How to Be Sick

You can tell from my blogs on my hyperemesis gravidarum that I had a rough pregnancy. When you’re wondering if your body is even capable of bringing a baby to term, because you’re basically allergic to being pregnant, and you could lose your own life and the life of your not-yet-viable baby…it’s a lot of stress. Constant bedrest is frustrating. Throwing up every five minutes is frustrating. Not have the strength to shower or bathe yourself is frustrating. Constant hospital visits and IVs and PICC lines and home deliveries of medical goods to your front door except you’re too weak to pull the boxes inside before your husband gets home or your friend comes over to help…

I needed help, emotionally. Mentally. My soul was cracking under the weight and I didn’t like what I saw on the other side of that potential breakdown. Sitting through therapy sessions was not going to happen, mostly because I couldn’t leave the house, wasn’t bathing enough to be presentable enough to do so anyway, and would throw up throughout the whole session.

So I turned to books—my always-teachers.

This book was written by a woman who is chronically ill. Her illness is inexplicable and difficult to treat. It can take frustration to an exponential level when even your doctors don’t know how to help you.

Thankfully, this author was practicing Buddhism well before she became ill. Her advice and anecdotes are calming and never make light of the emotional, mental, and spiritual pain that can be brought on by chronic illness. In particular, her experience as a person who enjoyed good health for many years before contracting her chronic illness highlights the frustration that comes from a mind that believes you should be able to do more and a body that relapses if you push it too far.

Her writing is thoughtful and kind, commiserating and empathic without being self-indulgent. Her insights and explanations of how Buddhist practices and philosophies could be helpful served as a powerful building block for me. Ultimately my illness was an opportunity to grow and evolve in many ways, and I believe this book helped me on my way towards that. I learned a different kind of patience, through my illness and the teachings of this book. I think I am a better person for it, even though I would never wish HG on anyone.

This book is a wonderful choice for anyone dealing with sudden or chronic illness which does not have a clear end in sight or which triggers a spiritual dark night of the soul. I would recommend it to any woman with HG, as well as anyone struggling to come to terms with the limitations an illness poses on their body and life.


Recovery (Baby Steps!)

One of the absolute best things I’ve learned from the Nerd Fitness Academy is the importance (and effectiveness!) of baby steps. Incremental changes over long periods of time will stick 100% better than quick, monumental changes. I used to be the kind of person who wanted to change everything at once. It’s a funny kind of perfectionism, where you say “Today is the day that I do EVERYTHING right!” And maybe on the first day, you do. Maybe even the second. But somewhere down the road you miss something, and all of a sudden your change, your effort, is no longer “perfect.” You’ve already failed, so why keep trying? So you give it up, and slide into your old ways, and then weeks or months down the road you map out another quick, monumental change that won’t stick. All the while getting down on yourself because you can’t seem to get better at life even though you want to.

Nerd Fitness has taught me to take it slow, and to love myself. You can’t hate yourself into a better person. You just can’t. But you sure can love yourself into a better one. That starts with letting yourself make mistakes. Letting yourself miss stuff, and not giving up just because you broke a streak or things won’t look “perfect” when you track them in your planner. Putting self-care and self-love before everything else has actually improved my productivity and my health. If I’m deep in the feels and really need some Netflix binging, I allow myself to do that. Depression isn’t something you deny your way out of, after all. But with a little TLC, I can come out of it faster and better prepared to get on with my life.

With all that in mind, I knew that I would need to be forgiving in my recovery process after the pregnancy. C-sections are no joke, caring for a newborn is tough in ways that you don’t quite expect, and since I spent the entire pregnancy laid up with HG I was starting from a literal ground zero, with no muscle strength, no stamina. Here’s my recovery process, broken down by weeks.

Week One: Hubby took this week off work to stay home with us and help out, and that was super important and wonderful. Baby girl was eating every couple hours, and on some days even every hour or half hour (they call it a growth spurt…I was just exhausted). I just did not have the energy to constantly feed her AND change diapers, soothe her back to sleep, etc. I couldn’t even get up from a sitting position while holding her, because of the extra weight, my weak muscles, and the pressure it put on my incision. Likewise, if I’d had to cook for myself that whole week, I wouldn’t have eaten anything. Having hubby there to cook and refill my water (breastfeeding makes you SO thirsty) was a lifesaver. I didn’t give myself any goals this week, because I was expecting to still be in need of some major rest.

Week Two: My sister came to help out for the week, ferrying us to doctor appointments and cooking for us and spending lots of time hanging out with her niece. I was feeling way better after the surgery—what’s a little incision compared to the nine months of HG? I was also still taking ibuprofen and tylenol pretty much around the clock, which I can see now tricked me into thinking I was doing better than I was. I set a goal of 1,000 steps every day, and met that goal because in a single week I had a lactation consultation, a follow-up with my OB, an eye exam (because I desperately needed new glasses, and had run out of contacts), and a weigh-in at the pediatrician for the little one. Definitely too much to take on in week two of recovery! I also set a goal of writing 200 words/day, and brushing my teeth every morning. The teeth brushing went well (with someone else here to hold on to the baby while I did so, it was pretty easy), but the writing I only managed on one day. (Belly Progress: Still a super big uterus in there. I’ll need my maternity clothes for a while.)

Week Three: My mother-in-law came up for this week. No doctor appointments, so we took it easy at home every day. I upped my daily step count goal to 2,000 a day, and met it 6 out of the 7 days. It was tough to meet on some days, though, because my incision was still hurting when I did too much (and sometimes just taking a shower was enough to lay me out for the next hour). I tried to brush my teeth every morning and evening, and only really managed to hit the mornings consistently. My word count goal of 200/day was completely neglected. I began to think that I was taking on a bit too much, expecting more than just tiny little goals. Even through the frustration, I kept telling myself it was okay if I didn’t get to write on a given day. Newborns need a lot of attention, and I still wasn’t fully mobile/functional. But it might get better/easier as time goes on. Certainly once she doesn’t need to be held constantly to be happy, once toys are interesting and she’s got full neck control and can go a little longer between feedings, there will be more snippets of time for me to snatch for writing. (Belly Progress: When looking from the side, my belly finally drew even with my breasts)

Week Four: My first week alone with the little one. Hubby works down in LA, so it really is just me and her at home all week. The fridge was pretty abysmally empty. The first day was super tough, and we didn’t reach our step goal of 3,000 steps/day. The surgery recovery seemed to be going great, as my incision didn’t give me so many of those warning pangs that I was pushing myself too hard. I did have to schedule another emergency doctor appointment, though, to deal with some shoulder/breast pain that kept growing in intensity. I shouldn’t have to take ibuprofen around the clock four weeks post c-section, so I figured it had to be thrush or mastitis developing. Not fun. Thankfully, the meds worked pretty quickly. Baby girl did a good job of staying pretty easy the latter half of the week, and then we had another fairly easy weekend with her. (Belly Progress: Finally sticks out less than my boobs!)

Week Five: In which I learn that having visitors is great for my mental health but bad for my sleep. Seriously. If I can’t sleep when the little one is sleeping, I end up staying up way too many hours in a row because then she’s awake when I want to be sleeping later. No bueno. I decided to throw out my step counts this week, mostly because it still hurts enough to shower or to bathe her that I can’t do both of those in the same day. I’m obviously still recovering and still needing not to push it too hard, so I just need to trust that it will get better with time, and that higher step count goals will be attainable in the future. Honestly, it’s hard enough just brushing my teeth morning and night, since there’s no real semblance of routine with this little one yet. I read a good book, though, and managed to do all the dishes before hubby got home for the weekend. I’ll consider that a win for this week. (Belly Progress: Seems to have stalled a bit, but more of the dermabond is coming off my incision and it’s a nice healing pink underneath, so that’s good.)

Week Six: My mother can be pretty abysmal at “taking it slow” after surgery, so when she decided she had to travel with my dad for his work a mere 1.5 weeks after knee surgery, my sister and I decided she’d be better off spending the time at my apartment than alone in a hotel room. It was a rough week for me—loading and unloading stuff from the car with no one to help, cooking for two when sometimes all I wanted to do was snack on something unhealthy instead. It was nice to have someone here to watch the baby while I got out of the house briefly—I even bought some new shorts, in my pre-pregnancy size, that fit perfectly (a little loose, even). (Belly Progress: Still stalled.)

