I found out I was pregnant in May 2016 and it came as a wonderful surprise but a surprise nonetheless. We had always planned on having children but had not been trying for a baby, in fact we had just booked a dream holiday to Japan.
The morning sickness started instantly. As in immediately after conception. After a few days of nausea, tiredness, and twice vomiting my dinner I decided to do a pregnancy test. Within seconds it came up positive, which left me in shock because I was still days away from a missed period. My husband Steven was over the moon and filled with joy and excitement, I was excited but still a little numb from the shock. Just like that we were going to be a family.
I remember the GP saying, “I think you have a tummy bug, morning sickness wouldn’t start this early, come back when you’ve missed your period”. It took a little convincing but eventually she ordered a blood test to confirm what Steven and I already knew, calling us back in for the results and the shock comment “I think you may be pregnant with multiples because we normally only see these high levels of hormones in twins”. I looked at Steven as pale as a ghost, we had only had a few days to adjust to the idea of one baby and now she was saying it could be more! I was sent for an urgent dating scan to determine how many babies I was carrying, however the dating scan confirmed we were having only one… 6 weeks and 3 days along and everything looked good. I struggled to get through the scan as every time the sonographer moved the Doppler over my stomach I gagged, even the slightest motion was making me nauseous at that point.
My husband was so filled with joy that we were expecting and he kept trying to reassure me that morning sickness was normal, that everything would be ok. But nothing about being pregnant felt ok to me. I struggled to balance his excitement with my torment. I felt like I was trapped in someone else’s body, nothing felt familiar or good. I don’t want to say it but it was hell. Don’t get me wrong, I was grateful every day to be pregnant and so excited to be having a baby but to say it was a struggle is the understatement of the century. It was torture. The only time I didn’t feel unwell was when I was asleep but I would wake up every morning with the sudden and instant need to vomit. There was no time, there was no warning. As soon as my eyes opened so did my stomach. I’ll never forget the red bucket Steven got me as a solution to this problem. He put it next to my side of the bed because I was physically unable to make it in time to the bathroom which is only 2 meters away. I will always remember that bright red bucket because it became my constant companion.
The vomiting continued and incredibly, it also increased. I couldn’t eat anything (and I mean anything) and even drinking was a major issue. I would vomit and vomit and vomit until my head felt like it was going to explode. All the while fearing for my baby as I couldn’t help but wonder how can I sustain this pregnancy. How could I possibly be giving this baby any nutrients and how could I possibly survive this debilitating disease. By week seven I was so depleted and dehydrated that I fainted. As soon as my husband got home from work he put me in the car and took me to the emergency room, this was the first of many hospital admissions. Three bags of fluids later I was sent home and told to contact my obstetrician for ongoing management. I called the obstetrics clinic that we had chosen for our prenatal care and begged them to see me straight away, their policy is to have your first consultation between week 8-11 because before then it is difficult to find a heartbeat. But I simply could not wait any longer. The receptionist was lovely and had me come in the next day, I suddenly felt like I wasn’t on my own because surely the doctor would know what to do to stop this sickness.
My first consultation with the obstetrician went well, she scanned the baby and found the heart beat and confirmed all was as it should be, but when it came to the sickness part she said to me “this is unfortunately all part of pregnancy and there are limited things we can try to manage it”. I almost cried, and pleaded with her to try something, anything! Telling her “I won’t survive this”! Steven expressed his concerns also, and after looking at us like she must look at most first time parents (like hypochondriacs) she agreed to investigate further. A simple test on my ketone levels showed that this unfortunately was not your standard morning sickness, what I had was a condition called Hyperemesis Gravidarum (HG). HG is an extremely debilitating morning sickness condition that effects 2% of pregnancies, there is no cure and very limited research on why it happens. I was told that all I could do was hope it passed quickly and wait it out.
I was vomiting up to 20 times a day, losing weight at an extremely rapid rate, not able to shower myself because standing up for more than 30 seconds made me throw up or faint, and to top it off I had a rapid racing heart all day every day. Wait it out?? You can’t be serious! So I spent hours and hours Googling HG and reading everything I could before coming the depressing realisations that this wasn’t something I could fix. I really struggled with not having a plan of action, being the organized control freak that I am(up until this point, things didn’t happen to me unless I planned for them) so knowing this was out of my hands and I was stuck with this illness for an unknown amount of time was hard for me to accept.
