The days Amy Upchurch spent in a hospital bed trying not to move, praying she could keep food down long enough to nourish the life growing within her, far outnumbered the days she spent at home.
She didn’t understand. She wasn’t glowing with pregnancy. Every breath she took induced a wave of vomiting. The weight disappeared from her small frame as hyperemesis gravidarum, a severe form of morning sickness affecting around 1 percent of pregnant women, wreaked havoc on her body.
“It was the most challenging, physically and spiritually draining thing I had ever been through in my life,” she said.
Her frequent hospital stays resulted in a serious blood infection, and, with nothing left to do, the doctor told Upchurch she and her unborn child had 24 hours left to live. Her husband left military training and rushed to the hospital. The countdown began.
But Upchurch wasn’t convinced. She felt like she was dying. She looked like she was dying. She just didn’t believe she was dying.
“When the doctor told me that, I remember thinking ‘I don’t think so.’ I felt that bad, but something deep down made me feel it wasn’t the end,” she said. “My son and I were fighters.”
She made it 24 hours, then 48 hours. Eventually she delivered her first son, John Hamilton, at a premature but healthy 34 weeks.
“I just kept going.”
An idea is born
After the birth of her first child, Upchurch struggled through two more excruciating pregnancies. In and out of hospitals she went, her arms pin-cushions for IV needles, her stomach flooded with medications. Twice again, she went through the process of vomiting 30 to 40 times a day.
Doctors could only offer band-aid solutions for her condition.
“I was so sick, I had no idea what was going on,” she said. “I lived in hospitals. I wasn’t able to eat or drink. I didn’t understand why I was being put through this experience.”
To make things more difficult, her husband, an officer in the Marine Corps, was deployed overseas twice. Originally born and raised in St. Augustine, the couple relocated eight times in seven years for military duties. For long stretches, Upchurch battled her illness while raising her children alone.
“Three times. I went through that illness three times,” Upchurch said. “When I found out I was pregnant a fourth time, I decided to take a different approach.”
Through research and working alongside doctors and midwives, she discovered natural and organic products to tackle the source of her problem, an unbalanced gut. Through probiotics and mineral supplements, she experienced something she had never experienced before — a healthy pregnancy.
Diet changes and vitamins conquered her morning sickness, nourishing her body.
“It turned out to be an amazing pregnancy,” she said. “I finally understood why I went through all of those challenges.”
With the birth of her fourth child came the birth of Pink Stork, Upchurch’s line of natural and organic products for pregnant women. The probiotics are grown in the United States and all the products are USDA-certified.
Initially the line represented a morning sickness “niche” online, Upchurch said. But demands flooded in and the company expanded, making it the ninth fastest growing brand on Amazon. Target recently added several products to its shelves, and more brick-and-mortar stores are interested in snagging the up-and-coming company.
Upchurch — both a full-time mom as well as the CEO and founder of Pink Stork — said the company offers natural solutions for women in various stages of motherhood. Her goal is to make it easier for pregnant women to find affordable solutions without have to run through several aisles or pay hundreds of dollars.
“There is not one brand you can go into a retail store for to find everything you want before, during and after pregnancy,” she said. “You have to search everything separately.”
But she said Pink Stork eliminates the hunt. The products are bundled according to need, easy to find, with solutions ranging from morning sickness to nursing health.
The response has been overwhelming, she added.
The best part for Upchurch is knowing the reason behind her previous battles. It’s not just about marketing a product and building a business. It’s about using her experience, the pain and sickness, to cultivate hope for other women.
“I really just wanted to bring to life the things I had experienced and to share it,” Upchurch said. “I knew without a shadow of a doubt that’s why God entrusted me with such challenging pregnancies, so that I could help other women.”