MY STRUGGLE WITH HG
Hyperemesis Gravidarum (HG), AKA morning sickness.
Even reading those words sends shivers down my spine. I’ve been wanting to share this post for a long time but for some reason I have been afraid to. I’m not sure if it’s because it brings back so many memories or if it’s because I think it may attract the wrong attention from people who will label me as a hypochondriac (this did happen during my pregnancy). Either way I have decided that this is important to me and my words may resonate with or even help others.
To set the context, HG occurs in pregnancy and is a severe form of morning sickness which causes nausea, vomiting and ultimately dehydration as a result. In turn it can cause chronic migraines and weight loss (at a time where you should be gaining weight to support your child). From numerous doctors appointments and hospitalisations, I discovered that in most cases the baby will be fine and that your body will serve the needs of your baby before yours, ultimately leaving you extremely dehydrated and quite possibly malnourished
Now on to my personal struggle…
At around 5 weeks pregnant with Jack I remember waking one morning with a splitting sore headache and the worst nausea I’ve ever felt. Imagine your worst hangover and then multiply it by three! It really was that bad. Now imagine that feeling lasting for 33 weeks and you can begin to understand what HG really feels like.
At 5 weeks I still hadn’t told anyone apart from immediate family that I was pregnant. I was working in an office full time and it was the height of summer in Australia (so unbearably hot). I remember that first morning when it all started walking to the bus stop with my husband and feeling as though I might faint. I was trying to sip water but it was making me feel worse. I arrived at work covered in sweat with my head spinning and knew that I was going to be sick… I remember seeing my reflection in the elevator and noticing that my skin looked grey. I was trying to tolerate a conversation with a colleague but I couldn't focus. As soon as we arrived to the floor I ran to the bathrooms and vomited.
The next day I called in sick to work thinking that it was probably just a passing bug or something I had eaten. Unfortunately that was not the case. Each day was the same! I would wake with that same awful feeling and then battle through each work day with constant trips to the bathrooms, trying to fill myself with crackers and chips as they were the only foods I could stomach. I remember being sick into a coffee cup in the car, into a bin in a shopping centre and multiple times at the side of the road. I was petrified that I wasn’t taking in enough calories and that I was going to hurt the baby, especially since I couldn’t keep my pre-natal vitamins down.
At my 8 week doctors appointment I spoke to my GP about the issues I was having and I remember her telling me that it was completely normal and actually the sign of a strong pregnancy. She told me that it should all subside by 12 - 16 weeks. This made me feel a little better. She took me very seriously and offered me an anti sickness medication and lots of advice. The medication actually made me feel worse and I stopped taking it soon after, but her reassurance of this being a passing phase made me feel so much better.
Fast forward to week 16 and my symptoms weren’t getting any better. Additionally I was now suffering with migraines, anaemia and had fainted on multiple occasions. I was unable to take my normal medication for the migraines and the anaemia was causing extreme exhaustion. I have no idea why HG is referred to as “morning sickness” because it is relentless and seems to attack ALL day. At 18 weeks I was hospitalised and put on a drip, my sight had gone and I was delirious. I was retching over and over and nothing was coming up. On this particular hospitalisation they had an issue finding a vein to put my drip into because my dehydration was so severe and I left with bruises all up my arm.
At this point I was at my lowest. I remember crying to my husband and just feeling so helpless. I was being told by friends that I had confided in to focus on the positive, I was pregnant and I should be very grateful for that. I was so very grateful, but it was hard to feel positive when 50% of my day was spent with my head down the toilet and the other 50% was spent feeling dizzy and unwell. This kind of reaction made me feel terrible about myself and I withdrew a lot from social situations for the fear of being accused of moaning again.
From 25 weeks things got a little better. My sickness eased a little in the mornings and whilst I didn’t feel 100%, I felt a lot more like myself. I would pack myself full of high calorie foods in the hope that I could gain some weight and finally I could keep some food and water down. That was until afternoon arrived, then it was back to feeling terrible. My husband got so used to me dashing to the toilet to vomit, that he wouldn’t even ask me if I was ok anymore because it was quite clear I wasn’t. I was drained. At this stage I remember seeing something on Facebook about how pregnant people shouldn’t complain about their symptoms because it’s unfair to those trying. Whilst I understand that any complaints should be made in good taste, I found this extremely unfair. I felt as though we should be empowering each other through these tough times in stead of tearing each other down! I felt extremely alone.
I remember visiting the doctor again and we went through things that might make me feel better. There was talk of acupuncture and also an iron infusion to try to help with my anaemia. I decided to give the infusion a go. Cue three hours on a drip being sick into a bowl. 2 weeks later I found out that my body rejected the infusion and my levels hadn’t changed. By this point I was exhausted.
I’d also been suffering with severe rib pain which was made worst each time I was sick. I was referred to the emergency physio who instantly recognised that I had actually detached 2 ribs from all the vomiting. I remember her saying “lets put this into sporting context, if this was an athlete they’d be out for 8 weeks and thats without a baby in their tummy”. I would honestly take child birth over detached ribs, the pain was unbearable.
The sickness was affecting every aspect of my life. I’d lost weight, my hair was thinning, my skin was dry and sore, my teeth ached from all the acid and I was forced to have 2 fillings (having never had one in my life). Prior to falling pregnant I didn’t even know that the sickness could be this bad.
At 38 weeks (the day after I finished working), the sickness magically subsided. I had around 10 days of relief before Jack made his arrival into the world and I genuinely think that was my bodies way of preparing for birth. I finally felt amazing and glowy. I took all my pregnancy photos and really enjoyed that last week of pregnancy!
I guess the reason I am so keen to share my story is to raise awareness so that others can understand just how serious HG can be. My hope is that even one person reads this and is able to help another, even just by listening and taking them seriously. I feel as though in this day in age we are pressured to speak only positively about our pregnancies for fear of offending others, however when you are struggling with something that is medically serious, you should be empowered to speak out for the safety of yourself and your baby.
You should never be afraid to seek advice or medical help and once you do you will find that medical professionals will in most cases take you very seriously when pregnant. I’m so glad that my parents (a nurse and doctor) and my husband took me seriously and encouraged me to get the help I so desperately needed. Along with some of my best friends, their support carried me through what was both the happiest and one of the toughest times in my life.
Obviously since Jack’s arrival I don’t dwell on the situation. It hasn’t put me off having more children because the gift at the end is worth it. I am really just trying to share my experience so that others know they are not alone, IT WILL END! Speak out if it helps you and seek medical help. You are NOT alone.
Thanks for reading.