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Most of us expect a bit of "morning sickness" at some point during pregnancy. What I experienced, though, a relatively rare and cruel disorder called hyperemesis gravidarum (HG), was not morning sickness. HG is morning sickness times ten. Multiplied by twenty.
Hyperemesis gravidarum is a pregnancy condition characterized by next-level nausea and vomiting. About 1 percent of women experience the disorder. The persistent vomiting can lead to dehydration, weight loss, dizziness, and depression. In some cases, it may play a part in low birth weight, and even premature birth.
I've been pregnant twice, and because of HG, both of my pregnancies were horrible. This is not an exaggeration. I mean, okay, I loved the attention I got with my big belly, and there's nothing like feeling a little one moving inside of me. Outside of that, though, pregnancy was not pleasant, at all.
While pregnant with my first baby, I threw up several times a day from the very beginning. I was always nauseated, never wanted to eat, and didn't gain a single pound. I was miserable. But everyone around me said it was normal. What did I expect? I was pregnant!
Even my OB didn't seem alarmed. He told me to just be patient. He assured me that my sickness and extreme discomfort would likely relent by the end of the first trimester. He was wrong. I made it to my second trimester and the incessant vomiting showed no signs of slowing down. I knew this wasn't normal, but no one took my concerns seriously.
Morning sickness is described as feeling queasy and being sick once or twice a day. I was nauseated all the time.
I drove my family crazy. Anything that had a smell made me feel sick. I'm talking about anything, from perfume to food and everything in between. I actually moved my desk at work once because the scent from a co-worker's hair products brought on a vomiting spell.
It didn't matter what I ate; nothing stayed down. At one point I just stopped eating, and still I vomited – if there wasn't food or liquid in my stomach, I threw up bile. I got so dehydrated, I ended up at the ER multiple times to get intravenous fluids.
Lying down made me feel sicker, so I had to sleep in a recliner. Riding in a car was impossible unless the window was down, and even then, I frequently had to pull over to vomit on the side of the road, even on short trips.
I tried all the morning sickness remedies, including chewing ginger, wearing a motion-sickness band, increasing my protein, and rubbing myself with a special essential-oils blend. Nothing worked.
The nonstop puking exhausted me, and it started to wear on me mentally as well. I was concerned that the weight loss, constant vomiting, and dehydration would affect my unborn child – especially since I was already considered high risk because of uterine fibroids and other health issues.
It was the most exhausting, defeating time of my life. I couldn't relish the sweetness of pregnancy because of this issue I was having that no one believed was real. On one visit to the ER for IV fluids, after nearly passing out, again, from dehydration, the doctor came in to talk to me. When I expressed my concerns once again to a doctor about this severe "morning sickness," this one's only response was to say pregnancy was "not supposed to be comfortable."
I couldn't believe it. I wasn't being a baby or a "snowflake" about pregnancy. I could barely sit up, let alone work.
Despite support from my family and friends, my self-esteem was still super low. Finally, a few weeks into my second trimester, a midwife diagnosed me with hyperemesis gravidarum. I broke down in her office because I was so relieved to have an answer, a name, and validation for what was wrong with me.
I was prescribed Zofran and it had an immediate effect. For the first time in months, I felt normal.
I did have some serious concerns about taking such a powerful medicine while pregnant. Before I popped my first pill, I read everything I could about Zofran. Once I felt fully confident that the benefits of taking this drug outweighed the risks, I started taking it.
Even with the medication, I still occasionally got nauseous, and the vomiting didn't stop completely. Still, I was finally able to relax and enjoy my pregnancy more than I had before.
During my second pregnancy, I was able to advocate for myself as soon as I detected signs of possible HG. I let my OB know about my previous experience, and once it became clear that I was suffering from HG again, I was able to ask for a prescription early.
That second time around, I only had HG for the first trimester. After that, I was able to stop taking Zofran and manage the nausea without medication.
These experiences as a whole taught me to trust my body, and to advocate for myself. I want every other woman who suspects she might be experiencing HG to know this:
- You know your body (even though pregnancy might be a new experience for you).
- Trust your intuition. (See above.)
- If one doctor doesn't listen to you, try another. (Unless HG awareness increases significantly, you might have to find another doctor by going to the emergency room, like I did.)
- Talk to other women. Ask them if they have experienced what you are going through.
- Don't accept 24/7 sickness as normal. It's not.
Thankfully, both of my pregnancies were successful. I gave birth to a beautiful and healthy, full-term baby girl and then a little boy. Despite it all, the intense discomfort of dealing with hyperemesis gravidarum was still worth it for the sweet rewards at the end.
Opinions expressed by parent contributors are their own.