Living with Hyperemesis Gravidarum
Friend and Hyperemesis Gravidarum (HG) sufferer Kerry Siau tells us about how she had to deal with vomiting 20 times a day and the effect it had on her pregnancy experience, her relationships and her family
Growing up, I’d heard my mum talking about how she had ‘severe morning sickness’ when she was pregnant with me and my two sisters. She told us how she used to dream about eating mince and onion pies, but was unable to keep down anything and was sick 50 times a day. At that time, I had no idea what that would feel like. In 2013, my youngest sister fell pregnant. She was quickly hospitalised and diagnosed with Hyperemesis Gravidarum (HG). HG affects around 1% of pregnant women. Symptoms include constant nausea, vomiting, weight loss, extreme sensitivity to smells, excess saliva, exhaustion, that can last the whole pregnancy, not just for the first trimester, like ‘normal’ morning sickness. My sister was in and out of hospital for the first half of her pregnancy. She was given intravenous anti-sickness medications, fluids and vitamins. Once she gave birth, the HG was instantly gone. She fell pregnant again a year later and was once again struck with HG for another 9 months. On 28th December 2015, I was overjoyed to see that little blue cross on the pregnancy test I had just taken. I was only 4 weeks, and apart from feeling tired, I felt fine. 2 weeks later, I was vomiting 20 times a day, the only relief from it was sleep. What were the odds? I asked myself. The (very little) research that has been done, shows that if you have a sister who has had HG, you have a 17-fold increase risk of getting it too. Perhaps with both my mum and sister having HG, my chances were even higher. I felt foolish for not looking into it before falling pregnant. I continued to vomit up to 20 times a day. I was constantly nauseous, vomiting gave me absolutely no relief from the nausea. Anti-sickness medications had little impact on the nausea, but they at least kept me out of hospital. I felt utterly exhausted and was unable to leave the house and unable to work until I was 24 weeks pregnant. Even when I did go back, I spent a month doing a phased return and part time hours. I spent day after day lying on the sofa or my bed, trying to sleep in-between the bouts of vomiting. I had an overwhelming sensitivity to smells. I couldn’t open the fridge door, let alone cook, for about 4 months. Even the smell of my husband (who normally smells lovely) was unbearable and I resorted to sleeping in the spare room so I didn’t have to smell him. I had so much excess saliva, swallowing it just made me vomit even more, so I had to spit it out into bowls, bottles, or chew on a towel that would soak up the saliva. The constant vomiting then caused me to have reflux, this only added to the nausea! I considered terminating the pregnancy, but the fear of getting HG again and having to start all over again, as well as the overwhelming desire to be a mum, deterred me. People tried to be helpful and told me that it would pass by 12, 16, 20 weeks. It didn’t. I vomited up until I gave birth. Others told me to try ginger. It didn’t help. The ginger burned my raw oesophagus and caused unbelievable pain. HG didn’t just take it’s toll on my physical health, it affected my mental health too. I only left the house once a fortnight to collect my sick notes and repeat prescriptions. I became incredibly isolated and I distanced myself from my closest friends. This is something that I am still dealing with, 18 months after my HG hell ended. I was too unwell to meet up with friends. Even the simple act of texting was too much sometimes, as the movement on the screen would trigger the nausea. Some friends implied that HG was all in my head. Over time, I would cancel plans and, eventually, friends would stop texting, and stop including me in their plans. I am trying really hard to rebuild bridges that HG burned down, but I guess that these things take time. HG put me in touch with some incredible women, who were also suffering at the same time as me. We became friends via social media, and I can honestly say that I don’t know what I would have done without them. They understood what I was going through, they brought a smile to my face every single day. I cannot thank them enough. We would love a second baby. The topic of having a second child is a conversation we are having more and more frequently. I can put myself through 9 months of hell in order to give us another child and a sibling for our daughter. It’s the fear of putting my husband and daughter through it too. Do we wait until she’s older, less dependent and more understanding? Or do we try now whilst she’s young enough to not remember mummy sat with her head down the loo for 9 months? My husband says “there’s never a good time to have a baby” so we should just go for it. It will require military precision. A trip to my GP to ask for a prescription of anti-sickness meds as soon as I fall pregnant. We will have to batch cook and fill the freezer with enough food for my husband and daughter for the first few months. We will have to look into increasing the hours our daughter spends at nursery, so that I get to rest and she can play with her friends. To those of you suffering with HG right now – be kind to yourself. Rest. Seek support from your GP, midwife, the amazing charity Pregnancy Sickness Support, and search for sufferers using social media. It will end, and it will end with the most intense and overwhelming love you will ever feel. Someone once told me that putting your family through HG was selfish. During a GP appointment, my sister told her GP that someone asked her why she was doing it for the third time. Her GP replied “because children are life”.
For more information about HG or if you are looking for some help and support please visit Pregnancy Sickness Support at www.pregnancysicknesssupport.org.uk