I have three beautiful babies that were preceded by three awful pregnancies. While my girls’ pregnancies were both characterized by months of severe morning sickness, my son’s pregnancy was plagued with a more severe type of morning sickness known as hyperemesis gravidarum, though no one officially diagnosed it as so. While I was pregnant with him, the nausea was taken to such a ridiculous level that I just couldn’t keep anything down until I was given anti nausea medicine, and even then I still felt like death warmed over but my body’s ability to vomit was inhibited so I only threw up a couple of times a week instead of all day long.
“I remember feeling worse than I do when I have the flu, and I also remember being so angry that I was missing out on my daughter’s life for the nine months it took my body to grow her little brother.”
I realize that I’ve blocked out a lot of the dark realities I experienced during that pregnancy, so to write about it in detail while I am not pregnant and feeling normal, is a bit difficult. Looking back, I remember feeling worse than I do when I have the flu, and I also remember being so angry that I was missing out on my daughter’s life for the nine months it took my body to grow her little brother. I remember hating to eat and yet if I didn’t eat the nausea would become uncontrollable so I was driven by a constant need to keep something in my stomach. Still, if I put the wrong thing in my stomach I would begin vomiting which would lead to an empty stomach and more vomiting. My entire existence for eight, horrible months full of long, long days was focused on trying to keep food down. If I threw up, I would throw up more. If my belly got empty, I would throw up more. So my life was consumed by eating, but only by necessity because I hated food during that time. It was a vicious, exhausting, scarring experience and I wouldn’t wish it on anyone. In retrospect, my son was totally worth it, and I would go through a lifetime of HG for him if it is what he needed, but it’s hard to feel that connection to an unborn baby you don’t know yet.
At first, I only threw up a couple of times a day. But as the weeks progressed, the morning sickness worsened exponentially. I realized that this problem was beyond my control and worse than what I experienced with my first daughter when one day my nausea began to be accompanied by ridiculous acid reflux that wasn’t controlled by over the counter medications. If I ate, I would throw up the acid that backed up into my esophagus. If I didn’t eat, I would throw up acid that was building up in my belly. The vomiting that was already awful, became more than unbearable. On the day the acid reflux became a huge problem, I lost count of how many times I threw up. It had to be over 40 times. But by the end of the day I was so empty and so weak that I could barely get out of my bed to throw up the teaspoon full of water I had just taken in. But I kept trying to drink because how was my body going to keep another human alive with no fuel? Then, all the vomiting did something wonky to my digestive track because suddenly there was writhing, uncontrollable pain in my gut and I thought I was miscarrying the baby. A panic attack accompanied this and I lay on the cold, stone tile of the floor begging God for help and trying to call my husband at work and friends who weren’t picking up their phones. Finally, I called 911, and an ambulance came and brought me to the hospital. My daughter was only three and doesn’t remember too much from those days of her life, but she vividly remembers Mommy being taken out of the house on a stretcher as she was left with the babysitter. In the hospital, I felt so dismissed and misunderstood. Only my midwife seemed mildly acquainted with my problem, and even then I feel it must have been new to her as well because none of tricks she offered me to try to kick the nausea really worked. In the ambulance, it was a male paramedic who checked me for bleeding. In the ER, it was a male doctor who checked my cervix for miscarriage. And they were not unkind, but just so dismissive. It didn’t seem that anyone understood my problem or the severity of my not being able to keep food down. I was being compared to the typical pregnancy and offered the typical advice—eat a saltine cracker before you get out of bed (ha!), try sea bands, and yada yada yada… When the normal pregnancy tricks didn’t work for me, it sort of felt like they thought I was a drama queen or that I was making up the severity of my distress. It was so frustrating. still, it was obvious I was dehydrated, so they wouldn’t send me home until fluids pumped into my veins (that felt so good) caused me to finally urinate. They also gave me dose of Zofran for hyperemesis gravidarum and a prescription for more. With that, plus a hefty antacid, I was finally able to get ahead of the nausea and keep food down enough to function.
