What Is Hyperemesis Gravidarum Like for the Mother?
This incredible post comes from Diana Johnston, a survivor of multiple HG pregnancies and an amazing author who runs her own blog, Trust and Obey. This is an excellent article to send and share with family and friends to help them understand Hyperemesis Gravidarum.
There are many definitions of hyperemesis gravidarum, the extreme form of nausea and vomiting of pregnancy. Production of ketones, rapid weight loss, need for IV hydration, loss of ability to perform daily functions, etc. The medical definitions are endless.
But what is hyperemesis gravidarum like for the mother – the one experiencing this fearsome condition?
Here are three things that come to mind when I reflect on my experience with this disease:
Hyperemesis was the most frightening experience of my life. It is a feeling of losing control of one’s body, of slipping further and further into a deep pit of physical agony, of not knowing what is happening and not being able to do anything to stop the slide. While I expected to experience morning sickness, the terror that comes from hyperemesis gravidarum was an overwhelming and sickening wave of fear that grew and grew and didn’t stop. I have never been so scared in my life, and that is a common reaction during hyperemesis.
Most women have experienced some form of morning sickness. Thus, the hyperemetic woman is surrounded by mothers who tell her confidently, “I know just what you’re going through!”
But they don’t. And usually, their statement of “I know just what you’re going through!” is followed up by something along the lines of:
“I was so nauseated I couldn’t eat bacon for six weeks!”
“I was so sick I actually threw up once!”
“I felt so badly I could only cook Hamburger Helper for dinner!”
The hyperemetic woman realizes quickly that she is very alone, because most people simply do not and cannot understand what she is experiencing or the seriousness of it. She receives a lot of good-natured jokes about morning sickness, and oftentimes comments of a more negative nature that rebuke her for being “lazy” or “self-centered,” or which blame her for her condition:
“You really need to eat more. You’re going to hurt your baby.”
“Just try some ginger and dry crackers. That took care of my morning sickness.”
“Just go for a brisk walk! There’s nothing wrong with you! It’s all in your head!”
In more serious cases, a woman may be recommended for psychiatric evaluation by a physician who feels that she is “making the whole thing up.” She may be shunned or ignored by family members who think she is throwing a pity party. A woman also may begin to doubt herself, thinking that she truly is mentally unbalanced or that she is just lazy because she cannot handle what others say they handled so easily.
Additionally, on a purely physical note, a hyperemetic woman is isolated simply because in many cases she cannot leave her home. Normal routines such as family outings, church, women’s studies, date nights, etc., all go out the window while she is at home focusing on survival and unable to continue her normal life. Friendships often suffer, as do marriages.
The obvious truth is that hyperemesis does not last forever. Even the worst form of HG has an endpoint in sight. But none of that is visible from the inside – from the viewpoint of a woman with active hyperemesis. While one is experiencing hyperemesis, every minute is an hour and every hour is a day. Waking up and knowing that one must suffer through yet another day… and another day… and another day, the mother often (or usually) suffers from depression and sometimes despair. While we know with our minds that suffering is not forever, it feels hopeless during that seemingly endless time.
The emotional toll of hyperemesis gravidarum does not end with birth. Most women are left with scars that stay with them for life. Most post-HG women suffer from triggers and flashbacks, from overwhelming fears, from various symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
For myself, I was left with many wounds. I had constant mini-panic attacks when I encountered (or even thought of) HG triggers. I had an intense fear of pregnancy, of nausea, and of anything that caused nausea (stomach bugs, etc.). And I experienced an intense spiritual fall-out that damaged my relationship with God for many years.
Healing from hyperemesis takes quite a bit of time – both physically and emotionally/spiritually. For me, the physical recovery took about two years, while the emotional and spiritual recovery took approximately six years. It was a slow process on both fronts.
If you are a woman who is experiencing (or has experienced) hyperemesis gravidarum, there is hope. There are wonderful online forums and Facebook groups for support and research, and there are many women out there doing research into the prevention and treatment of HG. Find these resources and tap into the energy of so many women who have been where you are and who can offer the support that otherwise might not be there. You are not alone.