I was 22 years old and just shy of 36 weeks pregnant with my first child. It was the holiest day of the year—Yom Kippur—and a tangible hush had fallen over my in-laws’ house and their entire community in central Israel. Shuls were full to the brim with people dressed in white. And I, I was sitting at the dining room table with my machzor (prayer book) on one side, a syringe and a plastic cup of milk on the other. Once every four minutes I was allowed an amount of milk that barely wet my throat. I held back my tears of distress, reminding myself that crying was just a loss of fluids that I desperately needed in order to sustain this life inside of me.
Yom Kippur is a day of reflection and atonement, and I sat there thinking back on the year behind me and apprehensive about what yet lay ahead. I thought back to our wedding, the happy news of our pregnancy, and the quick deterioration of my health. I had been prepared for the inevitability of morning sickness but nothing, absolutely nothing, could have prepared me for the nightmare of hyperemesis gravidarum.
Within the span of a single week, I lost the ability to keep any food or fluids down. No matter what we tried, nothing worked. My doctor prescribed me a medication which did nothing. At a check-up where I voiced my concerns that this was not normal (I thought that losing five kilos in the space of two weeks was a bit excessive), she told me I was nauseous; what did I think was going to happen?
It wasn’t until I was reading through the hospital discharge papers after a trip for IV fluids that I discovered the diagnosis: hyperemesis gravidarum (HG). It is a somewhat rare and incredibly debilitating form of extremely severe morning sickness. At that point I was still quite early in my pregnancy and already so miserable. We lived on the university campus, literally next door to the building where all my classes were, and yet I could not get myself to class. Even getting out of bed to go five feet to the bathroom was a real chore that inevitably ended in uncontrollable vomiting. My weight kept dropping away and my bones became increasingly visible, and yet my doctor still wasn’t doing more to help me.
I didn’t have the strength or mental resources at the time to adequately convey to anyone the utter hopelessness and helplessness of sitting in a house stocked with food, knowing that you must eat in order to look after your unborn child, and yet being completely unable to keep anything in. I can probably count on one hand the number of days during that pregnancy that I was adequately hydrated. For a while I was tracking my calories and on an average day I was getting around 100. No, I did not miss a zero on that number. One Hundred. A day. On a good day I got up to about 500 calories and felt very proud of myself.
Fast forward 30 weeks, and I was doing better but still very ill and absolutely forbidden by my doctor from even attempting to fast on Yom Kippur. I was thankfully unaware of the fact that not only would I make it all the way to term, but my darling daughter would not make her appearance for an additional nine days beyond my due date. Had I known that at the time, I would have completely despaired.
Living in Israel, in a community and society where larger families are the norm and where it seems like everyone is always pregnant, I find it particularly difficult to walk around with the knowledge that I simply cannot put myself and my family through this over and over again. I want to be thrilled that friends and family are having babies, and yet I can’t stop myself from feeling a pang of jealousy and even sometimes anger that they can “pop them out” seemingly so easily. Most of the 18 months of my two pregnancies have been blocked out of my memory for the sake of self-preservation.
People say to me all the time, “But it was worth it in the end.” I still cannot bring myself to say yes. I look at my two children and feel infinitely blessed to have them in my life. I would not trade them for the world… but that does not negate the absolute nightmare of pregnancy with HG.
For more information and resources on Hyperemesis Gravidarum :