Week Seven: My mother-in-law is visiting again this week, and she’s great about staying up late with the baby and giving me ample time for naps. I’ve had to check my blood sugars this week for a follow-up appointment to make sure the gestational diabetes went away. I was kind of freaking out, getting a lot of high numbers, until I realized that the test strips I was using were reading a whole 45 points higher than they should have been due to leaving them out of their special container! A fasting number of 130 is not great. A fasting number of 85 is spot-on. The gestational diabetes is well and truly gone. Unfortunately, at the end of this week I had to head to the ER three times in one weekend. You’d think I would have had enough of hospitals after that hell of a pregnancy. What is it this time? Gallstones. Stones that I know weren’t present before, because the last abdominal ultrasound showed a “sludgy” gallbladder, thanks to the weeks spent on TPN, but no stones. But pregnancy hormones have a way of completely screwing with your body’s normal processes—so now I’ve got symptomatic stones and am scared to eat any fat or chocolate. I have to do little experiments of eating something to see if it triggers a gallbladder attack. And I now have to convince a surgeon that we shouldn’t be hasty about getting my gallbladder out, because if I can get these stones to resolve no new ones will form (not being pregnant or having HG or diabetes anymore).

Week Eight: The little one still has night and day mixed up, but a kind friend is going to sleep over on Thursday night so that I can get some uninterrupted rest before I have to go in for my first full day back at work. I’ve cleaned the house and done the laundry in preparation for the nanny’s first day, since I figure everything should be in its place at least once, so she knows what things are supposed to look like and where they all go. I’m apprehensive about going back to work, mostly because I haven’t gone in for a full day since week 7 of the pregnancy. And here I am with a two-month old daughter. What if I’m rusty? What if there’s too much to catch up on, and everyone is annoyed with me for being so far behind? I love my coworkers, and none of us could have foreseen all these health issues, and they aren’t resentful because it’d be pretty silly to resent me for getting sick, since I obviously would have done anything to avoid it if I could have. Still, it feels strange. I’m nervous. And hoping that I can prove myself a valuable asset again. And that it doesn’t take too long to pump. And that my milk supply doesn’t start dwindling from the pumping. *Sigh*

Week Nine: Back at work! I can’t say I’m 100% recovered yet, of course. It takes a body a very long time to recover from being sliced open. But, I am strong enough to go back to my mostly-desk-work job, and slightly eager to get out of the house and have some time free of my responsibilities to the little one. As much as I miss her when I’m not with her, I do feel slightly more like normal when I’m at work and just dealing with work stuff. More posts will follow later, probably about the new challenges of being a working, nursing mother.

Overall, I don’t think I’ll know what full recovery feels like until I’m done breastfeeding. My body still isn’t completely my own, and my incision still hurts sometimes a full three months after the surgery. Mentally, though, I’ve made a full comeback from the horrible illness of the pregnancy. And a year from now, I’m sure I’ll be stronger and healthier than ever.

Baby Stuff

The website that was completely instrumental to every decision I made regarding our baby registry was Lucie’s List. All the research and honest opinions on baby products helped me sift through the millions of options to find what we wanted/could afford. There’s just too much stuff out there for babies. It’s as bad as the wedding industry.

Items we couldn’t live without:

-Pack N Play: Ours is the Graco Snuggle Suite LX, but really any model with the raised bassinet insert and the changing table would work. She hardly ever sleeps in it because she sleeps in bed with me while her daddy’s in LA for the week, but that changing table is amazing. You want her up closer to your level post c-section, since bending over to clean and change her was pretty much out of the question for the first few weeks. (She doesn’t like the vibrating bouncer that came with this one, but the cat adores it, so it was nice for him to get a new toy to sleep in when he was feeling insecure about the shift in our attention.)

UPDATE: Apparently Graco now has a Pack N Play (called the Everest) whose changing table FOLDS DOWN when not in use. I’m super sad we didn’t know about it when we bought ours, as the changing table always being up is getting in the way as she gets bigger. Also, baby now enjoys the bouncer with vibration setting a LOT. She hangs out in it all the time, and the cat has had to make do with his cat tower again.Gabe in Bouncer

-Car Seat/Stroller: Because obviously. We got the Graco Click Connect type because my work had already given me a Graco Click Connect stroller. They’re pretty and functional and on the more affordable end. I don’t anticipate needing a jogging stroller because I don’t like running anyway, and I’d really rather go lift weights if I’m going to be working out.

-Breast Pump: We haven’t used it much because she’s still young and we want to exclusively breastfeed for the first four weeks, but I really do love my Spectra S2 pump. The two different modes really accurately imitate the way she nurses, and the pump can be super gentle, which was absolutely necessary during my tough engorgement period when my milk first came in.Milk and Pump

Kiinde Breast Milk Storage System + Bottles + Milk Warmer: Even though we haven’t used them much yet, we love this. Forget having to wash/sanitize bottles! The nipples are easy to wash and the starter gift pack came with adapters that let me attach the milk storage bags right to my pump. So efficient.

Little Giraffe Chenille Blanket: Great quality, super soft (even after repeated washings!), and so warm. Now that it is getting hotter we don’t swaddle her in it as much as the Aden + Anais blankets (which are also fabulous and everyone should get at least four of them), but this Little Giraffe blanket lives in the Rock N’ Play and keeps her cushioned and warm when she’s in there. She’s actually asleep in there right now as I write this.

-Diaper Bag: We got a nice $40 Eddie Bauer diaper bag from Target. Plenty of pockets, neutral enough design that Daddy doesn’t mind carrying it around. Forget spending over $100 on a designer purse-imitation diaper bag. We just need functional (and none of those fancy ones have all the pockets I wanted, plus insulated pockets for milk!).

Things we bought (+more of) after she was born:

-Hands-Free Nursing Bra: Oh gods, why would any woman want to sit around for twenty minutes holding the suction on one of those breast funnels? I had to do it in the hospital and once at home, and it hurt my back enough (and was frustrating to not have free hands) that we immediately got on Amazon and ordered one of these wonderful hands-free nursing bras. I was even able to lend it to my sister when she was here helping us the second week, because she’d forgotten to pack hers and was still pumping for our one year-old nephew.

-Backseat Car Mirror: I didn’t think I would need one of these because I’m a pretty zen mom. I don’t freak out about stuff, I don’t really get anxious. I’ll worry when the doctors tell me to worry, you know? But then I did a four-hour car ride down to LA with the little one in the back, rear-facing, and I didn’t like not being able to see that she was okay and hadn’t spit up all over herself. So hubby went to Target and got us one, and the drive back was so much better because I could see her.

-Breast Pads: We’ve ordered a THIRD pack of these Q T Bamboo ones, and I think that might be enough, but we might even buy another one with the next round of Amazon purchases. They are so much softer/more comfortable than the disposable ones we got at Target. They wash *great* in the washer and dryer, coming out soft and new (a big difference from the crusty, dried milk that’s on them after I’ve been wearing them). I’m pretty sure I’ve got overactive letdown AND oversupply, so I don’t know if other women would need as many of these as I do, but I go through them very quickly. It’s also nice to not have to put a wet one back on a nipple after a feeding—I can soak through them pretty quick depending on how full my breasts are. I’ve only soaked entirely through and onto my shirt once, though, wearing these.

-Burp Cloths: Even if you don’t have a super reflux-y baby, they will spit up. They’ll drink too much, not have enough room, have trapped air bubbles that agitate their system, whatever. We’re lucky that our little one doesn’t spit up all the time—usually burpings are mess-free. But every couple days she’ll basically projectile-vomit a little fountain stream of half-curdled milk, and then we have to change everyone’s outfits, wipe down all the furniture, and do a big load of laundry because she’s soaked through multiple burp cloths and towels. My favorite burp cloths are actually ones that my mother-in-law made for us by sewing squares of towel to some colorful fabrics (Adventure Time, Pokemon, and Star Wars themes). The towel is super absorbent and soft on baby’s face as she rests on a shoulder. I also use them under her head when she sleeps in bed with me, so that I don’t have to change my sheets all the time when she spits a little.

