Hyperemesis Gravidarum

Bless the Duchess of Cambridge. I am not much of a follower of the Royal Family, but Kate Middleton’s pregnancies have brought so much exposure to a very serious condition. Kensington Palace announced in a tweet this past Monday that “The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge are very pleased to announce that the Duchess of Cambridge is expecting their third child.” An image of the full press release also stated that “as with her previous two pregnancies, The Duchess is suffering from Hyperemesis Gravidarum.”

There’s morning sickness, which sucks, can occur all day, cause food aversions, nausea, and vomiting. And then there’s Hyperemesis Gravidarum (HG). Think all of the above x1000. I know because I had it with my first pregnancy. I literally thought I was going to die. What’s worse is that it is not very well understood, and at least in my experience, I found myself amongst people who couldn’t fathom it, so instead they tried to invalidate what was happening to me. Thankfully, I had a support system of friends who were pregnant at the same time going through the exact same thing! That’s why the publicity surrounding Kate Middleton’s condition is so important to me. So many people have never heard of it, or don’t understand how serious it can be.

What It Is

The Mayo Clinic defines HG as a rare form of morning sickness so severe that it “may require hospitalization and treatment with intravenous (IV) fluids and medications.” The American Pregnancy Association describes HG as “a condition characterized by severe nausea, vomiting, weight loss, and electrolyte imbalance. Mild cases are treated with dietary changes, rest, and antacids. More severe cases often require a stay in the hospital so that the mother can receive fluid and nutrition through an intravenous line (IV).” The same way that pregnancies can be experienced differently, so can HG. Treatments depend on the severity of symptoms. Some women experience it their entire pregnancy, while others only for part of it.

My Experience

I only know what I’ve read about it, and how I personally experienced HG. I’m hoping someone out there reading this learns a thing or two, or better yet, realizes they are not alone. Go hug a pregnant lady. Don’t freak her out! Ask her first, of course! But then give her a hug and tell her you support her. If you ever come across someone with HG, remind them they are not alone because HG can be so isolating. You spend a lot of time blacking out, throwing up, unable to move, or in the hospital, hooked up to an IV. Finding others that were going through it too, especially people close to me, people that understood, was a Godsend. We rallied each other.

The Puking

With HG, the vomiting is probably the worst and most dangerous part of the condition. With HG the risk of dehydration is almost certain. During normal morning sickness, usually *not always* you throw up because something smelled funny, grossed you out, didn’t sit well, or your stomach got a little empty. With HG literally everything makes you throw up. I got hit with the Great Wall of extreme nausea at 2 weeks pregnant. In fact, it’s how I knew we were expecting long before I tested. And then, it came. So much worse than I could have ever imagined. Walking past the kitchen (which was unfortunately -maybe fortunately- across from the bathroom) standing up, sitting down, drinking water, the smell of any food, actually the smell of anything, flowers, people, dust, trying to eat food, lying down, my prenatals, nausea meds, the thought of throwing up…etc. You get the picture, literally everything made me puke.

It’s not a few times a day either like morning sickness, it can be up to 50 times a day. Every time I threw up, it was multiple times, multiple times a day. I would call it “rounds.” “I threw up six times the last round, and five the round before that,” I would explain to my doctor. Sometimes, I wondered what I was actually puking on a completely empty stomach. Throwing up became a part of life. I had to know where the nearest bathroom/bush was at all times. I remember when the puking started. I tried to go for a walk with my husband at 7 weeks pregnant. We made it to the curb about 20ft away from our apartment, and then I couldn’t walk anymore. I couldn’t even stand up straight. I just started throwing up over and over and over again. We turned around, went back home, and I. Just. Kept. Vomiting.

The Meds

They don’t always work. I have many distinct memories of staring at the toilet at a tiny, floating, fluffy white or blue dot. My Zofran or Zantac. Hot tears stinging my eyes while I thought, “WHY AREN’T YOU HELPING?! YOU’RE SUPPOSED TO MAKE THIS ALL GO AWAY! MAKE ME BETTER ALREADY!” I’d had the Zofran from the beginning, but didn’t get on a Zantac regimen until about 12 weeks. Let me be clear: I am 100% convinced that I would not have endured my pregnancies without medicine, whether it was pills or in an IV. We tried almost EVERYTHING. I’ll spare you all of the tips and tricks and save them for another post on pregnancy nausea, but oh man, if we heard about something that had worked for someone, we tried it! Mind you, we were broke college students at the time, so the two nickels we had to rub together went towards finding a solution. That and the ER visits.

