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Sunday Reflections: Raising Daughters & the Fight for Full Bodily Autonomy

Trigger Warning: Pregnancy Loss and Abortion are Discussed in this Post


I knew the day that I began teaching my 3-year-old daughter how to dial 911 that I would have an abortion.

I had just gotten out of the emergency room, again. After spending another night receiving fluids, again.

My blood pressure was abysmally low, my resting heart rate too fast.

I would later learn that I was in a state of what they call metabolic acidosis. I was, quite literally, dying.

So I barricaded the stairs. I made sure to never turn on the stove or oven. I double and triple checked that I had locked all the doors. And I laid on the couch and prayed that if I was going to die – and I was – that it happened when my husband was home so that my daughter would be safe.

Coming home from the hospital that day, I asked my husband, “what if I have to terminate this pregnancy?” He sighed the biggest sigh of relief, “I didn’t know how to bring it up,” he mentioned.

Here we were, teenaged sweethearts who had been baptized together in the church. Had attended a Christian college together. Served in youth ministry together. We were in our early 30s, already parents to a very much loved child, and we were discussing terminating a pregnancy.

The next day was another day, and another day to the emergency room. I was subjected to a 45 minute ultrasound because as the tech said, they couldn’t find “something”. They didn’t come out and say it, but it was the heartbeat. They couldn’t find the baby’s heartbeat.

So the next day we went and saw a different ob/gyn. This one we knew would terminate the pregnancy if we needed them to. And again, there was no heartbeat. My pregnancy should have measured 9 ½ weeks and there should have been a heartbeat, but it measured at 6 ½ weeks and he said a heartbeat would be iffy at that time. We explained to him that no, 3 weeks – and 2 hospital stays earlier – we had in fact measured 6 ½ weeks and heart a slow and unhealthy but definitely present heartbeat.

It was then that we were presented with 2 options: We could wait 24 hours and come back the next day to terminate what appeared to be a failing pregnancy–if I survived the next 24 hours and didn’t need to go back to the ER, that is. Or we could wait another week or two, have a follow up ultrasound and if there was still no heartbeat, it would be declared a miscarriage. The truth was, as he pointed out, that I would not survive another week or two. I need an abortion and I needed it quickly.

Twenty-four hours later we returned to terminate the pregnancy. We walked among 3 protestors who held signs telling us we were going to hell and that we should ask to hear our baby’s heartbeat. What those protestors didn’t know is that we had heard our baby’s heartbeat, and then we didn’t. We grieved our loss, but we also knew that factually we were now trying to save the only life we could really save at this point – mine.

In the days following my abortion that wasn’t technically an abortion though my medical records will always show that it was, I had one of my most spiritual moments ever. This is the moment that I hang on to whenever I begin to doubt or question my faith. I laid on my bedroom floor and cried. Then I had what I can only call a vision of the Lord, He came to me and in it, I saw Jesus kneeling beside me with his hands cupped under my face. He held them there gently and caught my failing tears as I wept, and I felt the presence of the Lord in a way that never have before or since.

Because abortion is legal in the United States, I am alive and am now the mother to two daughters. My second daughter is here only because I was kept alive through IVs and aggressive treatment by a high risk doctor. My husband got up in the middle of the night to change out fluids, inserting a needle full of medicine into each bag to help keep me alive. And even in the course of that pregnancy, the frequency and ferocity of my vomiting was so fierce that the placenta began to separate from my uterine wall and this child almost did not make it as well.

The pregnancy disease that I have is known as Hyperemesis Gravidarum. Recent research indicates that it is genetic. So I look at my two daughters and know, if they get pregnant there is a chance that these same things will happen to them. Pregnancy may be a death sentence for them.


I am alive today, my second daughter is alive today, my first daughter has a mother today, because I was able to make the personal medical decisions I needed to make quickly. I continue to be alive today because I can take steps necessary to never get pregnant again. I have the health insurance I need to cover the care I need to keep myself from having any more children because I would not survive another pregnancy. There are many other HG sufferers like me out there. There are many other pregnancy complications besides HG. And soon, there may be many people who are uninsured and unable to access the health care they need or make the medical decisions they need to make.

Even if they remain celibate until marriage and jump through every hoop that those with conservative religious beliefs believe that they must, my daughters will still need affordable access to medical care and contraception to help plan and yes, prevent, pregnancy in order to keep themselves alive. And should the extreme scenario happen to them, they may need to be able to make the quick and timely decision to terminate a medically complicated pregnancy in order to survive. I want all those medical options to be available to them because I love them.

This is the story of how I became a pro-choice Christian. Yes, it took a personal experience to make me understand how dangerous and complicated and how very not black and white pregnancy can be. I was naïve and judgmental and full of the self-satisfied assurance that the self-righteous often have that they are always right and they know all the answers. I knew all the answers, too. Until I didn’t.

Further research has led me to understand that outlawing abortion doesn’t stop abortion, it just makes abortion more deadly. However, quality sex education, access to affordable contraception, access to health care and roads out of poverty significantly reduce the reasons that people seek out abortion. They also help provide a better quality of life for those babies that are being brought into this world. If we want to really tackle the issue of abortion, these are the areas that we need to invest in.

This is my family. They are a blessing. I try hard every day to guard these girls, my heart, from the toxic messaging of our culture.

Every day I look at my daughters and pray. I pray that they will continue to have the right to make the choices they need to make about their bodies and for their health. It is not guaranteed that they will have Hyperemesis Gravidarum, but it is a very real possibility because they are my daughters. I want them to be able to make the decisions they need to with their doctors make the right choices for their health.

I wrote this essay shortly after the election in 2016. My husband and I fought long and hard through three very difficult pregnancies to bring our two much loved children into this world. It nearly bankrupted us because it was hard for us to get good answers and good medical care. It nearly killed me, twice. And we made decisions that we never contemplated having to make when we began our life together as a married couple trying to start a family.

13 years ago today, in the year 2006, I had an abortion. It saved my life.

