I am a non-descript, forty-something, suburban mom. I wear yoga pants, messy buns, and Uggs to accompany my kids to dance classes, band practices, and school trips. I have a toddler, we go to the park. I have a husband too, who happens to be a veteran of these here United States.

I am a working, contributing member of society and I am also an avid cannabis user.

I started smoking in my teens, with friends, at parties, easing my uptight mind. We have been loyal companions ever since. As a working class woman of color, therapy hasn’t always been accessible to me. Even with health insurance, psychiatric or therapeutic coverage is extremely limited.

For me, marijuana has been a life saving drug in more ways than one but, I’m here to talk about my experience with hyperemesis and medicating with marijuana through my pregnancy.

pregnant stomach

Before I begin, I concede medical marijuana research is virtually nonexistent and much of the current research is contradictory and biased depending on who may be sponsoring the research. What is indisputable is that cannabis has a multitude of medicinal purposes and beneficial qualities.

Even more compelling, “As the Drug Enforcement Administration notes, nobody has ever died of a marijuana overdose. But aggressive enforcement of drug laws has led to some deaths.”

There is a ton of stigma and bias around the use of cannabis but not a lot of information on the benefits and risks. This is a shame because it saved both me and my baby. It was a viable option for us, every pregnant person should have access to this information.

Hyperemesis – a severe type of nausea during pregnancy – took over my life. The unrelenting vomiting was so intense I had to be hospitalized. The nurse practitioner who examined me upon arrival, mentioned my potassium levels being, “dangerously low,” as they rushed to get my vomiting under control. In extreme cases, hyperemesis can cause dehydration. In my case, I hadn’t been able to eat anything solid in days nor was I able to take even a single sip of water for at least 24 hours.

If I had waited, even another hour longer, the doctor said, “you could have went into cardiac arrest and died.”

In the hospital, I was given an IV drip to replace my fluids and doses of Zofran to get the nausea under control. I was told this medication had the potential to cause cleft palate in my baby but my case was pretty extreme and since cases showed the risk was small at my stage of pregnancy, we continued on that course of treatment.

When they finally sent me home, they prescribed me an alternative but, asked that I Use it, “sparingly, only when necessary.”

GlaxoSmithKline, the makers of Zafron paid $3billion to settle with women who used the drug during pregnancy and reported having babies with:

  • cleft palates and lips
  • club feet
  • heart defects
  • Craniosynostosis – a condition in which the skull is abnormally shaped and may not have enough space for the brain, which can cause vision problems, eating issues and mental impairment

I was afraid to take the medicine prescribed but I knew without it, I couldn’t keep the nausea and vomiting under control. Determined to find an alternative, that would keep my baby safe and still provide real results, I went home and began some heavy research. I threw the prescription away and turned to my oldest and most reliable friend. For the first time since my positive pregnancy test, I packed a bowl full of marijuana and smoked it.

“Prospective studies that have examined women at regular and frequent intervals during pregnancy, in general, have not found a relationship between marijuana use and birth weight (Day NL, Sambamoorthi U, Taylor P, et al: unpublished data, 1990)”

 

I finally found relief from the constant waves of nausea and subsequent vomiting that had plagued and endangered us for weeks. I ate something without feeling ill for the first time in days. I drank fully and felt that my thirst had, finally, been quenched.

I did my homework and dug up as many scholarly articles on medical marijuana research I could find. I knew, “Most studies have reported finding no relationship with either minor or major morphologic abnormalities.”

The College of Obstetrics and Pediatrics warns women to abstain from Marijuana during pregnancy. However, I did a lot of my own research and I learned about different strains and what made some beneficial for specific symptoms.

I figured out what was good for me and I stuck with it throughout my pregnancy. The key was finding a strain that had the right balance between 9-THC and CBD, enough to control my nausea and vomiting.

CBD qualities

To my extreme relief, it worked, I stopped vomiting all together until the day I went into labor and that was from the pain. I was able to eat well, stay hydrated, enjoy the rest of my pregnancy, without experiencing any type of severe nausea again.

My child was born full term, a healthy 6lbs 8oz, the second heaviest of all my kids!

My labor and delivery was fast and furious but otherwise completely natural and the baby healthy. Her latch was instantaneous and we nursed quite voraciously. It was grueling but uneventful really. In hindsight, I recognize how absolutely wonderous this is. It was a powerful and humbling experience.

They did find traces of marijuana in my child’s system and tried to persecute me for it.

I was told I could not leave the hospital, with my child, until I was cleared to do so by child protective services. I was forced to stay another day. I had to save my baby’s diapers for testing and I was made to feel negligent. All while being told how perfectly healthy and beautiful my child was by every medical professional who saw us. No doctor who came to speak to me about the situation berated or insulted me. They kept saying, “the state requires we report this but if it were up to me, I would send you home.”

CPS took their time and when they did finally arrive, they interrogated me like a criminal.

I was exactly three days post partum, I hadn’t slept well, nor had I seen my other children in days. I was still healing, still bleeding, still raw and emotional and I was told if I left I could not to take my baby with me until the investigation was complete.

I was afraid.

I agreed to let CPS in to my home so they could ensure it was safe enough for the kids and I was forced to follow up with them within the month or be dragged to court for noncompliance. This experience was like a dark, ominous cloud hanging over my happiness. I was made to come into an office several times to provide urine samples. Despite all of my collected samples coming up clean they still tried to pressure me into a drug rehabilitation program.

They recommended 3 months of addiction rehabilitation services that would see me away from my home, my newborn child, and my other children for 5 days a week. They failed to notify me my urine was clean or that entering this program was a choice. This is because these programs, much like our prisons, are privatized and the state gets money for every person they “refer”  to these programs. In doing research for this article, it was impossible to find any concrete numbers on how many women of color are forced into similar programs just for cannabis use.

Had I decided to give in and resign myself to following the “rules,” I would have been torn from my newborn baby, five days every week for the first 3 months of our lives together. An organization calling themselves “Child Protective Services” would have been perfectly ok with that.

The only reason I learned this wasn’t mandatory, my urine was clean, and therefore I was under no obligation to comply was because I decided to fight it. When we called our case worker to inform him that we would be retaining a lawyer, he advised none of it would be necessary.

The case would be closed.

I feel fortunate it didn’t turn out worse. I know hundreds of thousands of women who are not as “fortunate” as me. They are, right now, fighting to get free from under CPS control. Still, the mark is there, a file in the system, like a blazing scarlet ‘A’ hanging over my head.

The  system loves to punish people of color for cannabis use.

  • Marijuana use is roughly equal among Blacks and whites, yet Blacks are 3.73 times as likely to be arrested for marijuana possession.
  • Between 2001 and 2010, there were over 8 million pot arrests in the U.S. That’s one bust every 37 seconds and hundreds of thousands ensnared in the criminal justice system

Many of these arrest lead to harsh sentences; Breaking up families, and ruining entire communities in the process of waging a war on drugs. On top of all this, as states are legalizing both recreational and medical marijuana, it seems only white corporate America stands to profit.

In the end, considering what I faced postpartum, even under the threat of losing my kids, I know I made the right decision for me and my baby. The risks to my child using what I was prescribed far outweighed any risk cannabis posed to my fetus.

It is unfortunate our societal prejudices haven’t caught up with the scientific realities.

If you are interested in learning more about the historical use of cannabis during pregnancy: