Have you ever vomited more than 15 times a day? How about vomiting that many times a day, every day, with no reprieve for months on end? That was my world for my first three pregnancies. But that wasn’t the worst part. The worst part of hyperemesis gravidarum (HG) was the way it pulled me down into depression.
What Is Hypermesis Gravidarum?
Basically, it’s a huge word for EXTREME morning sickness. Unlike some people I have spoken with, HG does not mean “Oh yeah I threw up a couple of times a week or even a day.” Rather, it is a life-threatening condition which, if improperly treated, can result in organ failure and even maternal death. Many people who suffer from hyperemesis gravidarum are required to have PICC lines, and even feeding tubes just to survive to the end of their pregnancies.
I had hyperemesis gravidarum with my first three pregnancies. Due to a lack of medical insurance, the first went untreated for several months and as a result was definitely the most severe. That being said, even that pregnancy was not as extreme as the cases I mentioned above.
Over time, and with experience, I learned ways to at least keep hydrated enough to stay out of the hospital and I did not need a PICC line or feeding tube, thankfully.
What I couldn’t manage, however, was the effect it had on my mental health. The sickness caused me to be almost bed-ridden, and the guilt that that caused plunged me into an awful depression.
Today, I would like to share with you all what I believe were the primary causes of those major depressive episodes and what I wish I would have done differently.
Lack of Knowledge
With my first pregnancy, I was very, very ill. Despite that fact, however, nearly everyone I talked to had “morning sickness” as though it wasn’t a huge deal, so I was convinced that I was just a cry baby. Even though sometimes I wouldn’t eat a single bite for several days, I honestly thought it was normal.
Because of that, I questioned all the time, “What is wrong with me?! All of these other women do this and they make it look so easy!”
As silly as this may sound, I felt as though maybe I wasn’t good enough, or tough enough to be a mom. I thought that I was just defective.
The Knowledge of Others
Even once I was diagnosed with hyperemesis gravidarum and I had educated myself on what it meant and that there were others like me, that didn’t mean that others understood. In fact, it was the opposite. When I would say, “I don’t have morning sickness, I have HG,” they would look at me like I had two heads.
Then they would smile and say, “Just wait until the second trimester. You’ll feel so much better! But for right now just eat some crackers and drink some ginger-ale.” 9 times out of 10 this would bring me to tears. I wished I could eat crackers, or anything else for that matter. And even a sip of ginger-ale or any other liquid would have felt heavenly. But I couldn’t. I didn’t have what they had so their natural remedies weren’t helpful.
In addition to that, kind, good-hearted people always knew just what I needed. Church dinners everyone would crowd around me, “You haven’t eaten anything! Honey, I know you don’t feel good, but you have eat something for that baby. Here, try this.” I even had a few people hold food up to my mouth as though I was a stubborn toddler.
Often times, I would oblige and force myself to eat only to end up laying on the bathroom floor so weak I couldn’t lift my head less than five minutes later.
My mom, as wonderful as she was, was convinced that I had to get fresh air. So she would do everything she could to get me out of the house and walking outside. While I appreciated her wanting to help, I felt like I had to do what she said. I mean, after all, she had three kids, she knows what’s going on, right? But it always made me so much worse.
The First Pregnancy
My first pregnancy came a very short time after Daniel and I were married. Suddenly, as a newlywed wife, I wasn’t able to stand in the kitchen long enough to cook a meal, much less do the dishes. The entire house fell apart.
But that wasn’t all. Date nights turned into him holding my hand as I lay in the emergency room with IVs. More traditional ones, like steak dinners at an awesome restaurant, ended with me in tears or leaning on him as I stumbled to the car.
I think the worst moment of guilt came with one of our four-hour road trips to visit family. My in-laws asked us to join them for a marriage retreat at a nice hotel (I honestly don’t even remember where it was, or who the speakers were).
By the time we arrived, I was so carsick, I just wanted to lay down. My husband and his family, however, were thrilled to see each other and had big plans but I had to say no. And I felt terrible about it! I felt as though I was standing between him and his family. I felt as though he and they would resent me for it. And I felt so guilty!
All in all, my first pregnancy I spent truly believing I was the worst wife imaginable. I wish I knew how many times I apologized for all of the things I had to say no to, or for the number of times I told my husband, “You have to get away from me until you take a shower. You’ve been working and the smell of you will make me puke.” Yep, I said that, on multiple occasions.
The Second Pregnancy
Charity was only 7 months old when I got pregnant with Kirsten. I barely had the time to re-cooperate from the first experience with HG before I was again hugging the porcelain throne for dear life. I wasn’t able to truly care for Charity because I was so sick. So most of the time, when Daniel was at work, Charity went to my mom’s house.
This set-up alone made me feel so guilty it was pathetic. I hated that my husband had to leave for work early every day to drop her off. I hated that my mom had to raise her grandchild, something I always swore I would never let happen.
Most of all, however, I hated how much I missed my baby. Even when I was with her, I couldn’t function the way a mommy should. I couldn’t change her diapers without puking. If she would spit up, I would run to the toilet. I couldn’t go outside and play. Worst of all was all of her firsts that I had to miss.
The Third Pregnancy
I am saying the third, although this was actually the fourth. The true third pregnancy was a short, non-HG pregnancy that resulted in a miscarriage when Kirsten was six months old. After that, we had a little more of a time span before I planned the next baby.
