I saw a quote that has stuck with me, it is simply the best way to describe something that really isn’t describable, something that no matter what words you try to use, is something that you can’t understand until you are in the depths of it first hand.
“If morning sickness is a drop of rain, Hyperemesis is the hurricane”.
Even just reading that now I have written it, it brings goosebumps and I am holding back tears. Truth.
I have suffered, and survived, two Hyperemesis Gravidarum pregnancies.
My husband too has suffered through two HG pregnancies.
I have given birth to two babies who have also survived HG.
So what is HG?
Hyperemesis Gravidarum is severe vomiting and nausea in pregnancy.
It can last for most, if not all, of the whole pregnancy.
There is no conclusive cause, nor is there a cure.
There are options of medications to help manage, although with a limited degree of success.
That doesn’t sound so bad, does it?
Let’s go a step further.
Severe vomiting. We are talking non stop. All day. Waking up in the morning to choking on your vomit. Waking up with no time to even roll over to get your head off the side of the bed. Vomiting so hard that all the capillaries in your face and eyes burst. Relentless nausea. Breathing makes you nauseous. Opening your eyes makes you nauseous. Vibration and sound and light makes you nauseous. Your own saliva makes you sick. And still vomiting even though there is nothing left in your stomach. Vomiting bile, your stomach lining, and the acid burning your throat. In agony because your stomach muscles are constantly working and go into spasm. And the spasms make you nauseous. All day. Every day. Non stop.
Still not sounding all that bad?
You can’t eat, or drink. Unable to keep down water, not even little sips. Nor the dry plain crackers people suggest as a magic cure. You haven’t eaten in days. You are weak. You are malnourished. You are dehydrated. You are rapidly loosing weight. Yet you keep vomiting.
You black out. You faint. You can’t string together a sentence because you have no clarity in your thoughts. You can’t sit up and can barely open your eyes. Everything makes you unwell… every sound, every smell, every movement.
My husband has had to carry me to the toilet. He has had to take me to the bath, wash me and hold me up because i’ve been too weak to lay there and keep my head above water. He has cleaned my vomit bowls, bowl after bowl after bowl, and changed the bed sheets, time and time again. He has seen me loose control of my bladder because i’ve vomited too hard. He has been able to do nothing but hold me while I cry, while I sob that I just want it to end. He has been totally helpless.
You need to understand that HG isn’t morning sickness. Morning sickness is a symptom of pregnancy. HG is an chronic, debilitating illness. HG can kill you.
Say what? Kill you? No way… vomiting and nausea can’t kill you!?
Yes, it can. Because it is that severe, and lasts for so long, that you become THAT malnourished. THAT dehydrated. Your organs shut down. No kidding, I went into kidney failure with my first and spent a week in hospital at 34 weeks. This time, I saw the signs earlier and was able to get treatment to avoid being admitted. I lost 12kgs in 4wks.
It is literally a matter of days before you become that unwell that you need a trip to the ER for re-hydration… needing a wheelchair to get you from the car… except you are that dehydrated they can’t find your veins. So poke after poke until they end up needing to use ultrasound to actually get the line in. Then litre after litre bags of saline go in… meds go in too, your electrolytes are out of whack and need balancing out too. But they don’t want to let you leave until you are eating. Which, after being in the hospital all day being “fixed up” you can manage a sandwich. You leave. For a moment you feel semi-normal. Exhausted, but semi normal. And so does that meal on the way home in the car. And so begins another downhill spiral until next week when you are back again.
And through all this… inside you is a baby growing… how does that even happen. All those pregnancy joke lines about “eating for two” when you can’t even eat for one! That baby is sucking the life out of you, it is taking all that it needs to survive, it takes from your stores, which means there is no back up left for you. And those recommended pregnancy vitamins and folate tablets daily… no hope. You can barely keep down the copious amount of meds that are meant to help control the vomiting let alone adding anything else.
HG robs you of your life. After days, after weeks, after it turns to months. Sick.
Without work. Without socialising. Without intimacy. Without leaving the house. The isolation is depressing. Simply not able to function. Not able to do the simplest of daily tasks.
And in fact, the number of women who end up with depression and post natal depression is alarmingly high. In addition, PTSD, HG is a form of trauma and eating disorders.
You can’t look after yourself. I know of women who have had to shave their heads in the end because the knots were impossible to brush out. The longest I went was 9 days without a bath. I know of women that have lost teeth because of the constant stomach acid in their mouth.
I missed school assemblies, soccer games, dance lessons, birthday parties… All I could do was listen on as my family sat down for meal after meal and my other two children saying “is mummy getting out of bed today?” or “can’t mummy just come and sit with us even if she doesn’t eat too?”
I watched my husband and children drive away on Easter Sunday to the extended family lunch… I was determined to go, I managed to get out of bed, I even had a bath that day… but that is where it ended… I prayed I would be able to manage, just to go in my PJ’s and sit in a recliner and do nothing, but at least I would be there. I couldn’t. I was just too sick. I couldn’t even stand up, and even though I maxed out on my meds, the vomiting just wouldn’t stop. I missed Easter.
