Two years ago, almost to the day, I discovered that I was pregnant with my second child. It was early days, as I was only 4-5 weeks along. My husband and I were so excited and filled with joy at welcoming a new little being into our family. However, only a couple of weeks later, things dramatically changed. I became so ill that I could no longer get out of bed. I lost almost 10kg by the time I reached my second trimester. Between 10-14 weeks along, I had been to the Emergency Department three times, and had a one week hospital stay. I was so tired and exhausted, yet I could not sleep because I felt so ill. I could not stand to hear or see anything. I shut myself in my bedroom, where I always had the curtains drawn. I could no longer stand to be near my husband or my son. I was in my own living hell.
During my first pregnancy I felt nauseous everyday for the first 4 months, and then by 6 months along, the nausea had completely disappeared. I only vomited once or twice, however, I did dry heave a couple of handful of times. I was hoping for my second pregnancy things would be easier than this, and I was definitely not expecting worse. Which is why when the severe and debilitating nausea that was 24/7 hit, as well as the daily vomiting, I knew I was in for the roughest ride yet. I lost so much weight, that my face looked like a skeleton. My own Mum told me I looked like my Pop the day before he died – not the nicest thing to hear, but I had thought that before she even uttered those words to me, when I saw a reflection of myself in my phone screen.
When I was admitted into hospital at the beginning of my second trimester, doctors diagnosed my condition. I had Hyperemesis Gravidarum (aka what Kate Middleton had at the beginning of each of her pregnancies), however, I had it through my entire pregnancy, and it only went away once I held my baby in my arms.
The reason I want to talk about this, is because of the emotions and feelings of complete and utter devastation that accompany something as debilitating as this. From what I have read this actual condition only affects less than 3% of pregnant women. That is an extremely small percentage, and often I would lie in bed, too sick to function, and wonder “why me?” Why did I have to be part of that 3%? Why couldn’t I have a healthy pregnancy? Or why couldn’t it be like my first pregnancy where I eventually got better, but was never so sick to require hospitalisation? Sometimes I still find myself asking these questions two years later. Unless you have experienced this yourself, you can never understand how completely and utterly devastating and horrible it is to your entire life. I realise that sounds quite dramatic, but it is the truth. Just ask any Mama who has had the complete displeasure of suffering from HG and they will set you straight.
Now I am not proud of this, but there were times when I felt so sick, that I was considering whether it would be best to terminate my pregnancy. These thoughts came to me in my extremely weak moments, where I felt like I was hanging at deaths door. Even though I had these thoughts, there was still this small, extremely thin ray of light that would urge me on. Obviously, I am extremely thankful I managed to get through all of that, but at the time it was difficult. I would have people say to me “I hope you feel better soon” or “ you will feel better soon” or “this too shall pass.” I can tell you with absolute certainty that this did not help in anyway, shape or form, and honestly I felt like slapping that person across the face, if I could only muster the strength to do so. See, while these people were well meaning, and I love them beyond measure, I was stuck in the present. A present that was consumed with constant nausea, I could not see that sunny future time.
If feeling physically sick ALL.THE.TIME. was not enough, I was also consumed with guilt. Guilt I felt for taking the drugs, so that I could at least partially function during the day and not spend the entire day with my head over the toilet bowl. Guilt for the effect this was having on my baby. Guilt for thinking about giving up. Guilt about not spending time with my other child. Guilt at having all my plans from the first month of the year fall into a pitiful, forgotten heap. Guilt, guilt, guilt. Even today, I still sometimes feel that guilt. It is all consuming. All encompassing. Guilt has the power to completely devastate your life if you let it.
I am sharing this story with you because many people do not know what Hyperemesis Gravidarum (HG) is, let alone how utterly debilitating it is. Just like you cannot adequately describe to someone who is not a parent, what being a Mum feels like, you cannot describe to a person who has never felt this sick in their life for 8 months straight what it feels like. Many people talk about the “dark night of the soul” or “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.” This experience was definitely one of mine. It tested my willpower, my resolve, my determination like no other.
If you are/have experienced this, or something like this, I am here to tell you not to give up even if every bone in your body wants to. Even when you feel so weak and depleted you can’t even lift your head off the pillow. There were weeks I felt so sick I couldn’t even have a shower or brush my teeth. Yes, I know that sounds so gross, but that gives you some idea of how nauseous I felt. It was a hard pill to swallow, watching the life, the year and the healthy pregnancy I envisioned getting sucked down the toilet bowl with my vomit. To this day I still say 2016 was a complete write off…except for the end, when I got to hold my beautiful, healthy baby in my arms, and realise it was all worth it.