UPDATE: We also absolutely love the Aden + Anais Burpy Bibs. Pricey, but so absorbent! The shape is perfect for shoulder burping, and they’ll be great as bibs when she starts eating food. They’re the most absorbent of all the burp cloths we’ve tried (even the cloth diapers that we use for burp cloths!), and come in lots of cool styles.

-Bulb Syringes: We’re probably using the NoseFrida wrong, but it just doesn’t work well for us. The bulb syringe we got at the hospital, however, has already saved my little one from some serious oxygen deprivation. She threw up and it came out her nose, and she was having trouble clearing it herself. The syringe was powerful enough to actually clear her nostrils in record time, so that she could breathe again. It was scary enough for me to watch her go purple in the face in those few seconds that we keep the bulb syringe in the car seat at all times, and have ordered more to place around the house in easy reach (plus one for her diaper bag).

UPDATE: The NoseFrida works okay now that her nostrils are bigger, but mostly needs to be used in conjunction with saline spray to loosen up the dried boogers before they can be sucked out. I think the combo NoseFrida/bulb syringe is the best for any snot-sucking situation you might find yourself in.

-Nursing Sleep Bras/Maternity Tanks: When we’re better at nursing, I’m sure I’ll be happy enough with those nursing bras that unhook and sort of fold down off your boob. Right now, though, especially when she’s going through a growth spurt and nursing every hour or less, I love wearing a stretchy bra that I can just pull down off a breast. Likewise, the maternity tank tops I got from Target are indispensable. I wish I’d gotten more than just two (and I did send hubby back to Target for two more of these sleep bras, and two more loose-fit, non-maternity tanks). There’s just too much bulky stuff hanging out under your boob if you have a normal nursing bra and a normal nursing tank, both of which fold down and bunch up in weird ways, potentially cutting off your milk supply. The whole point of not wearing underwire to avoid mastitis is to keep pressure off of that area.

-Nursing Pillow: In the hospital it was clear pretty quickly how many pillows and re-adjustments and such were needed to find a good position to nurse in. I’m dealing with muscle pain right now on one side that’s probably related to my nursing position—some sort of overcompensation on my left side because the muscles are weaker or something. It could also be due to the fact that I pretty much always hold her on my right side, because it feels way more natural. Regardless, I know I would be way worse off without this nursing pillow that my mother-in-law got for me. It has a handy extra attachment that props her up closer to the boob on whatever side she’s feeding on, and allows her to feed in a semi-reclined position, which is better for us when she’s choking on my overactive letdown. She’s already pretty much too big for the football hold to be at all comfortable. (As a side note to this, a comfortable nursing chair/seat/whatever is a must. I can’t make recommendations because we’ve had this big cushiony armchair for a very long time, and got it secondhand from a friend in college anyway. But I’ve set it up with the right pillow support for my back, with a hanging organizer on the arm to hold a kleenex box, burp cloths, a book, etc. The ottoman is great, too, because when she’s done nursing I can put my feet up and she dozes on the nursing pillow on my lap while I watch Netflix or whatever.)

Baby K’tan Carrier: I’m only just starting to use mine, since I was worried about her feet being right at the level of my c-section incision, but I already really like it. We had to order one in a larger size for my husband, because he also enjoys wearing her. It’s a great way to bond, but it’s also just more calming for her, I think. She still isn’t super happy about being out in the world, so she likes to be close to people whenever possible.

Other things we’ve learned in the first few weeks:

-Periodic Breathing in Newborns. Look it up. Trust me, you will want to know about this before you notice it in your own baby.

-The Gerber clothes run slightly smaller than the Carter ones, so she outgrew the Gerber newborns first, and now has outgrown the Carter ones. Hand-me-downs are fantastic, as we haven’t had to buy a single article of clothing for her ourselves just yet. And people just keep buying her clothes, so I’m assuming we won’t have to buy her any clothes ourselves until after the first year or so.

-Huggies wipes tear pretty easily when pulling them out. The Costco Kirkland brand wipes are great, though. The Pampers ones work well, too. Amazon Elements wipes tear like the Huggies ones.

-Huggies diapers have elastic in the back, which helps protect against blowouts from that direction (but you still get some, because, babies). Pampers doesn’t have the elastic in the back, and we got way more blowouts when we were using those.

-The Amazon registry was a good idea, especially because old coworkers and family members sometimes got us Amazon gift cards instead of items from the registry. We ended up with a sizable gift balance, and have been using it to cover diapers and wipes, which with our Prime subscription are cheaper and get delivered straight to the door in two days.

-Colic is a ridiculous term that basically means “you have a fussy baby and we don’t know why.” We’ve found that she generally makes sense—when she cries or fusses it’s because she’s hungry, has a dirty diaper, is gassy, needs to poop and is having trouble doing so, or is too cold or too hot. You run through the list of possibilities, and after addressing all of them she usually calms down. That will get more complicated as she gets older and starts hitting overstimulation while her brain is developing in leaps and bounds, but for right now it’s a comfort to know that caring for my baby can be a pretty logical process.

-If you have to live apart, as parents, due to jobs, invest in some IP video cameras. We got a couple from Amazon, and I think it’s really nice for my husband to be able to check up on us when he is down in LA for the week. We also like to talk to him on the phone in the evenings (I put him on speaker so that she can hear his voice), and he gets to see us while we do this, and it makes us feel the distance a little less.

-I really love my sister’s approach to “advice.” She told us as soon as we announced the pregnancy that she would try not to offer advice, but that she’d be available if we ever had questions. That’s been great. She hasn’t stepped on my toes once, and I’ve got this willing and knowledgeable source of information who just had a baby a year ago. It’s been 26 years since any of our parents had a baby, so their information can be a little bit outdated. And they won’t know everything, since not everyone breastfed, or used disposable diapers, or had a c-section, etc.

Life really does change a lot when you have a baby, but so far we’ve been in love, even on the rough days. I completely understand and respect anyone who chooses not to have children—that probably would have been my path as well, if my husband hadn’t always wanted a kid so badly. But we’re happy with our decision, and now that she’s here I’m very much in love, and excited for all the new adventures life will throw at us. Mostly I’m excited to get to know her, and see who she is. Her growing awareness and expressiveness every day is amazing to witness.

Side Effects

Hubby and I were talking about medication side effects, because of how strange some of my reactions have been to certain things. He majored in Psychology, so he knows a little about the biophysical effects of various medications on the brain and all that. He talked some about the blood-brain barrier—not something I’ll claim to understand, but it seems kind of cool and would explain why I’ve got some of the reactions I’ve had to particular medications.

I realized that even though internet searches can sometimes yield confirmation that what we’re experiencing isn’t completely, totally unheard of, that only works when people share their experiences somewhere on the internet. So here are some of my weird side effects, in the hopes that someone will feel less alone if they also suffer from the same ones.

-Synthroid vs. Levothyroxine. This one is weird, but people theorize that it has to do with the way that the drug is formed (binding agents used and stuff) differing between companies. All I know is that when I take brand-name Synthroid for my hypothyroidism, everything is great. When I take any of the generics, I end up with symptoms of hyperthyroidism, even though my TSH numbers don’t reflect hyperthyroidism after being on them for a while. Heart palpitations are not fun to deal with on a regular basis. Or ever at all. So I always ask my doctor to have them dispense only Synthroid for my prescription, instead of giving me the generic.

-Reglan. This is supposed to move things through your digestive system faster, theoretically so that you don’t have as much opportunity to feel nauseous and toss your cookies. What it did for me was create a vague and very uncomfortable feeling of constant achy pain in my abdominal region. It didn’t touch the nausea for me at all. But the pain was irritating enough that I couldn’t keep taking the drug.

-Phenergen. Made me EXTREMELY tired but simultaneously gave me such bad restless legs that there was zero percent chance of me being able to sleep at all. Ugh.

-Zofran. One of the best-known side effects, so I hardly need to include it, but just to be thorough: constipation. There are gads of women on pregnancy and HG forums who have already talked about the awful-ness of this, so I won’t go into details. Oh, the pain.

-Vicodin/Norco. Usually around the time it’s supposed to be wearing off in my system (4-6ish hours after I’ve taken it) I get the sudden and overwhelming urge to vomit. And I always do. No bueno.

