Monday, March 24, 2008

My Journey with Hyperemesis Gravidarum: The Longer Version

As I was telling J. yesterday, I have been really bad about keeping up this blog. Someone suggested that the way to get my blog more "out there" on the web was to post constantly, an idea with which I heartily concur, but so far I'm managing more like once a week. I've been really bad about posting my research as well. I have an entire notebook, and I need to buckle down and get more of it on this blog.

But anyhow, I just wrote a longer version of my own HG story for posting on another HG site that solicits stories, and I thought that I might as well post it here! At least it makes for another blog entry that I don't have to do massive amounts of work for (work's already done!).

For any HG mums out there, I have already said this before, but it bears repeating: Compared to many of you, my version of HG was very minor. No hospital visits, etc. So if you're looking at for the dramatic stuff, you'll have to search elsewhere! But anywhere, this should hopefully give non-HG people a nice glimpse of this oh-so-yummy condition. Here it is! ............

We decided to try to have a baby in March of 2005, so I went off the pill and we were pregnant almost immediately. Having little to no knowledge of pregnancy, I missed the signs that I was carrying a pregnancy doomed to miscarriage (a “blighted ovum”) – a lack of pregnancy symptoms and a weak positive test. I miscarried at eight weeks.

One warning sign which I completely missed until it was revealed by hindsight was the fact that although I had no other pregnancy symptoms, I did have nausea – almost to the point of throwing up. With a should-be-symptomless blighted ovum pregnancy, this should not have happened. Preview of coming attractions….

We decided to try again, and I only had one period before testing positive. It was a strong positive test with immediate pregnancy symptoms, so we were much more hopeful. We were very, very excited. We told everyone right away (with our first baby, we had waited to tell everyone, and had ended up telling our family the night before I miscarried, and didn’t get around to telling our church family until it was too late).

Everything went swimmingly for a week or two. I called around excitedly looking for a childbirth preparation class. When I spoke to one teacher, she asked me if I had had any morning sickness. I replied that I had not. She said, “Well, don’t worry – it’s mostly in women’s heads anyway!” I agreed oh-so-cheerfully.

My morning sickness came on gradually – a slow, surging tide. At first it was so slight as to seem imaginary. Then it got worse, but it didn’t stop getting worse – it just kept going. At first I tried to follow all the unhelpful advice they give – eat what you can, eat often, eat dry crackers, etc. The week when we knew something was definitely wrong was somewhere around week 6. I dragged myself in to work on Tuesday and Wednesday (I work 10 hours a week at our church) and sat staring blearily at the computer screen, dutifully nibbling dry crackers. I threw up for the first time at work. By Thursday, I was almost too sick to move. I was supposed to do a two-day training at a Crisis Pregnancy Center, but I just couldn’t do it. I called the coordinator and told her that I didn’t think I could even make it out to my car without collapsing, let alone do an all-day training. I went back to bed and stayed there (except for long bouts of lying on the bathroom floor throwing up and begging God for relief). By this time I wasn’t throwing anything up – just dry heaving. I had stopped eating and drinking for several days because it only came right back up, and the smell and thought of food was overwhelmingly repugnant.

By Friday night we both knew that (a) this wasn’t normal, and (b) something was seriously wrong. By then I had lost somewhere between 10 and 15 pounds. Joe called our midwife and told her what was going on. Her advice was direct – Give up all solid foods, try liquids-only for 24 hours, and after that head to the hospital. Joe headed to the store and bought Ensure and Gatorade, and I held my breath and forced them down.

Thank God, that did the trick for at least getting it under control. I didn’t feel better – in fact, I continued to feel worse. But the vicious cycle of uncontrollable vomiting was stopped, and I only threw up a reasonable amount of times per day.

