This IS NOT your TYPICAL pregnancy story. For many years, I wished my three pregnancies could have just been normal. I had all the pregnancy dreams that every other woman has… wearing cute maternity clothes, the meticulously planned nursery, and bump pictures taken for 38 weeks to document the journey to motherhood. Because my pregnancies weren’t anything like I had hoped, I had naturally built up a lot of resentment, disappointment, and sadness over the years. Why was my journey to motherhood nothing like I envisioned? My unpredictable pregnancies have been a huge roadblock in becoming the best version of myself.
With the intent to use my story to not only help others, but to also aid in my own recovery, I have finally realized I must come to terms with my struggle… and although I cannot change the events I went through, I must do my best to embrace each part of it. As hard as this is to share, and as hard as as it is to “remember”, I am writing this blog post with the hope that I can help increase awareness of this debilitating illness! This is my real, unfiltered recollection of a disease that nearly killed me three times. The most harrowing part…most are unaware of its’ existence!
May 15 was Hyperemesis Gravidarum (HG) Awareness Day. The HER Foundation is using the month of May to bring awareness to this condition. Recognized as one of the world’s rare diseases, there are fewer than 200,000 United States HG cases per year. HG is rare. In other words, spell check doesn’t recognize it or correct it… AND somehow, in the years of 2005, 2007, and 2013, I was one of the unlucky ones! But, even I surprised myself, and during those years, I also did something I never thought I could do. I became a SURVIVOR!
I’ll never forget August 28, 2005. When I woke up that day, I was barely able to get out of bed. I wondered how the stomach flu was still in town at the end of August. After an additional week of relentless vomiting and nausea, I started to question the fact that maybe I didn’t have a stomach bug after all. Even the most severe stomach bug symptoms usually subside by day 3. There was a chance I could be pregnant, but if so, why would I have such severe vomiting and nausea? What I didn’t realize at the time, was August 28, 2005, would mark the beginning of a dark and painful journey that would forever change my life. I had to learn how to navigate through a disease I knew absolutely nothing about nor had I ever heard of. My family and friends…they never heard of it either…. the team of medical doctors and nurses caring for me… they didn’t know how to treat it.
In a nutshell, HG is a debilitating and potentially life-threatening pregnancy disease marked by rapid weight loss, malnutrition, electrolyte disturbances, and dehydration due to unrelenting nausea and/or vomiting. If left untreated, the mom-to-be and newborn have the potential to suffer adverse consequences. HG is NOT morning sickness.
Over the years, one of the most frustrating parts of having this illness is how misunderstood it really is. Statistics indicate that around 80% of woman will have some degree of morning sickness during pregnancy; however, only 0.3% – 2% percent of women have HG. Kate Middleton’s HG diagnosis (three times) shocked the world, and showed HG survivors everywhere that even Royalty are not immune to the horrors of the disease. After Princess Kate’s diagnosis, the illness finally made its way into the main stream media. Thanks to increased awareness and the hard work of the HER Foundation, strides are finally being made towards more treatment options, more research, and even more awareness.
Sadly, I have found in my conversations with women over the years, that most were quick to dismiss a HG diagnosis and usually replied that they too were “also” sick during pregnancy (Obviously, this comment isn’t unlikely if 80% of woman have some degree of morning sickness!). At this point in the conversation, a solution was usually presented as to how I could tolerate the sickness during the first 12 weeks. Their recommendation usually consisted of eating saltines in the morning and drinking Ginger Ale. Then I would be told that once the baby was born that the sickness will be forgotten and I would be enjoy life again to the fullest. I AM NOT writing this post to dismiss anyone’s case of normal morning sickness symptoms, because I know that surviving any degree of nausea is not fun. What I AM here to do is dispel the myth that an HG diagnosis is just medical terminology for normal morning sickness. Although each of my three HG pregnancies were different, there were seven common signs of various intensity and length that told me what I had was BEYOND morning sickness.
7 Signs That It’s Not “JUST” Morning Sickness
I could not eat.
When I say I could not eat, I mean that literally. I COULD NOT EAT. There’s a reason why the worst cases of HG are treated with feeding tubes. I am thankful that my condition did not progress to that point! There were times in my pregnancies that I could not imagine eating a single morsel of food, especially in those early weeks. When I did imagine that I could eat something, my husband would immediately drive to get whatever it was, only to return home to the disappointment that I couldn’t even put the food near my mouth. In my first pregnancy, I lost 30 pounds from my already thin frame. I don’t have many pictures of me from this stage as I was in survival mode. I looked like I was suffering from an eating disorder. At four months pregnant with my first child, I was merely skin and bones. It was not an uncommon occurrence for family, friends, medical staff, or strangers to ask me why I wasn’t eating and why I was starving my baby. In each pregnancy, the symptoms were alleviated in different ways. With pregnancy No. 1, by 25 weeks I had a full recovery, meaning after that point, I was able to eat and drink normally. With pregnancy No. 2, by 20 weeks my symptoms alleviated some and then were intermittent throughout the remainder of the pregnancy. And with pregnancy No. 3, my symptoms were awful until week 20, and then constant the rest of the pregnancy. My anxiety was taken to levels I never knew existed, as I did not know what my next meal would consist of or if I would be able to tolerate it. I felt that I was unintentionally starving my baby.
