Hyperemesis Gravidarum is a debilitating condition affecting a (small) percentage of pregnant women.
For most women, pregnancy is a time of blooming, eager anticipation and excitement. Sure there may be swollen ankles (and noses) and a smattering of morning sickness. Some may even experience chloasma (discolouration of the skin) or weird cravings - but generally speaking these are a flash in the pan, quickly disappearing into the sea of forgetfulness as you look forward to welcoming your little one.
For other women pregnancy is something to be endured, sometimes often feared. It becomes a battle of wills because you have to really WANT to continue your pregnancy knowing that this means 9 months of extreme discomfort and misery; every day you will fight against the desire to 'feel better'. Many women terminate their pregnancies in order to gain relief from the debilitating symptoms - particularly when familial support is negligible. Others turn to powerful drugs or spend weeks confined to bed or episodes in hospitals attached to a drip having become so dehydrated and weak through their illnesses.
I know of three other bloggers (Yahvinah from Locs Down Under, V from Locs-n-Motion, and N'Joi) who experienced this condition. Knowing there were others out there who had a) experienced what I was going through b) overcome and c) gone on to have MORE children was incredibly inspiring and encouraging to me throughout my own term.
Hyperemesis Gravidarum is derived from three words - altogether they convey the 'gravity' of the condition:
Hyper: acute or excessive
Emesis: from the root 'emesis', related to the vomiting associated with the condition
Gravidarum: I say it's related to the seriousness (gravity) of the condition, if unchecked it can cause severe dehydration and starvation but really it just means that it's related to pregnancy.
HG is a severe form of morning sickness, with "unrelenting, excessive pregnancy-related nausea and/or vomiting that prevents adequate intake of food and fluids. It is considered a rare complication of pregnancy and what sets this apart from 'morning sickness' is the constant unrelenting persistent nature of the vomiting.
Sufferers routinely lose weight during pregnancy (especially during the first trimester) whereas their unafflicted counterparts steadily gain weight throughout the pregnancy. With my son I lost almost 2 stone by the time I was 16 weeks.
How Long Does it Last?
Each mother (and then each pregnancy) responds differently to the condition.
With my first child, HG eased off by the 7th month. From there it was almost smooth sailing in comparison.
With my son, the HG never eased up and I was a miserable cow right up until he popped out.
With my last child, the HG was so successfully controlled by the drugs that it was bearable until it abated in the 36th week (which is also when she popped out).
There seems to be no consensus on when the symptoms will subside. My first midwife said "Things should get better by week 16"... then she said "week 20"... then "Week 24".... so it's difficult to tell. And as you can see from my case history, you can't really judge by previous pregnancies.
I will say this though - it DOES get worse with each subsequent pregnancy. No lie. Be prepared for that. This is why some women will only have one child and others will opt to terminate any further pregnancies.
What's It Like?
Blooming Awful ! I keep saying this but i mean it: every day is a struggle. Just getting through another hour can seem impossible.
For me - any movement was amplified and induced such feelings of nausea (like motion sickness) that vomiting was inevitable, prolonged and violent. I would vomit whether there was something in my stomach or not. I have never been so familiar with the colour or scent of bile... TMI eh? But this stuff is real.
HRH could sit next to me on the sofa or the bed and it would feel as though I were in a boat being tossed about on the high seas. I could not go around roundabouts without throwing up (it felt as though I were in a whirlwind or tornado), even navigating over speed humps would cause me to empty my stomach. We kept a stash of plastic bags/nappy sacks and those cardboard vomit basins they give you at hospital to cater for the eventuality...
I couldn't eat. Sometimes it was the taste of the food, sometimes the smell and on the worse days it was teh mere thought of the food that would cause me to throw up. Afraid of being admitted to hospital (I really hate hospitals), I tried to drink sports drinks and beverages high in glucose and electrolytes. I was even prescribed diarolyte to help keep hydrated.
In addition to actually being sick, and feeling sick - lack of food (forced starvation) left me lightheaded, grumpy, dizzy and prone to headaches. I had very little energy and often felt as though I'd lost the will to live. The thought of facing 9 months in this state was depressing. If you're loved ones are feeling like this please be on the watch for that sneaky old depression, because despair can set in quickly and make you feel like there is no way out... other than terminating the pregnancy of course.
How Can You Help?
Recognise the condition for what it is - a RARE complication of pregnancy. It's not just your loved one being a wuss or failing to cope with a 'little morning sickness'. This is more than morning sickness - it lasts all day and all night ... it doesn't let up.
Please don't be belittle it or brush it off lightly - if you're loved one is suffering she is NOT exaggerating. Honestly - just think how bad it must be for a woman to consider ending the life of her much loved/longed for child in order to gain relief!!!!
Please don't suggest things like 'ginger'. Although these tradtional remedies are usually sufficient to relieve most pregnancies they gave me (and none of my physical friends - like Roseann- who suffered from HG) any relief whatsoever... but if I had a dollar for every time someone said: "eat ginger/sniff ginger/ drink ginger tea..." (replace ginger with peppermint or chamomile or any other natural remedy normally used in pregnancy).
They don't work - and your loved one probably tried them long before she started to complain about what was happening to her...
Please find a doctor who is aware of and sympathetic to the disorder. With my son, my first doctor thought I was a right softie, exaggerating to get attention and my husband was SOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO wonderful for putting up with me (rolling my eyes). She was one of those 'drink ginger' people... her replacement was much more concerned - particularly given my weight loss... she really tried to help me. Having a physician on your side is priceless.
My second doctor wasn't available when I fell pregnant with my third child but my third doctor was awesome - he listened to my story and prescribed the drug I asked for without putting up a fight. This is important because the drug is normally reserved for cancer patients and is expensive. NHS doctors are notoriously reluctant to prescribe it. While thousands of women in the UK and US have used it to combat the effects of HG, there is a lack of data (i.e. no controlled scientific studies) on the effects to the unborn so if you choose to go down that route you need to be aware of this and prepared for any consequences.
Research. You can join online forums and browse websites that give information that can be very beneficial and allow both you and your loved one to feel supportive throughout the entire ordeal.
Where Can I Learn More
Well you can contact me if you have specific questions or just want someone to listen while you moan about how awful you feel :) (Sometimes your family and friends just don't get it, or get tired of hearing about it lol)
You can also read these articles:
There used be a site at hypermesis.org.uk full of case studies and UK women's triumphs but it seems to be gone now :(
See all my HG related posts here
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