Pregnancy from Hell
Trigger Warning - This post discusses depression and suicidal thoughts.
Hyperemesis Gravidarum is not morning sickness. And women aren’t over reacting or being dramatic when suffering from this condition, in fact a new study led by researchers at UCLA has identified two genes associated with HG - proving that its not “all in our heads” which is unfortunately a common accusation. When people ask me what it felt like I tell them to remember the worst seasickness they’ve ever experienced, or the most severe vomiting bug they’ve caught. Remember all of your neck and stomach muscles being sore from the constant strain, the slick of sweat all over your body, your eyes being bloodshot and teary and the little world you have to disappear into to try to hold back the vomiting, if only for a few seconds. Most of the time you only have to deal with that horrible sensation for a few hours or days maximum, women who suffer with HG have to deal with it day and night for months on end.
For me personally, I didn’t feel the medical profession knew enough or even cared enough to take my condition seriously. It took three months for a specialist to tell me I had HG, before that point I just kept presenting at emergency departments, getting IV anti nausea medication and fluids and sent on my way, no follow up plan, no explanation as to why I had vomited 80 times that day. I couldn’t be as proactive about my situation as I would have liked because I was horrendously sick. I had lost 15 kilos in the space of two weeks, I wasn’t able to brush my teeth without vomiting all over my toothbrush, I had to get my mum or husband to shower me because I was too weak. I was vomiting up bile and blood and I couldn’t escape the sickness that surrounded me 24/7 - I would vomit all day, give myself an extra dose of anti nausea medication and sleeping pills before bed so I could have an hour or two of sleep before having to be sick again all through the night. My body didn’t care that I had nothing left, I would dry heave for a solid half hour before I collapsed on the bathroom tiles crying, wishing I would die so it could be over.
Being in this state constantly can wreak havoc on your mental health, I had never suffered depression before my pregnancy but after a few weeks of being stuck in a never-ending cycle of vomiting I started to question whether I wanted to live anymore. Whether I could go on with this pregnancy that we had wanted so badly. Watching all of my friends fall pregnant and be able to actually leave their homes, to look glowing and radiant and continue on with their lives and careers while I spent my days popping pills, losing weight dramatically, looking pale and vacant and having anxiety about what the hell all of this medication was doing to our unborn child. My husband would come home from work and would have to clean every single bowl we owned, I would be sick in everything. He would find me lying on the cold tiles, not being able to clean up after myself, as that would just trigger more vomiting. I know people thought I was over reacting and being dramatic, not realising this is a very real condition and also not being present when everything was falling apart. It’s easy to assume someone is okay when they’re pumped full of drugs preventing them from vomiting.
Once my OBGYN diagnosed me with HG I was admitted to hospital for 3 days to be hooked up to an IV drip administering Ondansetron and fluids to give my body a chance to recover. I was then given the script for the Ondansetron wafers, unfortunately the wafers weren’t strong enough and I had to start weaning off them and begin taking a very high dose steroid. Once these started to kick in I began to feel better, not 100% though - I would say the remainder of my pregnancy felt similar to what I assume morning sickness would feel like.
We chose to go through all of that a second time to have our son, it wasn’t a decision we made lightly and we made sure we were as prepared as we could be. I also think I was in denial about the fact I would experience it as bad again. I had meetings with our OBGYN so I could have scripts ready to go for when I did start feeling sick, I moved in to my parents house for a few months so that Indie was looked after and I also asked family members to deliver homemade meals so that Jon was able to care for me and not worry about cooking. Even though I thought I was prepared, I hadn’t dealt with the psychological trauma from the first pregnancy. As soon as I started vomiting again I felt like I was in a big black tunnel, and that the light at the end was very, very far away. It was absolutely devastating to feel this way because we really wanted another baby, I felt angry and robbed of what should have been a wonderful experience.
During the pregnancy you’re so busy dealing with the immediate issues - getting your vomiting under control, trying not to overdose on your medication, hoping your veins don’t collapse, making sure your fluid intake is sufficient - you’re not actually able to think about your mental health very much. Once you’ve had your baby you’re expected to “perform” straight away, start a routine, learn to breastfeed and deal with the aftermath of the birth - it’s very easy to put yourself last. Everyone can look on and think you’re handling everything well, that the past is behind you and there’s no need for help in regards to what you went through in your pregnancy. I thought I was doing really well, but in actual fact I was in survival mode. After having River I had severe postnatal depression, I was extremely high functioning though and didn’t want to hear any ones concerns regarding my mental health.
