The other day I was walking through the mall and saw a pregnant teen who was quite obviously very ill carrying a backpack that carried a feeding tube that was keeping her and her baby alive; she had a pregnancy complication known as Hyperemesis Gravidarum (HG). HG is a debilitating, life threatening illness that is marked by extreme vomiting which can result in dehydration, malnutrition, and a wide variety of health complications including kidney and liver failure. Today's guest blog is by a woman named Shelley. This is her story of what it is like to be not only a pregnant teen, but a teenager with pregnancy complications . . .
When I was 18 years old, I got pregnant and sick. Very sick. This is my story.
“Hyperemesis Gravidarum (HG) is a severe form of nausea and vomiting in pregnancy. It is generally described as unrelenting, excessive pregnancy-related nausea and/or vomiting that prevents adequate intake of food and fluids.” (helpher.org).
Labor Day weekend in 1992, my boyfriend at the time came home from college for a long weekend. That was the weekend we conceived. We had unprotected sex and when people tell you “it only takes one time”, they are telling you the truth. That was the one time we had had unprotected sex and the one time I got pregnant.
I had no idea at first. I was completely oblivious to what had happened (and what was going to happen). I was a freshman at the local community college full-time, while working 30 hours a week at a local daycare center. At the time, I thought my life was pretty good.
In early October I started to notice that I wasn’t feeling so well. It started with a headache that just would not go away. Later more symptoms came and increased. Headaches became migraines, vomiting once a day became on and off all day, light and sound would just make these symptoms worse. I honestly thought I had the flu. On October 16, 1992 I went to my family doctor with complaints of vomiting and migraines. The first question he asked me was, “Do you think you are pregnant?”. I was in shock. No, I didn’t think I was pregnant, I’m too sick to be pregnant. I saw girls in high school that were pregnant and none of them were vomiting all day. No, I definitely was not pregnant. My doctor insisted I get a pregnancy test before I left the office, just to be certain. He also gave me a prescription for migraine medication. I left his office still sick. I filled the prescription at a local pharmacy and took one of the pills. Within 15 minutes I was violently vomiting. The pills did not help and I couldn’t keep them down long enough for them to even work.
The following day (Saturday) my boyfriend came home from school. At 9 AM the phone rang. It was the blood lab with my results. I’ll never forget her voice. It was soft. She said, “Michelle, your test results came back positive. You are pregnant. I am so sorry.” Her voice silent as I started to cry. She said again how sorry she was. I hung up the phone and cried.
The vomiting had increased over the next two days. The pain from the migraines was horrendous. I was now confined to my room with a puke bucket. I couldn’t even sit up without vomiting. My boyfriend and I told my mom about the pregnancy. That disappointed look in her eyes as they welled up with tears was the worst day of my life. Without words, I knew I hurt my mom terribly. Even though she was disappointed in me, she was concerned. She was concerned with how sick I had become. She called the family doctor who had seen me two days earlier. She explained to him that I could not stop vomiting and that the pain from the migraines were debilitating. She begged him to give me something to stop the pain and vomiting. He refused, saying that I was sick because I was too young to be pregnant. The only way to stop being sick was to terminate the pregnancy. There was nothing more he could for me.
My mom, my boyfriend and I talked at length about what to do. Do I continue being confined to my bed, sick from pregnancy, or terminate the pregnancy? I can tell you that it was not an easy decision. I wouldn’t wish that conversation on my worst enemy. We decided together that my doctor was right, I was too sick to continue. We were too young to have a baby.
On October 21, 1992 I terminated my pregnancy. Three days after the termination, I was still sick, although the vomiting and migraines lessened. After about 3 weeks, my symptoms of vomiting and migraines cleared. I had no more pain. No more vomiting. No more symptoms that I was pregnant. I told no one. It was my secret.
I never knew in 1992 that what I was experiencing was Hyperemesis Gravidarum. For 14 years I was lead to believe that I was sick during pregnancy because I was too young to be pregnant. I believed that. I had watched my sister get married and have two pregnancies with no illness. It confirmed what I had been told. Too young to be pregnant. You will get sick.
In 2006, my husband and I conceived our daughter. After 8 long months of trying, we finally were pregnant. And then it began. It started with the headaches, then the migraines, and then the vomiting. My mom, who had been so disappointed years earlier was concerned. She was the one who pointed out how sick I was in 1992 and how my symptoms now were so similar. She was determined to find out what was wrong with me. While I lay in bed delirious from vomiting 20 times a day, she was 8 hours away in another state desperately trying to find answers. She found it. She told me, you have Hyperemesis Gravidarum Michelle. Call your Ob and tell them you have this disease. Tell them about 1992.
Although my treatment was much better than in 1992, my disease was recognized and I was treated for Hyperemesis Gravidarum. My daughter and I are survivors. I will never forget 1992 or the horrific disease Hyperemesis Gravidarum is.
In my 18 years working with teens, I have spent time consoling a 16-year-old girl who developed eclampsia and was rushed to the ER; she lost her baby and almost her life 22 weeks into her pregnancy. I have seen a teenage mother bring her toddler into Children's hospital to get a heart scan because he had Down's Syndrome with heart complications. The doctor that day told me that one of the things you don't hear discussed very often is that young teen mothers have a higher incidence of Down's just like older mother's because their eggs are not yet fully matured when they conceive (a brief research of the topic shows that this is a questionable fact) . What must it be like for a teenager, who tends to live with the myth of "it can't happen to me" due to the unique brain development of the teenage years, to suddenly find themselves faced with very grown up realities of pregnancy complications?For more information on teen pregnancy complications:
WebMD: Teen Pregnancy, medical risks and realities
March of Dimes
Livestrong.com: Complications with Teenage Pregnancy
TLC: Pregnancy Complications in Teenage Mothers
As you can see, the information regarding pregnancy complications for teenagers is short and lacks depth. You'll want to refer teens to more informative, disease/complication specific sites. For example, the Hyperemesis Education and Research Foundation (HER Foundation), specializes in information on HG. The March of Dimes is actually another good resources for a variety of complications.