I am not one to share too much about myself but this is a topic that is extremely important. As someone who has gone through this I feel I need to share my experience as this is something not often spoken about.
If you have personally not gone through this I urge you to still read this post as it can help you find ways to support a friend going through it and better understand their struggles. If you are going through this I’ll be sharing ways to relieve it and get the most support during this difficult time. And if you are not yet pregnant please know this is not meant to scare you but it is here to bring awareness. If you do end up with HG you will know you are not alone in it. I hope this helps.
*If pregnancy is a sensitive topic for you (due to infertility or pregnancy loss etc.) please do not continue reading as this may be hurtful to someone who has not gone through it and would do anything to be in the shoes of a pregnant woman. No intention of harm was planned by this post, but I do understand how it can be perceived, so please read at your own discretion.
Firstly, what is Hyperemesis Gravidarum?
Hyperemesis gravidarum (HG) is a pregnancy complication that is characterized by severe nausea, vomiting, weight loss, and possibly dehydration. Feeling faint may also occur. It is considered more severe than morning sickness. (Wiki)
It is believed to be caused by a rapidly rising blood level of a hormone called human chorionic gonadotropin (HCG). HCG is released by the placenta. Mild morning sickness is common. Hyperemesis gravidarum is less common and more severe. (Medlineplus.gov)
To be very clear here. This is NOT your typical morning sickness nausea most women experience during some part of the day in the first trimester.
That is exactly why I am taking the time to write about it. Since it is not very common and not an often spoken about issue, I find it very important to discuss and share with the world.
As with many illnesses and struggles in life, everyone has a different experience with hg and it manifests itself in different ways. Some women have mild symptoms which are still quite debilitating while others have it very extreme and must be hospitalized throughout their pregnancy.
In general during pregnancy it is never good to compare with others. So let’s throw any idea of “oh but she had it harder” out the window. This isn’t a suffering contest.
The idea is that for some women, as soon as they see a positive pregnancy test, the next 8 or so months are some of the hardest months they will go through in life.
Yet, at the same time it is some of the happiest months because of the excitement to bring new life into the world. Something so many women dream of and struggle to do.
That may also be why it is so hard to wrap your head around it. You are sick for a good reason! So shouldn’t you be happy?
You want to be so grateful and happy yet at the same time you are miserable and possibly having quite depressing thoughts no soon-to-be new mom should have.
The experience below is my experience with hg. Out of my 5 children I have had it 3 times, ironically with just my boys. Sure, I had the typical nausea with my girls but it was nowhere on the same level as with the boys. From my research it occurs to some women for every pregnancy or just some of them, gender doesn’t really play a role.
With hg the nausea comes almost immediately and most of the time before I even take a pregnancy test. Actually it’s why I take a test! It comes on as early as 4 weeks pregnant. I feel nauseous all day long accompanied by lots of throwing up. I feel weak. Speaking is hard for fear of vomiting and reading or even listening to my children speak can trigger it. My sister in law says I have a constant green tone on my face the whole pregnancy! Basically she can easily tell when I’m expecting.
What is so shocking to me is that I was even considered to have mild hg! While some women with hg lose tons of weight due to vomiting uncontrollably for months and likely have to be hospitalized and put on constant IVs, for some, like myself, it does not come on as strongly, thankfully!!
At the beginning I do lose some weight as keeping down a sip of water is impossible. At one point I was throwing up 15 or so times a day! And when I wasn’t, there was this never ending feeling of nausea always lurking.
No, ginger tea doesn’t help. No, snacking on saltines doesn’t help. No, the wristband with acupressure doesn’t help.
Your typical nausea relief for most pregnancies don’t work! I know this because like I said I had two “normal” pregnancies where the nausea does subside. Where you can still go to work and do laundry and cook your family meals. Okay, it’s still not always easy and some days you feel sicker than others and may skip making supper that night, but overall life does go on albeit with some nausea on the side.
Hg is nowhere near the same.
For many it requires hospitalization as I have said as well as being on medication to ease the symptoms. I say ease them because at least in my experience, it never fully got rid of them.
Like my doctor told me “the meds will make it less worse.” Which basically means that even with the meds you are still suffering.
The medication protocol is different for each person. What works for one may not work for another and it can take time to find what works for you. There are also some risks of course to taking some of the medications and that is something we need to weigh when deciding how to manage our symptoms.
Unfortunately there is not a lot of research done on hg. Mainly because no one wants to do tests on a pregnant woman. It’s really a hit or miss and it can take time to figure out what is working to at least relieve some of the constant nausea and vomiting. I will share below what I have done but also what I’ve heard others have as well. At least that way you can go into the doctor a bit more prepared with a plan of action.
