Every day I woke up sick was one day closer to holding them. Every day they spent safely inside me was equal to three days they wouldn’t have to spend in the NICU. Every hour spent hanging over the toilet, every needle I stuck in my thighs and stomach for the med pump, and every sleepless night was for them. I would do it again if their life hung in the balance. I would do it again tomorrow.

hyperemesisA switch flipped in my body at 23 weeks. The nausea disappeared and I was weaned off of the meds. I had a pretty exhausting, but busy, 10 weeks as I prepared for the girls’ arrival. At just over 32 weeks I had a preterm labor scare and was placed on bed rest. My girls made their appearance by vaginal birth at 37 weeks and one day and they weighed 6 lbs 5 oz. and 5 lbs. 13 oz (which is really good for twins!) We never had to visit the NICU and were home in just a few days.

If you are struggling with a body that won’t cooperate, a mind that just wants to play games, or a heart that feels defeated… HANG ON!  There is an end in sight and it’s so worth it! You can do it!

meghan weberMeghan Weber is a former career woman turned stay at home mom in Baltimore, MD.  She has a beautiful 4 year old daughter named Karli Anna and her 9-month-old identical girls, Laurel Brynne and Lindyn Brooke, are her pride and joy.  She serves on the board as the co-chair of the Philanthropy Division for her local mothers of multiples organization, CAMOM (Columbia Area Mothers of Multiples), in Columbia, Maryland.

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