After a week on the liquid diet, I decided that I must be better by then, and decided to try the “eat what sounds good” theory (food was oddly attractive, even though it was revolting at the same time – kind of a weird combination). So I spent a day eating whatever I wanted (fried fish, 7-layer burrito). It took me about a week to recover!!! I was horribly, horribly sick. After that, I had learned my lesson – I didn’t try solid food again. (And incidentally, I have never again eaten either fried fish or a 7-layer-burrito! Ugh.) I did try a bite or two of something once or twice, but each time I was overwhelmingly sick for at least 48 hours afterwards, so I soon learned to stay away from solid foods.

From then on, my diet consisted of Ensure, Boost, Slimfast, and Jell-O. Once an hour, on the hour, I would go over to the fridge, hold my nose, and quickly gulp down half a Boost and a couple spoonfuls of Jell-O. If I didn’t watch the clock carefully, I would start throwing up when my stomach got empty. It was revolting, but it did bring a measure of relief. I also had to get up in the middle of the night to eat – I couldn’t get through the night without it. A couple of times when I got up I fainted, which was definitely an interesting experience – I’d wake up on the floor with an aching head and ringing ears thinking, “How on earth did I get here?” LOL I much preferred fainting to throwing up – much more romantic, much less unpleasant.

Extreme fatigue was a huge issue. For the first trimester or so, I just slept. The most I could manage was a shower most days and brushing my teeth once a day. Those two activities were absolutely exhausting. I did manage (somehow, I’ll never know how) to keep attending church and to keep working my 10 hours at the church. However, my “work” was basically just staring at the computer screen trying not to throw up. Had I had a normal job, I would have had to quit, and had I had a strict boss, I probably would have been fired. (Thank you, Pastor Jon!) As I started to feel a bit better, I spent some of the time in bed reading. A dear friend, C., lent me all of her Agatha Christie books that I didn’t have, and I read them endlessly.

Our life pretty much fell apart during this time. We didn’t participate in any church or social activities, have friends over, or go places. We had to back out of all social commitments. Our life consisted of sitting around at night watching endless movies (in between my trips to the bathroom) and even-more-endless episodes of Sherlock Holmes (we had a complete set, and boy, were they boring – and that’s coming from a big Sherlock Holmes fan).

Joe had to do all of the laundry, errands, and shopping. Housework didn’t get done at all – I didn’t vacuum, dust, wash, or do anything else for over six months. Yuck!! Joe pretty much ate junk food and TV dinners, since he’s not one to cook on his own. He had to make his coffee in the bathroom with the door closed and the fan on, and I went into the bedroom and shut the door whenever he put anything in the microwave or oven. Oh, food smells! How they can drive one up a wall!! I had to avoid my beloved cooking magazines, too, as reading about food made me nauseous. (And I’ve never been able to enjoy coffee properly since!)

The memory of almost anything connected with that time still has the ability to make me mildly nauseated – things like the thought of our apartment, things we had around, etc. We bought a CD during my sickest time that we had on a lot, and listening to that CD is still unpleasant to this day because it brings back memories of nausea! Weird!

We expected the nausea to disappear magically after the first trimester. Needless to say, it didn’t. The real point where it finally started to improve was around 20 weeks. Somewhere around then I also started to eat. By then I was ravenously hungry, and my biological need to chew things was driving me insane. I could have chewed on our cat at that point – and enjoyed it! I think I ate more my third trimester than I ever have since! I had an especial fascination for hamburgers (which had never interested me before).

The list of things that I could tolerate grew slowly. Firstly it was (oddly enough) white bread and spiced pork products (especially barbecue). We spent a fortune on Tom’s Barbecue (which, again, I have never wanted since, and I have to hold my nose when Joe gets it!). Then bagels, ice cream, scrambled eggs – I was eating like it was going out of style. If you’ve ever been on a liquid diet, you know the feeling!!

