When I heard the news that the Duchess of Cambridge, formerly Kate Middleton was less than 12 weeks pregnant and hospitalized for “extreme morning sickness,” I prayed that she was spared the mistreatment that so many sufferers of the same rare illness, hyperemesis gravidarum (HG), have endured.
Often others suggest that we must be exaggerating our symptoms, tell us to “eat crackers and drink ginger ale,” and fail to diagnose our HG until we are so ill as to need hospitalization. That’s what happened to me when I suffered HG for the first time—and the consequences were devastating.
I was 25 years old and pregnant with my first child. Even though the pregnancy was unplanned, it brought me and my husband tremendous unplanned joy. Early, however, it was clear that something was wrong. My morning sickness wasn’t just in the morning—it was all day, every day.
When I kept telling my doctor that I was nauseous all the time and vomiting too much, she thought I was being dramatic. She told me I needed to eat more and that I would be fine. But by the time I was three months into the pregnancy, it was clear that something was seriously wrong. My doctor at the time failed to properly hydrate me and provide parenteral nutrition. These things were necessary and available in my case, but I was naïve. I didn’t know that I could be fed through a PICC line or hydrated in my home. I simply wasn’t told.
Without the proper care, by four months into the pregnancy, I had lost 14 percent of my total body weight. I couldn’t eat or drink. I had liver dysfunction and jaundice. Starved and dehydrated, I began to have visual and auditory hallucinations.
Ultimately, I couldn’t work, walk, hold a conversation, read, watch TV, sit up, or do anything but lie still. Otherwise, I would vomit. There were no nausea-free periods, and life was a living nightmare.
As if HG wasn’t bad enough my doctor and her colleagues, always suspicious of the unplanned nature of my pregnancy, decided my illness must be psychosomatic: my body was, they said, unconsciously rebelling against an “unwanted” child. So they totally disregarded my and my husband’s desire for our baby.
My husband couldn’t help me. He thought I was either going to die or suffer permanent physical and emotional damage. Everyone around us was telling us how abnormal my condition was, except for the doctors, who weren’t telling us anything.
After months of terrible suffering, I woke up one morning and just snapped. With my husband’s consent, I made an appointment and did the only thing I thought I could do to save my life and health: I had a second-trimester abortion.
Morally, my husband and I had few qualms about abortion.
Our church, family, and friends supported abortion, and we did too. But when it was over and the reality set in we were horrified that we had aborted our child.
When I was well enough to do in-depth research—not easy in those days before medical information was readily available on the internet—I discovered the truth: With the right treatment, exacerbation of symptoms can be prevented, women can survive, and we can give birth to healthy children.
Nearly 15 years have passed, along with three more HG pregnancies—the second a miscarriage, and the others bringing forth my son and daughter. The last pregnancy was the most difficult one of all, as the severity was much worse, I developed a potentially life-threatening staph infection from my life-saving PICC line, and I was completely bedridden for more than thirty unbelievably long weeks.
I wanted a way out, an easier way than suffering through it all. But ultimately I chose to risk my own death rather than endure the trauma of a second termination. I pressed on because of my faith in Christ and his promise to walk me through the fire. He modeled the choice I should make, and I could do all things through Him, even if it meant losing my own life. He is faithful.
What helps me now is being able to help others. In 2006, I published “Beyond Morning Sickness: Battling Hyperemesis Gravidarum,” the first-ever patient’s guide to HG. I also started a companion Web site, BeyondMorningSickness.com, that ministers to HG sufferers by connecting them with volunteers who have survived the disease. Over the past five years, with help from exposure on Paula Zahn’s CNN show, my volunteers and I have helped more than a thousand women. We’ve also donated two thousand copies of BMS, mostly to obstetricians’ and gynecologists’ offices. In an effort to help children deal with “Mother’s HG I also wrote “Mama Has Hyperemesis Gravidarum (But Only For A While),” the only children’s book about HG. My third book about HG will be published next month. We must never forget the women who come after us; we must never let them suffer alone. They must see our success and know without a doubt that it can be their own.
I have learned to be grateful for my horrific pregnancy experiences, because God used them to enable me to be able to serve others in a meaningful way. I have been in the delivery room with mothers and witnessed the birth of children who had previously been scheduled for abortion. What a blessing it has been to watch new moms cry tears of joy as they see their babies for the first time. Indeed, those are the only tears a mother should cry.
Ashli Foshee McCall, a stay-at-home home-schooling mother who battled severe hyperemesis gravidarum four times, is author of " Beyond Morning Sickness," which features personal stories and medical information about the disease. She is also author of “Mama Has Hyperemesis Gravidarum (But Only For A While),” a childrens’ book.