My best friend (who is the bomb diggity and my legit soul sister) suffered with HG through her first pregnancy and while I watched her struggle through it, I never totally understood how horrible it was until it happened to me. Never for a second did I think I would get it also, what are the odds of us both getting HG! What really helped me look for the light at the end of the tunnel is she now has a gorgeous little boy, and I tried to imagine my life with my child when this would all be a distant (horrible) memory. She was a great support to me because there is nothing worse than talking to someone who hasn’t been through HG about it, no one could understand just how debilitating it was for me…except her.
(my best friend Rachael @champagnesilvousplait_ and me exactly 1 week before giving birth)
Two more debilitating weeks went by, and my obstetrician told me I was losing too much weight and my ketones were too high, if they didn’t intervene not only could I potentially lose my baby but I was also at risk of renal failure. She suggested admitting me to hospital for a few nights for intravenous (IV) fluids (I was so dehydrated I was vomiting bile and blood). She then decided the best course of action was for me to take a drug called Zofran or Ondansetron which is a very strong anti-nausea drug that is normally given to cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy. I was extremely reluctant to take it because it’s a category B drug in Australia (currently only category A is considered safe for pregnancy, B doesn’t meant unsafe but it means not enough testing has been done over a long enough period of time to determine the long term effects) but she assured me the risks were incredibly low and the risk to my kidneys and baby were a lot higher if I didn’t take it. I decided to take it because I knew if I didn’t, I wouldn’t physically be able to continue with the pregnancy.
Zofran the wonder drug! For the first time in over 2 months I felt like I might be able to make it through the day. Zofran is dissolvable so it didn’t make me throw up, it didn’t stop my vomiting completely and nausea still persisted but it reduced it to a point where I could do basic things again and return to work for a couple hours here and there. It was also very expensive costing $10 a day but so worth it. I would still vomit spontaneously and without warning, but instead of 15-20 times a day it was more like 5-7… it still sucked! But it was so much better that I was just counting my blessings.
I had a further 8 admissions to hospital in the first 17 weeks for fluids when my ketones were bad and my dehydration was out of control. It was during my second visit that it was detected that my thyroid levels had spiked and tripled in comparison to the last test. This is very dangerous though pregnancy because the thyroid is responsible for creating all the hormones your body and baby needs to develop. It can cause miscarriage and birth defects if it goes untreated therefore I was closely monitored by an Endocrinologist DR Christina Jang who specializes in pregnancy. After meeting with me she decided to watch and hope that it subsided on its own as the treatment can be dangerous to take while pregnant. Sadly it didn’t and I was diagnosed with Hyperthyroidism, or Graves’ Disease but it was still far too risky to start treatment at my current gestation and all we could do was wait.
The Graves’s Disease combined with HG was extremely stressful for me and triggered some real anxiety issues. My brain never turned off, I was constantly in a state of fear and stress and would worry about the strangest things. Looking back I am so grateful for my husband’s patience because although he was also worried and stressed, he never showed it, allowing me to talk about things over and over. Finally my Obstetrician decided I needed to seek professional help to assist me with dealing with my pre-natal anxiety. I was skeptical initially however it was really good to talk to someone and helped me resolve some of the stress I was holding. I vomited twice in my first session but it wasn’t a surprise to me, I was no longer a stranger to vomiting in odd places by this point.
The places I vomited would make you laugh and cry. Driveways, plastic bags, Target, Kmart, Woolworths, Mcdonalds drive through (the look of the menu made me sick), at the traffic lights, on the side of the road, in the Obstetrician’s waiting room, on the phone, in my own salon’s hair basin… not to mention all over myself and on a few occasions even my husband! I had emergency vomit bags stashed everywhere I could. Once we ordered a pizza for dinner and as soon as I opened the lid on the box I vomited all over the pizza. They say you lose all dignity in child birth, well for me that went out the window in my first trimester! My neighbours always knew when I woke up in the morning because they could hear my violent vomiting, which would sometimes go for over an hour. My husband even had to get me a plastic stool to sit on in the shower because I just could not stand, my knees would go like jelly and I would fall. A living bloody nightmare.
