I’m a big sci-fi fan. Something about the unknown fascinates and terrifies me. But it’s a good curiosity, a safe fear, because I expect little in the world of science fiction to ever happen. When I suffered from hyperemesis gravidarum, I faced a different kind of unknown. Why couldn’t I keep any food down? Why would my body reject even drinking water? Would my baby survive? These fears were not safe because they were real, and they terrified me.
Recently, I viewed a trailer for Will Smith’s upcoming scifi film, After Earth. The story of two soldiers lost on a dangerous planet, facing unbelievable odds, must survive. Sounds fun. The voiceover, however, struck something deep inside my mind. Smith’s character says, “if we are going to survive this, you must realize that fear is not real. It is a product of thoughts you create… danger is very real, but fear is a choice.”
Think about that for a moment. Is fear a choice? Yes, fear is an instinctual reaction we have to danger. In some situations, it can be very healthy and help us protect ourselves. Yet the fear I felt while suffering through my hyperemesis gravidarum pregnancy– on the bad days, when I lay in bed crying, weak, and so very nauseous– was not healthy. I tried to remind myself that my doctors (and I had a team helping me through my hyperemesis gravidarum pregnancy), said the baby was doing well. But these logical thoughts seldom overcame the fear that overwhelmed me.
Toward the end of my pregnancy, I remember discussing my zofran pump with my doctor in her examination room. Suddenly, I felt faint. I passed out, had what I felt was at least a forty-five minute dream in which I road different rides at a sea-side carnival, and then woke up to my doctor saying my name. I instantly became terrified and started to cry. When I asked what happened, my doctor said that I had just had “a little seizure.” I had been out for less than a minute. I was so worried that the seizure would have somehow hurt my baby. Luckily, he was fine. But as my pregnancy continued, the sharp memory of that fear stabbed at my mind. It was growing stronger. I knew that I had to fight to overcome my fearful thoughts. Some days I was successful. Other days, I failed terribly.
Having survived a hyperemesis gravidarum pregnancy, I feel qualified (at least on some level), to give those who are in the midst of suffering some advice. So here it is, dear ones. Will Smith is right: fear isn’t real. It is a product of our thoughts. It is a choice. Sometimes, that choice is made for you by your body’s instinctual reaction to danger and the unknown. When that happens, recognize what you’re feeling. Try to understand why you’re afraid. Know that it’s okay to be scared. But don’t wallow in fear. When you feel unable to overcome those emotions, it’s time to start fighting. How can you do that when you’re an exhausted, vommity mess?
Start with distraction. Immerse your mind in something else. Browse online stores for baby clothes, listen to a book on cd, call a friend, or watch a comedy. Districting your mind is a great way to give it rest.
Next, gather information. When I was pregnant, I read every blog, every journal article, every website about hyperemesis gravidarum I could find. The unknown is always scary, so the more you learn about what’s going on with your body the quieter your fears will become. Forget about being annoying and call your nurse, doctor, a psychologist—anyone who can offer you information— three times a day if you need to. You’ve got one of the toughest jobs known to humanity: carrying a child. If you need to know something, do not hesitate to ask.
And lastly, be cognizant of the tiny moments when things are okay. It may seem like life is a constant, grueling, miserable experience. Even so, look for the good: feeling a kick, going a day without vomiting, being able to eat a potato. Notice these times and remember them. Write them down on post-it notes if it will help. And when you’re feeling scared, recall those moments and know that you will have them again. Hyperemesis gravidarum comes with an array of complicated and miserable symptoms. It’s downright awful. But it is survivable, and you are a survivor. You will do anything you need to produce a healthy baby. That may mean facing your fears of blood draws, medicine pumps, PICC lines, and even hospitalization, but if that’s what it takes to keep your child alive you will do it. And you can do it.
Help others by sharing some of the fears you face. How do you overcome them?