At the peak of my Hyperemesis Gravidarum (HG; ‘severe morning sickness’) I’d vomited 10 times that day. I hid the Very Hungry Caterpillar book from my daughter because I couldn’t look at all those pictures of 70s cold cuts and fruits without having to throw up. Exhausted, and dehydrated I lay on the couch, sipped Hydrolyte and turned on the TV for distraction. Do the head honchos of daytime TV just hate pregnant women? There’s an ad for dishwasher tablets that keeps mentioning “curry mixed with smoothie” and “pesto and custard….cat food”. Kill me now. Change channels. Now there’s a woman actually wiping her benches with raw chicken breast to re-confirm to anxious white people that without antibacterial wipes, your kids will probably die.
People like to say that nausea and vomiting is a great sign of a healthy baby. With my pregnancy with my first daughter, I did take some comfort in this. I’d miscarried at 10 weeks with my first pregnancy, and while I was nauseous, I never vomited, so I was clinging to the idea that this time vomiting = sticky pregnancy. Of course, that’s just a bit of BS to make ourselves feel better. I’ve met plenty of healthy babies whose Mums never any nausea during their pregnancies.
That night I just couldn’t stop vomiting. I could barely catch my breath, and quickly understood how easily someone could choke on their own vomit. Even water wouldn’t stay down. I took more of my rationed anti-nausea medication but it didn’t help. After this went on for 5 hours into the night, I knew I needed medical attention. I managed to get a GP appointment in the morning. She took one look at me and suggested I’d feel better with some IV fluids in my system and a stronger dose of anti-emetics.
Holding onto my concerned toddler while having an IV inserted, was a challenge. The GP and nurse present were lovely, and tried to engage her but she just clung to me like a little koala. As a started to faint from the fatigue and discomfort of it all, the chair was lowered so I could lie flat. As I started to descend, holding onto my 16 month old baby, I did have a brief thought of why I wanted to have another. She didn’t seem like a growing toddler. That morning she seemed like a young baby again.
I’d experienced HG with my first born from around 6 weeks until 16 weeks, so I knew there was a good chance it would come back this time. In all honesty, I was feeling the early pangs of morning sickness at 4 weeks – even before I took a pregnancy test. I very quickly went off food, and started to find everything smelled really bad.
Many women who experience HG go through phases of finding the holy grail of ‘safe’ foods. For me it looked something like this:
Week 4: digestive biscuits and mineral water with fresh lime.
Week 5: ice cold tomato and cheese sandwiches on white bread. Like the kind they serve at hospitals.
Week 6: McDonalds. For about 8 days, my husband dutifully brought home fries, a cheeseburger, syrupy coke and another cheeseburger which I would reheat for lunch the next day (I know, disgusting, right?).
Week 7: Frozen dinners. We still have just about every brand of frozen dinner you can imagine in our deep freezer, and now I can barely look at them without feeling sick. For a while there though, I didn’t even need to read the back of the package to know how long to heat it. While my husband gazed at the box, I’d rattle off my memorized list of “the green box, you pierce in several places and heat for 3 minutes. The red box you separate the compartments, but don’t pierce the film…”
Week 8: After the double feature of Monty-Python’s Meaning of Life crossed with Exorcist level spew fest, all I could manage was pre-packaged custard and Up and Go.
Apparently this preference for bland, but preservative laden food is not uncommon. While I couldn’t find a lot of research per se, there is a lot of anecdotal evidence on the HG support forums that the preservatives seem to help a lot of women. So maybe the chemicals in all these disgusting foods that were temporarily making me feel better were helping?
When my OB said my iron and Vitamin D levels were actually OK, I was really, really surprised. My latest diet that week consisted of chicken flavoured two minute noodles and litres and litres of cheap, sugary orange juice.
Somewhere around week 14 I was only vomiting 3-4 times a day, and around week 16 I could get through the day without medication. Strong aversions to garlic, onion and any kind of meat continued, but I felt like I was mostly out of the woods.
At 19 weeks, we went away for the weekend for my birthday. I was actually enjoying eating food- fish and chips, fruit, icecream, cake. I’d planned a smug Facebook update to say something along the lines of being able to eat relatively normally again was the best birthday present. Then, somewhere after lunchtime that familiar queasy feeling came back. I threw up so quickly and frequently I barely had time to catch my breath, and I felt like I was choking. This went on every hour for 5 hours, then I started to vomit blood. Waking my toddler to go to the emergency department in an unfamiliar city wasn’t very appealing, so we called a 24 hour house call GP and I was given another round of anti-emetics. Turns out I probably had gastro, but I’m at week 25 now and still counting the days since my last spew.
Either way, I still don’t think I had it that bad. Some women are in and out of hospital their entire pregnancy, have to deal with regular drips to remedy severe dehydration and have to have a Zofran pumps. For a small number of women, the nausea and vomiting is so bad that they terminate, or choose not to become pregnant again.
My general advice if you think you might have HG:
· Don’t wait and just suffer through it. Go to your GP. Whether you take medication or not, it’s easy to underestimate how dehydrated you can become from vomiting.
· Yes, taking medication during your pregnancy can be scary, but a recent review indicated that the risks of taking anti-emetics (like Zofran) are likely lower than the risks of damage to your baby from dehydration and malnutrition http://journals.lww.com/greenjournal/Abstract/2016/05000/Ondansetron_Use_in_Pregnancy_and_Birth_Defects__A.10.aspx
· Tune out the stories of people who try to sympathise and suggest you just need to try ginger. Offering ginger to someone with HG is like offering a band-aid for someone who has had an amputation. Tell them that.
· Get onto the Help Her HG forum and find support http://www.helpher.org/forum3/
· If you’ve got other children to care for, now is not the time to feel guilty. Turn on the TV, let the house be a mess, and get help where you can.