The Duchess of Cambridge, Kate Middleton, is giving a face to a condition that doesn’t get enough attention – even in parenting circles or pregnancy groups which can sometimes make a big deal out of much rarer and less serious issues. Today, I’m opening up about not just my experience with Hyperemesis Gravidarum but also some tips if you’re suffering with it and how to support friends who are going through Hyperemesis Gravidarum.
Most women experience some form of morning sickness when pregnant as their body gets used to the pregnancy hormones. But for 1-2% of the population, the morning sickness doesn’t stop in the morning – and it doesn’t stop after the first trimester.
For those of us with HG (or HE, hyperemesis gravidarum) we start a constant fight with our bodies shortly after getting pregnant. And it’s much worse than most people can imagine.
Throughout my pregnancy, no amount of nausea treatments or medications could stop me from throwing up multiple times a day. I was even prescribed medication intended for chemotherapy patients and it wasn’t enough.
My doctor banned me from driving as I couldn’t get through a 15 minute drive without throwing up. Taking the bus was worse because I would have to get off and be sick in a plastic bag on the side of the road if someone got on the bus who had been smoking, wearing perfume or had any form of food or smelly drinks with them. (Coffee, my previous lifeblood, now smelt so putrid to me it would send me running to the bathroom.)
I was put on sick leave from work at 5 months pregnant because the number of times I would have to excuse myself for the bathroom was deemed excessive. I was often so weak I couldn’t walk by the end of the day. I constantly feared losing my daughter because I couldn’t imagine how a body so sick could also give my daughter what it needed to grow.
After my daughter, my molars were so badly damaged by the constant acid erosion that I had to have one pulled – and was completely humiliated by the dentist who suggested that I needed to start taking better care of my teeth (that this was my fault).
But, I still had it easy compared to many other HG sufferers.
While I had to be admitted to the hospital a few times for an IV (throwing up all day, every day, can really dehydrate you), I have met other women who lost so much weight during pregnancy they were under 100 lbs by the time they gave birth. According to the Hyperemesis Education and Research Foundation, many of these women end up having severe nutritional deficiencies and metabolic imbalances that can be life-threatening.
While I had a few brief overnights in the hospital, many of these women have to stay in the hospital for weeks or months at a time. And for those without sick leave or with other children, that can be devastating.
What You Need to Know If You Have Hyperemesis Gravidarum
Suffering from HG can be terrifying and incredibly lonely – especially as people try to downplay your symptoms as “just morning sickness” or assume that you must be exaggerating or haven’t tried everything possible.
What you need to know if you have hyperemesis gravidarum is that there are ways to reduce your symptoms and the impact on your overall health, though very few of us find full relief.
Make sure you are documenting your symptoms and how frequently you are getting sick so you can take that information to your doctor to make a plan.
Your doctor may prescribe medications (Diclectin is common but I never experienced relief on it, personally) or even schedule you for regular IV fluids to help prevent dehydration. If your doctor doesn’t take your symptoms seriously, seek a second opinion.
Identify your triggers and accommodate them.
You will not be able to “toughen up and overcome.” You need to avoid and accommodate your triggers. If you’re in a shared workplace, try to explain your commitment to getting your work done but that you need everyone on your team’s support to do that – and outline your triggers.
If driving or taking the bus triggers you as it did me, seek out working remotely, carpooling, or a discounted driving service, etc.
There are some tools and tricks that can help.
Nose plugs, pleasant perfume on a handkerchief, a fan pointed directly at your face all day, a misting bottle… the tools to fight HG will look different for everyone, but certain things can help reduce your symptoms if you experiment. I hate being cold but cold air blasting on my face all day helped reduce my nausea so I bought fans for my desk at work and every place I sat or lay down at home.
Chances are you won’t have someone in your circle who suffered from HG but if you have supportive friends, ask for help where it’s needed.
It may be helpful to seek out other HG sufferers – there is a list of HG support groups here that you may find useful, and you can always put up a Facebook status asking if anyone you know knows someone who suffered from it. I had no idea that one of my mentors had suffered from it, too – and way worse than I did. She encouraged me to advocate for myself and take my symptoms seriously when it seemed like no one around me did.
Keep Your Eyes on the Prize
And what an amazing prize you get! As much as I hated nearly every moment of being pregnant, I would do it all over again for 10 years straight to get my girl.
How to Support Friends with Hyperemesis Gravidarum
The first piece of advice I’d give is don’t assume you get it or that they are exaggerating. HG is not something that needs exaggeration – it is truly horrible and scary. We are going through what is supposed to be an amazing experience (carrying life) and it’s possibly the worst we’ve ever physically felt in our lives. We are exhausted and scared for our unborn children, in addition to dealing with any complications that can arise from HG. Patience and love go a long way.
The second is insist on helping. Ask your friend what their biggest struggles are right now and how you can help. If they have other children, preparing meals that we can just reheat (even if that still makes us sick) helps tremendously (since the smell of most foods will cause HG sufferers to be sick).
If your friend has children they probably feel super guilty for being sick all of the time. Bring over busy bags or low-prep activities that won’t make a mess – or if you can, take the kids out for a couple hours (even just to the backyard).
If your friend is like me and can no longer safely drive, offer to take her on a couple errands – or even grab her groceries while you’re out grabbing yours.
Purchasing a few hours from a cleaning service (maybe pitch in with a few friends) is always a wonderful gift – especially when you are sick.
Try to avoid bringing smells into their spaces – whether a coffee or a spritz of perfume – or if that’s unavoidable, ask them upfront if the smell is upsetting them and keep your distance without taking offence.
Did you or someone you know suffer from Hyperemesis Gravidarum? I’d love if you could share your best tips – for either coping with it or supporting friends who suffered.