With the recent news that the beloved Duchess Kate was hospitalized recently in relation to HG (Hyperemesis Gravidarum), I saw both an out pouring of love, and more often, ridicule. First – why on earth would we malign a soon-to-be mother for getting medical help? That in itself is mind boggling. Second – the absolute disregard of any information given on the subject was astounding to me. Having suffered from HG myself, I was sadly not surprised to see the general public basically laugh at this poor woman and tell her “suck it up”.
I wanted to help get the word out. HG has been hidden for years and is not well understood in the medical community. But real women – from myself to a future Queen of England – suffer from this horrific condition. Sharing my story is not always easy, as people are fast to dismiss or believe that I am exaggerating – but here it is.
My husband and I were over the moon about finally conceiving our first child. We immediately began to talk names and look at baby clothes. Our families were excited, our friends were overjoyed. Everything was rosy. Around 7 weeks I started to vomit a bit and have a lot of nausea. Par for the course in early pregnancy. We went to our first appointment and had an ultrasound (I was having pain that suggested an ectopic). Everything seemed normal and average.
Then a week later I began to vomit more…and more…and more. Within days of this new trend I was vomiting more than 15 times a day, and dry heaving constantly. The nausea was so horrible that literally just turning my head could trigger heaving. Nothing stayed down – no water, Gatorade, crackers, juice, rice, ginger, NOTHING. I began to feel weak and could not stand long enough to shower.
I called in sick to work several days in a row and got co-workers to cover some shifts. I called the OB office (where I was receiving care until we got insurance to cover our midwife) and was told that “as long as I could keep down a cup of water a day, I was okay.” They also gave me phenergan over the phone though I informed them that it did not work for me (from previous experience). They would not prescribe anything else in place of phenergan.
I spoke to family and friends and was assured that this was normal and a sign of a healthy pregnancy. No one seemed to understand that I was not exaggerating my vomiting episodes. My husband helped as much as he could, but he had to work since I was missing work.
My job (which I loved and had just started a few months prior) began to comment on how much I was missing, and that when I did drag myself to work that I was “in the bathroom too much”. There were other pregnant women in my area after all, and they were fine. After about three weeks of this they suggested I take FMLA (family medical leave – unpaid) so that I did not lose my job. I was given 30 days in which to “get better and rest”.
Only a few days after this I began to vomit blood. My esophagus was so torn and ragged from the acid (which by this point was all I was vomiting up) that it was like a big wound. I decided that this was NOT “normal” and that I had to go to the emergency room. My husband came home and we loaded up to go downtown.
Hours later, I was seen. They let a student paramedic do my IVs…he blew three veins before they got someone experienced in my cubicle. The nurses ignored my husband and myself, and I sat with empty IV bags for long periods (I ended up needing 3 1/2 bags). I was informed that my blood work showed I was almost at organ failure level, especially my potassium. No one offered to check on my baby. We were not admitted, even after 5 hours in our little ER bed. I was told I should have gone to the Women’s hospital instead.
The one good thing to come out of the trip was the discovery of Zofran. The Zofran did not totally cut the nausea but it made it much more livable and cut down my vomiting to a few times a day, though it was a long time before I could force myself to eat much. The mental damage of so much vomiting was hard to get past. I did not start to “mend” until about 24 weeks, and continued to need the Zofran all the way through pregnancy.
All said and done – I lost over 30lbs in about as many days. I was required to take Zofran every four hours around the clock or I would need a home IV line (I have a huge fear of needles, so I wanted to avoid that if I could). I lost my job, since after the 30 days I was not “better” and my midwife wrote a list of work restrictions that the company could not accommodate. We had to move in with my mother. My son was born “late pre-term” at 37 weeks. Premature birth is a risk of HG. My son was a little peanut as well.
To this day I do not think my family understands what I went through. I don’t think they understand my fears for future pregnancies. But talking to other HG moms, I am not alone. And I was lucky – women die of HG, women lose babies. And almost every HG mom will tell you – you start to lose yourself in the midst of the sickness. You feel alone, so alone. You worry you are killing your baby, and you blame yourself every day.
I was able to speak with other mothers in the BWF Fans Support group about how HG effected their lives.
“After my daughter was born and my midwife looked at my placenta, it was thoroughly calcified and only a very small part of it was providing nutrition to my baby. We are very lucky to have her here with us. HG is emotionally and physically wearing, and I would wish it on no one. I just wish people were more educated about it rather than just tell you to suck it up and deal with morning sickness. Its so much more than that.” – Alyssa
“I was unable to shower by myself, did not have the energy to wash my own hair or body. I had to quit one of my jobs at just 10 weeks pregnant with my son. My husband had to continue working to support us but he felt terrible leaving me home alone every day. I sank further and further into depression and became very anxious that I was starving my baby and that it and I would not live to see the day I held the baby in my arms.” – Jade
“Both my pregnancies I had HG. I was barely able to care for myself or get out of bed most of the pregnancy. I waited 10 years between TTC my sons & stopped at 2, because I can’t care for my kids for 9 months at a time.” – Vee
“My HG nightmare began at 6 weeks. By 10 weeks I had to quit my job because I was in and out of hospital for IV hydration and vomiting blood. Some days I couldn’t even walk across the hall to the bathroom to vomit and I needed to sit on a chair in the shower because I would faint if I stood for more than a minute. By 15 weeks the strain became too much for my partner having to work full time while running our household and nursing me and we had to move in with my parents. People – some of them Doctors – told me mind over matter, take a walk, get some fresh air, have some ginger, eat a cracker. They told me if I really cared about my baby I would just drink some water and I was desperate to do so but knew if I did I would just vomit till my throat bled again. Formerly close friends accused me of being weak, selfish and melodramatic and stopped talking to me. Every day for the first two trimesters I cried wondering if my baby and I could possibly survive this. HG is not morning sickness – HG is a chronic, all consuming, life threatening, misunderstood illness that I would not wish on my worst enemy.” – Johanna
“I was hep-locked for weeks and went twice daily for IV meds and fluids. It is very debilitating. For the first several months I threw up constantly.” – Brittany
Another mother you may know who has suffered from HG is Jessica from The Leaky Boob who wrote a post “celebrating” her new common trait with the Duchess. She has written several posts speaking about her personal journey though HG.
A truly amazing resource (and one I did not find until after I had my son) is Help HER – a hyperemesis awareness and research group. They help fund a research project with UCLA into the genetics of HG. There are forums on this site dedicated to the women, fathers, and families who suffer this illness. Pages of testimony exist on their site, wanting to be heard. They even helped create a day on our calenders to recognize this illness – May 15th is HG Awareness Day.
This blog writer posted some time ago about the “ABCs of HG” – it moved me to tears.
This is NOT something you can ever understand until you have walked that mile. Morning sickness is not the same, and I don’t want to hear about how “bad” it was to vomit a couple times a day over a month or so. I don’t want to hear about only “being able to eat crackers”. I would have given my right hand to keep down crackers most days. These are things I am not supposed to admit in polite conversation – but HG is not a polite illness. It is callous and horrible and takes women and babies from our lives.
This is NOT morning sickness. This is not a pregnant woman being a drama queen or lazy. This is not something a few crackers before getting out of bed can fix. Or ginger. Or what ever else is in the normal bag of tricks for morning sickness – I tried them all. This is a truly debilitating illness in every possible way. I hope that next time the world hears of a mother suffering from HG their advice will not be “suck it up.”
***I have now been through another HG pregnancy, which you can read about here (from my husband’s perspective).