My Journey Through Hell {HG Part I}

Baby wang was a semi-surprise. Sure we were trying but it was our very very very first try. For a few days Mike didn't even believe me. He'd humor me around the house playing mommy and daddy but it wasn't until the "morning sickness" started. After a week of that he finally got it and I knew something was very very wrong. 

Long before this little miracle, I had started planning to be a mommy. When I was just in high school, I bought baby vest from Gap. It was red with little hearts all over it and could fit a doll. My mom thought I was bat crazy but I paid for it and thus started planning for my little one to be here one day. In college, I amassed a huge collection of Sanrio baby products: from bottles to toddler bowls, I had it all (in my dorm room). By the time I was actually married, I would day dream while reading mommy blogs, flagging down "must-have" baby gear and maternity labels that suited my taste. Around last year, I started to look for a maternity photographer and even jokingly asked a good friend and fabulous industry insider from Chicago if she'd consider flying to LA to shoot my Fresh48 session in the hospital. Days after my stick confirmed my joy, Mike and I started planning how we'd announce this blessing to the world. We started training our Cavalier King Charles to hold small treats on his snout, thinking we'd slowly swap in baby growth representative week by week. 6 week=pea, 8 week=kidney bean, 9 week=grape etc. 

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I'm 3 days shy of 14 weeks, officially entered my 2nd trimester, and about to be hospitalized again. This is my hell.

The first week after we found out the news, I was in heaven. I'd walk around the house holding a non-existent belly, feeling like I was hiding the greatest secret inside of me. Mike was still humoring the "pregnancy" by getting me water and helping me out of the car. We were in bliss and nothing could've prepared us for what came next. 

The "morning sickness" came hard and fast. Just days after the happy result and 3 weeks from my first prenatal appointment at the OB, I started to severely vomit. Sometimes I couldn't run fast enough and I'd hold vomit in my mouth until I could make it to the bathroom. This couldn't be morning sickness right? With an army of mommy friends around me, no one's ever told me it could be like this. Even tiny sips of water would come up. 

The following week, I was throwing up upwards of 30x a day. When my stomach was empty, I'd throw up bile, eventually tinged with blood. A few days after that I threw out my back in the unrelenting heaves that I couldn't hold back or control. During marathon sessions, all I could is hold onto the sink or toilet for dear life as my stomach heaved and convulsed trying to empty out all my insides. Every day my eyes were bloodshot from burst capillaries. My throat was raw and my body in extreme pain from my back injury. But the sickness continued, minute by minute, hour upon hours, days rolled into weeks, weeks into months. 

By the time we went in for our first check up at 8 weeks I had lost 3 lbs. By the second visit at 12 weeks, I had lost 10 lbs total. I've gone to the urgent care for IV infusion due to severe dehydration. When that wasn't enough and my Dr became concerned for my kidney function as well as the safety of the baby, since apparently severe dehydration could lead to uterine contraction and then miscarriage, I was hospitalized for 4 days for 24 hour IV care. Bags and bags of different color liquids were hung. I was not allowed to eat any solid foods, so for 4 days I sipped on cranberry juice, throwing up everything minutes after I consumed it. Through the daily urine tests the Dr's orders, the results kept coming back dehydrated. When they first tried to set up the IV pick, the nurse went from the left side of the bed to the right, testing both arms and back again before finally stating that she's having a hard time finding a vein to use that's not collapsed.

I sat in the hospital bed all day long, alone, scared, nauseous. Mike brought flowers, hand written notes, and jello from the store, but the tears came, every day and night they came. The confusion, anger, fear, all directed towards God came. This wasn't how I thought my pregnancy would go... All night long, I'd be woken up by the nurse doing rounds (every 2 hrs) the nurse assistant for vital checks (every 4 hrs), the IV bag going empty (every few hrs), and the IV machine beeping louder than a fire alarm next to my ear because of bubbles in the tube (on the hour every hour). By the 4th morning, I demanded to be discharged against Dr orders even though my daily urine tests still revealed trace ketone levels. I felt like I was ready to end my life. 

