Kate Middleton and Prince William announced this weekend that they are expecting their third child. They also announced that, once again, Princess Kate is suffering from hyperemesis gravidarum during this pregnancy. For those who haven’t heard of it, hyperemesis gravidarum or HG is a very severe form of nausea, vomiting which leads to weight loss and general misery. You can read the medical description here.
You may be wondering what it is really like to suffer from HG. Unfortunately, I am a bit of an expert. I had HG while pregnant with my son two years ago, and I am currently suffering from HG while pregnant with twins. In most pregnancy books, it merits a paragraph at best, so most people mistakenly believe it to be the same as morning sickness. As Kate and those of us who have survived HG know, it is so much more than that.
Here is what it’s really like to have hyperemesis gravidarum.
The Physical Toll
If you have hyperemesis, you will likely be unable to eat anything for days at a time. Not very little—nothing. During this pregnancy, I was unable to keep down any food for over a week, and any water for several days. I was hungry, weak and dehydrated. It didn’t matter what I tried to eat, when or which “morning sickness remedies” I tried. Hyperemesis does not play by morning sickness rules. After one month, I had lost 15 pounds. After 3 months, I have gained back 1 of those pounds.
The constant nausea is like a film that coats your mouth all day and night. The smell of food makes you retch and even fast food advertisements send you running for the nearest bathroom. You can’t open your cupboards or fridge and cooking is absolutely impossible. Your breath constantly tastes bitter, but brushing your teeth makes you vomit. Everything makes you vomit. All. Day. Long.
Since you are not able to eat, you feel physically weak and shaky. You may be unable to get out of bed or stand without fainting. I spent a day lying on the floor in the bathroom, because I was unable to get up. That’s when I decided it was time to go back to the hospital for the third time.
If, like me, you find yourself admitted to the hospital you will probably be given IV fluids. If you are very dehydrated, you may find yourself being poked in search of veins, or having an IV stuck in your elbow, leaving you bruised, unable to bend your arm and freezing.
The Mental and Emotional Toll
If you suffer from hyperemesis, you will feel completely miserable. You will read about all the joyful moments of pregnancy in your pregnancy books and wonder, “Where is my joy?” You will read that your second trimester is the best one, but still be so nauseous that you can’t even go to the grocery store. You will feel completely isolated. You can’t go out to restaurants with friends, or to backyard barbecues because the smells overwhelm you. Every day is a constant battle, where there are no rules and you are not sure you’re going to make it. You want to punch anyone who tells you that it’s only temporary or questions why, if things are so bad, you would voluntarily do this again. (Because people do all kinds of difficult things to have children.)
If you have HG, you will feel that no one understands your feelings. In reality, most do not. Many people will tell you that they were also sick and just “got on with it.” I have had people question whether I really need to be taking the medication that is saving my life. I have had people react with doubt and scepticism when I describe the symptoms I am experiencing. I constantly have people equate their mild morning sickness with my HG. I don’t blame them for not understanding. It’s outside their experience, but it increases the isolation.
If you suffer from hyperemesis, you will feel almost constant guilt. If this is your first pregnancy, you will feel guilty that you do not enjoy being pregnant. Especially when there are so many others who struggle with infertility. If, like me, this is your second pregnancy you feel guilty that you are unable to care for your first child while growing your second. (Or second and third, in my case) You will feel guilty that you can’t attend family functions, go to work or cook dinner for your family.
If you are taking medication, you may worry about how it is affecting your baby. You may worry that you are taking too much. You may worry about the long term effects of HG on your body. You may worry that you will never feel better again. (Here’s the good news: you will.)
If you have HG (or you think you might) please seek help from your doctor. If you are unable to eat or drink anything for days, go to the ER. Don’t try to “tough it out.” Just get help. Pregnancy may be one of the worst experiences of your life, but the end result will be the only thing on earth that makes the experience worth it. I promise you are stronger than you think and you will get through this.
If you are reading this and have not experienced hyperemesis: thank you! Hyperemesis is a special kind of misery that can only truly be understood by those who have experienced it. However, you don’t need to experience the hell of HG to be supportive and empathetic to those in your life who may be going through it. So how can you support someone with HG? Listen to them, bring dinner for their family, visit them in the hospital, walk their dog. There are so many little things you can do to help them feel a little better. They won’t ask, but they need you, and they will thank you. (When they stop barfing.)
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