This week, I spoke to my lovely friend Becki about her experience of Hyperemesis Gravidarum. For those of you who don’t know, around 10,000 women in the UK suffer from Hyperemesis Gravidarum (HG) every year. It is often dismissed as normal morning sickness in pregnancy, but in reality can leave the women who experience it with PTSD, a torn oesophagus, burst blood vessels and eroded tooth enamel.
What did you know about HG before you were pregnant?
I can remember reading a news article online about the Duchess of Cambridge suffering from it when she was pregnant with Princess Charlotte and feeling sympathy for her, but not really understanding exactly what it was. It was initially described by the media as “extreme morning sickness” which I’ve come to learn is not the case at all. I knew next to nothing and I didn’t think I’d ever need to educate myself. My friend Roo has also suffered with it, but I had no idea to what extent it affected her- it was pure ignorance.
What treatments were you offered through your pregnancy to combat HG? Did they work?
When I was finally diagnosed in September 17, I was initially prescribed cyclizine and ondansetron-both anti-emetics. I was advised to take them in tandem with each other, but the ondansetron soon ran out. It’s the more expensive for the NHS to prescribe. Unfortunately for me, cyclizine didn’t do the trick on its own. I continued to take it, but it wasn’t effective and I ended up back in hospital a few times, quite poorly. People did make suggestions for foods that helped them. There were some foods that helped for a time, but my body seemed to tire of them really quickly and I’d end up not even able to think about them, let alone eat them, without throwing up.
In the end, rest and putting my body and it’s needs first was the only thing that kept me going. It meant missing out on a lot of stuff and sacrificing things but I needed to be selfish.
What strategies or coping mechanisms did you employ to deal with your HG?
Hypnobirthing techniques and mindfulness breathing really helped, especially when I felt completely overwhelmed emotionally. Baths helped too. Washing my hair always made me feel better again after feeling really lousy. Having a risk assessment and plan in place at work, as well as a few key people I trusted who I could warn if I was having a bad day and they’d keep an eye out for me.
What was your HG like at its best and worse?
At my best- I could manage a nice meal and a day out and go to bed and sleep without being sick. Our anniversary weekend away was one such time.
When it was bad- I remember kneeling on my bathroom floor at 3am, after being sick for the 7th time that night, crying and apologising to my husband for the umpteenth time, and just wishing I hadn’t gotten pregnant.
At its worst – We thought we were losing our baby, and could do nothing about it.
How did HG affect your mental health?
It made me feel so guilty. All the time. Guilty that I was possibly and inadvertently harming my baby, that they were suffering (they weren’t), guilty for putting my husband through it, guilty for bailing on parties and birthdays and events, guilty for being angry at people who just didn’t understand and made flippant comments, guilty for wishing I wasn’t pregnant, when I knew full well I had friends who were struggling to conceive. I felt guilty for myself, that I wasn’t having the pregnancy I had envisioned and I felt like I’d cheated myself somehow.
What do you wish people knew about HG?
That it isn’t “bad morning sickness” or even morning sickness at all. It’s a genetic and hereditary condition that affects around 1% of pregnancies and has an 84% chance of recurrence in subsequent pregnancies. It’s so debilitating that some days getting out of bed is hard; keeping water and food down is hard. I lost weight in pregnancy because I struggled to keep things down- that was a huge worry. Some women report being sick of 50 times a day.
Personally, I wish people knew how lonely HG is. It’s so lonely sitting on the floor of your bathroom crying because you’re in pain from the stomach muscles used to be sick, or your teeth ache and throat hurts from the acidic vomit. It’s hard but I promise you, it does go. Within minutes of her being born, my nausea lifted and I honestly felt instantly better.
How can family and friends best support you if you have HG?
- Be there. My husband was a complete and utter rock. He was up with me every day and night no matter how many times I was sick; he rubbed my back, held my hair, let me cry and didn’t judge or make me feel like I was doing a bad job. He helped educate those around us who just didn’t know and ensured I was supported at work. Having a support network was one of the most fundamental blocks we needed during our pregnancy and we are really grateful for that.
- Be accommodating. If someone you know has it, expect them to cancel on you. Don’t make them feel guilty about it. But also, don’t stop inviting them! There are good days where I could go out and I honestly lived for them.
- Educate yourself on the facts surrounding HG. My family were brilliant at doing that and so knew triggers and anxiety points and how to avoid them. My Dad and husband in particular loved the phase I went through where only a certain fast food chain’s greasy burgers and strawberry milkshake would stay down!
- Avoid strong perfume or cologne- my poor Husband had to retire his expensive bottle because I couldn’t stand the smell. It still remains a trigger for me.
- When you go to the loo, run some toilet cleaner or bleach round the bowl and floor. Not for your benefit, but for the poor girl that can’t face cleaning it but knows she’ll have her head in it later!
- Remind them they’re doing an incredible job. Pregnancy is tough full stop. HG in pregnancy is horrible.
What was the most helpful and unhelpful thing people said and did in regards to your pregnancy?
The most helpful thing was along the lines of “Yeah. This is really really crap and it suck that you have to go through this. I’m sorry”. To have acknowledgement from someone that actually yeah it wasn’t great and glamorous (!) was so affirming and refreshing. It didn’t make it go away and it didn’t make me physically better, but it made me feel less lonely.
The least helpful comments included “It’ll all be worth it in the end”, “maybe it’s all in your head?” “It’s just bad morning sickness- mine stopped at X weeks”, “I hear ginger helps”, “Try eating certain foods or doing certain exercise, maybe
that’ll help”, “it’ll soon be over and you’ll miss being pregnant”, “maybe you won’t have it with the next baby”… I could go on!
What advice (if any) would you give to someone who has (or thinks they have) HG?
Tell your health practitioners- your doctor, midwife, consultant whoever. There is much more advice and info out there now, so if you think you have it, find out about HG and take that info with you. Not all maternity health care professionals are fully up to date or even aware of the symptoms. You CAN take anti emetics safely in pregnancy. If you need them, ask for them!
Ketones are NOT a lone accurate indicator of dehydration in HG. Make sure that if you aren’t well for a long period of time, you get yourself checked and if necessary, admitted to hospital and on an IV drip.
**I’m not a medical professional, but at times I had to really push to be listened to**
There’s so much support out there. Pregnancy sickness support UK is an incredible charity that helped me through and continues to help others. It’s partnering with specialists throughout the world to develop more research all the time. Their helpline is a lifeline for when you are really struggling, because these are real women who have experienced it and they can give you practical advice, as well as a shoulder to cry on when you feel really lonely.
Embrace every craving. Seriously. You may only like it for a short period! One day I chowed down on an entire bag of iced gems. They revisited me a few hours later, but I really enjoyed being nostalgic for a time!
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
My blog, “Dear Luna: Love letters to my Daughter” talks quite openly about my experience in pregnancy and HG and the various times I was hospitalised.
Would you like to know more about Hyperemesis Gravidarum, or had experience with it yourself? Let us know in the comments below
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