My first two pregnancies I had one doctor who apparently knew I suffered from Hyperemesis Gravidarum; It is written in my medical records, though he never discussed it with either my husband or I. In my second pregnancy, the last one in which we would use him as our doctor, I was, according to the various ER records we gathered, quite literally dying. At one point I was hospitalized for a short stay and my resting heart rate was 160 and my blood pressure was 60 something over 37. After being admitted from the ER and placed into the maternity ward for a few nights, at no time did any of the doctors on that floor perform an ultrasound. If they had, we would have learned a full two weeks earlier than our termination that the baby had already passed away. Instead, I suffered another two weeks, inching every moment even closer to death.

Hyperemesis Gravidarum is extreme nausea and vomiting in pregnancy. It is not morning sickness. In each of my pregnancies I vomited 24 hours a day for the entire pregnancy. Some days I vomited more than 100 times. I often slept on the bathroom floor because there was no point in trying to go to bed. I had to go to the ER frequently because I suffered from dehydration and the various things that happen when your body has no food or fluids. In my second pregnancy, I lost 40 pounds in about a week and my body began to break down in a process that my medical records calls metabolic acidosis.


In my third and final pregnancy, I was under the care of a new high risk doctor. The moment I tested positive, I was put on home healthcare. I was kept hydrated and alive with home IV therapy. The Mr. set his alarm clock throughout the night and woke up around the clock to put new IV fluid bags in my IV line. I took a cocktail of three drugs that they give cancer patients taking chemotherapy to try and stave off the vomiting. The frequency and fierceness of my vomiting was so severe that the placenta began at one point to separate from my uterine wall. I was put on bed rest and told to stop throwing up.

For more information about Hyperemesis Gravidarum (HG) please visit www.helpher.org

On February 3, 2006, I walked into the office of an ob/gyn who performed abortions and terminated my second pregnancy. Although we had every reason to believe that our baby was already dead inside me, the laws of the land required us to seek out an abortion because I could not wait the necessary time frame to confirm this fact; I would not survive.

I am grateful that I got to make that choice for myself and that I have been here to see my teenage daughter grow into the amazing young woman that she is today. I am grateful as well that I got to give birth to my second daughter and see her becoming the amazing young woman that she is today. I am only here, my second child is only here, because I was legally able to make the medical decisions I needed to make for myself. Pregnancy still kills women in multiple ways. In fact, the United States has a very high maternal mortality rate for an industrialized nation.

There are known and proven ways to decrease abortion rates. These ways include providing everyone access to comprehensive sex education, providing access to affordable birth control, providing affordable access to prenatal and general health care, raising women and children out of poverty, supporting education, providing access to affordable daycare, creating a culture that provides living wages and work/life balance. We can decrease abortion rates while still allowing women full body autonomy and the right to make their own medical decisions.


Hyperemesis Gravidarum research indicates that HG is genetic. I have two daughters. Their ability to make the health care decisions that are right for them is imperative to me. Their lives may literally depend on it.

Sunday Reflections: The Teen, Me, Genetics and HG (Hyperemesis Gravidarum World Awareness Day)

As I look over at the teen who is sitting on the couch reading a book, she is the spitting image of me in many ways. I could not be prouder to have passed my genetic material onto this glorious child and get to call myself her mom. I love her and her sister more than I could ever have imagined you could love someone.


Nature? Nurture? A little of both? I’m not sure why she is a reader, I’m just glad that she is because I love talking and sharing book life with her. But there is one thing I hope we don’t share, and that is HG.

hgawarenessday2HG is short for Hyperemesis Gravidarum and it is a pregnancy disease. When you read in the news about Kate Middleton and Kelly Clarkson being so sick during pregnancy that they had to cancel events and be re-hydrated in the hospital – that’s HG. HG is a debilitating, potentially life threatening pregnancy disease and last year the results of a genetic study confirmed what many had feared: it has some genetic components which mean that my daughters are more likely to have HG when they are pregnant. As a mother who fought for her life during pregnancy, this terrifies me.


Last week The Teen came home with the paperwork for me to sign giving my child permission to take sex education, but the truth is sex education is something we have been talking about for a while in my house. I have two main concerns when it comes to talking with my teen about sex. The first is consent and healthy relationships. The second is abstinence and birth control. Teen pregnancy is complicated enough on its own, but imagine trying to finish high school while you’re throwing up 100s of times a day and having to go to the clinic to be infused with fluids and vitamins because your body can’t sustain one life, let alone two. I know what it’s like to stand on the brink of death and I don’t want that for this child that I stood on that brink for. I fear teen pregnancy in ways that you can’t even imagine.

Actually, The Teen was my easiest out of three pregnancies, and that’s saying something. The Teen very vividly recalls my pregnancy with her sister. She saw me hooked up to an IV pole day and night. She remembers how we spent the days and nights just lying in bed just hoping that somehow the baby and I would survive. She remembers that someone else had to take her trick or treating that year because her dad was at work and I was too sick to even sit up. She remembers going to the ER and being told that the force of my vomiting was causing the placenta to separate and they were sorry, the baby wouldn’t make it through the weekend. She remembers friends from church coming over to pray with us. She remembers it all.

Today is World HG Awareness Day. I’m always torn on this day. I want to raise awareness and help get donations to the Hyperemesis Education and Research Foundation (www.helpher.org) because I want to know that one day my daughters may have better doctors and better pregnancy care options. But I also want to forget and just put the trauma of HG behind me. I want there to be a day when I throw up because of food poisoning or whatever and don’t flashback to the days of HG where I threw up 100s of times a day and laid in the hospital while my body ate itself to try and survive (metabolic acidosis, not a good time).

I will never be pregnant again. The chances that I would survive another pregnancy are astronomically not good so we went to great lengths to make sure it would never happen again. I want to be free of HG for ever, but I can’t be. I have daughters. HG may be genetic. So I raise awareness. I don’t do it for me anymore, I do it for them.

To learn more about HG, please visit www.helpher.org.

