Hyperemesis Gravidarum affects 1-2% of women during their pregnancies. Its an extreme form of morning sickness that when left untreated can be deadly. It is generally described as unrelenting, excessive pregnancy-related nausea and/or vomiting that prevents adequate intake of food and fluids.
My personal experience with HG this pregnancy has been hellish. I’ve spent the last 3 months laying in my dark bedroom, unable to do much else. I had to escalate my care to a PICC line (peripherally inserted central catheter) and daily IV therapy in my home just to stay hydrated. Much of the food/liquid I put into my body just wouldn’t stay there, even with the strong anti-nausea medication I was on. I have tried all natural remedies, CBD oil, Phenergan, Reglan, Diclegis, Zofran in pill form, and the IV zofran (which helped the most BUT also offers the worse of the zofran migraines/dizziness). I didn’t drive for 2 months, I struggled to eat and clean myself and I was too weak to sit up or stand for more than short periods of time. Many people are unaware that pregnancy can do this to a woman. It can. I’m now almost halfway through my third pregnancy with HG and I wanted to share things I’ve learned with my last three pregnancies in the hopes that it can help women with HG, and also help women with normal morning sickness.
The Top 10 Ways to Survive an HG Pregnancy:
1.Seek Prenatal Care Early
The thing that saved me in my second pregnancy was early prenatal care. Women are told that they don’t need to be seen until 10-13 weeks, but I highly recommend establishing a relationship with a care provider before then. As soon as you begin trying to conceive, start interviewing care providers. I didn’t choose an OB until I found out I was pregnant with my first baby and didn’t see him until I was 10 weeks pregnant. When I returned at 14 weeks, I had lost 25 lbs (something they only noticed because I had been in once before), had a high ketone count (severe dehydration/beginnings of organ failure) and was completely despondent/miserable. That is when I finally received the help I so desperately needed. Everyone around had been telling me to suck-it-up and that I just needed to get over it and stop being so dramatic, it was only morning sickness and I just couldn’t be “that bad” so I had no idea I was actually dying.
My second and third pregnancies I had already established care with a Certified Nurse Midwife, and I let her know as soon as I was pregnant. We waited until I had symptoms (6 weeks on the day) before I came in, but because I was on top of my care, and had a care provider that I was already familiar with, I was able to get help much sooner and didn’t lose as much weight and got IV therapy as needed.
If you are suspicious that you might have HG, contact your care provider early-the sooner you begin caring for yourself, the less damage you’ll do/misery you’ll suffer!
2.Advocate for Yourself
I have been incredibly lucky to have care providers that have been able to recognize HG and treat it aggressively. Not all women are this lucky. As I read across forums and facebook groups, many women are stuck trying to convince their doctors to treat them. I’m so grateful that my OB recognized how sick I was so quickly and didn’t hesitate to treat me. With this last pregnancy I knew I needed hydration more often (unfortunately the anti-nausea meds just weren’t cutting it) and so I asked about a PICC line and my midwife agreed this would be a great treatment. Because I was educated about the care options available (before getting pregnant…during it’s really difficult to make sense of much) I was able to discuss these options with her and determine what the best care would be. Many women I’ve talked to during this last pregnancy have said they didn’t even know this was an option! It’s good to be educated and to advocate for yourself and your care. HelpHer.org is an excellent resource for women suffering from HG and their care providers.
3.Ask for Help
This is so hard. My first pregnancy I was young, prideful, and TOO tough to need help (or admit that I needed it). My second was similar-I was so upset to be suffering again I just didn’t even want to talk about it. My third has hit me like a freight train. All of the pride and walls had to go away with my 2 kids to care for, so I finally asked for help and opened up about how sick I really was. I have had the sweetest outpouring of love from our friends and neighbors. My church has helped feed us and care for our children. Even after suffering through 2 other HG pregnancies, I couldn’t have anticipated how much worse this one was going to be and knowing my family was fed and my children were cared for really helped ease a tiny bit of that misery.
Don’t be afraid to ask for help and support. I promise your loved ones are happy to give it to you.
4.Get Instinctual with Food
Hyperemesis Gravidarum is horrific for many reasons, but one of the worst is what it does to your relationship with food. Almost all healthy food sounds horrible, and much of it hurts to throw up. Eating at all was difficult, but not eating means throwing up bile which hurts worse. By my third pregnancy I haven’t been able to even look at crackers, don’t even suggest anything with ginger (that crap burns coming up) and *this still pisses me off* I THREW UP JELLO, ruining jello as an option because it also hurts coming up. What has worked well for my last 2 pregnancies has been to really try and be instinctual with food. My second pregnancy I would wander around the produce department smelling things. If they smelled good, that usually meant I could eat them…and very few things did. Pinterest is a great resource for lists of food that are more mild when nauseous.