The Emergency Room

I won’t say that we received great care in the hospital we had to go to at the time, well…because I can’t. We didn’t. Our school was in a rural area at the time, and the closest hospital wasn’t the greatest. The prenatal care they could offer was limited, and women traveled to other towns to receive it, and deliver their babies. The way I found out I had HG was that it was marked on all of my discharge paperwork each time we went. I lost count on how many times we had to go to the ER, and sit there for hours while they pumped me with fluids. Remember, dehydration and poor college students? We didn’t even have a car. I have no recollection of how we got there and back each time. My husband was taking a certification course at the time. If he didn’t pass the final exam, we would have had to pay the school back $1500 for the course. It was a stressful time in our lives. I remember begging him to just leave me at the hospital at 2am so he could rest instead of sitting in that uncomfortable upright chair. He always refused. I was certain I was dying. Or if I wasn’t, that the baby was. I couldn’t eat, couldn’t sleep, I couldn’t even hold down water. I was losing weight, and bleeding from the strain of everything. Each time they started an ultrasound, I held my breath waiting for her heartbeat, or, to hear the doctor say that she didn’t make it.

Scared and impatiently waiting for the ultrasound to start.

Fainting, Dizziness, and Blackouts

When you are pregnant, your body produces about 40% more blood. You need more oxygen. Strenuous activity can make you pass out. In my case, being weak from lack of food, sleep, or water, added to the problem. I passed out, and passed out often. I also worked outside, in the heat, on my feet giving tours 6-8 hours a day. I remember taking my tour to a show, and heading back to the front to grab ponchos. The whole world started to spin. I felt myself losing control, so I stepped inside of a building to black out in private and crashed landed into some benches. I stood up to shake off the blackout and saw another employee staring at me from the window, eyes wide and mouth open. She was probably shouting, but my ears were still ringing, and all I could hear was a muffled “are you ok?” I probably mumbled something lame like “yeah, pregnant,” and kept walking. I was still in class my first two months of pregnancy, and frequent blackouts during final exams and presentations made it difficult to get my work done. Thank heavens I graduated; officially finishing all of my coursework the month before my daughter was born! I also remember excusing myself mid-sentence at work to run to the bathroom, and throw up during tours. My most distinct memory of passing out happened when I had tried to rush to work on a hot day. I was so sick I didn’t want to move. I glanced at the clock, and thought “oh no! I have to hurry!” I made it, feeling a little shaky (work was a 15min walk from our apartment), and I must have looked off because everyone kept asking me if I was ok. I said I was fine and started fanning myself. When I stood up, a friend put his arm around me to support me, and all I remember after that is waking up on the ground with people around me. I don’t think I took tours much longer after that incident, later being reassigned to customer service, and eventually having to stop working altogether. If it wasn’t the weakness from lack of oxygen or nutrients, the dehydration got me. That incident ended up with yet another trip for more fluids from the emergency room.

So grateful to have had my husband as my rock.

A Happy Ending

The mother of one of my friends said to us, “be grateful, it means the baby is there.” I clung to that notion. It kept me going. I would tell myself that I am growing a human, harboring a life, a beautiful spirit that wanted to meet us. The physical strain made me feel like I was going to die. But at 9 weeks they did another ultrasound (they thought we were losing her again), and we listened to her heartbeat while we watched her kicking and swimming around. I fell completely in love. Nothing else mattered, she needed to get here. She gave me a renewed determination to succeed at life, and conquer the HG.

The ultrasound that changed my life. She even still had her little tail.

At 18 weeks we moved states, and I received better care. At 20, the HG wore off. I still had morning sickness, and threw up every day until the day she was born, but I was able to function again. I even got a job, and worked until the day I went into labor. At 38 weeks, we were graced by the presence of a beautiful, healthy baby girl. Unaffected, and unaware of the debilitating condition her mother had suffered to bring her to Earth. And you know what? I would do it again in a heartbeat! In fact, we did, 9 months later we were expecting again! A boy this time. I had morning sickness through 26 weeks, but was blessed to experience his pregnancy without HG.

17 weeks into first pregnancy, with HG.

17 weeks into second pregnancy, no HG.

Our sweet baby girl was worth every sacrifice.

I gained a new found love for my body, and what it was capable of enduring. I am a warrior! Bruised and scarred, but not beaten from fighting the battle against HG. We were surprised by the blessing of an easy delivery, but my nutrient deficient body had a difficult time recovering. We survived the experience, and I learned so much. Our bodies can do some incredible things. And, mothers are truly amazing ❤

~Pe

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