The ABCs of HG: an unconventional picture book (Karen’s story)

Teen Issues: Teen Pregnancy and Complications

Teen Pregnancy and Complications, HG and pregnancy termination (An anonymous story)

Life’s Bilest Moments, HG poetry

There’s No Sister Like an HG Sister

We were going to have a brother but got a sister instead, a tween’s story

World HG Awareness Day, just the facts

Chocolate Chip Cookies and Turkey Sandwiches

Fighting the HG War, an anonymous guest post

My Brother’s Sweatshirt, a story of HG

Sunday Reflections: Why I Care About Kate Middleton’s Pregnancy

“It’s like Bella, without the vampires” – how a YA novel helps me explain Hyperemesis Gravidarum (#HGDay15)

The Lingering Effects of Hyperemesis Gravidarum: the life taking, life altering beast

Sunday Reflections: Why I Care About Kate Middleton’s Pregnancy, reflections on HG

Please share with others to help us raise awareness.  The key to a successful HG pregnancy is early and aggressive treatment.  Get more information at the Hyperemesis and Education Research Foundation (HER) at www.helpher.org

The Lingering Effects of Hyperemesis Gravidarum: the life taking, life altering beast

Today, May 15, is Hyperemesis Awareness Day. Hyperemesis gravidarum, according to the Hyperemesis Education and Research (HER) Foundation, is an extreme form of pregnancy sickness, defined as “unrelenting, excessive pregnancy-related nausea and/or vomiting that prevents adequate intake of food and fluids.” Affecting about one to three percent of pregnant women, HG can lead to weight loss, malnutrition and dehydration. In severe cases, it can lead to miscarriage and, rarely, it can be fatal.

Having already shared my story many times here at TLT, I enlisted the help of some of my friends, survivors themselves, to share their stories. Today Suzanne shares her thoughts about HG. HG impacts our teens in a variety of ways: a pregnant teen can find themselves suffering from hyperemesis gravidarum.  Or a pregnant mother in the home may find themselves suffering from HG, which has tremendous impact on everyone in the home.

Hyperemesis is a beast that devours babies and mothers.

It took eight years of celebrating my son’s life, the joy I have as his mother, until the deaths stopped overwhelming me.  The due date he shares with his older sister who didn’t survive HG.  I think about my friend who announced her pregnancy the same week I did;  her child did not survive HG. I always think about the mom and twins who died the week my son was born alive.  All of them gone. All of them daily remembered.  But that same week I bake a cake and put up streamers, my grief deepens. Five lives lost in a year and remembered that week. My son, the sole survivor.


Some might say these thoughts mean I don’t appreciate or celebrate my son, but nothing could be further from my truth.  But the coincidence of all these dates and deaths make his birthday an emotionally confused time.  So much sorrow mixed in with the date of my child’s healthy birth.


Hyperemesis is a beast that chews up relationships.

“It was hard to love you when you were sick,” he said during counseling with a local pastor.  That truth cut me even more deeply than the pending divorce.  When I was most vulnerable and ill, I was not loved?


I am certain I was horrific during the short pregnancy that cost me my daughter; it was the worst time in my life. I know our living sons’ pregnancies were awful. I know the PPMADs that I suffered were intensified by the malnutrition and debilitation of HG, and that they made me miserable to be around. And I’m certain the postpartum diagnosis of Fibromyalgia, along with all of its pain and fatigue, made me a very poor partner.


But I wasn’t loved?


I know I’m not the only mom to hear such things from her partner. It was indescribable devastation on an already broken heart.


I’m certain HG contributed directly to the loss of my marriage, my children’s nuclear family, and the financial poverty in which my now smaller family lives.  The divorce also created a new grief: the loss of time of my living children.  I no longer get to be their mother in the way I should be. I am legally obligated to miss them 43% of the time, so they can be parented by the father.


Hyperemesis is a beast that swallows emotional safety: in other words, bring on the PTSD

Recently, I was driving on the Interstate to meet a friend for lunch when a wave of dizziness and nausea overwhelmed me.  I knew what was coming; after all, I have much experience with vomit.  There was no time or place to pull over safely at 75 mph. So I scanned for something to save my car from the impending puke. I grabbed an empty coffee cup and vomited violently, all the while guiding my car along the highway, looking for a safe place to stop.


I pulled over on a street off an exit ramp and parked. I sat in a puddle of urine from the force of the vomit. Shaking. Sobbing. Wondering where to put my coffee cup. I didn’t know how to get back on the highway, if I should drive with the shaking, crying, nausea, and the problem of the coffee cup. What should I do with my coffee cup full of puke?


I texted my friend that I wouldn’t make lunch, that I was ill. Then I waited for the waves of dizziness to pass and found the Interstate. It was long drive home.


I was still shaking when parked the car in the garage, went inside, and changed my clothes. It was a deep and intense panic. I paced the house and eventually had to leave its confines. I paced the neighborhood.  My heart was racing. My breathing  shallow. My thoughts spinning. I was hot. I was cold. I had to walk. I could not calm down. Scared. Sick. Alone. I could not stop worrying I’d never see my children again, where all fear and panic take me since HG and since divorce. I was terrified.


I eventually knocked on a neighbor’s door.  We sat on her deck with iced tea and talked. Well, I talked and she listened. My panicked thoughts. My frustrations with schools. My financial issues. She listened some more. Nodded where appropriate. Said things to comfort me.


I was hours into my full blown anxiety attack when she spoke words that shocked me. Slack jawed and wide eyed, I shut up for the first time since knocking on her door.


She asked again. “Could you be pregnant?”


The answer should have been obvious since I had a tubal ligation years earlier, my period had stopped., and I am unmarried and celibate. But I had to really think about my answer for a while.


“No, that would be impossible.”


“You puked once and will probably feel better tomorrow. You’re not pregnant. So what’s the problem?”


My heart beat was slowing. “I can’t be pregnant. I’m single, sterilized, and menopausal.”
She laughed, “You see? This won’t last.”


She was right. The hours of panic and terror, for I was truly feeling terror, were because I have PTSD from pregnancy. Hyperemesis Gravidarum does that to a woman.


My neighbor’s question was exactly what I needed to hear to stop the terror. I was simply sick, not pregnant, not going to suffer through HG for nine months, experience another loss, have my life split open and spit out by the beast. I have PTSD.  It really was just puke.


