Hyperemesis Gravidarum (HG) is roughly translated as “uncontrollable vomiting during pregnancy”. It is a debilitating and life threatening disease. I found out I had HG when I was 6 weeks pregnant, after 3 days of not being able to keep anything (even my own saliva) down, a doctor’s visit where I was told that “vomiting is a part of pregnancy, have some water and you will be fine”, over 24 hours without being able to pee, a second doctor’s visit where I was told I should have been at the hospital 2 days earlier. When I was seen in the ED I was told that I had HG and was severely dehydrated. I was admitted to the Maternity Ward for 3 days to become rehydrated and keep something small down on my own. I was advised to start seeing and obstetrics doctor because I was so sick. That was the first of many visits to not only the ED but also Maternity and many lots of anti-nausea drugs. It was also the start of many, many, unhelpful (“you just need to start thinking more positive and you’ll start feeling better”) and what also felt like quite nasty (“you’re pregnant, not dying. Suck it up.”) comments. I also have a very close friend that suffers from this nightmare during pregnancy, and she seems to receive similar comments.
With this in mind, I keep thinking “Why would you say that?” So, here is what NOT to say to a HG mumma:
“Have you tried ginger beer/tablets/tea etc. and crackers?”
I can guarantee you that a HG mumma tried anything ginger and cracker related when she first started feeling sick. 17 months after giving birth and I am only just starting to add ginger to my food again and drink ginger beer, I had so much ginger to try and help with the nausea and vomiting that I was well and truly sick of it. I still don’t like to eat crackers. My friend and I have a joke about “she/he ginger and crackered me”, that is how often this piece of advice is repeated.
“Have a cuppa before you get out of bed in the morning/wake up earlier and have a cuppa before you start feeling sick.”
I can’t speak for everyone, but I was woken up at around 4.30-5am with the need to throw up – and not just a little nausea to be waited out, this was throwing myself out of bed and running to the toilet catching the vomit in my mouth and hand; unable to think straight, or if I had had a good day or 2 and managed to keep water down, the force of the vomiting would make me wet myself (embarrassing, yes. Reality of HG? Also yes). Unfortunately, I was not going to set an alarm for 3.30am to have a cuppa to try and possibly feel better. Being tired and rundown makes the nausea worse. Anyway, I was usually up vomiting at that time, so not sure how that cuppa would help me out.
“It will all be worth it in the end”
Excuse the language and the cliché, but, no shit Sherlock! I always knew that my baby would be worth the effort, vomiting, dehydration, hospital visits, 24 hour a day nausea on a good day and exhaustion. I also wanted to be able to tell people “this is shit. I have been vomiting for 3 days straight and haven’t peed in 2 days. 3 days ago I peed myself at work while throwing up. I had to learn to vomit into a spew bag and continue driving. This is shit.” I didn’t think that when I was holding my baby in my arms I would think “you know what, that was not worth it.”
“You should eat better while you’re pregnant, it is bad for the baby if you don’t”
On a good day I would eat whatever the hell I wanted to eat, why? Because I knew that if I didn’t I wouldn’t gain any weight and the baby would be too small. And if I craved it, it usually meant I would keep it down. With HG you learn as fast as you can what your “safe” foods are, foods that will settle your stomach or not make you vomit. Do you know what the most common “safe” food is for HG mumma’s? Big Mac’s. Yep. A big, dirty, greasy Big Mac. Don’t know why. But I do know why they eat it. It is simple. If it helps to keep you feeling better and vomit free, even for 30 minutes, you eat it. Lower birth weight is already one of the risks of a HG pregnancy, along with premature birth, the more you eat the bigger baby will be.
“I had bad morning sickness too. It isn’t as bad as all that”
Please, do yourself a favour and NEVER let this sentence past your lips to a HG mumma! HG is to morning sickness like your house burning down is to a small fire in your fry pan. My go to description of HG is this: imagine the worst virus you have had (something like gastro), where you were throwing up all day, then once you do throw up you feel kind of okay for 10 minutes, then the nausea starts, then the vomiting again, you are physically and emotionally exhausted. Imagine that for 9 months. Now imagine that you still have to go to work or look after another child while you feel like that. Imagine that you also have the responsibility of growing another human inside of you and the stress that the vomiting might be killing them. On top of that, imagine that whenever you tried to get help from a doctor or the hospital, from a friend, sympathy or empathy from your boss; you get the equivalent of a pat on the head and told “plenty of other people go through this. You just need to think more positive and suck it up and deal with it.” That is HG. It is not morning sickness.
I know this makes it seem like you can’t talk to someone with HG, but you can. Ask how you can help. Offer to make a meal. If they feel up to it, catch up with them to watch a movie in your PJ’s (just don’t be offended when she falls asleep). Get a soft anything to go on the floor in the toilet for them to kneel on. Ask what their safe food is and get it for them. Tell them they look like death warmed up, they won’t be offended, they know they do, they will appreciate the honesty. Offer to play with their kids for a few hours so they can sleep. Tell them what is going on in your life, the funny work stories, the funny toddler stories from your house. And if you can’t physically be there to help, treat them the same way you always have; just don’t be cold. Acknowledge that what they are going through sucks, badly.
HG mumma’s get the rough lot. But we get some pretty awesome babies out of it.