-Percocet. The worst nightmares in the history of anything. My husband physically abusing me, my baby dying right in front of me, the ones where I can’t move, can’t wake up, and there’s an intruder in the house, horrible brushes with death like drowning… I wake up from all these in a complete traumatized terror. I got so scared to sleep that I went more than 24 hours without any sleep once in the week post c-section, just through willpower and the sweet, sweet services of Netflix. Interestingly enough, oxycodone by itself in the hospital didn’t give me nightmares, but did make it hard for me to sleep deeply (or for more than an hour or two at a time (no, not because my newborn kept waking me up—she often sleeps more than two hours already, though I’m not crossing my fingers that it will last)).

Diastasis Recti

Pregnancy Update: We’re nearing the end of week 37. I am ginormous, and the growth scan a couple days ago estimates that baby is already 8 pounds, 8 ounces. We get to set an induction date at my next OB appointment (which will hopefully be sooner rather than later. The perinatologist said she would push it closer to 38 weeks, because of the gestational diabetes and baby’s size…and then she got concerned and even more sure about the 38 week marker when she heard that my mom needed c-sections because my sister wouldn’t fit through her pelvis (and my sister wasn’t a big baby)). I’m hoping for the 19th, because it’s near the tail end of week 38 (which the OB can’t really argue with at this point, right?) and because it’s likely to lead to a March 20th birthday for our little one, which is Ostara and also when the baby’s sun sign would be Aries.

I’ve got a constant headache that actually gets worse every day, and which Tylenol and Norco don’t even touch (but the Norco does make me throw up, so I guess opiates and I just don’t get along). I’m more and more nauseous, and having trouble eating consistently and eating the right things for my gestational diabetes. I can’t imagine having to even make it to 40 weeks, let alone 42 like so many women do. My body is so worn out from the hyperemesis and diabetes, though, that perhaps if I was in prime shape like my sister was it wouldn’t be quite so unthinkable. Mostly I’m just excited to meet this baby already, and find out whether it’s a boy or girl.

So, back to the title of the post. Diastasis Recti. Anyone know what that is? Don’t feel bad if you don’t, because I certainly didn’t before all this. In fact, I had to figure it out entirely on my own, because it was just casually mentioned at an OB appointment when I was fogged out from this stupid headache. The OB just said, “Also, you’re developing a hernia, so have someone help you to sit up, or roll your butt in the air when you’re getting up from bed if no one is there to help you.”

That’s it. Dazed and severely pregnant, and dealing with underlying issues of not being able to speak up for myself much when an authority figure is “too busy” to be bothered with me…all I knew was that he had said the word “hernia.” So, I worried on the drive home, then turned to Google. The first thing I find? Hernias are ONLY repairable with surgery. There’s no way to otherwise repair a hernia. Okay. So, big deal. The only “surgery” I’ve ever had was getting my wisdom teeth out, and there were problems with the anesthesia dosing, and come to think of it the Vicodin they gave me afterward made me throw up then, too. I guess getting my PICC line placed counts as surgery of a sort, but it was so painless and easy it didn’t feel like it. There wasn’t some massive war wound afterward that created a jagged scar or anything. Just a tiny little point, bigger than a mole but already fading into that white scar tissue that just blends into my pale skin.

At this point I’m a little freaked. How can a doctor say so cavalierly that I’ve got an issue that might require surgery, and a lot more doctor visits, and probably physical therapy, and all of it?? Especially since I don’t know anything about it, and he didn’t even bother saying what kind of hernia I was developing.

In steps the internet, and all the helpful posters on forums far and wide. I learn about umbilical hernias and diastasis recti, primarily from women describing the “bulge” or “football” that their stomach mounds into when they are sitting up (like doing a crunch). My pregnant belly has been doing that for a good long time, pretty much after that cough I developed after the baby shower. How nice, that no one mentioned it before, even though they must have seen it at all my other OB appointments and NSTs at the hospital!

What I gathered from my frantic internet research is this: diastasis recti is the separation of the ab muscles. It’s pretty common in pregnancy, and most women aren’t ever aware of it and it can actually go away on its on post-pregnancy. Except in some cases when it just doesn’t. And then mom is wondering why she still looks pregnant months after her baby has been born. The stretching/thinning/separation of the ab muscles there can also cause an umbilical hernia, which happens when the ab muscles are so stretched that your organs can then—painfully—fit through gaps in them. The umbilical hernia is only repairable with surgery. Whether or not it develops, post-pregnancy, is kind of up in the air. I kind of just have to wait for my uterus to go back down to a more normal size, and then see if my other organs decide to start poking through my weakened ab muscles. Fun stuff.

The good news, or at least slightly less sucky news, is that diastasis recti is somewhat treatable, with splinting and strengthening of the transverse abdominal muscles. I can draw my ab muscles back toward each other, narrowing the gap and decreasing the chance of an umbilical hernia. My biggest disappointment, though, is that none of my health care providers warned me about this, or talked about treatment for it. I suppose if they didn’t want to alarm me, they would just wait to see if a hernia actually developed first, or see if the diastasis recti didn’t fix itself after delivery. But isn’t it better to be proactive about these things? I’d rather know what I could be doing now, and what needs to be done soon after delivery, to prevent or address these issues.

It’s all just icing on the cake at this point, with how many things have gone wrong during this pregnancy. I very much want it to be over. We’re close, but the days pass very slow, lately.

Third Trimester Invisibility Syndrome

Is this a thing that someone’s already come up with? I feel like it should be. Maybe it’s better to call it Parent Invisibility Syndrome. Or in our pityingly sexist culture, Mother Invisibility Syndrome.

It’s the whole idea that the “mom,” “parent,” “pregnant woman” is less important than her kid. A lot of women talk about how difficult it can be to retain a sense of self after having a kid—your time and attention and energy is suddenly absorbed by someone a hell of a lot more needy than your husband or pets. Some women feel like their individuality just gets tossed out the window, and that society encourages it. You must be a bad mom if you take time for yourself. You don’t really love your children if you don’t put them first in every situation.

A lot of women are calling bullshit on this, which is beautiful and refreshing. I’m reminded of a video clip I saw where Jada Pinkett-Smith is explaining how important it is to take care of herself, in order to be a better mom and wife and family member. Mostly, it just sucks that it’s taken us so long to start talking about all this and trying to shift the perspective.

A little background on me: I’m not the type of woman who has wanted to be a mom for her whole life. It’s always kind of been one of those marginal life goals, like, yeah, if the timing was good and I had a good partner and he really wanted a kid… My opinion on the subject has kind of swayed back and forth depending on who I was with at the time, and where I was in my personal recovery process of therapy and self-discovery. Fast-forward to marrying a guy who is so uniquely suited to me in every important way, who has always really wanted a kid of his own…and here we are, 35 weeks pregnant. Which isn’t to say it was 100% his decision. There’s a lot in this for me, as well. I haven’t met my kid yet, but I’m guessing I’ll be pretty damn fond of them. And really it’s all going to be worth it to watch the joy that it brings to my husband. I can picture him talking to his kid. Playing with them. Joking with them. Loving them and being frustrated by them. It’s a new adventure, and one that we really wanted to go on together.

I’ve talked about it a lot already in my posts on HG, how having SUCH a difficult pregnancy really changes the way that you think, talk, and feel about pregnancy and your unborn kid. What it really comes down to is, when your body is shutting down and giving up, and your little fetus is still at least ten weeks too young to have any chance in hell of surviving outside your body…you learn that focusing on your OWN survival is the only way to go. It took every ounce of energy, willpower, and determination I had to just stay alive during the first half of this pregnancy. This kind of directly benefits the baby, since it needed me to be alive in order to continue gestating. But why drive yourself even more crazy worrying about the baby, when the best thing you can do for it is to worry about yourself? In a lot of ways, the best coping mechanism is actually to convince yourself that the baby is perfectly healthy. With HG, that’s typically the case. The baby is absolutely thriving, taking first dibs on every nutrient possible, while you are wasting away. Even if we WANTED to worry about the baby, it would be wasted effort. And when you hardly have the energy to make it to the next hour, let alone the next day, you don’t waste it on anything but staying alive.