Hyperemesis is a beast that digests joy

The loss of joy in pregnancy is something HG moms frequently discuss when pregnant and postpartum, but a decade later, I don’t think much about that omission. I don’t even give much thought to the dehydration, malnutrition, medications, or mind-altering nausea.  What occupies my thoughts when I look back aren’t the moments of pregnancy lost or endured,  it is how Hyperemesis Gravidarum completely altered every facet of my life.


That is my lingering effect from the beast.

Meet Our Guest Blogger:

Suzanne is a writer and teacher of writing. She is teaches in the University of Michigan Summer Bridge Program and is a Writing Consultant in the University of Michigan Rackham Graduate School. She has two sons, one cat, and one guinea pig.  She has had HG three times.

More on HG:

The ABCs of HG: an unconventional picture book (Karen’s story)

Teen Issues: Teen Pregnancy and Complications

Teen Pregnancy and Complications, HG and pregnancy termination (An anonymous story)

Life’s Bilest Moments, HG poetry

There’s No Sister Like an HG Sister

We were going to have a brother but got a sister instead, a tween’s story

World HG Awareness Day, just the facts

Chocolate Chip Cookies and Turkey Sandwiches

Fighting the HG War, an anonymous guest post

My Brother’s Sweatshirt, a story of HG

Sunday Reflections: Why I Care About Kate Middleton’s Pregnancy

“It’s like Bella, without the vampires” – how a YA novel helps me explain Hyperemesis Gravidarum (#HGDay15)

Please share with others to help us raise awareness.  The key to a successful HG pregnancy is early and aggressive treatment.  Get more information at the Hyperemesis and Education Research Foundation (HER) at www.helpher.org

“It’s like Bella, without the vampires” – how a YA novel helps me explain Hyperemesis Gravidarum (#HGDay15)

Today, May 15, is Hyperemesis Awareness Day. Hyperemesis gravidarum, according to the Hyperemesis Education and Research (HER) Foundation, is an extreme form of pregnancy sickness, defined as “unrelenting, excessive pregnancy-related nausea and/or vomiting that prevents adequate intake of food and fluids.” Affecting about one to three percent of pregnant women, HG can lead to weight loss, malnutrition and dehydration. In severe cases, it can lead to miscarriage and, rarely, it can be fatal.

Karen Jensen here at Teen Librarian Toolbox also suffered this disease with all of her pregnancies and has written about it here and here. This year, her “HG sister” and friend, writer Cindy MacDougall, shares her thoughts on spreading HG awareness with an unlikely help, the final book in Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight series, “Breaking Dawn”.

My third child and only daughter, Naomi, was born in 2006, after a long and hard battle against a hyperemesis gravidarum, or HG. I had two normal pregnancies before this, so the fight I had to put in for my life and Naomi’s life was a shock.

I spent months on my bathroom floor, vomiting into the toilet; I lost 15 to 20 pounds; I broke the blood vessels in my eyes from throwing up. I spent a lot of time in the hospital getting IV fluids and medication.

During all this, my poor husband, Clayton, was frantic. He had to care for me and our two boys, along with running his own business. He was frightened I was going to die. In his stress and his worry, he sometimes lost patience with me, even though he knew the illness wasn’t my fault.

Nevertheless, we made it through those hard times, and Naomi was born alive and healthy.

When Naomi was two years old, Little, Brown published the last novel in Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight series, Breaking Dawn.

Like more than a few grown women I know, I enjoyed Meyer’s novels despite myself.  I knew the writing could be weak, and I understood the relationship between Edward and Bella was problematic and potentially abusive. However, I couldn’t help liking Meyer’s characters, and especially appreciated the positive and rounded representation of Aboriginal youth from the Quileute reservation.

So I picked up a copy of Breaking Dawn that August of 2008, expecting some light reading, and the chance to see the resolution of Edward and Bella’s star-crossed relationship.

I wasn’t expecting to be rocked to the core.

Of course, as we all know now, Bella becomes pregnant soon after her marriage to Edward. The pregnancy is abnormal in many ways (what could you expect from a human-vampire hybrid?), with the baby growing very quickly and it being very strong, to Dr. Cullen being unable to see it through X-ray or ultrasound.

But it was Bella’s illness, her inability to keep down any food or drink, that reminded me forcefully of my pregnancy with Naomi. Bella was going through an accelerated version of HG, and it was killing her.

On page 171, Bella’s best friend Jacob, who is also in love with her, sees her for the first time since the pregnancy began: “There were deep circles under her eyes, dark circles that jumped out because her face was all haggard…Her skin seemed tight – like her cheekbones might break right through it…There was something about her fingers and wrists that looked so fragile it was scary.”

I remember looking in mirrors, seeing my cheekbones jutting out and huge dark circles under my eyes – what many sufferers call “HG eyes.” I remember my family and friends being horrified by how ill I looked.

There’s another part of Bella’s motherhood in Breaking Dawn that I can relate with as well: her absolute determination to protect her baby at any cost, while the family around her want her to live.

Both Edward, her husband, and Jacob, her best friend, are terrified she will die, and are angry at her for risking her life for her baby. While my family supported my choice to fight for my baby, they were extremely worried about my health and the risk to my life.

On page 190, Bella and Jacob discuss the pregnancy and her possible death, as he tries to convince her to have an abortion to save her own life: ”’I’m not going to die,’ she said through her teeth, and I could tell she was repeating things she’d said before. ‘I will keep my heart beating. I’m strong enough for that.’”

Reading Bella’s struggles, which eventually conclude with the birth of her daughter Renesmee and her near death, followed by vampirization, was incredibly painful for me. I had flashbacks to my own illness, and my old IV scars would throb. I cried a lot, too, so much so I began to wonder why I was reading the book at all.

But then it started happening – people started asking me about my illness in relation to Bella’s.

“That vampire pregnancy Bella has sounds a lot like yours!” various friends and relatives said. “What did you have again?”

