Archive for the ‘Health’ Category

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?

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Jocelyn Maminta and I after shooting a commercial for the Connecticut Office of the Healthcare Advocate.

The humidity was high, the rain pelted down, and my hair wasn’t perfect, but I had an opportunity to share my story with others and so I was happy.

Let’s step back a year and a few months to when I was expecting. On top of being diagnosed with hyperemesis gravidarum, I faced an enormous task: fighting for coverage from my insurance company. Just about every day would bring another bill or explanation of benefits (or lack thereof) statement. At the time, I felt like I was physically dying. I couldn’t keep much food or liquid down, and I was beyond worried that my child wasn’t going to survive. Struggling with insurance issues on top of this illness was too much.

One of my doctors suggested I contact the Connecticut Office of the Healthcare Advocate. Within days, they were helping me deal with the pile of bills and claim denials. It was such a miracle to my husband and I, as we were both overwhelmed. Once they stepped in, I was able to focus on resting and taking care of my unborn child.

A month ago, I was asked if I would like to be in a commercial to help spread awareness about their office. I was excited to be able to share my story, and my wonderful little baby Billy, with the state of Connecticut.

Yesterday, a crew came to my house to interview me for the spot. I was a little nervous, but Emmy-nominated reporter Jocelyn Maminta from WTNH Channel 8 guided me through the process. No stranger to difficult pregnancies herself, I was saddened to hear the story of her daughter Caroline, who was born prematurely and died after two months in neonatal intensive care. Her parents created a foundation in her honor called Caroline’s Room, which aims to create a place in neonatal intensive care units where families can go to find peace, privacy, and comfort.

While the focus of the commercial is the wonderful work of the Connecticut Healthcare Advocate’s Office, I was also eager to speak about hyperemesis gravidarum. Until I was diagnosed with this condition, I had no idea that it even existed. Only 2% of pregnant women in the U.S. are diagnosed with hg, although more suffer through pregnancy undiagnosed. Many in the medical community misunderstand the condition, claiming that a woman is makes herself ill because subconsciously she does not really want her child.

There are few things more difficult than a chronic health condition. Surviving hyperemesis gravidarum was the most difficult and worthwhile thing I have ever done. If this commercial can help just one person—with insurance issues or hg—then I will be happy.

P.S. What would you do to let others know about hg? Give me some ideas by posting a comment below.

G Series introduced in 2010, from left to righ...

G Series introduced in 2010 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Attention solider! Hyperemesis Gravidarum (hg) is a solitary disease, fought alone in what might feel like the middle of a desert. You’re hungry. You’re thirsty. You’re exhausted. Want to win this war? Stay hydrated.

For any woman with hg, that’s easier said than done. Early in my first trimester, before I was diagnosed with this life-threatening condition the strangest thing happened to me. In addition to throwing up everything I ate, I suddenly couldn’t keep any liquid down. I remember leaning over the toilet and vomiting what felt like buckets of water. It was then I knew that something was terribly wrong.

Women with hyperemesis gravidarum frequently suffer from a symptom you wouldn’t associate with pregnancy: dehydration. Swollen ankles, yes. Lower back pain, of course. But a lack of adequate fluids? Who ever heard of that! When I learned I was expecting, the last thing I thought I would experience was dehydration.

The effects of dehydration can be ruinous to a pregnant body. But for me, the worst effect was the shrinking of my blood veins into un-tappable wisps of blood. By the time a paramedic finally succeeded in catching a vein during one e.r. visit, I was shaking uncontrollably. He was the forth person to try, and it took everyone thirteen pokes in the hands and arms before anyone succeeded. Do I need to say how miserable I was that day?

The advice of every person I spoke with was the same: just try to drink some more. That didn’t work for me, but here’s what did. Not all of these things worked every time, but I think they occasionally helped me stay hydrated.

I’m hoping some of these ideas will help you, my sisters in suffering.

  1. Sucking on (and often chewing) ice cubes
  2. Pedialyte popsicles
  3. Fruit frozen in ice-cube trays
  4. Ensure, ice cold, in the teeniest sips possible
  5. The omni-present IV from home health care
  6. Jello
  7. Certain flavors of Gatorade, frozen

Not everything works. Sometimes you find that one thing that makes life a littler better, and you use it until it no longer works. Sometimes, nothing works. The point is that you need to keep trying, soldier. Never give up. Your body is nourishing your child. Now you need to try- as torturous as it is sometimes- to nourish yourself. Keep fighting.

P.S. What helps you stay hydrated? Share some ideas with those of us still in the trenches by posting a comment below.

Chicken soup is a common classic comfort food ...

Chicken soup is a common classic comfort food that might be found across cultures. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As I struggle to swallow because of a post-nasal drip induced sore throat, I’m tempted to wallow in self-pity. I’ve got a four-month old, I can’t be sick! What am I going to do? Yet almost immediately, the small voice of gratitude deep inside of me chimes in, crying “knock it off– at least you’re not throwing up ten times a day!”

And that voice is right. Before I had hg, I was a big baby about sickness. I wanted to be coddled, fussed over, and treated extra-special kind. No matter how teeny the physical discomfort- a stubbed toe, a stuffy nose, or even a headache- I let everyone know how I was feeling. And then I was given the most persistent case of what felt like the stomach flu, food poisoning, and pregnancy ever known to human kind: hg.

After a few months, I accepted that there was nothing I could do to get rid of the persistent nausea and vomiting that had become my life. It was then that I grew from a baby to a teenager. I stopped whining (well, stopped whining as much) and tried to be brave. I was in a war, fighting for my unborn son. I can’t say that I’m an adult regarding getting sick. I still want attention when I have the sniffles. But now I have a better perspective.

So while I’m making hound-dog eyes at my husband, waiting for him to offer to make me peppermint tea and deliver it to me in bed, I want you to know that I’m in your corner. As far as I’m concerned, a little sinus and sore throat pain ain’t got nothin’ on hg.

P.S. Are you as much of a baby as I am when it comes to sickness or do you tough it out without complaint? I’d really like to know. Post a comment below and share with your hg sisters in suffering.