I threw up every day for 9 months when I was pregnant with my daughter six years ago. The medical term for severe morning sickness is “hyperemesis-gravidarum” and until Princess Kate made it evening news, many people didn’t understand how incapacitating it is.
For the first three months, I was bedridden and every morning felt like Groundhog’s Day meets The Hangover. I was supposed to be euphoric but I existed in a torturous, sick twilight zone where my 5am alarm clock was a combination of barfing and diarrhea at once. I used the bathroom garbage pan as my secondary receptacle.
Most books predicted the morning sickness would end by week 14. By week 15, I scoured the Internet for stories of how it would end by 20 weeks and when I was still throwing up at week 30, it had become part of my routine. I hurled all over New York City — behind a dumpster near the Rockefeller Christmas tree, in Central Park on St. Patrick’s Day, and in a cab on the way to my sister’s apartment uptown. I ended up in the ER several times for IV fluids and an overpriced prescription for the anti-nausea medicine, Zofran, which replaced the nausea with blinding migraines… which led to more nausea.
No matter what I ate, it made me nauseated. If something worked to appease me once, it rarely worked a second time. I puked every day, with the last time being minutes before my emergency C-section.
My doctors promised the nausea would end as soon as she was born and it did. I didn’t remember what it felt like to feel normal anymore. I didn’t know what it would be like to enjoy food again. It had been a trigger for my intense misery for 9 months. For the first few months, I reminded myself it was the pregnancy which made me throw up, not food. But my brain didn’t believe me — it was scarred (and scared).
You don’t read about PTSD from endless puking in What to Expect When You’re Expecting but after four years of self-analysis and Sherlock Holmes-ing my varied neuroses together, the shoe seemed to fit. Six years later I’m easily nauseated and still dread many foods, afraid they will cause vomiting. Whenever I smell anything from my pregnancy (which through the course of three seasons in New York City, was EVERYTHING), my hyper-sensitive gag reflex would be stimulated sending me into a spiral of puke paranoia.
One of the symptoms of PTSD is avoiding situations that remind you of the event or trigger memories of the traumatic event. This becomes complicated when food is the evil instigator. Some people suspected I had an eating disorder, but I was never worried about getting fat. In fact, for the first time in my life, I didn’t obsess over my body image. On the contrary, I made silent deals with the Nausea God that I’d take 20 pounds if only he took away nausea.
Sometimes I think this diagnosis is no different than any of my other mental health challenges. I experience a cocktail made of equal parts OCD, hypochondria, anxiety, and panic disorder. The common denominator is fear of death and of losing control. I feel slightly victorious now that I’ve started understanding the mysterious complexities because it has shown me there is hope. However, I equally feel frustrated and impatient. Relief only seems achievable the day I don’t feel this phantom nausea.