I just re-blogged an article about hyperemesis gravidarum. I can’t stop shaking my head. I can’t stop flashing back to the day in June 2009 when I knew I was pregnant. No doctor had to tell me. In fact, I was told by others that it was too soon to tell. But that is not the case at all. My body told me in about less than a week.
I was living in Forli, Italy, in the Emilia-Romagna region. Like any other day, I was preparing lunch: pasta and salad and grilled vegetables and fruit. But I had no energy to stand and no desire to eat. An overwhelming wave of heat felt like it was racing up my back. I moved as quickly as I could to the bedroom where I collapsed sideways on the bed. Had anyone seen me, they would have thought I was being a bit overly dramatic. I just crumpled like spaghetti. Of course, my husband was somewhere nearby and called out to me to check the food on the stove. Natch (as my grandmother would say, for naturally). His first concern was his belly. As would be the case for quite a long, miserable seven months, he would not have a clue what I was feeling. A bystander, who attempted to show sympathy after I ranted and yelled and condemned our new marriage as my biggest mistake. How could a man understand? And not just a man, but those glowing, happy pregnant women who want to wear ribbons in their hair, bows on their dresses, show everyone their ultrasound photo and let strangers feel their bellies, then after an award-winning, cinema-worthy labor and delivery, they gush into the videocam and to the fifteen family members in the room through it all on how they can’t wait to have another one! This is where I belie my age to say, OMG! Are you kidding me?
I seriously aspired to get up from that bed, but the efforts reminded me of Steve Martin somewhere between The Jerk and Housesitter. I’m not sure anymore how long it took, but I think my husband finished cooking. Maybe dinner as well. I just remember it all tasting bitter, too salty and nauseating. Everything that I would have devoured a week or so before was now becoming what the Italians would call schifo. Day by day, week by week, my diet was under attack. My beloved formaggio (cheese), pomodori (tomatoes), latte (well, never really like milk in any country. Sorry dairy farmers!), marinara (tomato sauce), aglio (garlic), cipolle (onions) and pepe (pepper) and pasta (pasta) were all immediately phased out.
But my physical weakness and sudden disinterest in the staples of Italian cuisine were not just the rites of passage in pregnancy. I had seen other women go through morning sickness. Though, I had never met anyone who said it only occurred in the morning. It is how many women realize they are pregnant. Still, maybe by the second or third month it fades off. What I experienced was violent, convulsive retching that left not only my throat burning, but with back aches, stomach spasms to the point that I thought I would miscarry and my rib cage felt like I’d been beaten with a bat. But wait, there’s more. I had the pleasure of losing control of my bladder so severely that I would stand over the toilet vomiting and end up peeing on the floor at the same time. I would just stand there and cry (and vomit) in my humiliation. Sometimes, I reversed position so that I peed in the toilet and vomited on the floor. In our villetta, the shutters were always open during the day and sometimes, I didn’t have time to think about it when I raced the the toilet. On two occasions, our neighbors were privy (no pun intended) to the full show.
I began sweating on a regular basis. And there was no air conditioning, of course, so I had to rely on an electric fan, hand fan and wrapping myself in a wet sheet. I began to get angrier and angrier every day. I could not stand to smell food, look at food and certainly not eat food. Just the idea of it made me vomit. Thinking of food made me vomit. When certain commercials came on television I vomited. When the fan was blowing on me, I vomited. If a breeze came in the window and there was any scent on the wind – even of flowers – I would vomit. If my husband came into the room and sat on the bed and I was lying down, I would become nauseous from the motion and vomit. When he tried to joke with me and tickle me, I would vomit. I began to feel irritated by his presence, as if he was purposely doing things to make me feel sick like cook, use cleaning solutions, open the window for a breeze and the dreaded, try to get me up to take a walk outside to the see the vineyards in our backyard. How dare he, right? I didn’t want to move, I barely wanted to live and I hated being bothered. I blamed him for my condition. Had he not kept talking about having children, I would not have thought I could do it.