Which brings me to why I am so passionate about sharing my experience with HG. The statistics state that the percentage of women suffering from this condition are very small. Through speaking out on my Instagram page I’ve connected with SO MANY women who’ve experienced HG, in my personal life I can count 6 names off the top of my head that have suffered from it. It begs the question, is it as rare as we are led to believe? Or is it a problem that only affects women - and with so many issues that come up surrounding women and motherhood, we are expected to be strong, not complain, be resilient and carry on no matter the cost. I was a very vacant mother and partner, a selfish family member and friend after going through my HG pregnancies. I felt like a shell of my former self, furthermore I felt that some people in my life didn’t truly recognize what I had experienced and had to endure, and I still hold some resentment. It can be very easy for people to write it off as bad morning sickness but downplaying this condition can have very serious implications and leave the person suffering to feel as though what they’re experiencing is not valid.
If I had of had more support from the medical profession I feel I would have been able to handle my situation better, I’ve compiled a list of things that could be helpful for a mother going through HG.
Once a woman is diagnosed with Hyperemesis Gravidarum they should be offered support not only by their family but also our government. The medication that they so desperately need should be on the PBS (Taking Zofran while I was pregnant cost us approx $500 PER WEEK.) Delivery of meals, a cleaner and a nurse to hook you up to IV fluid and anti nausea medication (if needed) should be offered.
Meal preparation is a HUGE issue. I know personally I couldn’t stand the smell of anything cooking; I lived on frozen coke and peas for weeks on end. My husband still had to go to work, my toddler still had to eat and I was incapable of preparing any meals for either of them, let alone anything for myself. Having meals delivered was amazing, and if you know of anyone suffering from HG this would be a massive help, because even if the mother cannot stomach the food, her family is so consumed with trying to juggle their day-to-day lives and having to care for a very sick person- preparing healthy food is at the bottom of the priority list.
If someone has been diagnosed with HG, they have a very serious illness. If you see them out and about and they appear somewhat normal, this could be because they have a whole cocktail of medication holding them together. It could have taken them HOURS to muster up the energy to leave the house. Comments like “have you tried ginger?” or “just take small sips of water” or “I know how you feel, I was a little queasy in my pregnancies” are not helpful and can make a mother feel misunderstood, and want to punch you in the face.
Talking and breathing can make a person suffering with HG sick. All I wanted to do was stare at a spot on the wall to concentrate on not vomiting again, (I once asked a flight attendant to move my husband to the other side of the plane so he couldn’t ask me if I was okay again!) eventually I found solace in reading articles on my phone and basically being in a complete bubble of distraction. We are not being lazy, we are literally focusing so hard and any distraction that forces us to use that energy to converse with someone completely obliterates the past hour and a half of staring at the goddamn wall.
Every single one of these mothers should be offered a mental health care plan, I still see a therapist and am dealing with everything that went on in both of my pregnancies. It took me far too long to seek help and I feel it should be offered as soon as someone is diagnosed with HG.
When I was going through my HG pregnancies I found a Facebook support group, it was so lovely to connect with other women going through the same issues and feeling validated and understood - if you’re suffering I can recommend finding a Facebook group as a great way to get some support. There is also a great website HER Foundation they are pioneers in HG education and research.
There are definitely major issues with how HG is treated, and a lot needs to change. Until it does try to remember that at the end of it all, you get an amazing little baby. And it can seem unfair that you’ve had to go to hell and back to get your miracle- but I think the end result is that little bit more special and amazing because you had to fight for it, you appreciate it that little bit more. If you’re in the midst of HG please know that you are not alone, even though it can be the most isolating experience. There are other mothers out there wanting to connect and share stories with you and offer support. If you are having dark thoughts about yourself or your baby, you are also not alone - but you need to speak to someone about it. You are not a bad person or an unfit mother for having these thoughts, but seeking professional help if you’re really struggling can be very helpful - I can speak from experience. Having other women on your side, understanding and listening to you can make an enormous positive impact on your mental health, please know my inbox is always open.
Thank you to everyone that has taken the time to read this post, if you haven’t been through a HG pregnancy I hope it gives you an insight into how traumatic it can be and how to help someone if the need ever arises. If you’re currently going through a HG pregnancy I hope this post makes you feel validated and less alone - also, you’re amazing and you’re going to get through this. If you’ve survived a HG pregnancy I hope you have healed from it, both mentally and physically and never feel you need to keep your mouth shut if you want to discuss what you went through.
Hopefully if we can raise awareness on this issue our health system can become more efficient. Acknowledgement of the condition and having in-home support would make the world of difference for these mothers and families who are left to struggle and suffer alone.
Lots of love, Mia x