Nearly all women experience some form of nausea and vomiting, particularly during the first trimester of pregnancy. For some people, though, morning sickness goes on all day and night, day after day, and is especially severe. The condition is called Hyperemesis Gravidarum (HG), and I was one of those unlucky people.
Once in a while, I’ll hear women tell stories about discreetly excusing themselves from a work meeting to be sick in the restroom or needing to eat three crackers each morning before getting out of bed to prevent the onset of nausea. In these conversations, I always hold the trump card: With HG, I was in the emergency room twenty-one times between my sixth and twenty-third week of pregnancy. Those visits included seven admissions for multiple day stay, outpatient IV therapy, and the placement of a PICC line (permanent IV) for six weeks.
HG is defined as unrelenting and excessive pregnancy-related nausea and vomiting leading to dehydration, a loss of body weight, and metabolic imbalances. It can be crippling, making you incapable completing even routine daily activities.
The major symptoms of HG arrived during the sixth week of my pregnancy:
- Frequent and severe nausea and vomiting. I would vomit every 20-30 minutes for at least a twenty-four hour period before seeking medical intervention for relief.
- Dehydration and the production of ketones (protein) in urine.
- Loss of weight. This is generally defined as a loss of more than 5% of pre-pregnancy weight.
I also had some quirky side effects that I later discovered are common for women with HG. In particular, I had hypersensitivity to smell. One of my cats was suddenly so stinky that I couldn’t have him in the same room. I had a hard time kissing my husband for the duration of my pregnancy, no matter how minty fresh he made his breath.
My pregnancy quickly became about survival. I couldn’t eat anything at all most days, let alone taking pre-natal vitamins or focusing on a healthy diet of omega-3 rich foods and raw kale. My go-to when I could eat at all was Coca-Cola and English tea biscuits. My plans of working out regularly to facilitate a healthy pregnancy became laughable. Mostly, I couldn’t get out of bed. I took weeks off from work; I’m grateful my company was understanding and supportive.
The medical community isn’t sure what causes HG, and treatments don’t always offer relief. Primarily, what I needed to develop was a close relationship with my doctor, a network of family support, and the ability to focus on the outcome of this ordeal…a baby girl.
Fortunately, like many women with HG, the symptoms lifted substantially after about 20 weeks – 23 to be exact. I was able to eat some foods, gain weight, and get through to the end of my pregnancy. After taking so many medicines to combat the nausea and subsisting primarily on coca-cola, it was reassuring to deliver a totally healthy baby.
If you suspect you may have HG or have been diagnosed, here is my best advice:
1. Join an online community for women with HG. www.helpher.org is a great resource.
2. Explain the difference between morning sickness and HG to your boss, your closest friends, and your immediate family. Ask for support. Ask your boss for a leave of absence. Ask friends to bring over freezer meals for your family.
3. Talk frequently with your doctor (and don’t be afraid to reach out to other doctors) about different treatment options. If possible, try to bring someone along to your appointments. My husband, mom and my mom-in-law all played the very helpful role of health advocate.
4. Try to find a few things that work for you. I found ice packs on my forehead and little sips of coke to help, particularly when on an upswing of a vomiting cycle.