Why not just ask the doctor you may ask? Well unfortunately it’s so uncommon or actually a lot of the time not taken seriously at all that doctors may shrug it off. You may be given the typical morning sickness advice. You may be told it’s “normal.” You may be told to just rest and it’ll pass. But you know yourself best and you will know when it is so extreme that you need to take matters into your own hands and get the help you deserve.
Do not let anyone minimize what you are going through. And if you are reading this as someone looking in, please do not minimize the pain your friend or family member may be going through. It just makes things worse.
It’s honestly not an easy sickness to explain. And a lot of the time we are hesitant to tell others about it as we don’t want to seem ungrateful for this precious gift of pregnancy.
Imagine staring at a positive pregnancy test. Something you prayed for and wanted so badly. You are going through so many emotions at once. First, excitement of a new life and addition to your family. Then, it hits you that for the next 8 or so months (which feel like 8 years!) you may be bedridden and so ill that you can’t care for your family let alone yourself! And then it becomes your reality. Something which should make you so unbelievably happy is making you so miserable. You may cry daily. You may question why you even got pregnant in the first place. You may feel trapped in a body with no option but to just take it hour by hour or day by day. All the while also having the normal fears of a new mom and wondering if the pregnancy and baby will be healthy.
It’s just a whole lot for one person to handle and even writing this is stressing me out!
I just want it to be super clear that this is something super extreme and something to take seriously. We are not just complainers or weaklings. We are women going through an incredibly challenging time and anyone minimizing that is not helping in any way.
Besides for the mother who is physically ill, as well as emotionally and mentally, her family is also likely struggling. The husband now needs to take on the full role as both mother and father. I joke that the only reason my husband knows how to do the laundry is because of my rough pregnancies. Besides for taking on housework he also needs to care for the kids on his own. This time around some of my kids were older, ages 7,9, and 10. And though I thought it would be easier technically than it was during my previous pregnancies since they are capable now of helping more around the house and dressing themselves etc. it was actually much harder emotionally. Older kids need more time with their parents to talk about things they are going through. They need a parent there to listen and that is honestly super rough when one parent is sick and can’t handle a conversation longer than 2 minutes while the other has his hands so full that spending that time with the children is very hard. It can also be scary for the kids to see their mother so sick and possibly even see her crying and more emotional and on edge than usual.
Obviously a woman suffering from hg is not able to cook for her family either. When I found a few moments of nausea relief I’d rush to the kitchen to get as much done as I could but it was very short lived. There is an organization in my community that delivers meals to families going through any hard time. We ordered from them for about a month but my kids had a hard time enjoying the meals. Kids are picky as it is and these meals weren’t that great. But it was more than we would have had otherwise so we made it work. When we didn’t have those meals we relied on frozen food like fries, borekas, hotdogs in pastry etc. Not the healthiest of choices but we didn’t have many options.
Especially at the beginning of a pregnancy when you don’t share with others that you are expecting it was extremely hard because no one knew we were going through this and therefore could not help us. The few people who did know did what they could. Although even once I was showing, no one thought to help us. Why? Because they didn’t know I was sick! And even if they did they didn’t understand how bad it really was. Like I said, if you haven’t gone through it it is hard to understand.
I want to put a very important disclaimer here: If you are a friend of mine reading this, please know I have zero hard feelings if you didn’t help or do what I advise below. I wasn’t going around complaining to people (besides for 2-3 people who I was very close to or they had gone through it themselves so could commiserate). When you did see me during the 3-4 times I left my house I likely did what I could to put my best foot forward and look presentable and smile and act as if all was okay. And I did that also because I know that even the average woman is struggling every day, without hg! I felt uncomfortable asking for help to be honest. Especially since 3 months into my pregnancy Covid-19 hit! Yup, the time you need babysitters most and cleaning help and your kids in school and on a routine, it’s all taken away thanks to a pandemic. Everyone was going through a rough time so we just did what we could to stay afloat.
As crazy as it sounds even if we did have all the help in the world, though super helpful for my family and would have eased my mind knowing they were taken care of, I would still be sick and suffering. So though it would for sure help, no one could ease how I was feeling. I’d still be bedridden and miserable.
As I mentioned (100 times) hg can be different for each woman. For some it’s the worst for the first 3 months and slowly subsides. For some it is all pregnancy long. I have it worst the first half then I get a bit of an ease in the nausea and vomiting towards the middle yet still obviously not myself and then it comes back strong for the 3rd trimester.
