It’s the first world hyperemesis gravidarum awareness day. I should have got my fat arse in gear and blogged earlier but life these days is pretty much taken up with looking after my little HG baby, born last September. So I’ll try to keep things brief. I tend to have a lot to say on this subject.
HG is an utterly debilitating disease characterised by extreme nausea and vomiting in pregnancy. It is NOT just bad morning sickness and it is most certainly NOT all in the mind. Eating crackers or ginger biscuits does NOT help. Suggesting such to a sufferer may result in a swift punch to the balls or boobs. This is serious stuff, it has killed women and babies, the most famous being Charlotte Brontë in 1855. Symptoms vary greatly and although some women are able to manage their condition at home and free from medication, many will spend their pregnancy in and out of hospital and take a range of drugs, just to be able to function normally enough to have some semblance of a life.
I knew I’d have HG. My own mother suffered from it to a lesser degree when pregnant with me and I’d experienced it in a previous pregnancy, but that’s a story for another day. I was thrilled to find out we had conceived on our honeymoon having lost a fallopian tube to a second ectopic pregnancy 5 months earlier. I’d seen my consultant prior to conceiving as research had shown me the best way to beat HG was early and aggressive treatment. I had all my drugs and my plan of care all ready. I was good to go. Turned out I wasn’t really prepared at all.
I was first hospitalised just before 6 weeks pregnant, it was like a switch was flipped. I woke up feeling fine but by the evening I was admitted to hospital, dehydrated and unable to keep water down. This was the first of many admissions ranging from a day to a full week. I couldn’t move without vomiting. I vomited pretty much hourly all day until I fell asleep. I could smell everything and it was all disgusting to me. Food, drink, my husband, the print on a newspaper, even the tap water dripping into the sink in my room smelt metallic and made me vomit. That will sound bonkers to most people but if you’ve had HG you’ll understand. The smell of the cardboard emesis bowls made me sick as soon as I brought it to my nose when gagging. I had to get my husband to bring me a glass to sip fluids from as the smell of the plastic hospital ones made me …. well, you get the idea.
I was on various fluids to hydrate and nourish me and powerful anti-sickness drugs normally used with cancer patients to control post-chemotherapy nausea and vomiting. I tore my oesophagus from retching so hard and lost enough blood this way to become anaemic. In short, I was a mess. If I had been a dog they would have put me out my misery. When not at hospital I lived with my parents as my husband had to work and I was afraid of passing out while at home alone. Eventually I could no longer keep any oral medication down so it was agreed I could give myself my medications intramuscularly. This meant a needle in the bum cheek 3 times a day for about 20 weeks and then as and when I needed it (most days) after that.
The days spent home alone vomiting were the lowest I’d ever felt. Friends offered to visit but I was ashamed because I couldn’t wash, the house was dirty and my bathroom smelt of sick. You can’t make any future plans with HG as you don’t know how you’ll feel in advance so after cancelling a few visits because I wasn’t strong enough on the day, people stopped offering to come. Then the isolation and depression set in and this is the crux of HG, it is mental torture as well as physical.
By about 18 weeks I was strong enough to return to work. I returned on reduced hours and built up to my usual 12 hour shifts. In retrospect I went back too soon, I was still very thin and sick at least once or twice a day. The drugs controlled my vomiting to the extent I could eat and drink enough to keep hydrated, but nothing stopped the nausea. Again you can’t imagine it unless you’ve been there. I negotiated with my consultant being allowed to come to hospital when I felt the vomiting was spiralling out of control and have i.v fluids as a day patient, rather than wait until I was so sick I’d need to take up a hospital bed for a week or more. This spared me yet another admission several times. I wish this was offered to women routinely in all hospitals because it works and saves the NHS money. What’s not to love?
I carried on as I knew this was my only chance to have a baby. I felt guilty about all the medication I was taking and angry that my life was being destroyed by a disease caused by the thing I had wanted most in the world. With the support of my amazing husband and family I plodded on and at 30 weeks I relented during a growth scan and asked to know the sex. It was a baby girl. I would have loved a surprise but I’m so glad I found out as it gave me a much needed boost and helped me bond and look forward.
I was induced at 39+3 weeks as she had stopped growing. Everyone assumed this was due to the HG but I don’t believe so. I was lucky to have a fantastic birth. I loved labour, it was the best I’d felt in 9 months, I was in the pool downing coconut water and chocolate chip Tracker bars. It was bliss. After she was born I had 3 rounds of tea and toast. I cursed my placenta as they took it away. I felt like I could take on the world.
My darling daughter is now 8 months and perfect in every way, despite the pharmacist putting the fear of god into us every month when we picked up my medications. She was worth every second and I’d do it all again for 5 minutes with her. I always wanted lots of children but HG has destroyed any hope of that. Would I do it again? I honestly don’t know. It would take a lot of careful planning. I hope one day to feel strong enough.
Little is known about HG. So much more research is needed to improve treatment and care. We do know that 1 in 4 pregnancies are terminated due to HG and this has devastating consequences. My greatest wish is that by the time my beautiful daughter has her own children, HG is something no one need ever understand.