Parents often say they would risk anything to protect their children. It’s an admirable devotion, but no parent wants to be put to that ultimate test.
I love my four children passionately, but there’s only one I’ve had to risk my life for, my eight-year-old daughter Naomi.
When I was pregnant with Naomi, a monster came and tried to devour us both. It came in the guise of something normal: morning sickness, or so I thought. But by the time I was three months along, the vomiting I had experienced with my two previous pregnancies changed. It grew, green and angry, into my own gastric Hulk.
I had hyperemesis gravidarum (also called HG), a pregnancy disease that affects between one and three per cent of pregnant women. The Hyperemesis Education and Research Foundation, for which I am a volunteer, defines HG as “an unrelenting, excessive pregnancy-related nausea and/or vomiting that prevents adequate intake of food and fluids.”
HG can cause weight loss, dehydration and malnutrition. In more severe cases, it can lead to low birth weight, nutritional deficiencies, miscarriage and even death.
The Duchess of Cambridge is suffering from this disease for the second time. The way some people have made fun of her, and the way much reporting belittles her disease by calling it “morning sickness,” makes me sick.
It is not a case of morning sickness that can be settled with some crackers and ginger. It makes pregnancy into a battle for your life and your baby’s life.
I would vomit dozens of times a day until there was nothing coming up but bile and blood. I couldn’t eat or drink without throwing up violently. Sometimes, the food would stay in for the day, tricking me, and then would come up completely undigested, from supper to breakfast, like a grotesque layer cake.
I lost about 15 to 20 pounds (I lost track.) I was severely dehydrated and had to be given intravenous fluids, vitamins and minerals in the hospital.
I took anti-vomiting medication, one of which was designed for chemotherapy patients. I worried about what the medication would do to my child, but worried more about what the malnutrition was doing to her.
Nurses and doctors chastised me for throwing up. They asked me if I really wanted my baby. One nurse asked me if I really wanted my medication run in my line “because what if it hurts the baby?” When my excellent doctor took a vacation, her stand-in offered me an abortion instead of medical treatment.
Here’s the thing: in the world of HG, I had a fairly mild case, probably similar to the one the duchess is experiencing.
I didn’t need to be fed through a tube down my nose and into my intestines. I didn’t need a permanent IV, called a PICC line, inserted into my arm and ending just above my heart. My kidneys, liver and heart continued to function normally.
I know women who have almost died from HG. I know women who had to end much-wanted pregnancies. I know women with permanent organ damage from this disease. I know one woman who lost most of her teeth.
And I know of one woman, Maria Giani, who died, along with her twins.
I fear this monster that tried to kill Naomi once will come back for her in 20 years for a second attempt, and this time take her, along with my grandchild. Women with mothers who have had HG are far more likely to have it themselves.
My story has a happy ending. Naomi and I made it. And with compassionate treatment by Dr. Stefanie Green of Victoria, I survived a second HG pregnancy in 2010 without losing weight or needing IV rehydration. My son Edward was born healthy. At four, he is tall, smart and energetic.
So, if you are going to make fun of the Duchess of Cambridge, I invite you to educate yourself about HG at the HER Foundation website, www.helpher.org.
If you’re pregnant and can’t stop puking, I want you to know it’s not your fault. It’s not in your head. You’re not alone, and there is help.