It began with a desperate email to a woman obsessed:
"I can't take the HG anymore. I'm finished. Done. It has to end. I have an appointment in three days. I'm pretty sure I'm going to need someone to talk to when it's over. Do you think I could talk to you?"
It is not uncommon for me to receive email detailing individual struggles with the varying degrees of hyperemesis gravidarum (HG). They come from Australia, England, Germany, Hong Kong, all over the globe. I'm consumed with information on HG. I get and give what details I can whenever I can. Online, I've managed somewhat to put myself in the HG "mix", because my child was horribly finished, and I am gripped with purpose. Tragedy and cause go hand in hand, and I can relate to people like the late Maimie Bradley (Emmett Till's mother) who said, "The murder of my son has shown me that what happens to any of us, anywhere in the world, had better be the business of us all." I make it my business; I want to be the advocate I never had. When they come looking, I want to be found. And find me she did...
The email described total parenteral nutrition: she had a tube running through her arm and into a large vein a few inches from her heart. "Digested" formula flowed through this tube and fed her blood directly. This is how she had been living for several weeks, because she had severe HG and vomited an average of 25 times a day. Vomiting blood had become a casual affair, and incredibly, people blamed her for her condition suspecting that she was a whiner or that, down deep inside, she really didn't want a "surprise" baby. Physicians offered options that would keep her alive, but they were less interested in helping her manage the physical crisis of vomiting over 1,200 times in the last 7 weeks of her first trimester alone. Most people don't vomit that much in an entire lifetime. Still she tried to get a second opinion but was told nothing more could be done. Evidently she was getting the "best" care available, but sadly, it wasn't enough. Work became as impossible as life started to seem. Enough was enough. "Uncle" already.
In a long and rambling reply to her email I agreed to be there for her after the abortion but tried to explain what my life has been like since I threw in the towel and made the same decision. Can you imagine describing to a person in her physical state that what she was going through was nothing compared to having her health but not the child she had long since lost sight of? It couldn't have been at all coherent to her, not at her particular juncture. Though necessary, a warning will never have as much power as an option, but I had a few of those too.
I am furious that I (a person with a degree in elementary education) was able to offer a sick mother positive medical options that her doctors could or would not. This was serious business. Life was on the line any way you spun it. This woman needed the kind of real options that slogans and paternal pats simply don't provide. You can't give a Hallmark card to a person in hell and expect it to put out the fire; you have to have a hose and a LOT of water.
I had three days to offer a real option and that was all. That was the deal. One day over that limit and she would have to go five hours away to the same abortion facility that I went to when I lost my first child for the same reason. The pressure was on. I admit I didn't want her child to die, but at the crux of my concern was this sad, sick woman who no longer resembled herself (emotionally or physically) and who believed she had no choice. It was for her I sweated bullets. My silent mantra was not: "Don't kill your baby," it was: "Don't end up like me." I wanted to help her reduce her loss not increase it. That's what love is; it leaves no one behind.
She consented to see a new OB who agreed to try a slightly controversial drug therapy. Worlds rested on a few studies and an unlikely hypothesis, but it worked. Thank God in heaven it worked. It didn't cure the HG, but it was enough to go on. It was the hope she thought had been lost.
Three years ago a little girl was born one fine February day. I watched as her blonde head crowned, and I knew that in some special sense my own first pregnancy was finally being brought to term; staggering grief was bearing tremendous joy. I saw the mother vomit for the last time; I saw the daughter breathe for the first. For them, it was the end of HG and the beginning of the life my family could have had if I had been lucky enough to send a desperate email to a woman obsessed.
Thank you, Melissa, for those three days. I will cherish and carry them with me for the rest of my life.
HAPPY BIRTHDAY, KELSEY! Your life is such an incredible gift!