Hyperemesis gravidarum, otherwise known as severe morning sickness is a condition that affects roughly .5 to 2 percent of all women during pregnancy.
While the condition is still relatively unheard of, Kate Middleton put it on the map when she was hospitalized for it during her pregnancy with Prince George.
Severe morning sickness is most usually characterized by losing more than ten percent of a woman’s pre-pregnancy body weight and inability to keep down most food (and even water), often resulting in dehydration. Other symptoms include extreme fatigue, persistent nausea and debilitating headaches. Most women who have hyperemesis gravidarum (HG) experience it for all of their pregnancies, though it is most common in first-time pregnant women. This could also be true given that many women who have the experience of severe morning sickness, sometimes for the entirety of gestation, chose to only have one child.
The second time
I am currently experiencing my second pregnancy with HG and I’m here to (unfortunately) tell you, it’s not much easier than the first time around. I certainly was more emotionally prepared for the toll it would take and I also have more support from my husband and my parents who help with my other child. My friends who watched me go through this once before understand why I’ve completely fallen off the radar and some have even brought over meals to help out. But as far as the symptoms go, I’m right back where I’d hoped I’d never be again.
During my first pregnancy the nausea lasted up until the day my daughter was born. About three months into the pregnancy (two months into the symptoms), I’d lost somewhere between 15 to 20 pounds. I was so weak and nauseated I barely got off the couch most days. Oftentimes, I’d become so fatigued just by walking across a room or up a flight of stairs I’d need to sit down immediately for fear of passing out. I quickly became unable to work and my husband and I were forced to live off one income.
Finally, I started complaining to my doctor that the nausea was just as strong as it was in the beginning and I couldn’t take much more. She quickly prescribed Zofran and I was back to relatively normal eating by that afternoon, finally able to put on baby weight and experience some much-needed relief.
Back in the 1950s, when my grandmother was suffering with the then unheard of HG, doctors weren’t as quick to offer emotional support. Though she was in and out of the hospital with dehydration, the condition simply affected too few women for them to diagnose or help her at the time. Now, in the throes of my own illness, I think about her often and what she must’ve had to go through, having no understanding and certainly no medication to help her experience a normal pregnancy.
Though I’d hoped and prayed this pregnancy would be different, around six weeks I was knocked on my butt again. The nausea and vomiting were the first to surface, then the mind-numbing fatigue and the migraine-level headaches. I had wanted to try to avoid taking medication if at all possible, but it simply wasn’t an option if I was going to be able to take care of my other child.
One morning I’d spent hours struggling to get out of bed. When I finally got myself into the shower, I was so weak I couldn’t get up off the ground. I made it to the couch and called my husband, sobbing. I told him I hadn’t stopped vomiting for hours and I needed help. He called the doctor and that night I kept down my first meal in a week.
Though Zofran is seen as a godsend to most women who require it, it often doesn’t take away all the difficult symptoms — such as the debilitating fatigue and headaches — especially early on in pregnancy. I started taking the medication much earlier this time around so that I’m able to take care of my 3-year-old daughter, and so far exhaustion has been my biggest struggle. I’ve also experienced headaches and extreme sensitivity to light, making sitting at the computer or even looking at my phone to respond to a text message pretty unpleasant.
While this condition can be incredibly difficult to endure, know that there is help and support if you are going through it. Nothing may take away your symptoms completely, but for many women medication can help you function enough to work or take care of your family. In my experience, if there is anything positive to come out of severe morning sickness, it has made me very grateful to be in good health otherwise. I know that this is only temporary, that in a few months I’ll be myself again and that it will all be worth it in the end.
For more info on hyperemesis gravidarum visit helpher.org.