Fact: The 3rd trimester of pregnancy begins at week #28, and lasts an average of 10-14 weeks, as measured by standard linear time on a Gregorian calendar.
Fact: The 3rd trimester actually lasts approximately 25 years in time as experienced by women with Hyperemesis Gravidarum. It feels like forever plus another forever on top. Especially when trying to muddle through pregnant life as a productive contributor to the work force.
Disclaimer: Honestly, I’ve been having a tough time writing this post. Another story about a miserable pregnancy? Does anyone even want to read it? It feels perfectly akin to the actual 3rd trimester– I’m mentally taxed/over it, not having so much fun, and mostly I just don’t want to think about Hyperemesis Gravidarum (HG) anymore. Yet just like pregnancy ultimately wasn’t about me, so to is the point of this blog and series. I was there, I know how it felt, I don’t need to read my own story. But remembering how much time I spent searching for accounts of women who had been there and shared their survival stories– that is why I want to post more on this topic. Perhaps there is a woman out there who needs someone to commiserate with. So here we go. Part III.
By the 3rd trimester, all of the totally normal, miserable aspects of pregnancy kicked in- massive discomfort, back pain, sleepless nights, sluggish feet and the actual spawn of satan: heartburn. The adrenaline and excitement of pregnancy that helped me muddle through the first two trimesters of misery waned. The 3rd trimester was like miles #17-25 of a marathon: the finish line was supposedly out there somewhere, but felt like a lie. The fans on the sidelines had thinned, and while they were ostensibly ready and waiting to cheer during the last mile, the loneliness during the home stretch is intense.
Many women with severe HG simply can’t work. They often quit their jobs or perhaps take a leave of absence if their employer has any decency. As I’ve noted before, my HG was firmly in the moderate category, which is to say it was bad enough to ruin everything in my everyday, but not bad enough for me to consider exiting the workforce with any dignity. (Cause you know, Marissa Mayer and all that). I was functional enough that when I got dressed and combed my hair, I looked relatively competent and capable. Yet I was unwell enough that I still cried myself to sleep every night from the persistent nausea and then again every morning when I woke up and had to get dressed and comb my hair again.
The physical surprises/drama of Hyperemesis Gravidarum slowed down in the 3rd trimester; at this point learned my own tipping points and coping mechanisms. But it never went away. In fact one of my favorite pregnancy barfing moments occurred during my 3rd trimester– I dry heaved so violently that I popped blood vessels in my eyeballs. My body was a total circus.
I had this body that had this uterus that was growing this baby, and frankly none of us were getting along.
I was swallowing more pills than food in order to keep down the food that I could only convince myself to eat in order to grow the baby. At work I started buying and drinking fancy, overpriced, flavored nut milks because they were full of fat, protein and calories. At $7.50 a pop, I could hardly look the clerk in the eye when I’d purchase them each morning. But it was one of the easiest ways to get nutrients in to my body without an IV or buying the senior shake, Ensure. It also didn’t aggravate heartburn, so I deem it a $7.50 well spent. Sometimes being silly and lavish was all that got me through the days. (As in the below moment when I tried on a $4k white fur coat).
Aside from the normal pregnancy appointments which naturally ramp up in frequency during the 3rd trimester, I was also going in for regular ultrasounds due to a potentially troublesome velamentous cord insertion that was discovered at 20 weeks. The concern was that the atypical insertion of the cord into the placenta could mean my baby wasn’t getting enough nutrients to grow and develop properly. Regular ultrasounds allowed the OB’s to thoroughly gauge growth and development.
At a time when I was already struggling to gain the appropriate amount of weight due to my ongoing fight with food, worrying about my baby not getting proper nutrients due to a crappy cord just added to my stress and mom guilt (which I discovered begins long before the baby is born). With a robust diet of nut milk and various bland, dry carbs such as pop-tarts (which I will never, ever, eat again!) I already felt like I was failing at giving my baby the “best” start. In fact I can say with almost complete certainty I didn’t eat any leafy greens for my entire pregnancy, and vegetables made it in to my body only by chance. So the cord thing was really a stress I could have lived without.
