3 months ago I had a baby. A baby I didn't know I could have. A few years ago I had Hodgkin's lymphoma and I underwent 6 months of chemotherapy. I was told it was possible that I wouldn't be able to have kids, and that was all well and good with me. So like Stalin, I had all these detailed 5-year plans in place; and as with all my plans, life had other ideas.
I got pregnant.
I should have known I was pregnant, but being in denial is a very prominent trait of mine when I choose to ignore glaring facts.
Discovering the Pregnancy
The week before I found out I was pregnant, I found it strange that I wasn't having the typical symptoms I usually have when I'm PMS-y. I wasn't as angry, and I was craving fruit instead of chocolate as I usually do. So I was eating an apple every morning, and grapes through the day instead of scarfing down bags of chips and candy bars like I needed the energy to escape from zombies during the apocalypse. It was also during this week that Kuma (our dog) started sniffing my belly everytime I played with him. I joked with Pinata that maybe I was pregnant, and we had a good laugh about it.
Towards the end of that week, I developed a rash on my neck which I thought was heat stroke, but over the next week it just got bigger and badder, and spread all the way down my chest. Thankfully I own an obscene amount of concealer and foundation!
The following week was chockfull of events! I was more tired than usual, but I pegged it down to my odd sleeping hours and having so many commitments. Work was in full swing, and there were events ongoing from Tuesday-Saturday. I was exhausted!
On Wednesday, I made a trip to Mitsui Outlet Park for Zalora's store launch, and I was completely conked out before I left. It took a Herculean effort to get out of bed, but I did...and I covered up the horrifying rash that was beginning to resemble leprosy.
[The Zalora Launch with Janice at Mitsui Outlet Park]
On Thursday, a couple of friends came over with cake! A "Happy Unbirthday" cake. We even had a discussion where I boldly proclaimed that I would never have kids because I'm not a fan of screaming monsters. I even showed them my new organiser in which I was using a little hedgehog sticker to denote my menstrual due date every month. My body is like clockwork, and I had an extremely regular cycle (TMI) so I was a bit annoyed that my period was late as it was due that day itself.
[A Premonition, Perhaps?]
This is truly one of my favourite cakes ever. It's so damn good but I could hardly look at it as I had a rather uncharacteristic aversion to sweets.
That night, Nars had their launch party for their new store in Mid Valley, and there I was.
[Nars Launches their Mid Valley Branch]
The next morning, I woke up, and still no period despite having cramps. I looked at the rash (something I had never experienced before), and the culminating evidence at hand and decided that the unthinkable may have happened. I had lunch with my family, and knowing that I may have to give up coffee for the foreseeable future, I got an extra strong iced latte from Caffe Crema (the best coffee joint in KL), but it tasted a little off to me. I asked if they were using different beans, and they said no. The rash was just as distressing to my family, but I had a feeling it was the result of being pregnant. So, I got a home pregnancy test.
Now, these things tell you that you have to wait a few minutes for the results, and that the lines will get darker over time.
I went home and at 4 or 5 pm, I took the test and I didn't have to wait at all. The results were instant. Two blue lines that will change your life forever.
Panic? Yes. What did I do? Go play with the dog and ask him what the hell I was going to do. Who the hell is ready to have a child ever?
[And so it begins...]
The minute I saw the two lines, I knew there was no way I was going to do anything but have the baby. I messaged Pinata and told him to pick up another test on his way home, just in case. It also finally made sense why Kuma had been sniffing my belly over the last two weeks!
Pinata came home with 2 additional tests (because if there's any test you get to retake multiple times, this is it), and the second one gave me results even quicker, and the lines were even darker. It's safe to say that I was freaking out.
The next morning, I took the third test and the lines were even darker. How these tests work is that they measure the progesterone levels in your pee, and they tend to be highest in the morning which is why you're encouraged to do the test first thing in the morning. It may also be why morning sickness is named as such, because nausea is linked to progesterone levels.
We had the talk the night before and decided we would definitely be keeping the baby, and so I went ahead with the last event for the week: Laneige's Beauty Road.
[Laneige's Beauty Road 2015 with Carol]
It was after the event that I told Carol about the pregnancy and she practically started planning my baby shower then and there! Of course, at this point I was under the delusion that the tests were wrong and that when I saw the doctor on Monday to confirm it, she would say the tests could be inaccurate.