The baby planning/announcement brainstorming/maternity photos/excitement for my first child, God's greatest blessing is a distant hazy memory. In the very beginning, I'd hold my stomach so tight each of those 30x I threw up, sometimes up to 6 times in a single hour, afraid that the baby would be hurt, would somehow become disconnected to me and die. I'd whisper through sweat and tears crouching on the bathroom floor, "Please stay safe, please stay strong for mommy." After every heave, I'd whisper to myself, "I can take it, as long as you're okay," those are distant hazy memories as well. 

Night after night, I would sob uncontrollably into the sofa that had been my prison for months, wishing the baby was gone, wishing that I was gone. My husband, poor guy, watched me helplessly not knowing how to calm his ever frantic and depressed wife. He could never get too close you see... because the smells. Oh God, the smells. 

The first stinky thing that set me off and sent me sprinting down the hall spewing my guts out was my darling Momofuku. Then it was lemon soap, then the whole fridge/kitchen, then the shampoo, toilet bowl cleaner, then everything. Absolutely everything. The last time I went to church on a Sunday I almost killed people. With every hug, I was hit by waves of nausea so strong I was surprised my knees didn't buckle. I picked up everything: lotion, perfume, hair spray, hair gel, mascara, deodorant, blush, and even food smells on people. When Mike comes home and opens the door, I can smell the coffee on his breath lying down on the couch. I can smell my dog from rooms away. I can smell the neighbor's bath water from inside my house. And each smell kills me. Kills me. 

This is my hell. This is Hyperemesis Gravidarum

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Through all of this, perhaps the hardest of all, was the lack of understanding from friends/family/Mike(at the beginning but no longer). I was shocked, saddened, appalled, infuriated at the floods of advice, trying to relate, and "encouragement" I got. Most of which were knives to my heart. Most of which were not helpful in the least. Surprisingly, the most hurtful comments have come from mommy friends, women who've gone through this remarkable but devastating (for some) time. The lack of sympathy and judgement pushed me over the edge. I've never been made to feel so guilty as I have been going through this and have decided to make it my personal mission to educate, educate, educate. 

Most of my mom friends start by relating to me. Yes it's bad, yes they went through the same thing, sitting by the toilet for days on end, having a puke bucket with them in bed, eating crackers because of food aversion. Others try to give me their remedies: "did you try drinking orange juice" "how about ginger chews" "maybe soda water instead of flat" "maybe flat water instead of carbonated" "don't eat a big meal" etc etc etc. Then there's the ever lovely, "but you will have something so wonderful at the end" "we women are so strong" "just think about holding something you will love more than you ever have before in your arms" then comes the shaming and berating "Lucy, don't say that" "Lucy, you don't mean that" "Lucy, I know it's bad now but it'll get better soon" I've even gotten something along the lines of think about how the women in the past do it, they have it so much worse and they've all made it. HONESTLY THOUGH?

I felt so bad. I felt like the world's worst mom, most selfish mom, most cold-hearted mom. How could I think to wish to end this? My baby's life, my life? Was I too sensitive? How come all these other moms did it? How come they have multiple kids meaning they did it again and again? How come they got through and how come I'm crying this much. How come I'm depressed, anxious, suicidal? How come I can't drive anymore, that even when mike drives, I'm throwing up in the car into a baggy? How come I can't stand to shower anymore? How come the steam and the shampoo make me so miserable I'd rather abandon personal hygiene completely? How come I didn't brush my teeth in 4 days? How come every time I vomit, I pee myself? How come the 30, 40, up to 50 times a day I throw up, I pee myself every-single-time? How come even when I've learned to pee right before I throw up, I still pee myself in the retching that ensues? How come I can no longer brush or blow dry my hair? (A task I taught Mike, a task he now takes over the one time I actually wash my hair) How come I haven't made a single meal since July? How come, how come? Why am I so weak? Why am I bad? Why am I so sensitive? Emotionally unstable? Why?

It wasn't until I found actual help. It wasn't until I read hundreds of other women saying THE EXACT SAME THING that I found the light. The first few days I was reading their stories, I sobbed and sobbed. Complete strangers, echoing all that I felt. Knowing exactly what I was going through and encouraging, praising, with honesty, braving our realities. In a HG forum on I found solace, comfort, and help. I was like a drug addict, reading each thread, comment, going back pages and pages, drinking in every word. It was air and I had been suffocating. 