So, progressing into the third trimester, we’ve pretty much maintained that attitude, that baby is perfectly fine but I’m still sick as anything. The HG still hovers like an invisible wall, stopping me from “getting better” with nausea, headaches, aversions to foods, etc. The gestational diabetes adds to that, creating its own nausea, lack of appetite, malaise after eating and every other symptom that comes along with high blood sugars (because my GD has been hell to manage, and we can’t quite seem to get it under control…most likely because my body is WORN OUT, depleted of any reserves or well being, and unable to build itself back to a state of health just yet).

This week, I’ve also got these lovely additions to the shit list:

-Headache for over a week now (Tylenol doesn’t touch it, and it often keeps me from sleeping)

-Borderline high blood pressure (along with borderline high levels of uric acid in my blood, which probably means pre-eclampsia is right around the corner)

-Lower back pain that gets up to an 8 or 9 sometimes

-Frequent contractions, half of which are a blessed relief because the nausea miraculously disappears during them, the other half of which are hell because they HURT

-Pretty constant pressure and pain in my pelvic region because the baby dropped last week (and seriously, feeling its little hands squirming around (because baby likes to have its hands up by its face) in that particular part of my body is pretty darn weird)

So, today, I went to my weekly endocrinologist appointment, still trying to get control over this gestational diabetes. The nurse practitioner who is guiding me in this is fabulous. Truly. She is sweet and kind and well-informed and attentive. With the high blood pressure readings we were getting at the beginning of the appointment, and the fact that I’ve been spilling large amounts of ketones no matter how much water and how many carbs I space out throughout the day, she’s worried. She even gave me instructions for if the baby is born in the next week! To have that kind of encouragement from a health care professional at this stage is totally priceless. She sees the toll that this is taking on my body. She sympathizes with the misery, and wants to see me get some relief from it.

So, I called my very-busy OB office, finally got them to respond, and off I went to the hospital for a blood pressure check and additional NST. I was having contractions every minute or two already, probably from having to drive myself to appointments and hospitals 40 minutes away, and having to walk from far parking spots and sit in uncomfortable chairs waiting for admitting to have me sign paperwork…the contractions even got painful enough while I was waiting that I called up to L&D myself and just asked to bypass the downstairs admitting process.

These NSTs are vastly frustrating for us. I know a lot of moms feel reassured, because they get to sit around and listen to the baby’s heartbeat that clearly says, 140ish times a minute, that it’s still alive. The problem with mine is that they take longer every time. The first one was a good hour. The second an hour and a half. The third two hours. And so on. They haven’t seen the heart rate accelerations they wanted twice now, and have had to do biophysical profile ultrasounds. That last BPP we only passed in the very last possible minute (the baby didn’t want to move at all during the ultrasound, but was practicing its breathing the whole time. Contrary child.)

With the HG and GD and all the new complications (especially the headache that keeps me from sleeping because of the pain!!) I am worn out. And every NST just completely saps all my energy. I feel awful after them. I was spacey and contracting and just flat-out in pain on my way home from the one today. I honestly don’t think it’s the wisest decision for me to even be driving right now, what with how EVERY time I do I have contractions that are just a minute or so apart.

BUT, apparently, even considering all this, I’m supposed to just be GLAD that the baby is okay. Glad that every time they monitor it, it seems less and less okay…but still manages to barely pass their criteria so that they send me home. Is that really supposed to be reassuring? Seriously? The nurse today took this awful tone with me, basically berating me for having so much going on and being so miserable. Like I’m supposed to ignore everything I’m going through, all the pain, all the discomfort and misery and hell, because the only thing that matters in the world is whether that baby’s heart is still beating. She implied that I was trying to get them to induce me early just because I’m uncomfortable. RIGHT. As if I’m not worried about the harm to the baby from pre-eclampsia and polyhydramnios and macrosomia. Here’s the thing. The bottom fucking line of all of this. I did NOT go through these nine months of hell just to have a fucking stillborn child. No way. I want all of this to MEAN something. I have been through absolute hell to get this child, and I fucking deserve to have it be born healthy and happy and ALIVE.

So, the baby failed the kick counts last night. You pay attention for two hours, and if you don’t feel ten flutters/kicks/rolls/whatever, it fails. It isn’t moving as much as it should, and we’re all concerned. But when I tell the nurse this, I get conflicting messages. On the one hand, she’s like “you need to come in immediately when that happens. Just to be safe, we can check baby out and make sure everything’s okay and then send you home again.” On the other, she’s repeating the instructions for the kick counts, telling me to really pay attention and lie on my left side and all the stuff that I already know and already do. Because apparently it’s MY fault, I must be doing something wrong, if the baby fails the kick counts one day and then shows up kind of okay on the next day’s NST?

So not only does anything that me and my body are going through cease to matter at all, but it’s also MY FAULT if anything goes wrong with the baby. Like I’m not doing it right, I’m messing something up, I’m to blame. She’s saying I’m wasting their time coming in with signs of pre-eclampsia, but I should have come in right away for the stupid failed kick counts. I get the distinct feeling that none of these people would care if I died due to pregnancy or birth complications, as long as the baby survived.

So, is that right? Do we have an attitude in this society of valuing the baby above the mother? Why can’t there be equal regard for both? Personally, I think it’s pretty alarming, the deteriorating state of my body. I mean, labor is supposed to be the most difficult thing many women ever experience. My sister was walking four miles a day up until the day before she delivered, and she still talks about labor as being incredibly difficult. So you take a body that has been near death, depleted, run down, and generally abused for nine months…and you ask it to go through labor. A process where, if I’m unable to rally the strength to push this baby out, I can be endangering both mine and the baby’s life. Emergency c-sections exist, and thank the gods for that. But how often do they fail? How often does the stress on the baby from delivery complications result in a seriously ill, or DEAD baby?

You try not to worry, because you don’t have the energy to spare for it. Sure, I was having regular (and big!) contractions during the NST today, and the baby’s heart rate did NOT accelerate after them the way a perfectly healthy baby’s would. I mean, it didn’t decelerate, so that’s something. But this baby’s heart rate doesn’t like to accelerate when it moves around, either. Or when they try to wake it up with the buzzer. Or when my blood sugar is high. I feel like my little one is doing exactly what I’m doing. Just holding on, trying to survive by putting every ounce of energy into maintaining. Waiting for someone to look at us and realize that it’s not healthy for either of us to still be joined like this.

So, in the future, if anything I say about my kid seems shocking, take a second to examine whether you’re operating from society’s viewpoint that the parent ceases to matter as an individual once the kid is born (or conceived, wherever you think the life process starts). I am NOT going to be someone who loses her self because the role of mother completely consumes me. Fuck that. And while the medical professionals look at me as selfish, or self-absorbed, or whatever, I will keep on fighting to survive. I know my body, and I know my baby. I know that something is wrong, that we’re on a downward trend and no one will listen to us until we’re on the brink of serious injury or death. And I just have to deal with that. Keep going like nothing is wrong. And hope that their last-minute intervention is enough to save us both.

Your Hospital Stay with HG

I’m part of a Facebook group for moms with Hyperemesis Gravidarum, created by the HelpHER foundation. One mom currently in the middle of her worst weeks just got admitted to the hospital for the first time, and asked for advice. I hadn’t known what hospitals stays were like, either, before my lovely friend HG showed up. So here are some of the things I learned during my times in the hospital with HG.

A good nurse is your advocate, friend, holder-of-hair-while-you-puke. If you’re lucky, your hospital will put you up in labor & delivery instead of leaving you in a ward that may or may not have infectious people (your immune system has basically given up, so you might get every single cough and cold and flu you encounter while pregnant with HG). Labor & delivery nurses are not used to taking care of such “needy” patients, but they are used to frequently checking on their mothers & babies, pushing for breastfeeding every few hours and the like. This will help you stay on schedule for your meds (because when you were supposed to get your Zofran two hours ago, but the nurse still hasn’t made time to come give it to you…). Depending on your hospital, they may even be much less busy than nurses on other floors. During one of my hospital stays a super kind, lovely nurse brushed out my hair for me, complimented me on my Beauty & the Beast socks, and spent time talking to me about her husband. Busy nurses can’t always give you their time and attention like that, even if they want to.