I could not drink.
In the first 15 weeks, there was nothing I could drink or hold down, thus accounting for numerous ER visits and hospital stays. I have no recollection of the number of times I was hospitalized and had to go to the ER for hydration. With my second pregnancy, picc lines were able to provide daily hydration, until I developed a blood clot which left me in another downhill spiral. With my third, home health services were able to keep me out of the hospital. Eventually, as the pregnancies progressed, I was able to tolerate small amounts of selective drink choices.
I could not tolerate any smells.
The smell of my husband made me sick. Isn’t this bizarre? The smell of the outdoors made me sick, which meant I avoided going outside at all costs. My husband cooking ANY kind of food in our house made me sick! If anyone opened our fridge as I was in our bedroom, I could smell it instantly and would become so nauseated. During the worst phases of HG, my older children had to eat outside or away from our home. Perhaps the craziest part of all was that I couldn’t even stand the way I smelled! The smell of my own hair made me sick. It was the most heightened sense of smell that I never imagined! You can imagine the mom guilt that surrounded me.
I would vomit up to 16 times a day.
I was allergic to my baby, or at least that is how it felt THREE times. How is it possible that your body rejects something that was always meant to be? It was like the worst case of food poisoning…. the worst stomach flu you could imagine…. except this one didn’t go away in 24-48 hours. This one lasted for 25 weeks to 9 months. The vomiting was excruciating. It was unbearable. When you haven’t ate or drank anything in days, what can you throw up? I had nothing left to vomit but bile and blood. Even swallowing my own spit made me nauseous.
A concoction of medicines, iv’s, and pumps didn’t provide “much” relief.
Throughout my journey with HG, I took cancer chemo medicines that barely took the edge off the nausea and didn’t even prevent me from vomiting. I had a peripheral inserted central catheter – PICC line in both of my arms for daily hydration. I had medicine pumps attached to my stomach to deliver meds. I was on daily home health services to help alleviate my symptoms. And although all of these things kept me alive and breathing, they didn’t really provide that much relief. It’s very difficult explaining the various degrees of feeling like you are dying. And while all of this was happening, I actually had individuals question if I was really ‘that sick’, tell me they worked full time while they had morning sickness, question my diet before pregnancy, and ask if I was a hypochondriac. I felt like I was the biggest failure. I just couldn’t do pregnancy well.
I could not function or care for myself or my family.
As I was living with the worst of HG, I could not function, care for my family, or resume basic life activities. Insert here -me laying in bed, with my eyes shut – trying my best to block out the intense pain while praying that the symptoms would disappear. Even sleeping didn’t provide relief! I could not care for my other children and at one point I had a full team of family members and medical professionals that had to care for me on a daily basis. There were many moments during this time that I wished one of two things would happen. The first being that I would just die to end the misery. And the second being that somehow I would find myself not pregnant anymore. I just wanted the pain and suffering to end. I often tell people this so they understand the magnitude of the illness. There are woman with HG who sadly do decide to terminate the pregnancy because they can’t handle the symptoms. If you are reading this and are suffering through HG and are considering terminating the pregnancy, please reach out to me immediately or contact the HER Foundation. There IS help available and you don’t have to suffer alone.
After the baby was born, the trauma still remained.
Although with each pregnancy, as soon as the baby was delivered most of my physical symptoms ceased, I was left with a whole host of mental issues that I never expected! While pregnant, non-HG mothers would be quick to tell me that after the baby was born, I would forget being “sick” and my life would be “normal”. What no one told me though, was that life after HG will never be “normal”. After receiving intensive counseling, I am now fully aware that throughout the rest of my life, I will most likely have to deal with the aftermath of HG. These struggles include dealing with continued food aversions, learning how to cope with severe and strange anxieties, overcoming guilt, and managing post traumatic stress syndrome (PTSS) from the horror of surviving HG. Research shows that the aftermath of HG sufferers is similar to those who have survived highly stressful situations, such as combat, natural disasters, rape, or other life threatening events.
It has been almost five years since I survived my last HG pregnancy. Although I’m improving each day, I have learned that it’s okay if I don’t completely forget the trauma I’ve been through. This is my new normal. Going through HG is a part of me and an even bigger part of who I am. The most twisted part of HG is that you’re made to feel weak. In reality… surviving it requires an unfathomable amount of strength– strength I never knew I had. If I can take one thing away from being a 3x survivor it is this– I know I can do HARD things. I know if I survived the physical and mental turmoil of HG, I can accomplish ANYTHING! I can achieve WHATEVER I put may mind too. I am UNSTOPPABLE and UNBREAKABLE. I can do things that I NEVER imagined I’d be able to do.
I am a SURVIVOR.
For more information on HG or to donate to this wonderful organization, please visit the HER FOUNDATION website. If you or anyone you know is suffering from HG, and if you need advice or support, feel free to reach out to me for help. firstname.lastname@example.org
MORNING SICKNESS VS HYPEREMESIS GRAVIDARUM
(Chart below from the HER FOUNDATION website)