Hearing news that Kate Middleton was pregnant should have brought me to my fairy tale knees. I loved Princess Diana. I am slightly obsessed with the monarchy (though mostly it’s all about Prince Harry). Except when I heard about the princess’s pregnancy—via text message from my sister-in-law, “Just heard Kate Middleton is pregnant and in hospital with hyperemesis gravidarum. You and the future Queen of England have something in common”—I wanted to weep for her.
I know hyperemesis well. By the time I was seven weeks pregnant with my daughter, Elke (now 3 ½), debilitating nausea took over. I could hardly care for my son who was five at the time, let alone take care of myself. My diet consisted of Cheerios and crackers. Maybe a half a pickle. The most I could do was dry heave over a toilet all day. (Would it have been better if I actually puked? Some short relief?)
By eight weeks, my midwife prescribed Regalan, an anti-nausea drug, but after a few days addled in a fetal position and moaning on my bathroom floor, I was admitted to the hospital for dehydration. My midwife (who also suffered from hyperemesis with both of her kids), a team of high-risk pregnancy doctors and the hospital nurses took turns pumping me with fluids and Zofran (another anti-nausea medication typically reserved for cancer patients). They promised me the baby would be fine. They understood that I needed to curl up in a dark room. Shades drawn. Door shut.
I no longer cared about the baby. I wanted to get home to my son. My husband. My life without constant dry-heaving. And like 10 percent of hyperemesis patients—according to the hyperemesis non-profit group, Her Foundation—I wanted to end my pregnancy.
At home, I was attached to an IV and a Zofran pump. My best friend dubbed the pump “the cutest purse ever.” Lying was my best friend’s job. In reality, my purse carried a pump attached to a syringe filled with Zofran. I had to stick the needle in the thick area around my belly button or the fatty part of my thigh.
“What fatty part?” I’d ask the on-site nurse who checked in with me once a day via phone. My stomach was a hallowed cavern. Fatty parts were shriveled.
Two weeks later I was back in the hospital. My typically small frame had shrunk down to 114 pounds. I contemplated an abortion.
“Why do we need to live this way?” I said to my husband. Because before all of this, I wanted a baby so badly. My womb had ached for a babe. Yet, by 10 weeks, I was miserable.
But there’s a moment in everyone’s life where you make a decision that can’t be undone. Mine was when I told my son about the pregnancy. He had begged us for a sibling. Though my own body desperately wanted a baby with my husband, this pregnancy was a gift to my son. He didn’t want to grow up an only child. (Ask him now, and he might sing a different tune. Someone doesn’t like to share the TV, if you know what I mean.)
Sometimes the Zofran worked. Sometimes ginger and acupuncture worked. But mostly, the nausea lasted until my fifth month. It gave me a one-month break (lovely!) and then came back with a touch of vertigo. A nausea and vertigo cupcake, you could call it. I was a mess. Then my beautiful daughter was born. And though the nausea was gone, I was a mess all over again.
Three and a half years later, memories of the hyperemesis monster still rears its pukey head. Any bout of food poisoning or stomach bug and I start to cry hysterically, convinced that I’m pregnant. So I rest my head on the side of the cold toilet thinking that at least my stomach bug comes with a one-day life span. And that with my Mirena safely in place, my pregnancy days are over.