There were many things that helped me get through this extremely challenging time. The first, without a doubt, was the unconditional support of family and friends. The second was taking each day, each minute and even each second at a time. Getting through the small moments one baby step at a time. The last thing, sometimes helped and sometimes didn’t; trying different remedies, therapies or approaches to help me feel better. I discovered that while most people say ginger is great for nausea, it made me feel much worse. Why? Well at the time I had low blood pressure, and ginger is one of the worst things you can have with low blood pressure…keep that in mind if ginger is not working for you. I tried acupuncture, which seemed to work so well in my first pregnancy, but just didn’t cut it this time around. I tried eating small. I tried crackers. I tried supplements, I tried herbs. I tried listening to music that is meant to alleviate nausea. I tried seasickness bands. You name it; I tried it.
In the end I accepted that nothing could help me except my own strong will. This was one of the times I actually thanked my sheer stubbornness because it did help me to stay strong. Even when I thought my darkest thoughts, that little stubborn voice, buried under all the nausea, would speak up and say, “you can do this.” And you know what? If I can get through this, than you can too. Now, even if you were well and truly blessed to have a smooth-sailing pregnancy (I admit I am a tad jealous), you may know someone who is having it rough, or maybe you know someone who is just going through hard times. Acknowledge their challenges. Empathise (not sympathise) with their struggles, really put yourself in their shoes. Remind them that they have this, and that you are there with them. Because knowing that I had people around me that I could count on really, really helped.
Fast forward, two years to the present day. Do you think I have completely healed from HG? The answer is absolutely not. You see for 8 months of my life I was bed-ridden, my muscles faded away (except my stomach muscles as they got quite the workout from vomiting), I was malnourished, my gums became sensitive, my teeth became stained and I am still haunted by the feelings of nausea and the storm of emotions I felt. HG completely devastates your immune system, digestive system, nervous system, and let’s face it every other system in your body. In many women, it can result in them being more susceptible to illness and take longer to recover. For me I had a 5 day fever. 5 days!!! That is the first time in my life I have experienced that. A few months ago I started feeling quite nauseous (no I was not pregnant, thank God) and normally I would be able to take it in my stride and just deal with it. Not this time. This time I spent the entire day lying in bed.
Thanks to Kate Middleton, this ugly and horrendous illness has had some media presence. However, unlike Kate, I did not recover after my first trimester and I did not have the financial fortune to employ every therapy and professional I could. So I ask you, if you know of a lady friend, or one of your friends ends up having this debilitating condition in the future, please do not shrug it off as “morning sickness.” HG is a serious illness that can result in the death of mother and baby because dehydration and malnutrition are very prominent side effects.
The best thing you can do for your friend/family member is to be there for them and pretty much do whatever they ask. Also do not offer any advice, particularly around ginger biscuits because you might find the door slammed in your face. Also do not down play the way she feels, this is a serious illness and not something to be taken lightly.
Lastly, if you yourself are the sufferer I definitely empathise with you. It is hard, difficult, challenging and downright shit experience. So, you do what you need to in order to get through. Whether that be following your cravings and only eating chocolate and croissants for an entire month, than so be it. If you need to take the drugs, as shameful and guilty as you may feel, it may be the best option. If you need to be admitted to hospital, hooked up to a drip and pumped with fluids and vitamins, then definitely do that (I know I felt so much better, I actually didn’t want to go back home. The hospital food tasted great and didn’t make me feel sick).
After the pregnancy, take what time you need to get better. Do what you need to get better. For me I am still getting my health and energy in order. I am seeing a chiropractor, homeopath, massage therapist and using my own training in Aromatherapy and complementary therapies.
Going through HG is a horrendous experience, and there are times when nothing or no one will make you feel better. Take it moment-by-moment, accept the emotions but don’t let them consume you, and tell people when they are not being helpful. It can also be a long road to recovery, which is why you need to make time for you, even with a baby. Get family members to help look after you and your baby.
The final thing I would like to say is to remember you are not alone in your experience and there are many support groups both online and in your local community that you can access.
Love & Gratitude xx