Here's a blurb from a stranger mom on the forum, encouraging us to see the light at the end of the tunnel, needlessly to say I didn't want to murder her after reading it. Instead it filled me with happy tears, a mysterious strength, and endless hope:

"I sit here, nursing my 11 month old HG baby, thinking of you ladies. You brave ladies-you wonderful warriors, fighting for the life of your child, and feeling like you yourself are dying in the process...
You are each such good moms. You are making the decision each day to deny your own feelings and give your child the gift of life. You CAN and WILL make it through this! 
2016 was the hardest year of my life-and the best. I grew the most spiritually, grew closer to Jesus, closer to my husband, grew in my faith that God will take care of me no matter how low I am. I know I didn't have it as hard as some of you dear ladies do right now, but I still was in and out of the ER in the first trimester, multiple meds, changing doctors mid second tri, once or twice a week fluid infusion runs in the last trimester to keep the contractions at bay until the week before I was induced at 39...nauseous until the placenta was out...yeah, it was awful, awful, awful. But we made it. And IT WAS SO (significant other) WORTH EVERY DAY OF THE LIVING HELL I WENT THROUGH! The snuggles, the sweet baby smiles, giggles, the lisped "I love you mommy!  You pwecious!" From my 3 yr old...Each one of my HG prizes is worth it, and this 3rd and worst one was worth it too. Yours will be worth every minute. Really. I promise. Hang in there, Momma! I think of you all and pray for you often. Many non-nausea inducing hugs to each of you!"

Here's a helpful brochure that I've sending the few friends I've let in on our life. I've learned to be ever more cautious in who I invite into hell. Not everyone handles hell well

Here are a few factoids I've pulled off of google searches:

 "saying the debilitating pregnancy disorder (HG) is morning sickness is like saying a hurricane is a little bit of rain.” - Dr. Jennifer Ashton, a practicing OB/GYN and senior medical contributor for ABC News.

"Imagine having a stomach bug that lasts for days and days, months and months - it is just relentless," Caitlin Dean, trustee of the charity Pregnancy Sickness Support

"Any movement, any sound, any smell just makes you vomit."One of the big issues with it is isolation because is causes many women to be bed-bound.

"There is a real lack of understanding about the condition."

And my newest discovery, @hgreality on instagram. a woman I've never met, going through her 2nd HG pregnancy and being as raw and as brave as she is, it blows my mind. Her story is eerily similar to my own, echoing so many near exact moments when I read them to Mike he couldn't believe it. This is HG. This is our hell:

"This is the face of someone who over did it today. I am suffering the consequences BUT I managed two hours out of the house today to visit friends! I feel this should come with a very large footnote. I would not have been able to do this in my first hg pregnancy. It has taken a lot to get to this point including: medication. I am on the highest dosage of 4 different types of anti sickness tablets and steroids. If I were to miss one of those tablets by 5 minutes I would be vomiting. Rest: thanks to the wonderful support of my mum I am able to rest all of the time. I can't look after Adam, can't prepare food or even pour a drink. I literally do nothing other than lay on a bed or a sofa all day and night. Preparation: I knew mid afternoon would be a good time. I would be taking two tablets during the time and it was before my evening nausea kicked in. I would also have recovered from having a shower in the morning. I had my medication with me and my mum was just a phone call away.Support and friendship: the school mums I was meeting know about HG. I have been training them so they knew how serious my condition is. I knew there wouldn't be the "just a bit of sickness" comments or unhelpful advice. .It felt wonderful to have every day type conversations and feel semi human for a while. I am completely exhausted now and very nauseous. It will be an evening spent clutching my sick bowl but for two hours I got to be an every day normal mum rather than just being ill. A great way to celebrate getting to 12 weeks! "

"Evenings are my worst time. Even with all my medication, the crippling nausea always returns. 
This is a photo taken a month ago. I was at breaking point yet again. I hadn't eaten anything for days and was surviving off ice cubes. My husband came into my room as I was attempting to lick an ice cube. I was in floods of tears due to the pain of unrelenting nausea. I knew the ice cube would come straight back up again. "No one ever sees this side of HG", my husband said. "They don't see the suffering. HG women simply disappear for 9 months and re-enter the world with a baby". It was at that point I gave my husband my phone. Despite the fact I always shy away from the camera, I wanted to document what thousands of women are going through. During my last pregnancy I was ashamed. Ashamed I couldn't cope "with a bit of sickness". I had to put up with what most HG sufferers have to go through on top of the actual illness - unhelpful medical opinions, suggestions of natural remedies, work discrimination, losing friends who didn't understand, the isolation... But why should I be ashamed for having a severe medical condition that makes pregnancy a living hell? If you are suffering from HG at the moment, please know that you are not alone. Use resources such as Pregnancy Sickness Support to get support and understanding. The helpline, having a peer-to-peer supporter or using the forum are just three ways you can access help. At PSS we know exactly what you are going through as we have all been there. You are not alone."

