Hyperemesis Gravidarum – {More than Morning Sickness}

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).


    • Kelly

      I am on my second HG pregnancy. With my daughter (now 3.5yo), I had to stop working at 13 weeks. I was on a zofran pump and was hospitalized several times for dehydration. When I gave birth to her, I was still down 13 pounds from my pre-pregnancy weight. My initial weight loss was 28lbs. It got a bit better around week 28 or so, but I still continued vomiting at least a couple of times a day until giving birth. With this pregnancy, I had to stop working at 8 weeks. It was like HG on steroids. I’ve never been so sick. I lost 31lbs in my first trimester alone. This time, zofran didn’t touch it. Phenergan didn’t touch it. Until 25 weeks I vomited all day and night with no relief. Then, I came across diclegis. My OB had never prescribed it for anyone but was willing to let me try it. It is a miracle drug. I take two when I first get up in the morning along with a prilosec to keep acid production down. I’m able to eat and drink. I still have nausea. I still have days when I vomit 5+ times a day, but they’re few and far between now. I’m 36 weeks and 5 days pregnant. This will be my last pregnancy. I cannot go through this again. I had so many people tell me things like “oh just don’t think about it.” Don’t think about it? I wish it were that easy. This isn’t like resisting the urge to pop a zit. It’s debilitating. It’s horrific. I’m just glad it’s almost over, and I hate feeling that way. I hate that I have never been able to ENJOY being pregnant. What I most look forward to is my pregnancies being OVER. I feel robbed.

    • Barb

      Thank you so much for this. I suffered from 3 HG pregnancies.. and each time it got so much worse. I try really hard not to take medication when im pregnant, but when my ketone levels wrre high, it meant my body sas basically eating itself… I was poisoning my baby from own body. So I took zofran. It didn’t help with the.nausea but it helped me keep some of my food down. I had to be hospitalized multiple times for dehydration throughout the pregnancy.
      When we were surprised with our 4th pregnancy I was so scared that it would get even worse with this baby (I didn’t know how much worse it could get after my last one) but surprisingly it did not get worse. It still wasn’t so great but significantly better than the last one. Just trying to give a little ray of hope to those that suffer from this.

  • Amy

    What an awful thing to have to go through! I have done some research which suggests that heliobacter pylori is a big factor when it comes to morning sickness and HG. Strong antibiotics are the normal course of action, but a more holistic and natural remedy is colloidal silver and fermented foods. Perhaps something to look into? I know that the difference between my first pregnancy (vomiting every day and intermittent times where I vomited non stop and no drugs would stop it) and my second (slight nausea and vomiting once a day for just over a week) was fermented foods!

  • Jillian

    This is almost identical to my own story. I started throwing up at 8 weeks on the day, I would throw up 15-20 times a day, lost 17 lbs in a month, and was hospitalized 3 times for dehydration. I had other things making my pregnancy miserable as well, so the sickness was just one more stress point. I couldn’t keep down water or any other liquids or any food until I started on Zophran, it was my lifesaver! I was sick the whole pregnancy and never able to go off the medication til she was born, the miracle being that she went to 42 1/2 weeks and weighed over 8 lbs.

  • Kimberly

    I just wrote this long comment, and it looks like it didn’t go through. 🙁 If it did, feel free to delete this one. Here is the gist of what I wrote: I have had 3 HG pregnancies like you described above, only my hospital experiences weren’t as bad as yours, and only Phenergan is what kind of helped. Kind of. Zofran made me even worse (if such a thing were possible!) As you say it is complete torture, and each time I was in a very dark place where I wanted nothing more than to die because I didn’t think I could bare it any longer. By God’s graces, luck, or whatever, I began taking supplements at the beginning of 2012 that helped and I am 16 weeks pregnant with my fourth child. This pregnancy I am not suffering with HG, supplements are the only difference. I am not a distributor and get no gain whatsoever from sharing this information, I just wish someone could have shared it with me earlier. I am not saying it will work for everyone, but it has for me, and although I have still been sick, I have only vomited 15 times total this pregnancy instead of per day, like you mentioned. AND I didn’t have to give my right hand. People don’t understand, and how could they really, unless they have suffered with HG or been the caretaker husband etc who had to witness a lot of it? I have people ask me if it was so bad, how could I do it again…and again…and again? My answer? I love my kids, and I love being a mother.

  • Kim

    I have 5 kid’s..my 4th pregnancy sounds very familiar to these stories I started throwing up around 5 weeks and it was constantly couldn’t hold anything down. I threw every day numerous times a day up until I was I labor I couldn’t believe I thought I guess one more time jeez I lost 19 lbs and felt weak all the time. I would be getting my kid’s ready for school and I guess I would get the look and my kid’s would scatter as I would have to run to the trash not being to make it upstairs…dry heaving constantly..I feel u traumatized my kid’s..was always reading things like not eating right while pregnant could cause learning disabilities later on..I was so worried, IT was a horrible experience..my daughter is now five and is EXTRA AND HEALTHY SMART..THANK GOD I GAINED NINE lbs some how and that’s exactly what she weighed..idk hhow but she did… 🙂

  • Cheri Uribe

    I suffered from this with my first pregnancy. I lost 26 lbs before they finally gave me phenergaan. My daughter has moderate hearing loss in both ears and several mental & emotional disabilities, which I attribute to the lack of nutrition. I was lucky with my son and was not sick at all with him. I’m having another girl and began the HG symptoms at 6 weeks. They started me on Zofran around 10 weeks and I have to take it every 4 hours or I can’t keep anything down. It doesn’t make it all go away, but I’m much less likely to vomit now and I’ve gained 20 lbs!! I’m 27 weeks now. Some days are better than others, but I have a lot of hope this time!!!
    Thank you for raising awareness about this problem!!!