For my last pregnancy I had to take sick leave and early maternity leave and cut down a lot of my hours at work. Thankfully for that job I worked from home. This time around I work for myself via health coaching and recipe development/blogging so I just cut down on how much I was doing by a ton!! Not easy financially, but it would have been harder to work while this sick.
One of the hardest things for me was not being able to do what I love most. The way I de-stress is by recipe developing and getting creative in the kitchen but that was the last thing I could do. When I had a bit of strength I’d do what I could but overall the amount of time in the kitchen dropped majorly and it was very hard for me. My outlets were no longer an option.
Can you prevent hg?
Unfortunately from my experience, no. Before this pregnancy I actually worked hard to be at my healthiest. I had gotten my gut healed and hormones on track and lost a nice amount of weight and still hg happened.
My plans to document my healthy pregnancy went out the window. Exercise? Ha you’d be lucky if I could walk around the house. Eat healthy? No way! My go-to foods that mostly stayed down were ice cream and garlic bread. Believe me, I tried healthy and that was not possible. Besides for the fact that I also couldn’t prepare healthy foods for myself as I wasn’t cooking much.
Though I personally have been able to overcome my emotional eating during my weight loss and health journey, I did give in to eating a lot more junk than I would have done otherwise. Why? Because I was feeling so miserable all day long I figured I might as well have the few moments I was eating to be super amazing. So I indulged and didn’t feel much guilt about it.
Some women can’t keep a thing down the whole pregnancy but I was able to keep down the junk it seemed. This was something my body was not accustomed to as I was eating super healthy beforehand.
My children found it quite amusing to see their healthy mommy eating twizzlers and milkshakes. I couldn’t wait to have this baby so I could feel better and get back to my normal way of eating.
Like I said above if you see someone who has hg and they seem like they are feeling fine just know you likely see only a bit of their day and they are doing everything to hold themselves together. This goes for any situation not only hg but if you know someone is struggling I’m going to share some things you can do to help them and their family. Again, we are all human and going through things in life. You may not be able to do any of these things and that is okay, but if you are able to you have no idea how much this can help a family struggling. Even something small can be so big to them.
Sorry to tell you this but asking someone struggling to let you know if they need anything isn’t helpful. People don’t like to take help. You need to just do and don’t ask. Here are some ideas:
- Send a meal. Don’t worry about all the details. Any food is good food! If you can’t send a full meal even sending a baked good for the kids or a fresh challah for shabbos is super helpful.
- Offer to take their kids to the park to for a play date. Of course this would work better not during corona, but technically it would be nice for the kids to get out and have fun with other kids even when their mother can’t be the one to bring them out.
- Be a listening ear. Let your friend vent a bit if she needs. Don’t try to compare what you’ve gone through to what she’s gone through, just listen and try to cheer her up. If you’ve gone through something similar it is fine to share but make sure you are doing it in a way to support your friend not put her feelings down.
- Send over some reading material. I personally couldn’t read much during the first half of my pregnancy but once I was able to it was nice that a friend sent over some things to keep my mind off what was going on.
- Offer to pick up things from the supermarket while you are there anyway.
- See if they need cleaning help. You don’t need to pay for it but if they don’t have anyone maybe help them find someone as their house is likely falling apart.
- If you are in the position to help financially sending some money to pay for babysitters and cleaning help or even takeout food is incredibly helpful. During this time money may be a bit tighter for the family as the woman may need to take off from work or cut hours and if the husband is able to he may also be working less to help his wife more, hence making less money during those months.
There may be more ways to help but I’d say the best advice is not to even ask, just do what you can. They don’t expect anything so even if you only do it once during their whole pregnancy it is still amazing and helpful.
Now what can a woman suffering from hg do to ease it?
The answer is very individual. What works for one person may not work for another. It may take some trial to figure it out. I want to give you all the options (that I know of) below that way you can speak to your doctor and find what best works for you.
Here is what “worked” for me this time around. *Some of these medications can interfere with antidepressants. Therefore ALWAYS speak with your doctor before taking anything.*
- 4 diclectin a day (2 in am and 2 in pm). The first time you take diclectin you may feel extremely tired and sleep a ton. First off that’s not so bad because sleeping kills a few hours of being awake feeling sick. But once your body adjusts to it the fatigue will stop. Also, do not stop taking it cold turkey! The biggest mistake I did was run out of it and I was the sickest I’d ever been on the days without it. It came back so hard so fast. Even though it didn’t totally get rid of my nausea it obviously did ease it because without it I was so much sicker. If you want to try cutting down do it slowly by removing 1/2 a pill over a few days time. I tried and failed so I took all 4 pills daily till birth.
