The teen girl trudged through the mall like a zombie; obviously pregnant and with a strange backpack on her back with a tube going into her body. She barely walked a few steps before she had to find a bench and sit down, tired and out of breath. Never before must a small mall have seen so huge and overwhelming. While her teen friends went off and explored things like Hot Topic (which studded collar should I buy today?) and the food court, the pregnant teen wanted nothing more than a moment – just one moment – to remember what it was like to be healthy and have a future. I understood everything she was feeling and walked up to give her a look of encouragement and let her know that I cared because you see, like her, I too suffered from Hyperemesis Gravidarum and I knew what this teenager was going through.
Hyperemesis Gravidarum is a rare pregnancy complication that causes excessive nausea and vomiting and is characterized by severe weight loss, dehydration and malnutrition – and all the health effects that can come from that. I have been pregnant with HG three times and I have 2 living daughters to show for it. The medical backpack that the young teen was wearing contained TPN, her source of nutrition, that was being fed to her via a PICC line. HG is not morning sickness – it is debilitating and life threatening. It is believed that the author Charlotte Bronte died of HG in her 5th month of pregnancy. This was never the way I thought I would identify with one of my favorite authors and yet, here we both were suffering from HG. The only difference is that I survived, but just barely.
It was my second pregnancy when we found out that what was happening had a name. At 7 weeks pregnant I was lying on my bathroom floor and vomiting more than 50 times a day. I lost 30 pounds in less than a week and began to have heart complications. My body was shutting down from metabolic acidosis. We lost our baby and we almost lost me. I stood at the edge of a cliff and stared death in the face and knew that just one more vomit would send me plummeting to the depths of death. As for hell, well – I was already there. I had to take heart medicine for the next 9 months while my body tried to repair itself from the damage caused by only 10 weeks of pregnancy.
In some ways that was my worst pregnancy; I don’t know if the 3rd was worse or just better treated. From the get go I received home IV therapy; The Mr. would set his alarm for 3 a.m. so that he would wake up and change my IV bag as this was the only thing keeping me and the baby alive. At 19 weeks they told us that my placenta had completely separated from the force of the vomiting and she would not make it through the weekend. They were wrong; but it was literally hell getting her here.
This year for the first time ever there is going to be an International Hyperemsis Gravidarum Awareness Day (May 15th). This year we are joining forces to raise awareness so that all pregnant women – including teens – can get support. Our goal is that people everywhere will recognize the symptoms and get adequate medical care. If information is power – and as a librarian I believe it is – then helping teens get the information about possible pregnancy complications is my goal. Being a pregnant teenager is hard enough, being a pregnant teen with any type of pregnancy complication must be earth shattering. It is fun to read about and speculate about zombies, it is not fun to feel like one.
If I could ever write a teen novel (it is a dream of mine), I would write a contemporary novel about a teen with HG. Sometimes I write it in my head and it begins like this . . .
She stared into the bowl of her toilet once again, willing herself not to throw up. Her body shook but not with fever; the coldness tore through her frame more and more each day as she shed pounds vomit by vomit into the porcelain god. She said a silent prayers to please, please let this be the end of it. They said she was going to have a baby, but she knew the truth. Something must have gone terribly wrong and there was an alien parasite living in her body, taking over and kicking her out. She knew it wasn’t true of course; but it was hard to think that a miracle was occurring inside her when she was fairly certain she would die if they didn’t help her soon. This is definitely not what it looked like on 16 and Pregnant – and she was angry. The anger burned white hot inside her soul because if it wasn’t bad enough that she was pregnant; no, everything had to go wrong. She couldn’t even worry about what type of mother she would be or how she would balance finishing high school and changing diapers – she was too busy worrying whether or not she would even survive. For just a moment she laid her head on the cold bathroom floor. There was no use in going to another room, she would be back here soon enough and the movement would just make her start vomiting again. Again she prayed: please please please please please let this stop. As she thought the last please her head jerked back up and she once again found herself on her knees staring into the once clear water of the toilet while violent retching racked her body. Today, she thought, is the day I am going to die.
For more information on Hyperemesis Gravidarum, visit the HER Foundation at www.helpher.org. You can also purchase the book Beyond Morning Sickness by Ashli McCall for your library collections. Please read this previous guest blog post about how HG led this woman to terminate a pregnancy in her teen years. Remember that for every teen that gets pregnant, a small percentage of them will have complications or experience some type of pregnancy loss and they will need a different type of resource then we are used to giving teens about pregnancy. In most of these cases, you will need to refer to your adult nonfiction collections because there aren’t specific titles written for teens. Please join us on May 15th, 2012 in helping to raise awareness to patrons of all ages because HG doesn’t just affect women, it affects families.