Other times, I would mention HG, and when asked what it was, I would reply, “It’s like Bella Swan’s pregnancy, but without the vampires and drinking blood. Basically, you can’t keep anything down, lose weight, and get very sick. It sometimes kills women.”

Whereas before Breaking Dawn, people seemed to have no way to relate to my experience, other than to suppose I had morning sickness and was being a drama queen, now many people had a cultural touchstone for what I had gone through.

When I had my second HG pregnancy in 2010, more people could grasp the concept of pregnant and starving to death.

Breaking Dawn gave me one last gift, as well. Near the end of the book, Bella buys her daughter a locket inscribed with the French phrase “Plus que ma propre vie,” which means “More than my own life.”

When I look at my children, and think of what I struggled through to have my last two, and to keep myself alive to mother my two oldest, that phrase whispers through my mind.

They were worth more than my own life. They will always be worth it. And it was a “teen novel” that helped me put it into words.

Meet Our Guest Blogger:

Cindy MacDougall is a writer, mother of four, PR professional and former journalist. She survived HG twice and is a volunteer with the Hyperemesis Education and Research Foundation.

More on HG:

The ABCs of HG: an unconventional picture book (Karen’s story)

Teen Issues: Teen Pregnancy and Complications

Teen Pregnancy and Complications, HG and pregnancy termination (An anonymous story)

Life’s Bilest Moments, HG poetry

There’s No Sister Like an HG Sister

We were going to have a brother but got a sister instead, a tween’s story

World HG Awareness Day, just the facts

Chocolate Chip Cookies and Turkey Sandwiches

Fighting the HG War, an anonymous guest post

My Brother’s Sweatshirt, a story of HG

Sunday Reflections: Why I Care About Kate Middleton’s Pregnancy

Please share with others to help us raise awareness.  The key to a successful HG pregnancy is early and aggressive treatment.  Get more information at the Hyperemesis and Education Research Foundation (HER) at www.helpher.org

Sunday Reflections: Why I Care About Kate Middleton’s Pregnancy, reflections on HG

I tried to hide from the news that Kate Middleton was pregnant. I tried to hide from all of the press. Sometimes I want to put my head in the sand and pretend that Hypermesis Gravidarum, a severe pregnancy illness, does not exist, or that I am somehow so far removed from it now that it can no longer haunt me.

But haunt me it does.

This week I got sick. So I took to my bed and missed a couple more days of my kids lives. I have missed far too many.

When she was 6, I had to have a friend take The Tween trick or treating. I lay in bed, devastated that I was losing yet another memory, another moment of her life as I tried to bring her baby sister into this world.

You see, because of Hyperemesis Gravidarum I had already missed almost 2 years of the Tween’s life. I spent them in the bathroom, vomiting, on the stairs, passing out, in the hospital, being fed by an IV, and in my bed, trying not to lose another baby. I had already lost one – and almost my life – and that was a devastating experience. And this pregnancy, Thing 2’s pregnancy, was in jeopardy from the get go.

Early in the pregnancy, I began bleeding. At the end of my second pregnancy, the one where my baby died and I almost did, I had finally found out the name for what was happening to me: Hypermesis Gravidarum, or HG. Quite literally, HG means excessive vomiting of pregnancy. Not much is known about it, except that it is genetic and possibly auto-immune. And unlike regular morning sickness, HG can be deadly. So with this new pregnancy, we were prepared. Or, at least, we thought we were. We had a new doctor. We had an aggressive plan. We had hope. But then one day, some bright spots of red came to dash those hopes.

We rushed to the ER where there were tests done. They didn’t even have to start an IV because I had been on home IV therapy since the beginning. That was part of the aggressive plan to combat the HG: keep me hydrated, keep me medicated, keep me from throwing up. But even a continous IV and 3 daily meds couldn’t keep the vomiting away. And that day in the ER we learned that the force and frequency of my vomiting was causing the placenta to detach from the uterine wall. Now, more than ever, we needed to stop the vomiting. But as if often the case with HG, there was no stopping it.

Thing 2 is going to be six years old this year. Sometimes I like to forget about HG. Sometimes I like to forget about what it is like to lay there in a dark room, begging for death to come and end my suffering. And yet begging for it not to come and please dear God let my baby be okay. Sometimes I like to forget what it feels like to have six different nurses come in to try and start an IV in the top of your dehydrated hand and how the bruising lasts for weeks. Sometimes I like to forget what it feels like to have tachycardia and low blood pressure as your body starts to shut down from the build up of amino acids or whatever they are called because your body is starting to eat itself and your chemistry goes haywire.

I want to forget all those nights where my husband set his alarm clock for 3 a.m. to change my fluid bags on my IV pole. And I want to forget what it is like to try and teach a 4-year-old how to dial 911 in case mommy passes out – or dies. And I want to forget the sound in my doctor’s voice as he sighs saying, “This is going to be a long pregnancy. We really need to get your vomiting under control so you don’t lose this baby.”

But the truth is, I can’t forget. I have forgotten none of it. Sometimes I wake up in the middle of the night and I can’t go to sleep because the darkness haunts me, it reminds me of those dark rooms I laid in begging God or the universe or whoever to let my baby be okay. And it reminds me of the darkness I felt inside myself as I felt my body closing up shop and giving up. It reminds me of all the dark days in my memory of The Tween’s life because I was in the hospital or in my room struggling to survive. To me, HG is the darkest of darknesses that blocks out whole months of my memory.  What was the Tween like during the summer of the year that she was 5, right before she started elementary school? There is just a void that has been eaten by a monster called HG.

When news broke out about Kate Middleton’s second pregnancy and that she once again had HG, I was not surprised. For most HG sufferers, it comes again. And often worse than the time before. I’m not reading stories about her pregnancy or about HG, I know all too well what it is like. And right now, if I had to guess, I imagine she is just trying to make it through another day. That’s all you can do with HG, try to survive moment by moment. And HG is a tricky beast because even if you have a good day, or a few good days, it can all spiral out of control again without any notice.