I lost seventeen pounds the first three months. I thought surely after the third month, this horrible condition would taper off. But that would have been too much like right. No, I got to bask in the pleasures of it all for another four. One would be hard-pressed to find a time when I wasn’t crying, complaining or in the throes of regurgitation. You would think that after there was nothing left to vomit, it would stop. But even the natural green bile from the liver would come up. I would scream for my husband to bring me a bottle of water, just so I could throw it up and maybe my system would be satisfied. I prayed for it to just end.
I truly didn’t want to be pregnant anymore. I felt guilty for attempting to avoid eating just so I wouldn’t vomit. My husband would keep hounding me and bringing me whopping plates of food, only to have me reject them. I was terrified of what this was doing to my baby. I tried to consume massive amounts of the things that wouldn’t make me sick: apples, red orange juice, crackers, white rice, piadina (an Italian flat bread that the padrona – female owner- of the house would make for me and then come tapping on the kitchen window to watch me eat) and boiled ginger root with water. Some nights, I would eat five or six apples and then drink water as my dinner. My blood pressure was low, I was a high risk pregnancy at 40 years of age and I was iron-deficient anemic. I stayed in Italy through the first five months of the pregnancy before I returned to the States. On the plane, I kept my face covered the entire time trying to avoid smelling and feeling anything on my face that would make me gag. I wore pressure bands on my wrists because I had read that they might help. I drank cup after cup of ginger ale.
The highlight was the occasion when I looked in the mirror after a particularly harsh episode, saw all these red blotches all over my face and even red dots in my eyes. Found out that I had burst the capillaries in my face from the violent heaving.
I was reading the aforementioned article and then read the comments. I laugh at the person who says ‘oh when it is all over, they bring you the baby and it smiles at you and you will know it was all worth it’. The icing on the cake was when I went into labor and had no epidural and was ripped open literally from squeezing another human through a passage never meant to see the light of day. Oh yeah, and when they brought the baby to me, I was unable to hold her anyway because my hands were in braces due to the pain of abnormally large engorgement of fluids in them. She’ll be five in February and no, I haven’t forgotten about any of it! This is the comment I wrote:
I don’t think people really get the difference between normal morning sickness and HG. Well, first morning sickness isn’t normal. It’s a horrible intrusion in what should have otherwise been a wonderful and cherished condition. Yet HG is not just morning sickness, it’s the sight, smell, taste or thought of food sickness, wind on your face sickness, fan blowing on you sickness, can’t stand to see that commercial on television sickness, smell of grass sickness, husband trying to be romantic right after you’ve vomited and feel like dying sickness, vomiting in the toilet while peeing on the floor sickness, hurling even the green bile sickness, feeling like ribs are busted sickness, would rather have pneumonia again sickness, can’t stand soaps, perfumes or other fragrances sickness, vomit at the scent of the mop sickness, lower back hurting like bad diarrhea episode sickness, can’t go out because of loss of bladder control sickness, blood vessels burst under your eyes and everyone thinks your husband must have beat you from the bruising sickness, migraine headache, throat-aching, breath-stinking, can’t wait till this is over sickness.
And 12 months later, when the memories of the trauma HAVE NOT faded and you rehash it wherever you find a listening ear, the postpartum depression lifts just enough to start appreciating the sunshine and you find yourself conceiving again. I was so mortified to think of going through that again, that I wouldn’t even discuss my pregnancy until I was close to seven months. Fortunately, the HG only lasted about five months the second time, but the labor was enough to cure me from ever thinking of adding to the population again. I have one of each now and I desperately love my children and will defend them against all threats with a viciousness to the end of my life, but the joy of holding those new bundles in my arms did not erase the horror of my sufferings and the pleasure that my toddlers now give me is not enough to ever contemplate having a tie-breaker!
But to each his own! Mankind will live on!