Regular readers will be aware that I suffered with hyperemesis gravidarum while pregnant. I actually suffered with it on both my pregnancies, but my second pregnancy was far worse.
What Is Hyperemesis Gravidarum?
Most people have never heard of hyperemesis and think that it is ‘just morning sickness’. I actually read an article recently where a doctor said that comparing hyperemesis to morning sickness, is like telling someone who broke their arm in 3 places that they hit their funny bone! So yeah, it’s a bit different. Some people might have heard of it over the last couple of years in passing as the Duchess of Cambridge suffered from it, and that alone has raised the awareness considerably, which is fantastic. But as someone who suffered recently (baby born end of 2016) I can tell you that the vast amount of people still have no idea what it is or what it’s like to suffer from it.
Hyperemes gravidarum is is referred to as a ‘complication of pregnancy’ and is characterised by severe nausea and vomiting leading to severe dehydration and sometimes dramatic weightloss. Some sufferers require hospitalisation. The exact cause is not know but there are several risk factors including a family history (my mom suffered with it). Having it on a prior pregnancy increases your chances of suffering on subsequent pregnancies, but it’s not guaranteed. I personally know someone who suffered very badly on her first and didn’t on her second (and before you ask, both children were the same gender).
My First Hyperemesis Pregnancy
On my first pregnancy I started experiencing extreme nausea and vomiting from about 6 weeks pregnant and it continued until I was 19 weeks. I worked throughout this period, although I did need to take numerous sick days, and some days I worked from home. My doctors (one retired halfway through my pregnancy and I had to switch to a new doctor), did put me on some medication to try improve the situation but frankly it didn’t do much and the general attitude of both doctors was that, it was of course difficult for me, but there wasn’t anything they could do about it. I was never hospitalised, or offered fluids. In hindsight, I think I needed them, but it was just never mentioned. Fortunately as I said, the hyperemesis ended halfway through my pregnancy and so I was able to really enjoy the second half of that pregnancy.
Second time was … different …
My Second Hyperemesis Pregnancy
I actually started suffering with nausea from 3 weeks the second time, however both my son and my husband were sick that week too (it was January – everyone was sick!) so I just assumed I had the same bug. Turns out I did not! The sickness became worse quickly. Here in Ireland you won’t see your consultant (if going private) until around 10 weeks pregnant. I was so ill by 5 weeks that I phoned and begged for an appointment.
The consultant I’d had on my first pregnancy, the one who delivered my baby, had actually left the country so I was back at square one this time. However, I did a ton of research between pregnancies, into what kind of birth options I wanted available to me and which consultant & hospital combination was likely to help me achieve that. The consultant I chose in the end was Dr Hugh O’Connor in the Coombe, and I would highly recommend him to any expectant mother. He was absolutely lovely, very open to discussing anything I wanted regarding my pregnancy and birth plan and I had amazing care throughout.
Anyway, back to the hyperemesis.
Dr O’Connor did everything he could to help me survive the hyperemesis, trying a combination of meds, until we found something that kindof worked – well it worked better than everything else had anyway. But I was hospitalised several times and I ended up being written off work at 7 weeks … for the entire pregnancy. I was basically on house arrest for 7 months. My hyperemesis was very different to the first time. In fact, from what I’ve read many hyperemesis experiences will be vastly different.
For me, food never seemed to be a trigger – it didn’t matter what I ate, I would be sick. For me movement was an issue … and I’m not talking about car trips (although they were horrendous), I’m talking any motion, walking from one room to another was a challenge. I also couldn’t read, not physical books and not screens. I couldn’t read texts messages without feeling ill. I once read a picture book to my then 2 year old and was violently ill for about half an hour. It was awful. Being housebound for that length of time is difficult enough, being housebound and not being able to read, use a laptop or a phone was a significant challenge. It was an incredibly isolating experience.
The only thing that made me feel vaguely better was getting IV fluids in the hospital, if I had those I would generally feel pretty good for about 24 hours (it’s all relative here people, my pretty good probably meant single digit trips to the bathroom). However, the car journey to and from the hospital was so horrendous that I only went in for fluids when it got really bad (read: the times I collapsed in the house).
I would say at this point, that the baby was very regularly checked and at no point was she in any danger. It was just me that was suffering.
I would also say, that many people have it FAR worse than I did. I never lost weight (no idea how as I was keeping nothing down in the early months, but there you have it). Some women lose crazy amounts of weight to a point where both they and the baby are in danger. So, while my experience was deeply unpleasant, others have it far worse.
Unfortunately this time around things did not improve at 19 weeks. This was hard as I was expecting my experience to be the same as the first time. I was expecting to go back to work, to be able to play with my son and just resume life really. However I was ill the entire 9 months. The meds did help somewhat and by the latter months I wasn’t vomiting as much, but I still got sick every day, and I still couldn’t walk to the bottom of our road without being violently ill and needing to lie down for the rest of the day. Fun times.
The Spoon Theory
It was very hard being home alone all the time. And when I was fortunate enough to have visitors, I sometimes felt they didn’t understand what was going on, as I didn’t ‘look sick’. What they didn’t realise, was that all my energy would be used up in that visit and I would probably spend the rest of the day in bed. Probably the following day too. But having a visitor was so nice and it did break up the tedium of the four walls, so it was worth feeling worse afterwards.
This article, called The Spoon Theory, which is not actually about hyperemesis, but about lupus, describes how I felt perfectly, definitely give it a read. I honestly don’t know how people live with long term illnesses, my experience was unpleasant yes, but I always knew it had an end date, plus I got a beautiful baby at the end! People living with long term illnesses are heroes.
A new charity was founded this year in Ireland called Hyperemesis Ireland. It aims to support women and families affects by hyperemesis, to raise awareness, help educate healthcare professionals and encourage research in the area.
I’m so delighted this charity now exists and I hope it will help all hyperemesis sufferers.