That was not the case. The following Monday, I was promptly informed of the fact that she didn't even need to test me because those tests are extremely accurate. She congratulated me and sent me on my way with a referral to an OB/GYN.
The First Trimester
That week, the nausea started. By this point, I was actively trying to be healthier, so I started eating better and planning to exercise more.
The following Wednesday, I had my first appointment with the Gynae my mum recommended. I was a little shocked when I got to Dr. Wong Wai Ping's clinic in Pantai. The nurses were shouting like it was a Taiwanese fish market. I figured he came very highly recommended, so it would be fine. I told him I was extremely nauseous and was still having cramps. He did an ultrasound but couldn't see anything in my uterus so he suggested that it may be an ectopic pregnancy that was causing the cramps. He also informed me that I had a tilted uterus and I should lie on my stomach so that it would flip over.
An ectopic pregnancy is one where the fertilised egg doesn't travel all the way down to the uterus and gets stuck in the Fallopian tube along the way. The only resolution for this is to terminate the pregnancy because there's no way to actually move the egg and as it grows it could potentially permanently main or kill the person carrying it. I was told to come back the following week.
I spent that week horribly worried that there was a problem with the pregnancy, all the while getting more and more nauseous with each passing day.
When Kelly invited me to a yoga event, I promptly accepted even though I was quite nauseous and extremely exhausted all the time. I wanted to be one of those happy, healthy preggos! In hindsight, I'm pretty sure I heard the universe laugh at me.
The following week, I went back to check on whether it was in fact an ectopic pregnancy. Dr. Wong still couldn't find anything on the traditional ultrasound and informed me he would be doing an internal ultrasound. I didn't even know that such a thing existed. How do they do this? Through the use of what can only be called an ultrasound dildo. If your reaction is "What the fuck?", join the club. I gave Pinata the most horrified look and I suspect he was trying very hard not to laugh.
And there it was, the little pea-sized creature that my body was trying to vomit out!
[The First Picture of Megatron - 12/08/2015]
I was informed that my levels of progesterone and nausea suggested that it may have been a multiple pregnancy (cue a second horrified look shot at Pinata), but thankfully a thorough search for more foreign objects revealed nothing. There was just one!
Dr. Wong prescribed multiple forms of progesterone for me to take in order to protect the foetus, and being naive and clearly inexperienced with pregnancy, I went with it.
That afternoon I had a speaking engagement at the Filipino embassy, and dinner with friends.
[Dinner that Night]
This was week 6 of my pregnancy, and my friends were really excited about it all. I was just trying not to tip over into nausea and unconsciousness at any given moment.
The next week, it began. The nausea escalated to the point where I was feeling sick all the time, all day everyday. I would go to work, and promptly come back and pass out on the couch until my next class. Every single day, it would escalate further.
Dr. Wong's appointment schedule was very odd as he called me back every week. I kept going too, and he kept making me take more and more progesterone despite the fact that I was getting more nauseous. He even put me on progesterone injections.
Now it is a well-known fact that nausea tends to be a sign of a healthy pregnancy. I have never been pregnant before, so I assumed this was normal.
However, it got to the point where I would go to work and have to hold my breath to stop from puking. After classes I would throw up in the closest garbage bin. I also became unable to function within a couple of weeks.
I'm a stickler for keeping my kitchen spotless, and I take issue with going to bed before all the dishes are done, but they started piling up for days, and the house started falling to ruin because I simply couldn't function. Going to work was more than I could manage, and within a couple of weeks I had to stop that too because I was simply too sick to do anything. Any movement would make me throw up, so I was basically lying on the couch, trying to figure out how women functioned if pregnancy was like this.
Why Was I So Sick?
I stopped being able to eat or drink. Even water made me throw up, and I was getting increasingly more dehydrated. At this point, I was still on progesterone supplements.
[The Second Picture of Megatron - 24/08/2015]
At some point, the state of the house started to cause friction between Pinata and myself. Everything was in disarray, and I could barely get off the couch. I'm sure he thought I was milking the pregnancy for all it was worth because most people are still completely functional throughout their pregnancy.