- Omeprazole- I took this medication at the very end of my pregnancy after I told my doctor about my intense heartburn. Not only did this get rid of the heartburn but I found it helped ease my nausea by a lot! I have been told that some doctors no longer recommend taking this medication.
- IV with fluids plus pramin medication.
When I stopped getting IVs since I was finally no longer dehydrated I did take pramin pills 3 times a week. My doctor didn’t want me taking it more than that. I found they worked best the following day so I’d take one mid afternoon on Monday and have a better Tuesday. I was still nauseous but it wasn’t as intense and I didn’t throw up as much daily.
For me personally the fluid IV plus pramin was a lifesaver. I wasn’t told about that option for my previous hg pregnancies and I wish I would have known.
Another popular medication is zofran. It is used to prevent nausea in cancer patients and is a popular method of anti nausea in pregnancy. I took it with my first but after some research I decided against it with the others. Do your research and decide with your doctor what is best, but I do know of so many women who take it and have had major relief and healthy babies.
Non medical ways to make your hg more tolerable for yourself and your family:
- Try to freeze some meals before getting pregnant if you can plan ahead. This didn’t happen for me and honestly I could never make enough meals but I do think having even a few for the beginning could be helpful.
- Try to get some sunlight and fresh air. It may not be easy to get out but I found on days I went out just for a bit did help me even just a little. And every bit counts!
- Find a support group. Whether a good friend for a listening ear or even better someone who has actually gone through this as well. There are also Facebook groups for women struggling with hg. It’s a great place to get advice on what meds worked for others to try yourself. Overall though I found they are best as a safe place to vent without judgment.
- Get babysitting help. If you can do it, do it!!! The kids will have someone to take them to the park and give them attention that you can’t.
- For kids who need help in school, hiring a tutor is super helpful since you can’t sit with them to do it.
- Cleaning help is super important. You can’t assume your husband and kids will be able to keep the house in the best shape. A clean house can really put everyone in a better mood.
- Stock up on freezer foods or have things on hand older kids can make themselves.
Some foods kids can prepare- corn salad, cutting up veggies (can pare with store bought or homemade dressing as dip), eggs, French toast, pancakes (from a mix), rice, chicken, prep veggies for a soup, instant noodle soups, pita pizzas. You may need an adult to supervise putting food into the oven or on stovetop but at least it’s less work for you or your husband to do. And as a bonus it keeps the kids busy. Just make sure they know they need to help with clean up as well.
- Find an activity to distract yourself. Sitting and thinking about how miserable you are just makes you more miserable. If you can, try to find something to distract yourself. That could be music, a movie, knitting, hook rug (I did that!), coloring (did that too), or reading. I also did some photo organizing on my computer to make family photo albums but didn’t finish that as computer use made me nauseous as well.
- Hypnobirthing. Listening to some calming meditation type of recordings can be helpful. The only issue I had was getting comfortable enough to be able to let go. They want you to relax in order to fully benefit but it is quite hard to do when you feel sick. Still worth trying!
- If you can handle a shower without throwing up, go for it. Freshening up after being in bed for so long can feel really great. Maybe even try doing a face mask or paint your nails. Some self care can do some good but again it depends on the person.
- Cry. Crying will happen. Try not to let it happen too much but a good cry once in a while can really be some good therapy to let out the stress of it all. Warning, crying may trigger vomiting.
- Keep a journal. Writing down what you are going through can be very therapeutic.
- On that note, writing a list of things you are grateful for during this challenging time can bring more positive feelings your way. The negativity and sickness can consume you so finding moments to jot down positive things can be helpful.
- Let go. There is really nothing you can do. Besides for let time do it’s thing. Try to think positively and let go of what you think you should or could be doing. Don’t be so hard on yourself. Your kids will survive even without you being the perfect mom. Your life will eventually go back to normal. Let go of the pressure on yourself. It’s hard and I had so many moments where I felt like the worst mother and wife ever but then I realized I am doing the most motherly thing I could be. Giving my baby a home to grow and eventually join my family. And taking a nice beating while doing it! I’m amazing! You are amazing! Women are truly amazing!
- Daven (Pray). Let it out to the One Above. Don’t underestimate the power of prayer.
On that note I pray for you that you never go through Hyperemesis Gravidarum. I hope that your pregnancies are smooth and you get that healthy pregnancy glow (not my green glow!). But if you do end up with hg I pray that you get the support you need to get through those rough months.
The good news is, for many of us the second the baby is out the nausea is gone! We can eat again without fear of it coming back up. We can smile again. We can get back to real life and routine. Remember there is a great (and adorable) end in sight. You can do this mama. I know it isn’t easy, but you got this!