"6am and my alarm goes off for my first medication of the day. It has been a long unsettled night. My body now wants to sleep through, but I know I will feel horrendous for the rest of the day without this first tablet. I am currently on 4 different types of anti sickness medication along with steroids. It has been a long battle to get the right treatment, but I now have vomit free moments. The nausea is still crippling at night, but I consider myself one of the lucky ones. 
My first HG pregnancy was a very different story. It took 11 weeks of vomiting and severe dehydration before I was diagnosed, admitted to hospital and given treatment. I had never heard of HG and didn't understand why I couldn't cope with the sickness.

This time I fully understand HG, having volunteered for Pregnancy Sickness Support for the last 5 years. I had a care plan in place to start medication as soon as I got a positive pregnancy test. This happened on Saturday 5th August. By the following Monday I was back at the GP to try another medication, and by Wednesday I was in hospital. I was hospitalised 4 times in 4 weeks before starting steroids. You may be wondering what I have on my nose. This is a home made device to help combat smells. I place Vicks on a tissue and use a plaster to attach it to my nose. Without it, I vomit as soon as I leave my room. My nose cover means I can breathe through my nose, and smells no longer wake me to vomit in the middle of the night. I can hear my son waking and going through to my husband. This time of morning used to be my favourite - cuddles in bed to start the day. Now I am unable to look after Adam at all. My mum comes round at 8am when my husband goes to work and she gets Adam ready for school. I am unable to do the school run. Instead, my mission for today is to have a shower - I can assure you this is no easy task when you have HG."

There are so many women out there like HGReality, like myself. One girl developed a severe phobia to cold weather because she started getting sick right when it started getting cold. She reached out asking if she was crazy that Christmas music and even hot chocolate starts her down a fear spiral so severe her throat closes up. The answers to her post were so understanding, supportive assuring her that even when our body heals, our minds can remain traumatized. Others shared how years after their HG nightmare, different things like jello or even antiseptic wipes still send them on vomiting spells. These fellow soldiers whom I've never met, inspire me with their honesty, bravery, grit, and hope. In their stories, I found my own suffering echoed. In their words, I no longer felt crazy, over-sensitive, bad, or guilty. It is salvation. 

Slowly but surely, I am getting better. I look forward to the day when I can step outside and bathe in the sunlight. I look forward to the day when my appetite returns. I look forward to the day I can attend a Sunday service, to the day I can cook a meal for a few friends who have saved me in hell.

Grace who told me it's ok to be honest

Candy who told me she's in this with me

Autumn who texted her prayers from Spain

Christine from NYC

Paula and Amy for cooking for Mike

Jenny for delivering flowers to my doorstep

Gracie for my pregnancy journal and being my eternal optimist

Chris for her countless home visits, sitting by my hospital bed, massaging my feet

and Claudia. You are my angel, soul sister, blessing from God. You keep me sane, you make me feel so cared for and loved

and of course my husband, who did this to me (JK) without whom, I'd die. emotionally, spiritually, I would've died. You are my hero.

~~~~~~{3 days later}

I'm writing this right now, 14 weeks exactly, at a boba shop a few miles from my house. Mike had to physically drag me out of bed to leave the house today. He literally got in bed, rolled me like a burrito in the blankets that are my prison, and leveraged his own body weight to pull me upright (I went limp from fighting against his efforts). He held me upright while getting my slippers for me insisting that leaving the house can do me some good. Today, he was right. Today I got out, got under the sunlight. Moments like this I treasure: I have temporarily reclaimed my health and a few hours of normalcy. I'm posting this today, my one day out. Who knows what tomorrow will bring, but baby Wang and I are fighters and come what may, we are more than conquerers. 

Prayers always appreciated, 

-HG survivor, Lucy W