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Antacids!

January 30, 2009

I had a few good weeks in there. They were during the oft-touted “glorious second trimester” of pregnancy, which did not start as soon as it was advertised, and also seemed to end somewhat early. But for a few weeks, there was no particular stomach upset.

Heartburn is such a dramatic term for a physical condition, if you stop and really listen to the word. But in a way another way, it seems completely benign. People get heartburn. During childhood, when I watched lots of TV, there were lots of commercials about acid indigestion, with adults waking up in the middle of the night and making theatrical faces.

And as for the commercials I was like, yeah, whatever, I cannot connect with this, in the way that I can connect with, say, the Dow Scrubbing Bubble commercial.

Then a few years, when I was old enough to have developed a sympathetic streak, my mom had really bad heartburn for months on end. I didn’t like that my mom wasn’t feeling well, but she took what seemed to be some intense steps to get out from under the thrall of something I simply couldn’t relate to. For instance, she stopped drinking tea – her favorite — and started drinking mugsful of – warm water. I was completely confused. Warm water is so much grosser than tea. What’s the point?

I’ll tell you the point. Heartburn is completely abstract — until you are in it! When you are pregnant, chances are about 70% that you will at some point be in it. Why? Because in addition to growing a giant uterus, all of the organs that normally are in your trunk – stomach, intestines, esophagus – are smushed and there is no room. In addition, you muscles relax, making food sit around in your already compromised belly for longer. For some, this leads to insane levels of farting. I guess I should feel lucky that the accumulated gas buildup in my system pushes upwards. Sometimes, my feet pounding the pavement is enough to send burps roaring up and out. And the last trigger is that during pregnancy, joints loosen. Joints are cartilage. And so is the flap, I think, that normally keeps one’s esophagus closed. And keeping the esophagus closed is like keeping the acid where it should be. When it gets out, it burns. Hence, heartburn.

TUMS
First, I tried Tums. I got one tiny little roll of them. They made me feel better. And I acquired more as I ramped up my habit. I started keeping rolls in various states of chewed through-edness in my pockets, my car, my purse. This is apparently quite common for pregnant ladies.

I don’t understand how Tums work – I just know that they are calcium-based and either fruity or minty and cheap and you can get them at nearly any corner store. We took lots of evening walk during the summer and fall and started to refer to certain delis as “Tums stores,” since, once I’d passed through the nauseous phase where I ate roll after roll of Mentos, and then chewed through pack after pack of Juicy Fruit, Tums became what we were in search of on the evening walk.

Eventually, I got a bottle of 48. This was the master, and it lived on my nightstand. I sped through the bottle.

You can run into some problems with Tums — they’re pretty unpleasant to upchuck if you take them when it’s too late and you’re already too full of acid. And people were starting to tell me that if you take too many, you are defeating the purpose because your stomach will start to make more acid to compensate. Yeah yeah, this is possible, but these people weren’t actively suffering from heartburn which dragged them out of bed at night to sit up for several hours, or made them sleep sitting up, or throw up. I often didn’t meet the 10/day limit listed on the back, but I always had the tally going in the back of my mind.

Soon, I was onto the bottle with 96! These were extra strength. They were berry flavored. According to the bottle, you’re only supposed to take 7 per day. I had about 108 days of pregnancy left at that point. “I wonder whether I could make this bottle last the rest of the time?” I considered it a personal challenge. Not necessarily one that I would undertake – but one that I would think about.

I generally work from home in Brooklyn but one day, I had a meeting at the New York Department of Education as well as a few others, so I went into the city. Normally I would have brought my laptop but I didn’t want to be hauling anything around while pregnant, so the sum total of what I brought was a little black purse and my jacket. And most of what was in my little black purse was my giant container of TUMS.

At the end of the day, the container was missing. A few days later, I was talking on the phone with a colleague who had been at the meetings that day. He’s a jokester, and he was one who’d told me that TUMS can affect you badly if you take too many, and he was also one who’d recently had a pregnant wife. I got up my nerve – I knew how silly and paranoid I would look if I was wrong – but I asked whether he had taken them.

He was horrified. Both at the suggestion that he was take TUMS from a pregnant woman, but probably also at my level of desperation. He insisted we terminate the phone call and that I go out and get another huge container of them, right then and there.

I also tried Rolaids at around this time. I only crunched my way through one pack so I don’t think they get their own section. “Less chalky,” said a teenaged girl at a suburban gas station who sold them to me. What are suburban teenaged girls doing with acid indigestion? Poor baby. But I tried them and they were alright.

When I confessed to my obstetrician that I told her that I had a constant tally of how many TUMS I could take during a 24 hour period, she suggested a more proactive approach to acid. “How about Zantac?”

ZANTAC
I will never forget the first night I tried it. I was with my husband and we’d been out swimming after work. He was trying to tell me a funny story on the way home but I wanted to steer the car into a pole to end our lives right then and there, is how crabby I felt, because of my throat and the burning seeping up into it. I was able to maintain a dim grasp on reality for long enough to force him to leap out and go into a pharmacy where he came out with a pack of Zantac 150. We came home and ate whatever we were going to eat. As I recall, it might have been some horribly acidic (to a member of the ranks of the afflicted) turkey and tomatillo chile that I make that you might find enjoyable, as I used to, before I realized that it could also take the paint off of the walls, acidwise. And I think we were watching a Buster Keaton movie called “The General.” I sat up at straight as possible and prepared to eat. Right before I did so, I took the tiny, five-sided minty pill with the active ingredient called Ranitidine.