One day I was vomiting on the floor of my bathroom and it just would not stop, every time I tried to get up I would vomit again from motion sickness. I was at the end of my tether . I cried and cried and started banging my head against the wall because I just didn’t want to be conscious any more. For the briefest of moments I wished my pregnancy away. I wanted to be me again and I wondered why women lie and say pregnancy is beautiful. Was it all just a lie? Why does no one talk about the dark, ugly side to pregnancy? Would it be like this till the end? It was an extremely dark day but eventually my husband came home from work and found me and helped me off the cold hard floor. Surprisingly to me, the sun rose again the next day.
For 17 weeks I lived in a constant cycle of eating and immediately vomiting but I still ate in the hope that something would stay down for my baby and I (on the rare occasion it did). Well meaning people told me try dry crackers or ginger biscuits but it didn’t matter what food or drink it was, it was just the sensation of food that would make me ill. If you ever encounter a pregnant woman with HG, please don’t offer her your ‘remedies’ for morning sickness or a chirpy ‘Don’t worry, it will end eventually’ type platitude, tell her you’re sorry that she’s having a rough time and offer your help.
Tiredness is on another level when you’re growing a human being, but when you cannot nourish (not even prenatal vitamins would stay down) yourself it is beyond exhausting. I barely left the house as even if I did have a tiny bit of energy, we had just bought a new car and the new car smell would set me off. My best friend Rachael had to go and buy me clothes to wear and maternity bras because I had lost so much weight that nothing fit me and there was no way I could even walk through the shops so exhausted and sick.
By 20 weeks I had made it through the worst of it and by that point had lost about 18 kilos. I finally started to feel little baby kicks and while we had decided not to find out the gender of our baby, I had a strong feeling it was a girl. I was well enough that I could start to dream of what she would look like; would she be more like me or her dad? Would she have my curly hair or her daddy’s blue eyes? All I hoped for though was a healthy baby, it didn’t matter if it was a boy or a girl.
Even though I was so unwell my baby remained healthy and safe in my womb and I was reassured at every possible point by my Obstetrician that everything was normal.
I wish I could say that the vomiting ended but sadly in my case it never did. The longest I ever went was 3 days vomit free and they were 3 magical days.
It was discovered that I had placenta previa (low lying placenta) which in most cases, moves out of the way by the time it comes to birth and is monitored by the Obstetrician. My nuchal scan at 13 weeks and morphology scan at 20 weeks were both perfect, all I needed was for the time to pass as quickly as possible so I could finally meet my baby and not be pregnant anymore.
I got to a stage when people would ask me how I was, that I would just say good or yes feeling better because I was so over talking about how sick I was. I looked like actual death so I’m sure they knew I was lying but I just wanted to live in a fake world where I was a normal pregnant person who wasn’t ill and living in fear for most of the day.
I’m lucky that I got a lot of help through my pregnancy from my family and friends, my husband even hired a cleaner so I didn’t have to do a lot other than survive each day. I worked as much as I could because I have my own business and also because it was such a good distraction for me. Rachael told me early on that I had to adapt a ‘solider on’ mentality if I hoped to come out of this sane and as much as I could I did. But I still did my fair share of complaining.
Everything was continuing as the obstetrician expected and I even started to relax and began to think the worst was really over. Weeks went past and the HG was still there but I was approaching 30 weeks now and I loved feeling the baby kicks and seeing my baby in the scans and I knew I was on the home stretch. Suddenly the hopelessness I felt at the start of the pregnancy wasn’t there anymore and it was replaced with excitement and anticipation. I could get there, I could survive till the end.
At 30 weeks all my excitement was ripped away and the anxiety and fear returned when it was discovered that my baby was now measuring small and showing signs of distress. Something was not right in there and it was immediately serious and concerning, I was sent to weekly ultrasound and CTG scans. Everything quickly spiraled out of control and at a routine appointment with my Obstetrician she decided I needed to have steroid injections and then sent me to the maternity ward to had five different machines hooked up to me without much of an explanation or understanding of what was happening. I found out that she wanted to deliver my baby within just a few days and the injections were to help enhance lung development because our baby was so tiny and not ready to be born. It was heartbreaking to hear that something was wrong when I had only just started to feel a little bit better.