After a couple of weeks of this unbearable state, Google finally gave me an answer. No, it wasn't normal. I wasn't suffering from your run-of-the-mill pregnancy symptoms. Everything I had fit the diagnosis of hyperemeis gravidarum (HG). I instantly sent the link to Pinata and told him this is what it was. He recognised the symptoms and instantly got on board with the fact that we had to sort this out. By this stage I was already on Maxolon (metaclopramide) every 8 hours, a drug I remember well from my days of chemo. It's only effective if taken on time, and I was taking it on time but still couldn't quite function.
[The Horrors of Hyperemesis]
By this stage, I was so dehydrated because I simply couldn't keep anything down, that I was peeing what looked like Tang. It was bright orange and rather horrifying. The very next day we went back to Dr. Wong's office. Now let me put something into context. At every single appointment, I would be given a specific time to be there, usually 10 or 11 am, or even noon latest. And no matter how early I got there, I would have to wait until 1 something in the afternoon to see the doctor. So being barely functional and unable to get out of bed for my 11 am appointment, I turned up at 1:30 (the time at which I saw the doctor after waiting for 2-3 hours the last couple of times), and got yelled at by the nurses!
In any event, I was so severely dehydrated so they had to put me on a dextrose drip to replenish some fluids. I had been getting increasingly more ill since my 7th week of pregnancy, but the doctor insisted I still had to carry on with the progesterone. I was also told that if nothing else, I needed to start consuming copious amounts of sugar because that's what your foetus in the first trimester thrives on. Cue the cravings for all my childhood favourites: Ribena, Capri-Sonne, Lucozade, etc. I was also given antibiotics because the dehydration had given me a UTI. I was horrified because I had never ever had one prior to this. I did ask to be put on Zofran (ondansetron) for the nausea, which was reported to be extremely effective, but Dr. Wong discouraged it because there are still cases ongoing in which it has been pinpointed in the shortening of limbs in foetuses. So yes, I agreed it wasn't worth the risk and stuck to Maxalon.
The baby was fine, as well. It was just me. Hyperemesis rarely affects a foetus unless you die. They will strip everything they need from your body to survive so the only person really at risk was me. In fact, Charlotte Bronte is suspected to have died of hyperemesis based on reports of her pregnancy. I can't imagine being in a time where it's an unrecognised illness. It would be beyond isolating.
After the drip, I felt a little better. I had a touch more energy and managed to keep a little Ribena down. But I went home and over the next few days I was back to square one.
Let me paint you a picture of what my days looked like by this stage. Just getting out of bed every morning required a Herculean effort. Showering was almost impossible some days, and washing my hair wasn't even a concept I could entertain for the foreseeable future. I couldn't stand for very long because I had no energy and I would feel nauseous. I also couldn't use my phone or the computer, watch TV or listen to the music I loved because it would all make me nauseous. All I could do was lie on the couch and contemplate my circumstances. I couldn't even be near Pinata. I was so sensitive to any scent that we couldn't cook at home and I couldn't be within a metre of my own husband. He doesn't have body odour, but for some reason, his scent would send waves of nausea through me and I would run to the bathroom to throw up. So we would have to have conversations while sitting on different couches, and he had to sleep on the couch for over a month.
The thing is, even though Kate Middleton suffered from hyperemesis through both her pregnancies, it's still a disease that not everyone recognises or acknowledges as a real thing. People think you're being a whiner, and it's just morning sickness. It's really not. I went through chemo and the nausea and sickness that resulted from that. Trust me when I tell you that hyperemesis was infinitely worse because you can't see an end in sight. One poor woman I read about on a forum had hers go on throughout her pregnancy, and it lasted up to 2 weeks after she gave birth as well! Factually speaking, there wasn't a day I didn't wonder if it was worth keeping the baby because it was a struggle to even do the most mundane things. I couldn't eat, shower, socialise, work, etc. I was practically an invalid. A waste of space, and it was driving me mad.
After my experience at Dr. Wong's clinic, I decided that I needed a new doctor because I simply couldn't deal with his nurses. My sister-in-law recommended Dr. Guna at KPJ Damansara. I went in a week after and he promptly diagnosed my hyperemesis and hospitalised me for 2 nights. He initially told me it would just be one night because I was slightly hesitant to be hospitalised. At this point, the aftermath of the chemo still made me feel sick everytime someone inserted a drip into me (conditioning is strong indeed)!