Which brings me to: your nurses might be very busy. They have a lot going on, and while the great majority of them really care and took up this profession because they want to help people–sometimes they are distracted. Sometimes that distraction can lead to mistakes. If you can, watch them when they are pushing your meds. Ask questions. Do NOT be afraid to ask them to push a medication slowly, and/or to dilute it in saline if possible.

Zofran, when pushed too quickly, hits your system in a very overwhelming way (that strangely enough makes you want to puke, which is exactly what the Zofran is supposed to be preventing!). Ask your nurse to push it slowly.

Benedryl can feel very nice when it is first administered (but don’t get up to go to the bathroom or anything for about ten minutes, because you might be woozy and likely to fall). Benedryl is also super caustic to your veins. Ask that it be diluted in saline and pushed slowly.

You might be on several IV-push meds, a couple bags of continuous meds (like antibiotics for a PICC-line infection), and TPN. Make sure your nurses are doing a saline push between each med, and/or pausing your TPN/antibiotics/vitamin bags when they push your meds. Some of these meds, while fine together in your system, can react to each other in the IV line. That will likely cause pain and complications, and worst of all you might miss your dose, because they will be scared to give you more after pulling out the reactive part of the line. This happened to me once and the hours until my next doses were not pleasant.

Potassium is commonly given to HG moms, because all the vomiting depletes our levels so much. IF IT HURTS when they start running the potassium, ask them to set it at a slower infusion rate. One L&D nurse set me up with a potassium drip that was much too fast, and it hurt SO MUCH. I don’t blame her–she wasn’t used to having to give potassium to her patients. But don’t be afraid to hit that call button if there is pain.

DO NOT HESITATE to hit that call button. Be as kind and polite and virtuous as you can when talking directly to your nurse (if you can manage any of that while you’re so sick, of course), but don’t hesitate to hit that call button if you need something. That is what they are there for. You will need to call them to empty your urine catch after every time you pee, because they are tracking how much is going through your system. You will need to call them after (or during) every time you vomit, because they need to be aware of the times and durations of this to put in their notes. It will help your doctor treat you more effectively. Trust me. Do not be ashamed to call often. Do not clean up your own vomit–they also need to see the consistency/color and whether there is blood in it.

If you are sharing a room with someone, that patient might be getting regular meals. Meal-time at the hospital absolutely sucks when you have HG. Your nose is hypersensitive, and the smell of the food will make you vomit. You can apologize to your roommate if you like, but DON’T feel bad for throwing up while they are eating. It is not your fault, and frankly every hospital should let HG women have their own room. When light, sound, and smells can keep triggering intense and prolonged vomiting sessions–we deserve our own space with total control over the level of light, sound, and smells. This is another time it is nice to be in labor & delivery, because most labor rooms are singles. Your hospital might have a policy about not putting anyone less than 20 weeks in labor & delivery. One of mine did, and it sucked. The first twenty weeks of HG are usually the hardest, and the most likely to have you dealing with hospital stays.

Feeding tubes suck, and insertion is a real pain when you are vomiting all the time. If you trust your doctor, though, try not to fight it too much. The feeding tube liquid they fed me did not make me vomit like eating real food would. Swallow repeatedly during insertion to help the tube go down. Get a nice nurse to help you tape the end of the tube to your cheek, and tuck it behind your ear. It will dangle/move less and that will tickle your nose a lot less. Ask for the smallest french tube. You do not need anything bigger than that, and they are much less irritating to your throat than the big tubes they use to empty people’s stomachs.

If you need a midline or PICC line, don’t be scared. They use local anesthetic during insertion, and it didn’t hurt for me at all. It was a quick procedure with a competent doctor, and I was pleasantly surprised. The beauty of being able to get IV fluids and meds (and then TPN) 24/7, even at home, was amazing. Listen carefully when your home health nurses explain and show you how everything works. Have a spouse and/or buddy or two there for the explanation, so that everyone is getting the same education. When you are too weak to push your own meds or prep your own new TPN line or run your own fluids, you will need someone else to know what proper sanitation procedures to follow. Once a week, when they change the dressing on your PICC line site, make sure that you are both wearing face masks. Breathing bacteria onto that exposed site is not a good idea. IF YOUR LINE GETS INFECTED, don’t blame yourself. The sugars and nutrients in TPN are a magnet for bacteria, and often there is nothing you could have done to prevent it. But please go back in to the hospital as soon as you notice any sign of fever, chills, pus, redness at the site, etc.

You ARE allowed to tell the phlebotomists drawing your blood what works best for you. I have small veins that like to roll out of the way, so butterfly needles are best for me. You might have sore veins in some places, and you are allowed to ask them to search elsewhere for a good place to stick you. The best phlebotomists will do all this automatically, but they are also busy and distracted, so don’t be afraid to comment if you have preferences. It is so very unfair to be as sick as you are and then get a phlebotomist who can’t find a vein and likes to move the needle around while it is inserted (bad practice!). I had a fabulous phlebotomist once, though, who took his time drawing the blood for my infection cultures (they need to take blood from multiple sites for these–don’t be alarmed). He talked to me the whole time about graphic novels and superhero movies, and was so gentle I hardly felt anything.

IF YOU CAN EAT OR DRINK ANYTHING, maybe because you’re having a good day, or because the steroids are finally kicking in, do not be afraid to request exactly what you want. Cravings during HG are your body’s way of telling you what nutrients it needs. You want a breakfast that is composed of bacon, sausage patties, and yogurt (but not eggs, because the smell sets you off)? Request it. You can often call the kitchen directly to change your food order or request food items outside of normal meal hours (but usually not during the night, as the kitchen does close). Your nurse’s station will probably be equipped with ice cream and popsicles, though, so don’t hesitate to ask your nurses for it if you feel like a midnight snack. Any food at all is good when you have HG.

Brag to the dietician who comes to see you, if you have one helping with your case. If you can, write down the types and amounts of food you are able to keep down each day. This helped me prove that I did not need the feeding tube anymore (after several days of the IV steroids) and it convinced my doctor to have them order it taken out. Being free of that feeding tube was one of the best feelings ever. I earned it with every spoonful of yogurt.

Don’t be scared if they can’t find the heartbeat right away when they do a daily doppler (IF they are doing these…sometimes you are not far enough along for doppler readings). Your little one is a survivor, often absolutely thriving even as your own body is wasting away. Some days it’s just in a strange position and the nurse might not have much experience finding the heartbeat of such a young little one (because finding the heartbeat when your uterus is the size of a beachball is very different from finding it during your first or second trimester!). Let them call in a colleague to help look, but don’t stress yourself out until your DOCTOR tells you that something is wrong. If they need to order an ultrasound to check that everything is okay, they will do so. The best thing you can do for your little one is to just focus on your own health. You are the one in danger during the bad times with HG. You are the one who needs treatment and attention and help. Staying alive is your goal, and I promise it will be directly benefiting your baby, since it will likely be too young during the bad weeks of HG to survive outside of your womb yet.

Don’t be offended if they send a social worker/psychologist to come see you. Be honest with them, but also try to get a feel for whether they believe that HG is caused by psychological imbalances. There are sadly some very backwards practitioners out there who still believe that women with HG are MAKING THEMSELVES SICK because they don’t want the pregnancy/baby or whatever other nonsense. In your worst weeks, you likely will not want to be pregnant. You might wish for a spontaneous miscarriage. You might consider terminating the pregnancy. I won’t ever judge you for that. HG is horrible, and you have every right to consider your own health, mental and physical. But be clear with that psychologist: regardless of any past history of depression or anything else, HG is the CAUSE of depression and PTSD during pregnancy. Not CAUSED BY them. This is a very important distinction that I wish was universally known. My talk with a psychologist during one of my hospital stays was, quite frankly, useless and a waste of my small reserves of energy. I had a fabulously supportive husband, we had planned and wanted this pregnancy more than anything. I have a history of depression, sure, but I know myself well enough to know that when I was depressed with HG it was because of the debilitating, restricting illness, not because of my normal thyroid issues that cause depression. Trust yourself. Do not let them tell you that you are crazy. Do not let them admit you to a mental hospital–you will not get the care you and your baby need at a place like that. If ANYONE suggests to you that you have made yourself sick and the HG is all in your head…use up every ounce of your available energy to disabuse them of this notion. And then switch doctors or hospitals or whatever you have to do to find a medical professional who takes their job seriously and won’t write you off.