When I found out I was pregnant with Makayla, I reached out and asked for help because my mother was quite overwhelmed and wasn’t able to keep the older two kids as much as she had kept Charity. We had also moved a bit farther away and so distance was a problem.
Unfortunately, no one that I asked came through, although I will be forever grateful to a lady who went to church with my mom. She came over several times and entertained the kids and helped to try to get my dump of a house in order as best as she could. I will never forget that awesome act of kindness.
With the exception of that lady, when I asked for help, I was generally met with what I believed to be a very cruel statement from people who claimed to be “pro-life Christians.” I was told, “You had no right to even think about having another baby!” And, “I wish I could help, but you should have thought about how sick you would be before you got pregnant.”
At that point, I felt like the worst person on the planet. I was failing my kids, and I truly felt despised. To make it all worse, I felt that it was all my fault. Why had I agreed to have another baby? Why was I so stupid?
The Best Helper
My primary source of help when I was pregnant with Makayla was a three-year-old little girl named Charity. Is it insane to rely on a three-year-old? Probably. But I did, way more than I should have. She loved to help and I needed it and appreciated it so much.
But at the same time, Mommy-guilt was overwhelming. I saw the sadness in her eyes when I said I was too sick to go and play. I saw the pain when I gave her a Lunchable instead of a yummy meal she asked for. I saw the fear when I would collapse into a heap.
Charity had to grow up fast, and she did. She was absolutely amazing at helping me get through that pregnancy. But I will forever regret how much she missed out on during those nine months.
Pregnancy Number Four
Pregnancy number four, with Abigail was a whole different ball game for so many reasons. One of those was the fact that it was not classified as a Hyperemesis Gravidarum case. I was still ill, but I could sometimes go three or four days without vomiting and that was awesome! I fully believe it was because of several things that I did differently and that is what I want to share with you all now.
Tips To An HG Free (or Less Intense) Pregnancy
*Please remember I am not a medical professional and this is only my personal thoughts and opinions*
1. Get Healthy First
Find out if you have any vitamin and mineral deficiencies. If you do, work on correcting them. Especially make sure your iron levels are up to par. You don’t want to be anemic and suffer with HG, trust me.
2. Get Medicated Early
Don’t wait for the symptoms to start. Get to a doctor and start taking them ahead of time. I wasn’t actually able to do that, but I was able to “make” my own form of Diclegis by taking Unisom and vitamin B6 together.
3. Listen To Your Body
Other people don’t know what you need. You do. So listen to yourself. If your body says not to eat, don’t force yourself to eat. If you want to go for a walk, do it, but don’t do it because it will make someone else happy.
4. Take Probiotics
Recent studies have shown a possible connection between helicobacter pylori infections and hyperemesis gravidarum. It hasn’t been proven for sure as a cause yet, but just to be safe, I loaded up on probiotics to fight against potential infections just in case.
5. Use Folate, Not Folic Acid
Folic acid made me so, so, so sick. Taking prenatal vitamins with folate instead was a much better option. Besides that, folate is actually absorbed better if you have the MTHFR gene.
6. Make Freezer Meals
Fill up your freezer with as many microwavable meals as you can for your bad days.
7. Ask For and Accept Help Before You Need It.
Even if people are rude, ask someone else. Eventually, you will find people who can do what you need. Some things people might be able to help you with: housecleaning, providing meals, babysitting older kids, transporting you to doctors, etc.
8. Read This Book To Your Kids
Mama has Hyperemesis Gravidarum (But Only For A While) is an awesome book, not just for kids, but for mamas too! I can’t tell you the number of times I sat reading this book to myself in tears. Sometimes we all need the reminder that HG won’t last forever, even if it feels like it might.
I suggest reading it before you’re pregnant so your kids can know what’s coming as well as a few ways that they might be able to help you. Even better, though, it helps them know that you’re going to be okay and that they don’t need to be afraid when they see you suddenly very, very ill. This book helped to normalize HG in our family.
Tips For Managing HG Right Now
If you’re already in the clutches of hyperemesis gravidarum, it’s too late for the above tips. But here are a few things you can do to help yourself now.
1. Find a Medical Provider Who Takes You Seriously
You need to find someone who is knowledgeable about HG and who is willing to try different treatment options. Remember, doctors work for you. If they make you feel unimportant or are unwilling to help, fire them, and find someone else.
2. Get Educated and Educate Others About Hyperemesis Gravidarum
Helpher.org was seriously the best resource for me. They have a list of doctors who have been known to be great at treating HG, research about new medications and treatments, and even articles to help family members trying to understand what is happening.
3. Accept Help
As much as you can get, whatever way you can get it.
4. Change Medications (If Necessary)
If what you’re currently taking isn’t working, try something else. Even try different combinations. Keep trying until you find something that helps.
5. Remember, This Is Temporary
HG will not last forever. As much as it might seem like it will, I promise you it won’t. Yes, 9 months will seem like an eternity. But trust me, the first time your little boy or girl smiles up at you with their big, beautiful, caring eyes, you’ll know it was worth it. Read the book in number 8 in the list above. You won’t regret it.
How Hyperemesis Gravidarum Can Affect The Rest Of Your Life
In the upcoming week, I will be sharing the detrimental mental affects HG can have, even years after you give birth. If you want to be notified when this post is released, make sure to like us on Facebook and/or subscribe to our email newsletter using the orange box to the right.