So, I spent 2 nights in hospital getting pumped full of 9 pints of fluids. The first night, I wouldn't stop throwing up. It was a challenge to wrangle the drip everytime I needed to go puke, but I was successful! Cleanliness 1 - Hyperemesis 0! At this stage of my pregnancy, I was running on empty and basically puking up bile and blood because my esophagus has been scraped raw by the acids. By the third day however, I was able to eat a little porridge without throwing it back up. In order to get the nausea under control, Dr. Guna did give me half doses of Zofran but promptly stopped there. He wouldn't send me home with any, and I didn't ask him to.
Before I left, my doctor told me I had a 48 hour window to bolster myself by eating a little more before it would likely relapse, and he was right. 2 days later, I was back to hyperemesis central. I was also advised by him to consume drinks high in sugar content, and take a guess what has the most horrifying level of sugar. SNAPPLE! Seriously, it contains 50 or more grams of sugar per bottle and I managed to drink a bottle over a couple of days. I also discovered that I could eat lightly buttered microwave popcorn in small portions. So, I would pop a bag and eat it over 2-3 days. It also helps to freeze things for consumption, so I ate a lot of non-dairy popsicles and they made me very happy. The ice helps to stall your gag reflex so it's worth a shot!
Through all of this, the ultrasounds showed that the baby was fine. None of what I was going through was taking a toll on it and I was slightly resentful. Anyone who tells you pregnancy is the best thing in the world is a liar and an asshole. Seriously. When I meet women who don't even have morning sickness, I secretly will their children to be difficult because it's just not fair!
When the ultrasound above was taken, they also did tests for defects in the baby. I was so sick by this stage that I actually wanted it all to be over and I knew that if there was a defect I would terminate the pregnancy. The thing with hyperemesis is that you don't know if it will go away at all during your pregnancy, and even if it does, it may come back again. I can try to describe it in this excessively long post, but I cannot do justice to just how bad it is.
A couple of times through all this, I would feel better and I would try to get off Maxalon, or I would skip a dose here or there. The results were disastrous. I would relapse into extreme sickness for days after. So yes, it really is necessary to take the medication on the dot every 8 hours.
The Second Trimester
A week later I got the results of the testing and there were no signs of defects in the baby. And so, it continued. However, there was an interesting development prior to the results turning up. The day after my third trimester ended, I was suddenly hungry and tried to eat something. I actually managed to keep it down and was beyond overjoyed.
I don't think I could have survived this pregnancy without my mum. The minute I managed to eat something, she would send me food everyday. She'd ask me what I wanted to eat every morning and deliver it to me with paper plates and plastic cutlery. At this stage, however, the thought of meat and milk was still nausea-inducing, so neither of those was happening. She would send me a meal every morning and I'd eat it over the course of the day which helped. There were days where I would be sicker than others, but it was a relief to finally be able to eat. I was ravenous and by this stage I had lost 13 kg. Quite the crash diet. One where an alien lives in you.
Seriously, ultrasounds are just weird. Half the time I have no idea what's going on in the picture. It's like they're giving you a Rorschach test every month!
Because all this wasn't enough, over the course of the first trimester I developed severe body-wide itchiness. I would be scratching all day, every day. My doctor did prescribe some antihistamines, but I was reluctant to take them because I was worried they would make the foetus drowsy and not allow it to develop its limbs as much. In any event, by this stage I already knew it was a girl we'd be having.
And then, I finally felt well enough to leave the house to meet my friends! It was also my first meal out in two whole months, and my first bite of meat in ages!
The second trimester was wonderful! I was back to being able to eat. Not as much as before, but it was a relief. I could go out, and while I gave up coffee, I did start drinking moderate quantities of tea again.
It was also at some point around the middle of my second trimester that I started feeling definitive kicks and punches, and I could see her moving around on occasion. It was truly a very odd thing to encounter. You're never quite prepared for how evidence of another person living in you feels. No, it isn't always comfortable when they kick. She seemed to be very content to just sit on my bladder because it was warm or something, so I would constantly have to pee. I would go and pee, and then need to pee right after because she would decide to kick me in the bladder. It felt like I had a ninja in me.
[3D Ultrasound - 23/11/2015]
Towards the end of November, we got our 3D ultrasound of Megatron, and she seemed all well and good in there. I once read an article where women go home crying because their baby is so ugly in the 3D ultrasound. People are insane. What's funny is that fast forward to today and she still has the same pose in the world as she did in the womb!
