More than morning sickness: my journey with Hyperemesis Gravidarum
Hyperemesis Gravidarum. Hyper-what? It sounded like some fancy medical diagnosis that would never touch my life, but…. alas, here I am, several months deep. I remember briefly hearing about Kate Middleton’s battle with it, but I never thought it would affect my life, especially after having four prior uncomplicated pregnancies and births.
I want to share my personal story because I’ve been lucky enough to find a few fellow moms who shared their stories with me. Without the help of those who had experienced the diagnosis, been transparent about it, and made it out on the other side, I don’t know how I’d make it through the dark days.
Hyperemesis Gravidarum (HG) is a human pregnancy disorder that is much more than typical morning sickness. Several well-meaning people have continued to advise me to try peppermint tea, ginger candies, and to get as much rest as possible. The thing is, my body can’t even keep peppermint tea or ginger candies down on most days. It’s a severe form of nausea and vomiting during pregnancy that can lead to dehydration, weight loss and malnutrition. On an average day, I vomit 6-10 times. There’s no cure because no one knows exactly what causes it. HG also runs on a spectrum of severity with no distinct definition. According to the clinical obstetrics and gynecology department at Keck Medicine of USC, some women are hospitalized and between .5 percent and three percent of pregnant women suffer from HG. I don’t mean to downplay morning sickness because that in itself is not pretty, either; however, HG is a different level.
Fortunately, the medical system has come a long way with treatment and viable options to reduce symptoms of HG. My journey began at about 6 weeks pregnant and I’m currently 16 weeks along. Some cases of HG resolve themselves – or at least drastically improve – around weeks 16-20; however, unfortunately, some last the entire pregnancy. Let’s just say I’m hopeful I’m in the first group. The last 10 weeks have been dark, isolating, depressing and difficult.
If you lose five percent of your pre-pregnancy body weight or more, it’s usually considered HG. The condition is accompanied by things like electrolyte imbalance and dehydration due to persistent and uncontrollable vomiting, according to an associate researcher at UCLA. It runs in families. So you’ll likely experience it in future pregnancies, if you’ve had it before. However, this isn’t the case for everyone; neither my mom nor my sisters experienced it, and my four prior pregnancies were only minimally affected by morning sickness in the first trimester.
I’m a mom to four other littles (yes, we are crazy, and yes, this is our last one! I feel like I have to put that disclaimer everywhere, but that’s a whole other topic to get into on another day), so the biggest challenge has been keeping up with their needs, schedules and day-to-day functioning. Luckily, my husband is a natural caregiver and has stepped up tremendously. But the mom guilt is real, and I feel like I’ve missed an entire fall season with my boys. I am restricted to my bedroom most hours of the day and haven’t been able to put them to bed for the past 2 ½ months. HG has taken an incredible toll on the entire family.
Luckily, workwise, my clients have been amazingly understanding and it happens to be my least busy season of the year. I am a freelance marketing consultant and have been able to work from home from the comfort of my bedroom and the comfort of knowing my bathroom is just feet away, if you know what I mean! Some moms struggling with HG, however, aren’t so lucky and have to take medical leave, pay cuts and even loss of jobs. In addition, the complications that come along with HG can be devastating.
I can also take intravenous fluids from the comfort of my home due to an amazing service provided by OhioHealth. I have nurses visit 2-3 times a week to replace my IV and get me going. Currently, my regimen includes taking two 1-liter bags of fluid daily combined with a regimen of anti-nausea medication (Zofran) and B6 vitamins. The regimen has helped, but I’m still unable to function much outside of minimal daily tasks. I am a long-distance runner and ran through all four of my previous pregnancies; the loss of control that HG entails has also been devastating to me. I haven’t been able to run in weeks, which is a big source of sociability for me as well. I miss my runner mom friends and the endorphins, even if I know they will be waiting for me when I can rejoin. HG isn’t fair and it’s okay to grieve the life you miss if you’ve been diagnosed with it, too. The good news: it’s temporary!
What has helped the most is my tribe of family and friends who just listen. If you are trying to support someone with HG, these items have helped me tremendously.
- Daily check-ins just via text message mean so much to me.
- Taking a few kiddos for a playdate for a few hours also means the world.
- Delivering meals to my family so the kiddos are taken care of (smells from cooking make me very ill right now) is lifesaving.
- If you know someone experiencing HG, these little actions could mean more than you know. The person going through it could be depressed and feeling isolated; even after it lifts, many patients experience some post-traumatic stress from the daunting nature of feeling so ill day after day. So, stick by them! Give them grace if they don’t return your check-in phone calls or forget to respond to a text message. Chances are, they are just trying to make it through another minute.
Typically, I’m a glass-half-full person, so I’ve been jotting down lessons HG has taught me. Every struggle seems to have a teachable moment, and it’s helpful to reflect on them.
- I have a husband who will literally do anything for me. I thought I knew this before, but now I really know it. He quickly learned how to facilitate IV bags and flush me with saline and heparin with no complaints, even though he hates needles and blood makes him queasy. He also has learned how to give me a manicure and a pedicure. I have photo evidence!
- Kids are so resilient. I’m constantly worried that we aren’t doing enough family outings, play dates and the like. Honestly, though, the boys have bonded in our backyard and figured out what to do when they are bored; maybe this isn’t an all too bad lesson.
- Every season is temporary. This too shall pass. Every struggle builds empathy.
Unfortunately, there aren’t a ton of resources out there for those struggling with HG; however, I’ve come across some fruitful ones, and wanted to end this post by sharing that list.
- If you participate in the social media world, Facebook has several groups that center on Hyperemesis Gravidarum support. The ones I’ve found most helpful include The Hyperemesis Gravidarum Support Group and HG Warriors – Hyperemesis Gravidarum.
- The HER Foundation exists to raise awareness of HG; they are a non-profit that provides support (Support for Mothers & Families – HER Foundation (hyperemesis.org)), research, advocacy, and education on the diagnosis. They have a great library of resources, including one for food tips to help navigate triggers.
- I’ve found that I must advocate for myself during this pregnancy and really follow up with my treatment team to push for more help. The HER Foundation lists strategies for treatment, which can help educate you on your options when you present them to your treatment team.
If you’re reading this and you are struggling through HG, please know that you are not alone. I hope to pay it forward one day, as a few mutual friends have done for me. One tip someone recently gave me was to try watermelon and gas station slushies. Both items have set well with my body. It sounds weird, but give it a try! It’s the little things that will get you through. You are a warrior and it will get better.
Have you or someone you know experienced HG? Do you have any tips, tricks, or words of wisdom?