You may have heard that Princess Kate suffered from "severe morning sickness" with each of her pregnancies. That's the term that most media outlets seem to use when describing her battle with hyperemesis gravidarum (more simply known as HG). Probably because it's easier for the general public to understand and less difficult to pronounce. But I think the media does a disservice to Kate and other HG sufferers when it describes her illness as severe morning sickness. HG is so much more than that.
So what is hyperemesis gravidarum? It is a rare pregnancy condition that causes severe nausea and vomiting that can often lead to dehydration, weight loss, and hospitalization. In the most extreme cases, women with HG must have a feeding tube or may lose their baby. Most women have to take several different medications before they find one that remotely works to fight the nausea, and many never find one that helps. Some of these medications are not necessarily proven safe during pregnancy, but if it saves your life it's worth the risk. HG is a serious ailment and not to be taken lightly. Unfortunately, there is so much that doctors do not yet know about HG that it can be difficult to find proper treatment. Some uneducated doctors or nurses even go so far as to say it is a psychological issue, which it definitely is NOT.
I have personally experienced HG with both of my pregnancies. During my first pregnancy, I had no idea what was happening to my body. I would vomit for days on end, unable to keep down any food or water, and have to go to the ER to receive IV fluids every week or two. When the nurses spewed the long words at me as if it explained everything, I wanted to scream. I didn't care that Princess Kate had it or that it had a fancy name - I just wanted it to go away. My weight dwindled from 130 down to 113 pounds; I had not been that small since 8th grade. For you math people, that means I lost 13% of my body weight in a matter of weeks due to how sick I was. By the time I was 20 weeks, I was improving but still didn't look the least bit pregnant.
I was one of the lucky ones - my HG symptoms eventually subsided completely. Many women, however, experience the severe nausea and vomiting until the baby is born. I was able to resume a normal life, and my biggest complaint was spending my entire third trimester in the hottest part of the Texas summer.
Long before my husband and I decided we wanted to try for another child, I began doing my research on HG. I learned about causes (spoiler: the causes of HG are unknown, which means it is not preventable), treatment options, and other women's experiences. I knew that I was likely to experience this illness in later pregnancies, and I wanted to be prepared to face it. The most valuable resource for me has been a book called "Beyond Morning Sickness: Battling Hyperemesis Gravidarum," which you can purchase here. There is also an amazing support group on Facebook, which you can find here.
I am currently 26 weeks pregnant with our second child, and I had even more severe HG during my first trimester than I had during my first pregnancy. The longest I went between ER visits was 6 days. I got to be familiar with a few of the nurses at St. Luke's (shoutout to them for keeping me alive). Thanks to a wonderful OB, I was able to take a medication that made the sickness go away more quickly than the first time around. I am forever thankful to have found a doctor who knew his stuff. I'm back to working part time, cooking, playing with my daughter, and am now under the care of an amazing midwife. Best of all, I am able to enjoy the gift of being pregnant, which is nearly impossible when you are in the throes of nonstop vomiting. My heart breaks for the women who never experience a time of enjoyment until they hold their babies.
I hope that this post has helped to bring some clarity to hyperemesis gravidarum. I know it's not a scholarly article, but sometimes we learn best through hearing about experiences. My next post will focus on the impact that HG has on its victims. If you take anything away from this, I hope it is that HG is more than morning sickness. If you have a loved one who has experienced or is experiencing HG, take them seriously. And if you are personally going through it, know that you are not alone and that it will be worth it to endure to the end. Looking at my daughter was the only thing that got me through the day sometimes, because I knew that I would have another amazing little one to hold when it was all over. They are worth the fight.