Maybe one day, when she is past all of this, she’ll decide that she wants to talk about HG. That she will use her experience and her title to help raise awareness. But the truth is, I’ll understand if she doesn’t. I’ll understand if she wants to put it all behind her and put her head in the sand. Some days, I want to put my head there too. I want to forget the terror and the fight and the loneliness and the uncertainty.

Other times, I speak out. Because as a librarian, I know that information is power. Information is the power to get good treatments. Information is the power to enlist your family to be your advocate. Information is the power to identify the signs and help a friend or a sister or a co-worker. Information is the power to make sure that those around us talk about HG correctly: It’s not a mental illness, it is a medical illness; it does not happen because a woman doesn’t want her baby any more then gestational diabetes happens because a woman doesn’t want her baby; it’s not morning sickness, it can’t be compared to morning sickness, and it can’t be treated by the same methods that morning sickness is; it’s not common (it occurs in less than 2 % of pregnancies); and no, having HG doesn’t mean your pregnancy is healthy, it means the exact opposite because it can put the mother and baby in tremendous jeopardy.

Thing 2 is named in honor of two important people. She is named after my grandmother, who had lost one of her own babies early on and helped me heal from the loss of my second baby; my grandmother who died six weeks before Thing 2 was born, never getting to meet this baby she helped me fight for. And Thing 2 is named after a friend I met at the Hyperemesis Education and Research Foundation (www.helpher.org) who helped me not only with my loss, but helped me daily as I struggled with my pregnancy with Thing 2. This woman, the godmother to my children, has her own losses to bear. You see when she gave birth to her first daughter, they brought a crash cart in to the room because her body had been so ravaged by HG they worried about the stress of the delivery. And in a subsequent pregnancy, she went into a coma and the people who loved her most had to make the heartbreaking decision to terminate her pregnancy so that both her and her baby didn’t die from the HG. HG is a thief and a killer. It is not morning sickness, and I bristle at every article that suggests it is.

A great many of my friends now are HG survivors. We have bonded over our illness, our experience, our battle, our losses. So these past few weeks I have heard them talk once again about HG. We have all been forced to take our heads out of the sand and jump on the HG carousel once again. What we’re fighting is misinformation, because just as information can be a powerful tool, so too can the wrong information. And there is plenty of it out there.

So this is my battle cry: HG is real, it is misery, it is deadly. It is not morning sickness. Find out more at www.helpher.org.

Now if you don’t mind, I’m going to go put my head back in the sand and snuggle with these two beautiful children. I don’t want to lose anymore moments or memories, I have lost so many.

HG Awareness Day

HG, Hyperemesis Gravidarum – a debilitating, life threatening pregnancy illness that can claim the life of both mother and child.  Join us on May 15, 2013 as we help raise awareness around the world for the Second Annual HG Awareness Day.  1 out of 1,000 pregnant woman suffer from HG, including teens.  I suffered from HG.  You can learn more about HG at the Hyperemesis Education and Research Foundation (HER) at www.helpher.org.  Here at TLT we are also sharing a series of posts, some of them my own stories, to help raise awareness and make sure that pregnant women and their friends and family can recognize the signs and seek appropriate care.  Early, aggressive treatment can make all the difference.

The ABCs of HG: an unconventional picture book (Karen’s story)

Teen Issues: Teen Pregnancy and Complications

Teen Pregnancy and Complications, HG and pregnancy termination (An anonymous story)

Life’s Bilest Moments, HG poetry

There’s No Sister Like an HG Sister

We were going to have a brother but got a sister instead, a tween’s story

World HG Awareness Day, just the facts

Chocolate Chip Cookies and Turkey Sandwiches

Fighting the HG War, an anonymous guest post

Please share with others to help us raise awareness.  The key to a successful HG pregnancy is early and aggressive treatment.  Get more information at the Hyperemesis and Education Research Foundation (HER) at www.helpher.org

Reflections: When is a Prank More Than Just a Prank? What I learned from 13 Reasons Why by Jay Asher

As you have probably heard, there are some serious things happening both in the news and in real life regarding Kate Middleton and her pregnancy.  It turns out, Kate has HG – Hyperemesis Gravidarum.  Those of you who frequent this blog know that I am passionate about raising awareness and were probably surprised by my silence on the subject.  The truth is, I did spend some time Tweeting about it.  I also spent some time remembering my experiences and shed a few tears. So here is what I want to say:

Kate Middleton, according to the press, does not have morning sickness. She does not have severe morning sickness.  She has Hyperemesis Gravidarum (HG).  A debilitating, life threatening pregnancy illness that can cause severe complications for both the mother and child.  She is in for a rocky road ahead and I hope (and yes I have even been praying) that Kate responds well to treatment and that her HG is kept under control so that the impact on her mind and body are minimized.  I think if anyone is in a position to get good treatment, it is her.  I am sad to hear that she has HG because I wish it on no one.  I am sometimes thankful that HG is getting the publicity that it needs, although that publicity has often been wrong.  (For some of the best media coverage of HG, check out this video segment from the Katie Couric show.)  To get good and accurate information, I implore you to visit the Hyperemesis Education and Research Foundation at www.helpher.org.

But let’s talk about the Prank Heard Round the World

The other day, Australian radio DJs called the Duchess in the hospital by pretending to be the Queen.  Possibly in response to that prank, one of the nurses involved – the nurse who initially put the call through – took her life.  The Internet has been abuzz with opinions regarding culpability, mental stability, etc.  From the get go, the prank made me angry.  Like, frothing mad seething angry.  Why?

An Illness By Any Other Name
The DJs involved felt that it was somehow appropriate to call in and harass and make fun of a woman who was sick and wrestling with a serious situation.  Personally, I don’t care what type of sickness a person has, your job is step back and let them recover in peace.  But no, they felt that it was somehow a good idea – and within their rights – to call and harass and mock a sick person.  Keep in mind, one of the main purposes of a hospital is to take care of the sick and dying – why do we think they have time to deal with pranks? Would we have thought it was funny if she had cancer? A heart attack? An organ transplant?  No, but it was just “morning sickness” right?  Silly girl, can’t handle a little bit of morning sickness.  And yet, what she was dealing with made her become so dehydrated that she was placed into a hospital for several days so that she could be properly hydrated.  Take a moment sometime and Google what happens when your body becomes dehydrated.  Or I could save you the effort and tell you – it is painful, terrifying, and soul wearying.  But it doesn’t matter what she had, you leave a sick person alone so that they can rest and heal.