At some point during my second trimester, I started having really bad cramps, but when I went in, I was told that all was well. They felt like menstrual cramps, but there wasn't any bleeding which would have been a dead giveaway that something was wrong.
[Coffee Bean's Peppermint Hot Chocolate for Christmas]
My doctor cleared me to travel during the first week of December as well, and I took a trip to Sri Lanka with my parents. I didn't really look pregnant, but I got a letter from my doctor saying I could travel just in case.
[Family Holiday to Colombo, Sri Lanka]
[Back When I Could Still Have Tea...]
The second trimester was truly a breeze. Yes, I had backaches and I was still itchy enough for people to ask me if I was okay. I also had some weird bruising on my arms and thighs which looked like Pinata was beating me, and I had a lot of fun teasing him about it. He was not amused. They did test for whether there was anything going on with the baby based on the bruising, but she was fine. It was just another fun side effect of my pregnancy; Megatron's first acts of attempted matricide.
The Third Trimester
A week into my third trimester, I was getting more exhausted than ever, and one day after eating, I felt uncontrollably nauseous and puked everything back up. I was literally in tears because my assumption was that the hyperemesis was back and I simply didn't know how I would deal with it.
So I consulted my best friend (Google), and it seemed that by this stage it's very likely that Megatron was getting bigger and was simply pressing against my stomach making it difficult for me to eat. Thankfully, this was precisely it. I learned to eat tiny meals over the course of the day instead of giant meals.
It was only in January that I really got a baby bump. I could still get away with people just assuming I was fat with baggy clothing, though. We had a lot of fun plotting against the baby at this point, and we even got her a little Sonny Angel mascot because she was such a bad luck in choosing them!
(Picture Courtesy of Maggi)
By this stage, I was deathly uncomfortable. I was having terrible backaches as well as excruciating hip pains all day, every day. Not to mention the fact that there's a bowling ball pressing on your bladder. To make matters worse, my particular bowling ball kept kicking me in the bladder at very inopportune moments.
It was also only in the third trimester that Pinata started to feel the baby's kicks. For some reason, prior to this, everytime he would touch my belly, she would pretend she wasn't home. And she wouldn't stop moving. She'd just kick me, and poke her bits and bobs out so there would be one distended lump on one side.
The mascot even made an appearance at my baby shower on the 21st of February.
(Pictures Courtesy of Maggi)
[Hera Angel at My Baby Shower]
[The girls who were there through the worst of it all!]
[The man who did this to me...]
These pictures were taken less than a week before Megatron was born. She popped out 6 weeks early (stay tuned for the next post for more details), right after I told Pinata I was so uncomfortable that I was ready to evict her!
Was It Worth It?
Over the course of my first trimester when I couldn't get out of bed, let alone the house, some of the people closest to me actually came to visit to cheer me up, and it really did help. You guys know who you are, so thank you for that. Their excitement over my pregnancy and the fact that they would be incredibly supportive when I needed an ear at the worst of times was invaluable.
Quite frankly, if you don't have a support structure, hyperemesis would be hell on steroids. I was barely able to get through it, and yet I had incredibly supportive family, friends and a spouse who went out of his way to make sure I was as comfortable as could be.
Through it all, you just need to keep the end goal in mind. Even with everything I went through, I don't regret having Megatron at all, and she was well worth the excruciating pain and discomfort of it all. If you're going through hyperemesis, just know that you're not alone, and there are others out there who haven't died from it. Eating and drinking helps, so try to keep whatever you can down.
It may not be the best thing in the world, but if Coke is all you can keep down (not cocaine...cocaine would be pushing your luck), just drink Coke. And if any of those hippie mothers tell you how bad it is for the baby, and other such nonsense, just puke on them...preferably while they're still speaking. I subsisted on a diet of popcorn, Snapple and popsicles for a few weeks with no adverse effects to the baby, so do what you can to keep yourself hydrated and somewhat fuelled.
More importantly, if you can't do it, don't beat yourself up. Plenty of women have had abortions because of this, and there's no shame in it. You have a choice at the end of the day, but keep in mind that it's because there's so much progesterone that your baby is probably extremely healthy. So make an informed choice, and know that from personal experience, it is worth it. After all, once you've gone through this, the recovery from labour will be a breeze. I'll be discussing this in my next post, but compared to the whole hyperemesis madness, my c-section was a walk in the park.