And of course, any time I did manage to go out, it was so ridiculously heavily medicated and a struggled brave face, and the hour or so I was out cost me so much more in suffering for it afterward.
I am pregnant! I am meant to be glowing! Where is that glow I was promised!?? It robs you from that wonderful pregnancy you expected, the one where you enjoy every moment. Those cliche images you have in your mind are shattered. All those plans you had… the weekly bump photos, the nesting in the nursery, the baby shower, the resting the cup of tea on your belly… all of it, gone. The joy of feeling your baby move… gone… because it makes you vomit.
Now I do need to take a moment here to highlight a silver lining. I am so eternally thankful for the love and support of my husband, Ben. It is something that I am so very aware that not all women have (both in general life, in pregnancy and beyond), and more so, aware that HG breaks so many relationships. HG pushes relationships, it tests them, challenges them and in so many cases is too much for the relationship to survive.
My silver lining is that I had to lean on my husband in a way that I hadn’t before. I needed him in a way I hadn’t before. I needed him physically, emotionally and mentally in ways that I didn’t even know a person could need another. He was a rock. Not once did he ever complain, not once did he ever show how much it was hurting him, how much of a toll it was all taking or how helpless he felt. All he gave me was unconditional love and support, he strengthened me and gave me nothing but encouragement and understanding. He saw me at my worst, and he stood by me.
There was a period in which I could tolerate plain lemonade, only about 1 cup total spread out over the whole day, but it was something. One night I used the last we had. So Ben was going to go to the corner store in the morning before going to work to get me more. That next morning, he left, and he didn’t come back. And when I called and asked him where he was and if he had forgotten to get the lemonade, which he had, he cried. To him, he felt like it was the one thing he could do to help me, and he had forgotten and knew I would be suffering all day waiting.
I loved him before, but HG has deepened that love. I have the upmost praise and respect for Ben, he is an incredible man and I am so blessed to call him my husband, and there is no way that I could have survived without him.
And my other two… at the time, aged 7 and 13. To see their mum so seriously unwell. This is something that will stay with them forever. That constant disappointment (although understood, it doesn’t take away the heartache) when I couldn’t be there or do something or to even muster a smile or a hug.
My 7yo used to stroke my back as I had my head in a bucket, telling me that it would be ok and that she was sorry I was so poorly. She would come home from school and ask me how many times I had vomited that day, like it was an every day regular or normal conversation to have.
The number of babies that are terminated due to HG is astoundingly high. And I completely know how this is possible. Our baby wasn’t planned, but was not at all unwelcome. We wanted our baby. But, I admit, that it pains me to know that in my darkest hours I had thoughts of wishing it would be over, that I didn’t want to do it anymore. And then the guilt of thinking those things. Deep down it wasn’t how I really felt, but that was so far buried that I couldn’t even make sense of my feelings let alone actually know it wasn’t how I truly felt.
HG puts you into survival mode. And it doesn’t matter that there is a baby inside you, there is a life you are growing… it doesn’t matter how much you love that baby already… HG puts you on the brink of death where all of that doesn’t matter and it becomes about self survival.
And that is horrible. Just that alone is horrible. But then that it is your baby that you feel that because of… the guilt, oh the guilt. More guilt on top of the guilt you aren’t nourishing that baby like you should be.
Under 3% of all pregnancies are HG pregnancies. There isn’t even any real knowledge about what or why or how HG is caused… some say it’s genetic, and that it passes through the generations… some say it’s from the placenta… some say it’s caused by the father of the baby… some say it’s more common when carrying a girl… others say it a hormone imbalance… and there are a few other theories going around as well…
Some women have it it all pregnancies, some have it in only some, or have a varying degree. Some have it leave part way through the pregnancy, others all the way through, and others have it leave and then return toward the end.
Some women are instantly better after the birth. Others have it linger for months afterwards.
The medications that are used aren’t actually for HG and therefore their degree of success is limited. And, come with their own side affects too. I am talking severe constipation, to the point of needing to have your bowels dis-impacted.
I tried acupuncture. After 3 needles were in, I reacted so badly I burst into a hot flush and vomited and had an instant migraine.
Oh, and the fact that it is near impossible to find a medical team that truly acknowledge or understand HG is insulting. In fact, one midwife told me that it was “all in my head”.
I suppose what was in my favour this time was that I had been through it once before, so while this time around it was far worse, it was easier to manage simply because I knew what I was doing. And, we were able to advocate for me much more.
I sit here now and reflect back on what I have already written and although I am allowing the words to just flow, to just be honest and share my story… it really doesn’t even begin to do justice to what HG is really all about.
You can’t imagine HG. You can’t imagine what it is really like. And, you don’t want to.
HG is your body literally eating itself alive. And, a baby inside you literally eating you to survive.
Do not liken HG to gastro or food poisoning.
Don’t liken it to morning sickness.
It isn’t the same. Not even close.
It is a physical, emotional and mental struggle… on the edge of death, literally… day in, day out… for months and months.
It is violent. It is severe. It is debilitating. It is life threatening to mother and to baby.
I have survived two Hyperemesis Gravidarum pregnancies.
My husband has survived two HG pregnancies.
I have two HG babies.
It is just… a hurricane.