Finally, my most important piece of advice. You will be tired. You will be vomiting. You will be weak and sad and feeling hopeless and abandoned and neglected. You will not think that you have the energy to do ANYTHING. But there is one thing you need to do, above all others. BE YOUR OWN ADVOCATE. I’m serious. Too many health professionals know nothing about HG, and will often deny you access to treatments that can help keep you alive. FIGHT IT. FIGHT THEM. I promise this is the most effective use of any bit of energy you are able to muster. Get the nurses on your side, if you can. Have your spouse or parents or friends sit in your appointments or your hospital room to second your complaints and put more pressure on your medical team. Do whatever you have to do to educate yourself about correct dosages, medications that can be mixed, treatments that have worked with HG moms in the past. If you are not doing this research yourself, do you honestly expect your doctor to be doing it? Direct them to the resources on the HelpHER website. Go on internet forums when you can look at your phone or laptop without vomiting. Listen to other people’s stories to get ideas for treatments/medications to try. Do not give up. Do not become complacent, or trust that your doctor must know best because they have all the medical training. They only see 1% of pregnant women with HG, if that. An OB in practice for 30 years can go the entire 30 years without seeing anyone with HG so bad that they need a PICC line. My first OB was like that. I would have died if I’d stayed under his care. Seriously. If nothing else sticks, please please please, BE YOUR OWN ADVOCATE.

Best of luck, to any of you right in the middle of all this. I can promise that it won’t last forever. And usually, survivors of HG have their lives completely changed by the experience, in a lot of ways. Many of those ways are good. We tend to have a fierce bond with our babies, because we survived something so traumatic together. We know that we earned each kid a thousand times over, which can be comforting when you have fears of being a good parent. We become strong in mental and emotional ways that probably wouldn’t have been possible without experiencing such a debilitating illness. We are warriors, fighting for survival against odds that totally suck. Hang in there, strong mom. You can do this.

You can find the other posts in my series on hyperemesis gravidarum here.

Small Wins: 34 Weeks Pregnant

I brushed my teeth with real toothpaste today.

If you know anything about HG, or have been following my other posts about it, you’ll know what a big deal it is for me to brush my teeth. I’ve mostly been brushing with just water, which is a huge step up from not brushing at all (which was the case for many weeks during the worst times). Every once in a while I could use the special strawberry toothpaste that my husband got me–very mild taste, not as likely to trigger my gag/vomit reflex as the minty stuff. But today I used real mint toothpaste! And only got close to vomiting once, which I think I’ll blame on this lingering cough/throat tickle, not on the toothpaste.

I’m feeling relatively good today, though I wonder if that’s because it’s overcast and supposed to rain tonight. Last week I was dealing with depression, which could have been due to my thyroid levels, but could also have been because of the hot weather (really, it’s not supposed to be hot out in February!!). So it’s nice to see how the light is different in the apartment with cloud cover outside, and to look out the window with my cat at the beautiful grey blanket protecting everything from the sun.

We’re very much playing the waiting game with this baby now. I had contractions a few days ago that happened every few minutes for about three hours, and were worsening in intensity as we went. But then I ate some food and took a bath and they went away. 😦 My OB says from here on out we will just deliver instead of stopping the contractions with meds, which is a huge relief. Of course, as soon as he says that I stop having as many contractions as I was before. *sigh* They will definitely induce me at week 39, if we make it that far, because of the gestational diabetes. But baby and I are also taking longer and longer to pass the non-stress tests each time, and I keep hoping that means my OB will want me to deliver sooner rather than later. There’s also a chance that at the 37 week growth scan they will say the baby is already getting too big, and we should induce then. Fingers crossed, I guess. (I know how much other moms worry about delivering early, and I don’t mean to make light of it. But the month of steroids I was on for the HG probably helped with the baby’s lungs, and a good number of babies born at or after week 34 don’t even need to spend time in the NICU. It’s tough balancing my desperate desire to be done with this pregnancy (which has been the hardest challenge I’ve ever faced in my life, let me tell you) and concern for my kid. But mostly the desire to not be pregnant anymore wins out, because I’m confident about my little one’s health and fortitude.)

I have another non-stress test tomorrow, again at the hospital I need to deliver at (no NICU at the hospital ten minutes away, of course, so I have to deliver at the one 40 minutes away…). So I went to the grocery store today after my gestational diabetes appointment, and got some prepared foods to bring with me. The plan is to go early and spend a few hours at work (which is five minutes from the hospital). The trick, of course, is that maybe by going to the store today I have exhausted my energy reserves, and tomorrow I’ll be feeling worse. That happens super often. So I’ll just take it a day at a time, like I’ve had to do this entire pregnancy.

At this point, I’m almost tempted to push my limits as far as I possibly can every day, to possibly go into labor sooner rather than later. I just have one more week to wait until the full 30 days will have passed since I signed my consent form for the tubal. So really, any time after that, I’m ready to meet this baby. It would also be super nice to get just one normal paycheck under my belt before delivery–we would’ve been lost a long time ago without short-term disability, but I still miss my full income and worry about the six to eight weeks I’ll have to take off after having the baby.

Every day feels like a confusing mix of progress and mounting frustration. I don’t know if I’ll really know what to do with myself once I don’t have nausea and headaches and potential vomiting hanging over my head. Or when I can eat whatever I want again, because the diabetes will be gone. It seems so foreign. Too good to be true. I really think I’ll be one of the only moms out there who says that a newborn is so much easier than pregnancy. And while I hate the HG and wish I had never had to go through it…it’s like a small consolation prize knowing that life will actually be easier once this kid is born, instead of more difficult.

You can find the other posts in my series on hyperemesis gravidarum here.

That HG Beast

Are you familiar with that feeling you get the day after a good workout? Your muscles are sore, and every time they hurt or restrict your movement you just have to laugh, because that kind of pain feels like progress?

I miss that feeling.

I’ve described HG before as a sort of wall that you keep running into. You might recover just this much and no more, and when you try to push it because you feel like you should be making incremental progress, and getting better, you just run into that wall again. Or you can think of it like a predator playing with its prey. The cat that will only let the mouse get so far before snatching it back into the playing field. That mouse isn’t getting away, it’s just getting more and more run down.

When we were kids (well, let’s be honest, as an adult she does this too) my sister used to take in every injured or abandoned little animal she could. We nursed a little finch back to health who had fallen out of her nest into a pond at our church. We got her crickets and mealworms and somehow taught her how to fly. She had this one mealworm for a while that was clearly dead. It was a toy to her, something she could throw around without actually eating. By the time we removed it from her cage, it was entirely black with bruising.

I feel kind of like that mealworm, some days. HG is the predator who lets me run around in circles feeling tiny shards of hope, like maybe now that the vomiting has stopped I can go back to work! NOPE. Maybe now that we’re trying to aggressively stay on top of the gestational diabetes I’ll feel a lot better! NOPE. I keep getting dragged back into that playing field, entirely at the mercy of this horrible, debilitating predator that is HG. And I feel sore and bruised and abused.

I went to a breastfeeding basics class at the hospital last night. It was tough for me, sitting in those uncomfortable chairs and listening to people talk about the miracle and majesty of pregnancy and birth and breastfeeding. I haven’t felt like much of a magical creature, these past months. Chances are, every single other woman there, including the two instructors who had five children between them, had fairly normal pregnancies. They probably don’t have to go in for non-stress tests on the baby until they’re past their due dates. They probably have continued going to work this entire time, shoring up funds for their maternity leave, where depending on their employer they could actually choose to take more time than the standard offered, because they aren’t broke from medical expenses and being on disability. They probably don’t make jokes about almost dying, and how little we “care” about the baby’s health because we’re just so glad that I’M not at death’s door anymore (to be fair, we’re getting more excited, and would obviously be devastated if anything was wrong with the baby. It’s as much a survivor as I am, though, and we tend not to worry about it because it’s proven its strength).

Driving home, I complained into the speakerphone the entire way. My husband is super patient, and supportive, and wonderful. And he understands how difficult all this is, and it pains him to watch me go through it all and not have much he can do to actually alleviate the difficulties. We’re both damn excited for when I’m not pregnant anymore because, wow, I’ll be a real person again.