  • Tracey

    I am sharing this because there is very little said about this. I had 4 babies and had this condition 4 times…no one quite understood…except maybe my darling husband. And maybe my oldest son, who at 9 years old took care of his two little sisters so bravely, until they finally sent me to the hospital for over a week and shipped my three kids to grandmothers for a month. My daughter had it so badly with little Chloe that she became critically ill and had an at home IV and a continuous pump of Zofran. Thank goodness that Wholefoods gave her disability leave. Please do not ask her ‘when she will have another’…it may be Chloe grows up an only child, but that would be better than motherless. Rant over, but please remember that you don’t always know all the facts or what another person is going through.

  • Danielle Pearson

    I have to admit, I had no idea what this was before the Duchess had it and was hospitalized for it. I do however remember ladies and articles telling her to suck it up & that she was being dramatic. I am so sorry ladies that you have had to go through this and that your support system & friends were SO awful to you! My heart is breaking for you all. </3

  • Nicolle Lothi

    Thank you for sharing your story! I have three healthy babies and suffered terribly from HG during all three pregnancies. It is a very terrifying disease and I hope that this story brings more awareness to this debilitating sickness. Even though I was surrounded by loved ones and had lots of support, it is a very dark place to be and I hope that we can encourage and comfort others who suffer from HG. God bless!

  • Yaminee

    I am going through HG now. I’m 10 weeks and unable to function. When did your symptoms ease up? Good luck to you all and stay strong!

  • Ashley

    I was 19 when I went through my first pregnancy, and sadly went through all these problems too.
    Except because I was “just a kid” I coped the “oh well maybe you should have waited”
    No empathy or help for anyone other than my mum.
    Being single too did not help.
    But thank you so much for posting something that even 2 years later makes me feel less insane!

    My sickness didn’t stop with his sons birth but continued until I feel pregnant again over 18 months later.
    I hope no one else has to ignore this condition or push it under the rug just because people don’t get it.
    I ended up losing 40kgs, have sever damage to my teeth due to vomiting and now have serious issues with food.
    Don’t like doctors ignore this, don’t let them ignore you!

  • Lizzy

    I’m almost 11 weeks in and I’ve been in bed for 7 of those weeks. I don’t even recognize my body anymore. One of my friends who came to visit told me I looked like I’d just escaped from prison camp. I wanted to be mad but I knew she was right and it was shocking.
    Our insurance only covers one Zofran a day (which I, luckily, respond very well to) so I have to use that 4-6 hour window very carefully.
    HG has so many awful things about it but the worst for me has been the isolation and the guilt. I want to be able to take all the vitamins and excersize and maybe even take a shower…but I physically can’t. We’re mommas, of course we want the best for our babies! I feel like I’m fighting with my body every day.

  • Rachelann

    I had a mold case of it. I lost 40lbs in two months. It was horrible. I too lost my job and got put on bed rest after being hospitalized for malnutrition and going into labor when my body started muscle spasming from lack of protein. I could pretty much only sleep which made things stupid hard on my family. Thank God for my loving and helpful husband and brother who moved in with us around my fifth month of pregnancy. It was a hard road but all worth it now that our little man is here. You are not alone and thank God for our families who are so gracious for being there for us.

  • Emilia

    I identify so much with this. I am on my 3rd and unexpected pregnancy all of which have been hg pregnancies. I just wanted to sob at this point, but I don’t think I can even cry due to dehydration. The biggest saving grace is my Dr. Believes me. She started me on unisom/b6 right away and on Zofran and IV fluids a week later when that was not enough. It doesn’t really touch the nausea, but does seem to mostly stop me from throwing up. I have lost only 10 pounds this time around compared to almost 20 which took me down to 104 lbs the first 2 times. I am only 12 weeks so I still have a while to lose more. I feel horrible that I can hardly get up off the couch and so I push it some days and usually feel worse for a couple of days because of it. I feel sad for my 6 and 9 year old because we are not doing much with their summe vacation since I can not do much. I also am so scared everytime I feel the need to throw up. I don’t want he things I worked so hard to get down to come back up, or something I could actually tolerate to become a trigger. I feel for every single woman that goes through this.

    Thanks for the post it helps to know others understand.

  • Charity Cox

    I can’t imagine. I had horrible morning sickness that nothing helped. I vomited at least 2-4 times a day on a good day and about 7-8 on bad days. I couldn’t keep much down at all. It has lasted until 16 weeks with all of my pregnancies most days I felt so weak and nauseous that moving made me puke and I usually lose anywhere from 10-20 lbs before it calms down. That being said I have never had it to the extent that you did and was never diagnosed with hg. But having morning sickness so bad has definitely made me more empathetic and supportive to the moms that do have hg. I feel as though I can relate at least a little bit particularly when it comes to losing patience with the well meaning people who recommend different things that you already know don’t work for you.

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