In addition, I was seeing a cardiologist and a genetics counselor due to my family’s alarming history of heart disease. My mother’s heart started failing upon delivery of me, her 5th child, and she died when I was 21 months old. In addition, one of my siblings experienced heart failure suddenly at age 13, requiring a life-saving emergency transplant. With this type of unpredictable cardiomyopathy in my immediate family history, my midwife wanted me to consult with a cardiologist, who recommended that I have an echocardiogram to ensure all was well with my ticker during the pregnancy. Everything turned out fine, and through genetic testing I learned shortly before my baby was born that I am not a carrier of the primary gene that has been flagged for my family heart troubles, (thus meaning that my baby would not be a carrier either.) Good news there, but spending 8 weeks of my 3rd trimester wondering about those results? That was a side project I could have lived without.
Ugh. Pregnancy was seriously no fun. HG, velamentous cords, genetic heart disease, and good Lord the heartburn. And work.
Looking back on the 3rd trimester I realize what a reprieve my career was. It was a complete and total distraction. When you arrive at work after all of these crazy appointments, you are mentally exhausted but become thoroughly occupied. I didn’t want my colleagues to know how sick and miserable I was, and yet there I was sitting through meetings attempting to listen, lead or contribute as I willed myself not to vomit and/or worry about placentas and hearts and malnourished fetuses. Thankfully, I would end up using most of my mental energy each day trying to ensure that my team was ok, that I had answered my emails, and had not made any terrible decisions.
Often I wished I didn’t work. And yet strangely I know that despite how tough it was to be there, work might have been the only thing that got me through my pregnancy, because it wasn’t about me and my baby and all my drama. It was just work.
In California, you can take up to 4 weeks of leave PRIOR to your predicted due date. (If you live in CA and your employer has told you 2 weeks, trust me and check the fine print.) I originally planned to work until 39 weeks. Then, 38. Finally, I ended up leaving somewhere around 37. I was so tired, and felt that I was no longer adding much value. So after my coworker gave me the sweetest send off ever (a donut-themed baby shower), I waddled home from the office for the last time and began the glamorous waiting period for baby to arrive.
To everyone who says: “enjoy those last few weeks! do fun things, treat yourself, etc, etc.”. Please stop talking and go away. There is nothing remotely appealing about galavanting around when you are full-term. Such things are the opposite of fun when a watermelon is affixed to your belly. Leaving the house once a day was my only goal. I would take long walks over the hills of San Francisco, trying to keep my spirits up and get the baby down and out.
The best part about those final weeks before my baby was born was being at home in my pajamas, on my couch. While work was a major benefit due to distraction, I can’t deny that the amount of rest and care I was able to give to myself and my baby-growing-body at home made an enormous difference in HG management as I neared the end. Though admittedly I did get a little bored and antsy as I waited, and waited, for the baby to come.
My 3rd trimester dragged on, I made the very poor mental mistake of deciding my baby was going to come early. At first I hoped for a March baby, despite the due date of April 7th. March came and went, so I decided that April 4th, which would have been 4/4/14, was a nice birthday. Yes, my brain had decided this was when it was going to happen. (In hindsight I don’t recommend deciding a due date for your baby). 4/4 came and went without so much as a Braxton-Hicks contraction. I was quite literally disappointed. So then I focused on my real due date, 3 days days later. I was absolutely mystified when I hit and then passed my due date. Every pregnant woman I knew of in my work and social circles were having babies early, what was mine thinking?
As April 8th, 9th and 10th passed (each day lasting at least 5 orders of magnitude longer than the one before in pregnancy-brain time) I would answer texts from thoughtful friends and family all around who were wondering what was going on. (I was guilty of false advertising, telling the world about my early baby.) More days passed with my little parasite happily kicking around in my spa-like uterus. I became certain that I would be the first woman to be pregnant forever. FOREVER.
But all pregnancies do end. And mine was not the exception. I baked that bun an extra 10 days past due, but she did eventually decide to join us. My water broke in Hollywood-like fashion, signaling the start of labor. (Did you know that only about 10% of women begin labor with their water breaking?) Unfortunately, labor was when my Hyperemesis Gravidarum would rear it’s ugly head with unprecedented strength, as if giving birth wasn’t enough to survive. Stay tuned, it’s a good story.
Coming soon: Labor & Delivery with HG.
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