I am still not sure if I had hyperemesis gravidarum. The last thing I want to do is take space away from women who are suffering, from women who are sick, and from women who are making impossible decisions.
I only know one thing for certain: I was miserable, and I did not want to be pregnant anymore. That notion in and of itself was sad and confusing and filled me with a level of grief and guilt unbeknownst to me until that moment.
There is a certain loneliness that comes with a pregnancy that is not “normal.” I say normal in quotes because according to everyone I spoke to, my pregnancy was normal. And yet, until my pregnancy, I’d never heard of a women who ceased to function like a human being until I found myself stuck in bed for weeks because even the slightest movement sent me spiraling in an unrelenting wave of nausea and dry heaving that could last for hours.
And that was just how it started. The burning, acidic stomach that made me cry, the reflux, my inability to eat or drink anything—all these things deemed normal and even expected at early stages of pregnancy left me feeling weak and like a failure.
Why couldn’t I cope?
My husband could only order takeout because the smell of him cooking made me sick. I couldn’t be anywhere near the bathroom when he showered. His soap made me gag. Eventually, he couldn’t sit in the room with me. My lifeline. The only person who could bear witness to my suffering in these Covid times, the one who made me feel like I wasn’t crazy, was now an additional cause of my suffering as well. He smelled so bad to me. At night, he couldn’t even come into our room until after I fell asleep.
Dry heaving so intense that I was convinced I was going to vomit an organ sent me to the ER. I hadn’t eaten in days; I couldn’t drink anything. They gave me IV fluids and IV nausea medication. It didn’t help. I left feeling just as sick as when I arrived.
Multiple nausea medications gave me false hope and left me feeling defeated. Why didn’t they work?
Even writing this, it doesn’t sound too bad. I wonder, “Did I give up too early?” And then I remember my last few days of pregnancy and I feel panicked all over again. I made it to 10 weeks and 5 days when I made the unbearable decision to terminate.
I felt trapped in my body. Like I was destined to suffer indefinitely no matter what I did. I chose grief instead of nausea, fear of judgement instead of dry heaving, and loss in an attempt to feel whole. I wasn’t a person anymore. No one could guarantee when this would end—maybe the first trimester, maybe the entire pregnancy—but I knew that even one more day was too much. I had reached my limit.
The evening before and the morning of my termination, I was dry heaving so severely that I eventually started vomiting stomach acid. It almost prevented me from even making it to the appointment. When my husband and I attempted to leave the apartment, we rode the elevator down to the first floor of our building. This triggered an intense round of vomiting in the outside entryway. Realizing that I would never be able to ride in a cab, my husband cancelled our Uber and I crawled back up 6 flights of stairs where we waited hours for the vomiting to stop enough for me to try again. Every attempt to leave left me huddled over the toilet. I am still not sure how I made it through the car ride without getting sick, but I knew that if I did not make it to the appointment that I was now hours late for, I was going to the hospital again.
Three weeks out from the procedure and it is astonishing how much this pregnancy took from me. I lost weight I didn’t need to lose. I couldn’t walk to the bathroom, shower, brush my teeth. My husband cracked a joke and it made me laugh—but then I cried because I couldn’t remember the last time, I had felt joy unencumbered by pain. It didn’t matter if this pregnancy was planned or unplanned, being so sick robbed us of any joy we could have found in the potential for a new life. Any happiness in future pregnancies is gone because the fear of being sick again and having to make impossible choices for a second time is enough to never want to get pregnant again.
I was pregnant for 10 weeks and 5 days. 6 of those weeks were accompanied by severe and debilitating illness. In hindsight, 6 weeks does not seem like a long time, but if you’ve ever suffered intense unrelenting nausea for even 24 hours, if you’ve ever been trapped in your bed for weeks on end, if you’ve ever felt so alone and that relief is impossible, then you know those 6 weeks can feel like a lifetime.
A social worker told me that just because I could continue to carry this pregnancy, it didn’t mean that I had to or that I should. Yes, terminating may come with a slew of other things to cope with, but so will carrying a pregnancy while sick for an unknown amount of time. She told me that only I could possibly know the right choice for me, but that it is okay no matter what.
I try to cling to that notion, but sometimes it is hard to not to believe that my only job in that situation was to “just hang in there no matter what.” It is hard not to think of all the women who have made it through difficult pregnancies. It is hard not to believe that they are stronger than I am. And it is hard not to believe that I am selfish for choosing to terminate.
When I was pregnant, all I wanted was for someone to understand. All I wanted was for someone to say that they saw me, that they understand how hard it is, and that it is okay for me to choose me. But we don’t talk about these things. It never occurred to me that when I got pregnant, I would quite literally hate it. That it wouldn’t feel like a miracle. That I wouldn’t feel joy or wonder at what was growing inside me. That I would hear my baby’s heartbeat and choose to not bring them into the world.
I’m still not sure if I had Hyperemesis Gravidarum. What I do know is that pregnancy isn’t always perfect and that I did the best I could in a difficult situation. Some days, I am not even sure I believe that, but I am trying to be gentle with myself. And if you are reading this, and struggling, I believe that you are also doing your best. And it is okay if you are tired and if you have reached your limit. You are not alone.
*Not her real name.