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For 2-3 months now, I have tried to put this post into words; it's been a difficult one to share. My husband's encouraged me numerous times to write our story, but I've had to really mull it over and think about whether I wanted to share something so personal. He's also pointed out that I tend to downplay things that I've gone through, mainly because I don't want to appear as though I'm being over-dramatic or feel vulnerable; I have to agree. In all honesty, it's just not something I really like to talk about but know it needs to be talked about, especially the more and more I read the stories of other women who have gone through far worse than what I've had to go through. Hyperemesis Gravidarum is something I never want to re-live, hoped I'd never have to re-live, even in subsequent pregnancies. But I did. And this is my (or really our) story.
What Is Hyperemesis Gravidarum?
According to the HER Foundation (the world's largest grassroots network of hyperemesis gravidarum survivors and leading site for HG information on the Internet), Hyperemesis Gravidarum, otherwise known as HG, is a severe form of nausea and vomiting in pregnancy. It is generally described as unrelenting, excessive pregnancy-related nausea and/or vomiting that prevents adequate intake of food and fluids. If severe and/or inadequately treated, it is typically associated with: loss of greater than 5% of pre-pregnancy body weight (usually over 10%), dehydration and production of ketones, nutritional deficiencies, metabolic imbalances, and difficulty with daily activities.
First and foremost, let's get something straight. HG is not your typical morning sickness. It's not the same thing, nor can the two even be compared. It's much more severe than your run-of-the-mill pregnancy sickness. I've seen shows on television try to depict HG in a seemingly lesser light than what it is; they always portray it as your typical, everyday morning sickness. It's described as severe morning sickness, when in fact, it's a different beast all its own. HG has been in the headlines with Kate Middleton, and even Kelly Clarkson (who also portrayed it as severe morning sickness, much to the dismay of many an HG survivor). However, as evidenced by real life stories from everyday women, it's a proven fact that many doctors out there simply don't know enough about it to adequately treat it. Consequently, many women are sent home to suffer alone, untreated and left to try to deal.
As my husband has described our experience with HG, “It was a hellacious time.”
My HG Story
I was once one of those women sent home, left to try to deal. During my first pregnancy, there was no Facebook, there were no online friendships that I knew about (besides email), no support groups. This was when I first learned what HG really is. It affected me physically, emotionally, and mentally, both during my pregnancy and, to a degree, postpartum.
I remember being so excited that we were going to have a baby, our first, our sweet Jacob! I'd read all about morning sickness, but neither of us had any idea the ride we were in for. I just remember being in that honeymoon phase, expecting pregnancy to be this beautiful, wonderful event in our lives. That picture changed drastically over the coming days and weeks.
I remember waking up extremely ill, early one morning. Nothing would stay down… I could hardly eat or drink a thing. Food was revolting, just the mere mention, thought, or smell of it. I became so dehydrated that we made our first ER visit, and I just remember the doctor looking at me and saying that this would all be over at 12 weeks, that it was “just morning sickness” and blah blah blah. I thought to myself, “How can I even endure that many more weeks of this?!” Nothing was done, and I was sent home, unable to really function at all. I tried every natural remedy I could possibly find to try that was safe for me and baby; none of them helped, even a little. And don't even dare to say the word ginger to me… Nope.
I became sicker and sicker, my husband having to try to force me to eat dry toast, buttered toast, mustard and cheese (one of the only things I could get down), also forcing me to drink anything he could get down my throat or even forcing ice chips. I'd eat or drink something, and back up it would come. He describes me at that time as having simply given up, feeling like I was going to die; I can honestly agree. My body wasn't getting adequate nutrition or fluids to support both myself and my baby. Many more ER visits were to come because my body was simply so dehydrated, and I was losing so much weight. By the time we'd leave the emergency room and get back out to our car in the parking garage, I was already puking again, even though I had nothing left to come up, a bucket or bin my constant companion. It was horrible. Medicines were prescribed, none of which worked very well to help alleviate my symptoms. I took them 'round the clock, subsisting on cheese and mustard sandwiches to get the meds down, because it was all I could stand to eat most of the time.
And then during one particular ER visit, doctors began to realize this was no ordinary morning sickness. I was placed in a side room of an already overcrowded hospital and fully hydrated. I remember being sent to see a woman doctor, who honestly became my champion… I don't remember her name, nor do I remember a lot (Dan and I both agree that we've both blocked out a lot of this time), but I do remember her being outraged that nothing had been done. She was very concerned about my weight (I believe I had lost 20-24 pounds, more than 15% of my body weight at that time), and I remember her concern over deficiencies and imbalances that were beginning to rear their ugly heads. Electrolyte imbalance, including potassium, was wreaking havoc. My champion doctor began to talk of sending me home with a permanent IV line, if things did not begin to clear up, with a home health nurse visiting on a regular basis. They'd begun to teach Dan what he would need to do to change out my IV bags and keep fluids going into my sick and wasting away body. 12 weeks had come and gone, all my hope gone with them. We both remember feeling, though, that finally, FINALLY, someone was taking us seriously. I was diagnosed with Hyperemesis Gravidarum, the first I'd ever heard of this ugly illness. I was prescribed Phenergan suppositories (so much fun), which is when my turnaround began. Instead of constantly throwing up, I was finally resting; I still wasn't eating or drinking a lot, but the Phenergan made me sleep. Thankfully, a permanent IV at home was not needed. Somewhere around 15-20 weeks, my time with HG began to abate somewhat, though I still fought nausea on a daily basis for some time afterward. Nausea, as uncomfortable as it may be, I could handle… Constant dehydration, loss of weight, and complete inability to function were something else altogether.