And today, feeling sorry for myself because I need a full day of recovery after the simple exertions of yesterday’s class, I complained about how other women with HG handle the whole thing with more grace. Some of them let faith get them through it. It comforts them to think that this is God’s plan, and they are earning the wonderful blessing that will be their child. But others? Like the woman posting in an HG group last night who lost her baby at 20 weeks, is completely devastated, but still managed to close her post by saying good luck to the rest of us who are still in the middle of it? That level of grace just leaves me in awe.

I am bitter, and resentful, and so very tired and bruised. My husband says I am a warrior surviving a battle pregnancy. He says I have “warrior’s grace.” I like the thought of it, especially considering that my patron goddess is such a warrior herself. And some days, I believe him. Some days, I think that I’ll be a totally awesome mom, because I had my priorities all sorted out by this stupid illness, and I’ll actually appreciate my kid without using them as some vicarious life-surrogate (because fuck that, I’m going to go out and live my own damn life after the HG is done with me). But other days, like today, I stay in bed all day. I think about how much the HG has robbed from me, and how much it will continue to rob from me when I am forced to go back to work after having my kid, because we just can’t afford for me not to. I think about how tiny my fitness goals will be, and how long it will take me to work back up to being able to walk a simple mile, or even deadlift five pound dumbbells. I think about the novel in my head, for once not being written because of illness and health restrictions instead of writerly procrastination.

Some days, like I said, are better than others. Today is a defeated kind of day, though. Today is a day when I give in to the HG and feel sorry for myself. Tomorrow I have to get back up again, take myself to the endocrinologist appointment and the non-stress test at the hospital. This weekend, I have to rally my strength and help my husband set up the baby furniture, so that we aren’t caught unawares if this little one makes an early appearance. I have to keep trying to work, because I’ve reached my personal limit on being on disability, and I just can’t accept the hand-out anymore.

Maybe when all this is said and done, years from now, I’ll be able to think on it with grace. For today, though? Today I’m letting the HG win. It isn’t a strategic defeat that I’m taking to shore up my strength for another battle. I’m just tired. Tired and bruised and defeated.

You can find the other posts in my series on hyperemesis gravidarum here.

Finding Peace in Additional Pregnancy Complications

My battle with hyperemesis gravidarum isn’t over yet. It won’t be, until I give birth, and even then I know I will struggle with post-traumatic stress disorder brought on by this debilitating illness.

This week we’ve had a new pregnancy complication to deal with, on top of everything else. I just barely failed the one-hour glucose test set by my doctor. They had me go in for the three-hour test next—a rather hopeless undertaking considering my state. Fasting for twelve hours and then putting 100 grams of glucose straight into my empty system almost guaranteed a poor outcome. I made it past the one-hour blood draw, but then the exertion of walking back to the waiting room to wait for another hour sent me over the edge. The bathroom had nice thick walls, so no one could hear the retching as I lost all of the sugary lemon-lime awfulness that hadn’t yet been absorbed by my system.

It was scary, walking into that handicap bathroom stall with no one else around. The world was spinning and my vision was going dark. I couldn’t help thinking about my obstetrician’s warning, that a fall at this stage could seriously hurt, even kill, the baby.

Nausea and I are old friends by now, so I lay down on the cold floor. Sometimes if I can cool my temperature enough by contact with the tile floor, I could stop myself from vomiting or passing out. Unfortunately, it works a lot better when I’m in my own home, not wearing any clothes (any pressure or constriction from fabric can exacerbate nausea, and even seems to make my skin crawl more violently when I’m dealing with an episode of restless legs). There wasn’t enough of my skin exposed to the cold laminate, so lying down didn’t lower my body temperature enough. I barely hoisted myself to the trash can in the corner of the stall fast enough.

Luckily for me, I didn’t pass out. Emptying my system of that horrible glucose concoction stopped my vision from greying, and made me feel more steady. My system was still reeling from far too much sugar entering it at once, and the baby was definitely doing the flips and tumbles that I now associate with a transferred sugar high. The phlebotomist I informed seemed scornful and disappointed, like it was my fault that I couldn’t keep the drink down. I’ve gained more compassion for people who seem to judge me for my illness, though. Early the very next week she was the one to draw my blood for other tests, and she was kind and efficient, going straight for a butterfly needle the way all exceptional phlebotomists do when faced with my difficult veins.

One of the midwives in my doctor’s practice told me to track my fasting and post-prandial blood sugar levels for a week, and report back to her. Something I wish I could have just done right away, without enduring the trial of attempting that brutal three-hour test.

My numbers came back on the verge of being bad the first day, but we weren’t worried yet. There was a special cleaning and purging session at work, and for the first time in months I had my husband take me in so that I could cover the phones while my colleagues worked on the special project. It felt so good to be useful in such an obvious way.

The exertion of those hours sitting at the phone though, seemed to act the way light exercise does—by the next day, when I was completely wiped out and unable to do anything physically exerting, my numbers were already higher. They keep climbing up. I’ve noticed a terrible feeling of dis-ease that seems to correlate exactly with the height of the numbers. A friend took me to the grocery store, an undertaking that completely wiped me out yet again. Even eating a “diabetic diet,” I can’t get those numbers under control.

For the past six days I have been sleeping close to 20 hours a day. I’m more nauseous all the time, a nausea that the Benedryl doesn’t seem to touch anymore, I suspect because it’s brought on by the high blood sugar. My fasting numbers are always high, and even limiting carbs and making sure to have a good protein source with every meal and snack isn’t helping much.

I suspect that my body is just too worn down to deal with this new complication. Gestational diabetes is similar to Type II, where your body is still producing insulin but your cells are more and more insulin-resistant. It is likely to get worse as long as I have this placenta in me, producing greater and greater amounts of hormones that are helping baby put on the fat stores it will need for protection in its first weeks out in the wider world. I have to wait to see an endocrinologist—I don’t know how long it will take them to call me to set up my first appointment, but I’m hoping it’s soon. I haven’t gotten a single bit of work done this week, because of how awful I feel on a constant basis. I don’t think my blood sugar ever drops below 90, and even two and three hours after a meal I still see numbers that are very high for a non-diabetic. I can’t go for a half hour walk after meals to help use up the sugars entering my system—I hardly have the energy to make myself eggs in the morning, though their protein is one of the only things that doesn’t make my blood sugar shoot higher.

With all of this going on, I’ve been feeling very defeated. The hyperemesis is in NO WAY my fault. Likewise, the gestational diabetes is NOT MY FAULT. Likely the GD is actually caused by the HG wearing down my system—nothing is working as it should, and if I was able to keep up a normal diet and routine of exercise I might not have ever gotten into the range of GD. Even knowing that there’s nothing I could have done to prevent either of these illnesses/complications, I still feel targeted by the universe. It feels like everything that can go wrong at this point will likely go wrong, because my body is so worn down and incapable of handling this strain. That’s a mixed bag in a lot of ways. The more complications arise, the more likely my doctor is to decide on an early cesarean, which means pregnancy is over that much faster, and recovery is right around the corner. But at only 30 weeks pregnant, I still need another six or seven weeks before we wouldn’t have to worry too much about baby’s health at being delivered early. And even at 36 or 37 weeks, baby’s lungs might not be as developed as we’d like, and we could be looking at dealing with baby being in the NICU post-delivery.

The title of this post might be a little misleading. I haven’t actually found peace yet in these additional pregnancy complications. But I’m trying. I’m struggling, I’m battling, I’m trying to cultivate acceptance and a calm mind. I write late-night rants to a friend who is a good listener. I reach out to my cousin who was the man of honor at our wedding, the brother I never had. He has a way of reminding me that life is worth it, that I’m worth it, no matter what I’m facing in the current moment. I kiss my husband and long for a return to normalcy for us, when I can shop and cook and clean for him again, when our sex life is normal because my body is no longer frail. I fear, every day, that I might never get better. That the instant relief other HG moms feel as soon as they deliver the afterbirth won’t come, and I’ll be looking at a life of nausea and complications, at failed organs and feeble health. I read books on Buddhist acceptance and release from suffering. I dutifully record my blood sugars and count the kicks of my squirming tenant.

I am trying, and that is all anyone can ask of me.

You can find the other posts in my series on hyperemesis gravidarum here.