Want to know about HG and my personal story?
Want to know what it is like to be so dehydrated that you have to go to the hospital for IV fluids?

The Right to Medical Privacy
Then we have the issue of medical privacy.  I am not sure how they regard medical privacy outside the U.S., but here it is a sacred thing.  What happens to you medically is designed to be kept between you and your doctor.  Part of the reason for this is so that it doesn’t impact your future life; employers can’t discriminate against you based on your medical history because they don’t have access to it.  Your family, friends, neighbors, strangers – none of them have a right to know because information can have consequences.  It can create bias.  It can change perceptions. It can change opportunities.  Also, there is an emotional component to our medical lives. When we are sick, whatever that sickness may be, we have a right to process and deal with that information privately on our own terms and on our own timetable.  I get to choose when and how to tell the world I have cancer so that I have the time I need to figure out how I feel about this fact.  I get to choose when and how to tell the world  about my HG experiences.  I am very open about my experience, but I have had time to process what happened to me.  I had time to grieve the loss of my baby.  I had time to heal and not be terribly afraid of being sick or of going to the doctor.  I had time to come to terms with the fact that I can never have anymore children because of HG.  By trying to make Kate and her family go public with her medical information, those DJs were robbing Kate of all that we respect and value regarding medical privacy.  They took the control away from her and alienated her basic human rights.

Your Job’s in Jeopardy
And finally, by pulling off this prank, they put everyone at the hospital in incredible legal risk.  They jeopardized their jobs.  In order for their prank to work, the hospital staff had to put the call through, which they did.  By putting the call through the hospital staff was in incredible legal peril.  They had become unwilling co-conspirators in all of the above.  They violated their patients right to medical privacy. They put these DJs, and the world, in the position to mock and laugh at a sick, hospitalized woman.  Every person in the hospital was now in legal peril and the truth is, they were probably going to lose their jobs.  Not only would they lose their jobs, but given the widespread nature of the prank – it went global – they were more than likely now unemployable in the field in which they had trained and worked.  They were now going to have incredible difficulty feeding their families, paying their rents, etc.  If it wasn’t happening at the time, I assure you the wheels were in motion.  You don’t break your employers rules in such a public way without there being consequences.

If You Poke a Bear with a Stick . . .
There is an underlying cruelty to pranks; by pulling a prank you are seeking to get your enjoyment and satisfaction at the expense of others.  Your laughs come courtesy of putting another human being into a situation and the truth is, unless you know that other person intimately, you really don’t know the emotional ramifications of what you are doing.  You may be pulling an elevator prank on a person who has severe claustrophobia that spent the morning psyching up for an elevator trip.  You may be pulling a prank on a person who found out last night that their spouse has cancer, that their child is failing, that their world is falling apart.  You may be pulling a prank on a person who spent all of high school being bullied and is in an emotionally sensitive place every day.  What you are doing is taking a gamble with someone else’s emotional and physical well being – a gamble that you have no right to take because you can never know the full ramifications of any given situation for another human being.  And yes, you do bear the burden of responsibility for your actions.  Even if the other person’s reactions don’t make sense to you, you – the prankster – bear the burden of responsibility for pushing a button and flipping a switch that you had no right to do, and all for the sake of a laugh. 

“No one knows for certain how much impact they have on the lives of other people. Oftentimes, we have no clue. Yet we push it just the same.”  – 13 Reasons Why, Jay Asher

A Bully by Any Other Name
A prankster is nothing more than a glorified bully.  They are using another person – unwillingly – to generate a laugh. A prankster is the HS bully who gives the class geek a mega wedgy while everyone in the hallway laughs.  A prankster is the mean girl who slut shames, the boy with the shock gum who delights in seeing that jolt of pain when their victim is zapped, the group of kids at prom with the bucket of pigs blood.  While we are taking a stand against bullies, let’s remember that pranks are often just another form of bullying because it comes at the expense of another human being without their consent and without knowledge of the impact that it has on them.

“You don’t know what goes on in anyone’s life but your own. And when you mess with one part of a person’s life, you’re not messing with just that part. Unfortunately, you can’t be that precise and selective. When you mess with one part of a person’s life, you’re messing with their entire life. Everything. . . affects everything.” – 13 Reasons Why, Jay Asher

One can’t help but think in this situation of the book 13 Reasons Why by Jay Asher.  The main idea behind this book is that our words and actions have consequences.  We may not even see them at the moment, but there is a recipient on the other end and we can never fully understand the impact we are having.  Sometimes we see it too late.  This is why we must think carefully before we speak, step lightly on the path of other lives.  When we come in contact with another life, we leave our finger prints on it.  That is a huge responsibility to bear, we should not do so as lightly as we often do.

“No one knows for certain how much impact they have on the lives of other people. Oftentimes, we have no clue. Yet we push it just the same.” – 13 Reasons Why, Jay Asher

My 1 Birthday Wish

Today is my birthday! I am 29. Again.

I know you are thinking, what do you want for your birthday Karen?

As you know, in addition to trying to be an awesome ya librarian, I also have a strong passion to raise awareness about a pregnancy disease that I suffered from 3 times: Hyperemesis Gravidarum, also known as HG.  No, not the book.  HG is a life threatening, soul sucking disease.  Women still die in pregnancy.  And sadly, babies die.  One of my babies died.


Earlier this year for the first ever HG Awareness Day, I combined my love of books with my goal to raise awareness of HG to create something that I called The ABCs of HG: An unconventional picture book.  Here I tell you the story of my 3 pregnancies using a traditional picture book format.  I wanted to try and let others know what it is like to fear dying, to beg to die, to consider terminating a pregnancy for medical reasons and to mourn the heartbreak of losing a baby to HG. My one birthday wish is that I could somehow find a way to get this book published so that I could donate the proceeds of each copy sold to the Hyperemesis Education and Research Foundation (the HER Foundation).  I even have an ob/gyn lined up to do a chapter(s) presenting factual information as a part of the book because awareness and education are our goals.  One day I hope my birthday wish will come true.  Until then, friends and family members can donate to either the HER Foundation or their local library instead of buying me presents (not that I expect presents). 