Not only did HG affect me physically, but it affected our entire lives, leading to a huge life change and cross-country move. My husband had lost his job because of that last visit to the ER; his boss was not happy that he chose to take me to the emergency room, even though that visit could very well be the one that saved my life. So, financial implications began to hit us head on. We were in a rut that would take us some time to dig our way out of.
Thankfully, we gave birth to a beautiful, healthy baby boy.
6 years later (because it took us that long to work up the courage to get pregnant again), my second pregnancy had some nausea but nowhere near what I endured the first time around. I was even able to work the first few months, a blessing in and of itself. I will say that I stayed away from pre-natal vitamins altogether, a fact which probably led me to being dangerously anemic when our sweet Jaden was born.
And then there's my third pregnancy, which I am currently in. Hyperemesis returned at 5 1/2 weeks with a vengeance, and let me tell you, the flashbacks of that first time 'round were not fun for either myself or my amazing husband. We both began to panic, remembering what it was like and knowing how many more weeks it would take to get through. This time, though, was different because we knew what to expect, and we'd already informed my doctor at the time (now we're seeing a midwife who is also very understanding). We immediately called and having already shared my history, we were straight away given a prescription for the highest dose/frequency of a new medication called Diclegis, a time-released medication. Did I want to take medication? No. No, I didn't. But desperate times… In less than a week's time, I'd already lost 8-9 pounds. Again, I'd tried all the natural remedies and knew that I was going to need a little help to get through this.
I won't say that the medication took away all of the sickness. It didn't. But at least, after starting on the medication, I was miraculously able to keep food and fluids down and avoid the hospital altogether, a HUGE blessing. I was still in bed most of the time for a good 8 weeks, God bless my guys for helping me hold down the fort. I still had to force myself to eat and drink much of the time. We would work on school from my bed, 'cause when you homeschool, the show must go on and you're still the teacher. My bedside table became command central for anything that just couldn't wait. Every movement, every noise, all these little things that ordinarily don't bother you, instantly become triggers. A noise, for me, could trigger a trip to the porcelain god, or in my case, a bucket. All I wanted was a quiet room, no movement of any kind, no flashing. Even to look at my phone would cause the nausea to bubble up inside; but I'll tell you, that was the difference for me this time 'round, because this time I had support in the way of other friends who were going through the same thing and an HG support group I'd found on Facebook, through the HER Foundation. The thing that really got me through was prayer. Several nights, I would lay in bed, praying not just for myself, but for others I knew who were going through the same thing, calling them out by name in my prayers. I would also think about the end reward… this precious little baby that's growing inside of me.
Around 12-14 weeks, the severe nausea began to somewhat subside during the day, enough that I could function again. I still deal with nausea off and on, but as I said before, I can handle a little bit of nausea, compared to everything we went through before.
All of that said, I count myself as one of the lucky ones, because many women with HG don't experience relief until baby's born.
The Effects of HG
Many women who endure HG end up having to get a PICC line placed for nutritional needs. They endure complications like encephalopathy, nutritional deficiencies, metabolic imbalances, and so much more. It can affect a mother's ability to breastfeed after baby is born. In some cases, sickness can become so severe that loss of baby's life, miscarriage, occurs.
The implications of HG aren't just physical, though. As I'd previously mentioned, it can involve loss of job and loss of financial security, the last thing a pregnant woman needs to worry about. But it also has psychological repercussions. Pregnancy became much feared by both myself and Dan for a very long time; it was something we had to work through together.
There are other implications, as well. As much as I hate even the thought of abortion, there are countless stories where it has come to this for those who are severely and intensely sick for such a long period of time. It's not something to be judged, but something that should raise anyone's level of compassion for the toll that HG takes on a woman, enough of a toll that she would take such a desperate measure. When I learned this fact, my heart just broke, one of the many reasons I'm finally sharing my story and hoping to raise at least some awareness around HG.
Doctors and midwives need to be aware. More research and study need to be done, in order to facilitate a positive change. Family and friends need to know what their pregnant wife, mom, daughter, daughter-in-law, or friend are going through so they can reach out. Just one person reaching out with an offer of help, prayer, or compassion makes all the difference in the world. Bosses need to know the hell their employee is going through. It affects all immediate family members too. Though it's a shorter-lived illness than something like cancer, for instance, it doesn't make it any less of an illness. Believe me when I tell you that this time of coping with HG is one of the loneliest experiences a woman can ever go through. It's such a bittersweet time… In one sense, you feel elated to be having a baby; but in another sense, you feel utterly unable to deal and completely miserable, which then leads to a feeling of guilt because you want to feel happy and blessed, but instead you feel like you could die.
Now I've shared my story… but it's not just my story. It's also the story of thousands of other women who have gone through this very same thing and worse. This is for all of us who are HG survivors. This is for all the babies who were lost, due to Hyperemesis Gravidarum. THIS IS FOR A POSITIVE CHANGE.
Have you or someone you loved experienced the effects of HG? Share your story in the comments. Above all, please know that you are not alone; you can find help and support through the HER Foundation.