There’s a few old reliables as well-these are all mild and don’t hurt as much coming up:
- Mashed Potatoes
- Bread & Rolls
- Rice Krispie Treats
- Ensure/Carnation Instant Breakfast/Etc (my only warning with these being that they come up as a solid)
- Rice & Beans
- Frozen Fruit
It’s difficult too because with this pregnancy I lost my hunger reflex-my stomach was simply too empty (causing worse nausea) so I would eat and switch to my stomach having food in it (which also caused awful nausea) and pray things would stay down. Having food available was really important too-I remember standing in my kitchen crying because I couldn’t figure out what to eat and if I didn’t eat soon I knew I would be puking bile and everything we had just seemed too difficult to prepare. Ready-made food is really important, and keeps the smells out of the kitchen.
Having ice and water available 24/7 has been a game changer as well. The colder the beverage, the more likely it’s been to stay down and the less it hurts coming up.
5.Get an Electric Toothbrush
I’ve heard that this can be a complaint with normal morning sickness as well. Every time I put a toothbrush in my mouth, it would cause me to gag and throw up. I spent my first two pregnancies not brushing my teeth, which is pretty much the grossest thing ever when you’re puking daily. This pregnancy I have a sonic electric toothbrush and it has been amazing! I paired that with a low foam toothpaste and while I still can’t stomach brushing my teeth everyday, when I do it rarely causes puking!
I hate not showering, and I’ve tried to hang onto showering…but nothing is more exhausting than a shower. The combination of warm water, steam, and trying to stand up for even a 5 minute shower would destroy me. Once I got my PICC line this pregnancy that pushed it over the edge because trying to keep my arm dry plus the work of showering was just too much. I accepted my fate, asked my husband for help, and took baths. He would help me wash my back and hair and then help me back out of the tub. It’s very humbling having HG, but finally breaking down and accepting this help meant a little less exhaustion and a little less puking. Soaking in magnesium (epsom salts) really seemed to help ease my nausea a little too. And if you’re not a bath person, you can still sit in the tub and have someone pour water over you.
7.Find a Smell That Will Calm You
This sounds silly but it’s really very helpful. Pink Stork includes a bottle of peppermint essential oil for this exact purpose in their Morning-sickness kit and having that by my bedside/in my bathroom helped immensely. Sometimes even the smell of the bathroom can set off puking and walking in while smelling peppermint (or lemon, or bergamot, or your favorite candle) can really help prevent a wave of nausea.
8.Get Support Online
HelpHer.org offers forums full of support and help. I used the hashtag #hyperemesisgravidarum on instagram and was able to connect with many other HG moms who were suffering the same illness at the same time, and many who have recently given birth that had kind words and encouragement for me. Laying in bed all day is lonely and knowing other women across the world are going through the same thing is very comforting during such a difficult time.
9.Record Your Experience
I regret not doing this with my first 2 pregnancies. After I had my second child I vowed that if I ever became pregnant again I would document my struggles with HG and be more open about what I was going through. When I found out I was pregnant this time around I asked my husband to keep this in mind and please take pictures of me/help me do this. I’ve tried to be more open on social media, posting on Instagram and covering what a full day in the life looks like on SnapChat. Because I have done this, it has opened me up to support that I never would have had. It opened the eyes of much of our friends and family, and helped me receive extra support from mamas across the globe. Don’t be afraid to share what you’re going through-I know for me personally I like seeing what my loved ones are up to, and I’m sure they’d be grateful to see what’s going on with you as well.
10.Understand That No One Will Understand
Even in my third pregnancy with this I still receive ignorant and derogatory comments from other people about my illness. With all three of my pregnancies at least one person has tried to explain that I’m doing this to myself because of x,y or z emotions and if I would just “spiritual connect with my baby/stop being afraid of pregnancy/come to terms with my adoption” (all things I don’t feel like I actually struggle with emotionally) that my illness would magically disappear. I’ve had friends ask if I just like throwing up? Like maybe if I tried just a little harder to hold it in I would feel better? I’ve been told to get some fresh air, eat some saltines and just get over it. I always try to explain that I can get over this quickly just like anyone can get over food poisoning by treating it with those same remedies.
There’s also always going to be someone trying to one-up your illness. This is the strangest thing I’ve ever seen or experienced. I’m not trying to win a competition with who can be the most miserable. I’ve found that if someone tries to play this game, they probably weren’t that sick.
Understand that no one will understand unless they’ve been through this themselves. You’ll see that horror and PTSD in their eyes and know that they know what you’re going through. Those women will hold your hands, cry with you and not try to tell you it’s all worth it, because we all know that. They won’t bat an eye when you tell them that you’re not sure you’d really be upset if you miscarried, that you can’t do another day, and that you’ve never been so lonely. Find these women to support you, even it if is only online-they will offer a lifeline that no one else can.
Hyperemesis Gravidarum is a truly awful and soul-sucking disease. I hate to see anyone suffer from it and I hope that these tips can help not only women with HG but women suffering with morning sickness as well!
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