You should also know that recently on Twitter we planned my ideal birthday party.  It would take place at the Container Store (I do love to organize things) and we would play YA Lit Charades and do Karaoke with Libba Bray.  There would be cupcakes of course.  Surely Libba Bray wants to come do Karaoke with me for my birthday, right?  There has to be lightsabers and smog of course.  Those of you who were at the Austin Teen Book Festival know what I’m talking about.

For my birthday, please visit the HER Foundation and take a moment to learn more about HG.  You may help someone get the treatment that they need.  Remember, HG does not discriminate, pregnant teens can get HG too.

My Brother’s Sweatshirt, a story of HG

This short story is a part of my ongoing efforts to raise awareness of the life threatening pregnancy illness that I suffered in three pregnancies, Hyperemesis Gravidarum.  You can read more about my HG experiences in the HG Awareness portion of TLT.  For more information and support please visit the Hyperemesis and Education Research Foundation (HER Foundation).

Somewhere along the line, I ended up living in Ohio and in possession of my brother’s high school sweatshirt. I wear it everyday to keep my brother close to me (I love and miss him). Plus, it is super comfy.

Years ago, when I lived close to my family, I got to spend a lot of time with my brother. We talked. We hung out. And yes, occasionally we fought. My journey to Ohio was not supposed to last this long. I was young, engaged, and in love. Life circumstances just worked out that it was best for us to go to Ohio for college. Here I am, 18 years later. I have a husband, two amazing kids and a longing in my heart to be with my family that no sweatshirt can satisfy.

In 2006, I found myself pregnant with my second child and seriously, life threateningly ill. I would spend days laying on the bathroom floor with HG (hyperemesis gravidarum). By the end of it, the sweatshirt barely hung off of my frame (I had lost 30 pounds quickly). I had lost so much weight it looked like it was just hanging there on a hanger. I was wearing my brother’s sweatshirt after I was released from the hospital for the second time in 1 week, barely able to lift my head off of my pillow. I was wearing my brother’s sweatshirt when I looked at my 3-year-old child and tried to teach her how to call 911: I had begun passing out and events seemed to suggest I might die. I was so worried what would happen to her if the two of us were alone and it happened. I was wearing my brother’s sweatshirt when our pastor came over and prayed with us about terminating the pregnancy. And yes, I was wearing my brother’s sweatshirt when we learned that our baby was no longer living because he (or she) could not survive the pregnancy that I was barely surviving.

2 years later I wore the sweatshirt again, everyday, through another serious bought of HG.  This time there was home iv therapy, more hospital visits, bed rest, and bleeding complications as my excessive vomiting caused my placenta to begin ripping away from the uterine wall. But in the end, this time, there was joy – our baby Scout.

At 6 weeks old, Scout stopped breathing and turned blue. I was sitting there, wearing my brother’s sweatshirt and pajama bottoms, playing with Kicky on the computer. I looked up and there she was, slowly dying. I grabbed Scout and raced to the hospital, wearing nothing but that sweatshirt and pjs. I rode in the ambulance to children’s in my brother’s sweatshirt. And then I spent night after night, lounging in my brother’s sweatshirt, watching the apnea monitor as I held my baby and I hoped that she would just continue to breathe through one more night.

My brother has hugged my children more times than he will never know through that sweatshirt. He has been with me, in spirit, through some of the best and truly worst moments of my life. He helped me through HG.  The letters on my sweatshirt are all cracking. The front pocket is ripping off. There is a hole in the right sleeve where I once burned it – what, I never said I was an awesome cook.

Every day my brother is with me, in spirit, in this sweatshirt. I told my husband that I wanted to be buried in my brother’s sweatshirt – I think he may wonder if I am serious or not. But I am. My brother and I don’t talk a lot – it is easy to get caught up in life and children and those day to day details that bog you down and suck the wonder and joy out of life. But then every night I get ready for bed, put on my sweatshirt and say my prayers – and I always pray for my brother, his wife, my beautiful nieces. I hope one day my prayers will be answered and some day I will get to move back home, closer to my family. I just hope when I get there, he doesn’t ask for his sweatshirt back 😉

For more of my story, please read The ABCs of HG: an unconventional picture book.

Setting out to fight the HG war, an anonymous guest blog post

Today in the midst of World HG Awareness Day, a friend posted this analogy on her Facebook wall.  All day today us HGers have shared our stories, shared facts, and thanked our loved ones and doctors for walking this HG journey with us.  But, we have also struggled for words to help those outside understand.  Then she posted this analogy and I thought . . . yes . . . exactly.
In a way, by setting out today to raise awareness, we have declared another type of war against HG – a war against misinformation and poor care.
I hope the analogy doesn’t offend anyone – and it might if you’ve never lived through it yourself – but I’ve long thought HG pregnancies are like deployments.
You get your orders (pregnancy test), you know it’s going to suck, but you have a mission to fulfill.
You have to say goodbye to your loved ones, are unable to participate in life for many months, and you live with the full knowledge that yes, you might die, your baby might die, and that many others have given their lives in the fight. 
And even after the pregnancy ends, whether successfully or not, memories and flashbacks will haunt you. 
But… it’s worth it. And it changes you in a way that from that point forward, the people who “get you” the best are very often the other “HG vets” – it creates a lifelong bond. Anyone else who went through the same thing is considered a sister to you. All the women who go through HG are heroes in my eyes.
Thank you all for joining us today and allowing us to share our stories.  Thank you all for being willing to learn about something new.  Thank you all for joining our fight against HG.  You can continue to share the information by directing others to all the HG links under the World HG Awareness Day link or by visiting the Hyperemesis Education and Research Foundation (HER Foundation) at www.helpher.org.