And my life totally changed. Within about 4 minutes, I felt like a happy, healthy, normal girl without fire in her throat and thoughts of arson in her head. The change was so extreme that I could only wonder what HAVOC this medicine was wreaking on me.

We had a pretty good run of it, Zantac and me. I tried to sell everyone I knew on what seemed to be a wonderdrug. About a week later, I realized that I was having irregular heart palpitations. And that my vision was blurred. I looked up the side effect and . . . I knew it! Like all of the pleasure that crack or crystal meth is supposed to afford that first time around, it’s just too good to be truly, uh, good. But I was so hooked that when I explained to a friend that Zantac had changed my life, and that though it gave me blurred vision and a weird heart, she laughed at how extreme of symptoms I was willing to put up with, I realized how intense it was. I got sick a day that week and went off Zantac.

“Mylanta,” my mom suggested.

MYLANTA
It was during a meeting of our tiny Brooklyn community association that I knew I needed a new form of help. At first, it was everything a community meeting should be – held in the basement of a Mormon church on a rainy Thursday night. In fact we’d been so excited for the meeting that we’d put off seeing friends from Texas until the next night. We were meeting our neighbors and eating oreos and talking about the feral cat problem and how to support local businesses. It was pouring rain and getting there yielded wet ankles for all the neighbors, since many of the corners were flooded with water that wasn’t able to get into the sewers due to too many leave. Never mind, the sanitation dept. had come out to the meeting to discuss our problems, as well as the policeman responsible for our part of town, who drives around fighting crime in a tiny three-wheeled box that probably can’t even go on the highway. I have no idea what he’d do if he trapped an actual criminal – it doesn’t seem that a criminal of normal dimensions and a police officer could both fit into the box.

Anyhow, we had to abruptly leave the meeting because no matter how straight I sat, my throat, like the local sewers, could not cope with the sheer quantity of acid bathing it from the inside.

“Mylanta,” I sat there inwardly chanting. “This is the night.” I’d done my research on what to get on the web. We crept out of the meeting. We needed dinner started, and it was dreadfully rainy, and we had only one umbrella with us, there were oreos crumbs bathed in acid creeping back up into my throat, and I needed Mylanta.

We went out of the way to the favorite local deli run by Mexicans, who only carried the liquid kind. I needed the other kind, that you chew. That M sent me, a wife increasingly dyspeptic in both senses, home with the umbrella and sloshed exposed to the unpleasant elements and in his work clothes, to an obscure, late-night, well-stocked Bangladeshi pharmacy to get me some baby blue minty Mylanta tablets, is proof of how much he loves me. The man should have a cape with an M on it. M for Mylanta. M for M.

Calcified foodstuffs and I have been at war for a while. But for the first few days, I had never tasted anything so delicious in my life.

“Yum, honey!!” I would shout through a mouthful. “We could chop this stuff up and put it on ice cream – seriously!”

Just typing that now makes me gag. At a certain point, I hit the wall. I’d like to be able to remember and say the pithy saying about love being fickle, but I am too pregnant for my brain to achieve that sort of targeted recall; please recite the saying to yourself.

PAPAYA
I learned in the self-satisfied birthing class we took a class at an institution I find incredibly annoying because 1. They try to convince you that your obstetrician, should you have one, is likely out to get you to make bad decisions and 2. They make pregnant women – sit on the floor for 3 hour classes. As if a normal 37 year old could withstand that sort of torture. However, I really did like our teacher.

Anyhow – to start that sentence over: I learned that papaya tablets are supposed to be helpful in managing heartburn. Naturally. “Naturally!” I thought. I thought that my whole life was going to be better / different.

I picked some out at the health food store. The label said to check with a health care provider so I called my sister in law who is a nurse practitioner, naturopath, and pregnant. She also has really sucky heartburn so I knew I would have her ear. She thought it sounded good.

I take about 3 after each meal and it does quell the hiccups. But it didn’t fix it. Plus, I read that too much unripe papaya early on can trigger early labor.

On to the big guns . . .

PRILOSEC
Prilosec actually shuts down acid productions. Seems dicey – and the opposite of natural. Isn’t there some reason we need acid? Perhaps not floating up through our burp tubes into our eyeballs – but for digestion? I don’t know.

It doesn’t matter. I would like to work for the company who makes Prilosec. You take a course for 2 weeks, and it gives the esophagus a bit of room to heal. It stops constant burping and hiccupping and it mitigages the need to sleep upright. I would still never do anything so crazy as . . . sit on the couch. That is a position that doesn’t help digestion at all. But Prilosec helps the desperate!

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4 Comments leave one →
  1. February 25, 2009 5:43 pm

    I never had heartburn until I was pregnant, and I had no idea how miserable it can be. Once it was so bad that I thought I was having a heart attack. Antacids rule!

  2. Anna Maria Mayda permalink
    March 10, 2010 12:32 pm

    Hi Meredith,

    This is great! Both funny and very helpful. I will try the Prilosec.

    Anna Maria.

  3. Kelly permalink
    October 12, 2011 11:23 am

    Ahh – the memories. And as soon as the baby was born, no more heartburn. Immediate relief. It was so bad. I staryed with Tums the whole way – ingested the maximum daily amount. Next time around I’ll skip to the Prilosec!

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