Thankfully, in my case the weight loss was staunched with these prescriptions and my constant vigilance about keeping food in my immediate reach. Even then, I still vomited frequently. These medications were only effective when I was able to keep food in my stomach—foods that constantly changed. For a couple of weeks, I could only eat apples. So I ate them constantly. Then, suddenly, it changed again, and I found I could consume grapefruit. In fact eating four or five of them a day seemed to actually help the nausea go away, at least while I was eating. At one point, I ate lots and lots of cheesecake. During another time, it was one, particular recipe for Paleo meatloaf that did the trick—and I wouldn’t let my husband touch that meatloaf because it took all of my energy to whip it up. Somewhere around month five, I not only stopped losing weight, but I finally started gaining (I think that was the cheese cake month). Though it felt good to be putting on weight, I was still miserable all of my waking hours and still unable to function normally as a human being. I brought bag full of food to my part time teaching job every day and could only teach if I was constantly eating the foods that didn’t make me sick. I ate not because I enjoyed eating, mind you, but because eating kept me from throwing up. I also discovered that my aversion to drinking water disappeared if the water was fizzy, which is when I finally stopped hanging out on the perpetual bring of dehydration. We bought a soda stream and I carbonated my water for the duration of my pregnancy. I now, no longer enjoy seltzer water. It will forever be tied to the awful way I felt while pregnant with my son.
HG stinks and if you have it, I am so, so sorry. All I can offer you is my empathy, and advice that may work, but probably won’t which will be very disheartening so I am sorry in advance. Just know that you are not alone. I thought my HG was bad—and it was a living nightmare—but as I learn more about hyperemesis gravidarum, I have learned that what I experienced was on the mild end of HG. Many women never gain weight and end up delivering their baby weighing less than they weighed before they got pregnant. Many women terminate pregnancies because of HG, or decide never to have another baby because the experience was so awful. When I got pregnant with my third child, I cried for an entire week after my pee made two lines because I felt like my life was over. I was so scarred from my son’s pregnancy and I was terrified to have to go through it all over again. Thankfully, I was only sick for 12 weeks with my last pregnancy—even less time than my first. It was probably worse than most women’s morning sickness, but after my son’s pregnancy, it felt like a walk in the park.
TIPS for coping with HG
If your morning sickness is severe, or heaven forbid, you have HG, here are some tips I can offer you:
Find the foods that you can keep down. The key here is to find what works, what you can keep down and how much of it you can keep down, and just go with that. If any food seems even remotely appetizing to you, try it. I don’t think HG cravings are anything like normal pregnancy cravings, they’re more like deep-seated needs. You don’t actually want to eat those hash browns, but you know that if you are “craving” them, they might the only thing you will be able to keep down and you desperately need to keep something down. Go with your gut and eat what your body is telling you to eat. I had a friend with HG who discovered all she could keep down was carrots. So she ate lots and lots of carrots for awhile, and nothing else. As I mentioned before, I had phases: apples only, then grapefruits only, then cheesecake only—so even if that is all I could eat, I ate and ate as much of them as I could and it helped keep the weight loss down.
Eat as much as you can manage. It seems counter intuitive when you’re nauseated, but pregnancy nausea is best helped by avoiding an empty belly. The problem is, if you put the wrong thing into your belly when you’re experiencing HG, it might send you into the awful, perpetual cycle of vomiting, which is why it’s important to discover what you can keep down. Once you find what your body will allow you to eat this week, or even just today, eat as much of it as you can to keep your stomach from getting empty and to pack in as many calories as possible.
Eat often. Eat little bits of food all day long, rather than eating three or even six generously sized meals. Just eat bites at a time, and make sure you are never without food. When I’m pregnant, I keep a grocery sized bag with me all the time full of my go-to snacks. If I happen to be without it, it often means vomiting in the bathroom at the ice cream shop or on the side of the road of the highway as eighteen wheelers whiz by, throwing their big winds against my heaving, swollen body.
Avoid triggers. You will find what triggers nausea, and once it’s discovered, stay clear of those things. Smells, even good smells, can be a huge nausea trigger. One day I walked into a house that wreaked of bacon—which is normally a good thing—but it was a good 12 hours until I could breathe the air in my house without wanting to vomit. I asked my husband to please run any cooking choices by me for the duration of my pregnancy. Perfumes and essential oils were another big trigger for me: I found that scents and oils I had loved, were awful to me during pregnancy.