I was concerned with what my obstetrician was telling me, as an avid researcher some of the things she was telling us didn’t add up and nothing was explained to my satisfaction. My husband and I decided we needed a second opinion, but being so far along in our high risk pregnancy in a private hospital (we had already paid our management fee) it was difficult to find a doctor willing to see us. We finally found Dr Bryan Kenny, who agreed to see us for a quick visit so we could ask questions. I felt instantly calm with him, he is such a lovely man and in those first few minutes I felt like he listened to me more than my other doctor ever had. He agreed that there were some concerning measurements but nothing so urgent that required immediate intervention. Dr Kenny told us that more investigations would need to be done, but I could very well carry our baby to full term under close supervision. My husband and I breathed a sigh of relief. I knew I was in good hands and we decided that is was best he took over my pregnancy management. Dr Kenny watched over me closely and was diligent and careful, he did the best that he could to keep our baby growing but by 34 weeks we were given news we were hoping we would never have to hear… that our baby needed to be born early.
Our baby was diagnosed with IUGR which stands for Interuterine Growth Restriction it basically means that there is something preventing the baby from reaching his or her growth potential, most IUGR babies are delivered early.
Our baby was not growing and it was estimated that there had been limited growth from around 31-32 weeks. Our beautiful baby was now in the final stages starvation, determined by the stomach shrinking as it used its own liver stores for survival. It was incredibly scary news and I didn’t want to hear it. I really struggled to come to terms that this was how it was going to end. My hopes for a happy pregnancy, healthy baby, full term birth and that big beautiful round tummy you get at the end of pregnancy all vanished.
I had always remained hopeful for a natural birth even though I had placenta previa, and by 28 weeks it had moved enough that there was enough space for the baby to decend. I thought to myself women do this every day, I can do this. I didn’t want the recovery of a c-section as I felt I had been through enough. I had thought I would get an epidural and my baby would come out and everything would be great! Unfortunately Dr Kenny advised me that an induction at 34 weeks wouldn’t end favourably, as I wasn’t already in labour the chances of my body taking over this early in pregnancy was highly unlikely. He examined me and explained that my cervix was completely closed and from what he could tell our baby was in breach position and sitting very high. Although all signs pointed to a scheduled c-section, if we really wished to try naturally he was willing to induce me but warned us that it would more than likely end up in an emergency caesarean as too many things had to fall into place to birth naturally. Especially as the biggest concern was how long labour would take as it was now a matter of emergency. Dr Kenny explained the seriousness of the situation but without taking away my choices, I could never thank him enough for that.
My husband asked me to consider having the caesarean as he had already watched me go through so much, he just wanted both our baby and myself to be safe. Dr Kenny said he understands why women feel they want to try for a natural birth but a caesarean is just as worthy a way to birth, it doesn’t make you any less of a mother in the end. I agreed to the caesarean and was so glad the nightmare would soon be all over. I cannot stress enough the value of Dr Kenny, with his help and guidance we were able to stay pregnant for an extra 4 weeks and in gestation that makes a huge difference. But also, his ability to bring a much-needed sense of calm to two very anxious first time parents was an incredible gift.
Before we went to theatre we sat with Dr Kenny and our pediatrician who gave us all the worst-case scenarios and explained what would happen in theater. They explained that it was possible that our baby could come out blue and floppy and require resuscitation, they told us how important it was that our baby cried once born, they explained all the risks and possible complications. It was a very difficult discussion to have but I had faith everything would be ok. I guess sometimes you just have to have faith and all you can do is have hope. I was prepped for surgery by two lovely midwives who told me how lucky they felt to be a part of our delivery, and although they do this every day they never take a single birth for granted. Looking back, I don’t know if I even responded to them as I was just sitting there clutching my husband’s hand full of so many emotions. Terrified, excited, nervous and stunned at the fact that in only moments I was going to be a mother.
Dr Kenny returned to wheel my bed into theatre and told me “you’re going to do great, everything is going to be fine”. The surgery began and I vomited the whole way through due to a mix of the HG and the spinal block anesthesia. Everyone in theatre wore masks that covered their mouths but I could see the pity in the midwives’ eyes. It wasn’t long before Dr Kenny lifted up, with only one hand, my baby BOY. Leo Gianni, not the baby girl I had pictured for all those months but a beautiful and tiny boy. He was absolutely perfect. He let out a loud cry and it was music to my ears, he was ok and everything was going to be ok. In that instant I was complete. Suddenly all the vomiting, anxiety and fear was over and our journey as parents had begun.
(Only four days before Leo was born)
( Leo Gianni born at 2.59pm on 9 December 2016 weighing 1.9kgs or 4lbs 0.3Oz )