By the time I started to come out of it, I was extremely weak. I couldn’t even walk slowly over level ground without gasping for breath, since I’d basically been on body-mandated bed rest for months. Also, my body was just worn out. I didn’t actually feel completely better until our baby was about 15 months old.A real God-send at this time was a work trip for Joe to Virginia on which I was able to accompany him. We were gone for two and a half weeks, and I was able to leave my normal responsibilities behind and truly rest, in beautiful surroundings with lots of wildlife and time for walking and getting back to normal. The difference in my body between the time we left and the time we came back was night and day – I felt like I could face life and was much healthier than when we left.

Our baby was born at home, healthy and at normal weight, three days after my estimated due date. I was still a mess, physically, but he came out of the whole experience swimmingly – never better.

The nausea and occasional vomiting lasted until birth, and then rapidly decreased during the first week postpartum. However, it took a good year for it to completely dissipate (occasional spurts of mild nausea would appear randomly) and now (2 years postpartum) I am not sure that it is even yet completely gone. I seem to be much more prone to nausea than I was pre-conception (when hungry, etc.).

In a lot of ways, writing a story about HG for anyone who has not experienced it is an exercise in futility. For one, there is just no way to communicate the feeling of HG - the unstoppable, unremitting nausea that just overwhelms one to the point of desperation. Although I never, never, condone abortion, HG is one situation for which I can say, "I understand." (Not encourage or approve, but understand.) I've been there. Also, it is simply impossible to communicate the utter despair and hopelessness that come with this condition. There's just no way. Until someone's been down this dark path, communicating the depths to which it can take one is largely hopeless - even to one's much-loved friends and family.

I have read HG stories that absolutely make my hair curl, and I am so thankful that I do not personally know the depths to which HG can take a person. In terms of HG, I was lucky. I stayed out of the hospital and off of anti-emetics. I didn’t have to deal with IV’s, PICC lines, TPN, or any of that jazz. But even so, HG was the worst experience of my life, physically and spiritually, and the thought of it occurring again fills me with overwhelming, sickening fear and panic. I am still trying to sort myself out afterwards and come to grips with the possibility of recurrence.


  1. Wow D. I only knew a fraction of this. I'm sorry I wasn't a better friend to you during this time to have ministered to you somehow. I'm glad you typed this out so we know how to be better friends during your next pregnancy.

  2. You said in this post that you wrote your story for a site that solicits stories. Can you tell me the site? I'd like to submit mine.

  3. this may be the latest comment you ever get on a post, lol, but thanks for writing all this out. i'm struggling through writing out my two experiences, and so much of what you wrote really rings true. especially the exercise in futility...there isn't a way to communicate it to someone who hasn't had it, but it is encouraging to those who are in it or have been through it. and the resources available from a truly Christian perspective are so limited. thank you!

  4. Thank you for your blog. I found it through google, searching for people who understand. I am on my second HG pregnancy, about 17 weeks and daring trying to wean off of the Zofran. I'm throwing up again, but I want independence back. Knowing about the condition is half the battle, I've done better this time with more preparation and earlier intervention, but my first pregnancy is almost identical to your story (though I wasn't up to spiced meat products for a long time!). Thanks for sharing.

  5. I wsnted to read your story. You're the second to manage gatorade. I managed coca cola later on, seemed to line my stomach. Managed the odd macdonald's cheeseburger later on (well, half cheeseburger). That's basically just an antiemetic syrup to line the stomach then protein. I hate reading hg stories in some ways as it brings it all back but I have to know what my hg sisters went through. Isn't it crazy when we say we were lucky to avoid x or y? Anyone who hasn't had hg would think we were mad. Thanks for sharing your story. Xxx

  6. Hi, Sleepwalker! :) You know, I should go back and read my own story! I want to see how I wrote it out at the time - it's been so long since I wrote it! I have thought of writing it out again from the distance of 5 years and comparing how my memories have been.

    Honestly, I was probably on the fence between "severe NVP" and actual HG. I think that different care providers would have different opinions... All I know is that it was horrific, it was terrifying, and it changed my life. It scares me to death to think about going back to that place. Yikes.

    Thank you for reading!!!! :)


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