Try all the things. People will give you a lot of advice on how to curb your nausea, and mostly it makes you want to punch them in the face because almost none of them have ever experienced the nausea of which you speak. Even still, it doesn’t hurt to try the things these well-meaning and completely ignorant people suggest. I tried Vitamin B6, I tried eating saltines first thing in the morning, I tried my anti-nausea essential oils, I tried sea bands, I tried Preggie Pops, I tried Gin Gins, I tried Coca Cola, I tried various anti-nausea prescriptions and over the counter medications, and I tried countless other things that people swore by, and most of it didn’t work for me, but occasionally one of those things would work and I’d be so thankful I’d taken the time to try it. For instance, it wasn’t until my third pregnancy that I discovered that if I cut up ginger root and steeped it in boiling water (not ginger tea or powdered ginger, mind you), it would calm my stomach and keep my hydrated. I grew to hate the taste and the scent of ginger but as long as I couldn’t keep down plain water, I drank it every day, all day long because it was the only way I could stay hydrated. I also found that an anti-nausea blend of essential oils, though it smelled and tasted terribly, kept me from vomiting much in the way Zofran does (FYI: this blend is called DiGize if you’re using Young Living and Digestion Support if you like Hopewell Oils).
Get help. If you have HG, you aren’t going to be able to keep on doing life like normal which is really frustrating, especially if you have children and a job (which I had both). You’re going to use a lot of sick days, your performance isn’t going to be up to par, your parenting isn’t going to be great, your kids are going to watch LOTS of TV, your house is going to be a WRECK, everyone will be eating microwaveable meals, and you’re going to need your village to rally around you and pick up the slack. I remember apologizing to my husband one day because after a long day at work he would need to come home and take care of our daughter, wade through our messy house, take care of me, and do dishes and all the other chores that had to happen if we were going to be able to eat and wear clothing and he said, “No, it’s okay. I just see how much you do now that you are no longer doing it!” It was the sweetest thing he could have said as I lay there on the bed half emaciated and pale, unable to even allow him to hug me because the slightest wrong touch would send me running to the toilet. With my third pregnancy, friends started catching on to how sick I get when pregnant and a whole bunch of girls from my church rallied together and brought me meals while I dealt with the worst of it. I don’t know what I would have done without the support of my husband, my family, and my friends. The most important thing to do, is get the medical help you need. I’m normally anti medical intervention and chemicals, but I learned that there are times when contemporary medicine very necessary—like when your body is growing a human and can’t seem to stay alive on its own. Medicines like Zofran and prescription antacids are the reason my son was born so healthy and strong. My trip to the emergency room where I had the wonderful IV to rehydrate me stopped the awful cycle of wretched vomiting that made it impossible to keep down even a sip of water. If I hadn’t gotten the medical help I needed as soon as I could, I don’t know that my pregnancy would have had such a happy ending.
Don’t give up! The days of an HG pregnancy are long and awful. They drag by one agonizing second at a time. But they do end and even though it feels like you will never be cured of this nasty infirmity, you will. Miraculously, as soon as you deliver that baby, your symptoms disappear—most of them immediately, though you may feel a few lingering symptoms for a few hours or days afterwards. And the best part, is that amazing baby—that human being who will be yours to cherish, love, and raise for the rest of your shared days. I promise you that little human will be worth it all. Hold tight to that thought as you cling to the edge of the porcelain throne or lay in your bed unable to move for yet another day.
If you are pregnant and you find that the joy of this new life is being robbed from you due to Hyperemesis Gravidarum, I am so, so sorry. I have been there and I know how frustrating it is. I know and I will shed a tear for you now, because I know that you can’t cry as it will make you more nauseated and lead to more vomiting as well as rob you of precious fluids that your body needs. All my pregnancies were hard, but my son’s was interminable. I barely dragged myself through each day just waiting for the moment where I could claim the refuge of sleep, only to have to wake up and start the grueling, terrible process all over again. This happened for eight months with him…it was awful. But now, he is a boundless, bubbly, hilarious 3.5 year old and those endless days all just mesh into one bitter sweet memory. I look at his clear blue eyes full of fun and tousle his yellow hair and I tell him, “Buddy, you made your mama so, so sick…and if you needed me to do it all over again, I would do it for you. I would spend a lifetime feeling like that for you if you needed me to do it.” He was worth it. He was so, so worth every, awful step in that dark journey. This too shall pass, mama, and it will be worth every agonizing moment.