In February of 1997 I was admitted to Women & Infants Hospital in Providence.
The time preceding that February is important. My husband and I had been trying to get me pregnant for TWO years. Month after month, negative pregnancy tests. Because I was 36 years old, an age when women’s fertility starts to decline, I underwent lots of testing. I had chunks of my uterus chopped out and examined — looks like it should be working just fine. Blood test after blood test. Daily temperature checks. Everything looked okay, but still no pregnancy. I/we went as far as doing an artificial insemination: my husband’s sperm was put into a centrifugal force spinner, then sorted to pick just what was needed, and then, with basically a turkey baster, inserted into my vagina … while I was lying ALONE on a cot in an office somewhere I can’t even remember. I do remember crying during this procedure. (Oh, and all this was a month after I read a news article about a fertility doctor who had used his own sperm to inseminate his women patients! Scream!) No pregnancy resulted from my procedure.
I had read about women so desperate about their infertility that they stole other peoples babies. Other stories described infertile women crying hysterically, to the point of being public nuisances, at the sight of babies. I knew I’d never be THAT desperate, but one day when leaving a supermarket, I did indeed cry at the sight of a mom cuddling her newborn in a shopping carriage.
My husband also had some testing done and decided to go ahead with a minor surgery that might help our situation. It did. After two agonizing years my pregnancy test was positive.
Since I have diabetes I was considered a high risk pregnancy from the start. I pricked my finger and tested my blood sugar constantly and did everything I could to keep my body as perfect as possible for the developing embryo.
Monday, February 24, I started to not feel great … my friend nausea was saying hello. No problem, I can handle morning sickness! I kept plain crackers with me, but within a day the vomiting began.
By Wednesday I was throwing up every hour.
Thursday I called my OB/GYN … she said to go to the hospital IMMEDIATELY.
When I arrived, the nurse said with great authority and experience that I’d be out within two or three days. This was a huge relief because by this time I was incredibly weak and still vomiting every hour. Because I was so dehydrated, it took three different nurses to get an IV into my arm … the third nurse specialized in putting IVs in infants’ veins. With the IV in place they started my first anti-nausea medication.
By Friday the vomiting was worsening – now every half hour. It was beyond miserable. I was not allowed to drink water (because that would make the vomiting worse) so my whole esophagus was burning and raw. When I vomited only green stomach acid came up. The doctor switched me to a second medication since the first was clearly not helping.
Saturday, after a day with the second medication, the doctor switched to a third choice, which was a VERY painful injection (in the rear end of course). This was at 2:30 in the morning and I was in such agony, so weak, and so sleep deprived I did not feel human. The screams that came out of me during the injections were very human though. Throughout all of this I was trying to control my diabetes, my blood sugars. On that Saturday alone, I pricked my finger 19 times to check my blood sugar. If it was high or low I depended on the nurses to adjust the flow of glucose going into my veins through the IV. Sometimes they were prompt and available, other times not. I was physically and mentally exhausted and exasperated.
Sunday the doctor wanted to give me another shot of Compazine in the rear but I wasn’t sure I would be able to survive the pain a second time. Instead, my husband drove to a pharmacy 45 minutes away because it was the closest place that had Compazine in suppository form instead of injection. By Sunday night after the second dose, it was clear that the Compazine, like the first two meds, was also NOT working. The next medication to try was Ondansetron, which was described to me this way: It hasn’t been tested on pregnant women for safety because it is unethical to test drugs on pregnant women, but we THINK it is safe for the fetus. So now in addition to my own miserable situation, I had to consider the possibility that the medication I would take could harm the embryo I had wanted for so, so long. The doctor convinced me that it was a good bet, and at 8:00 PM I got the first dose.
Monday morning, another dose of Ondansetron. Miraculously I started to feel better. I didn’t even remember what it was like to not feel sick. It was extraordinary, and, the doctor even let me order a meal, lunch, !!! my first food in a week! It tasted glorious. Then, between lunchtime and evening I threw up 7 times.
Tuesday, another drug to try … also not tested on pregnant women but PROBABLY fine. It was Thorazine, an anti psychotic which can also be used for severe nausea/vomiting. The problem with Thorazine is that if you are NOT psychotic the side effects include dizziness and loss of balance. Since my husband was with me, I felt bold enough to hobble to the shower with my IV tether. Once in the shower, I passed out and crumbled to to floor hitting my head and back on the shower walls on the way down. My husband heard the noise and came running. He later told me that he thought he was watching me die – my eyes were rolled back in my head and I was colorless and motionless. The nurses got smelling salts under my nose very quickly, I woke, they got me back into bed. My husband and I decided that I had to terminate the pregnancy.
Wednesday was the operation.
Thursday I went home.
. . .
The following months were very dark … the despair and emptiness profound. Friends and family were helpful but they seemed to occupy a different world from the one I was living in.
By summertime my husband voiced that he wanted to try pregnancy again; I was horrified … at first. Then slowly, self-talk kicked in … every pregnancy is different … no way another one could be as bad. We both did research about hyperemesis and met with doctors about ways to prevent it from happening again. One year after the first time, I was pregnant again.
The second time the nausea hit even earlier in the pregnancy, and it was worse. The second time I was in the hospital for only three days instead of eight. And for a second time I despairingly ended a pregnancy. Afterwards my emotional state was worse than after the first, which I did not think possible. I spent many years talking with a therapist, who specialized in fertility/pregnancy issues. It took fifteen years before I could talk about the pregnancies, without sobbing. I’ve never written about them before now.