woman suffering with Hyperemesis Gravidarum
Morning Sickness Symptoms and Ailments Being Pregnant

Hyperemesis Gravidarum: What it's Like to Have HG

By Mary Rook

When it comes to Hyperemesis Gravidarum, knowing what you’re up against and how to advocate for yourself is key. Here’s what to look for, and what to do if you’ve recently been diagnosed.

Are you currently pregnant and food is no longer your friend? Are you losing weight instead of gaining? Are you in close proximity to a bucket or toilet at all times? You may be one of the unlucky few that suffer from Hyperemesis Gravidarum (HG) – a pregnancy condition where extreme nausea and/or vomiting leads to dehydration and a loss in body mass.

Take it from a five-time survivor – getting through HG is a battle, but with proper aid, you come out the other side with a healthy baby. I’ve assembled some basic need-to-knows and strategies for you and your loved ones.

Current HG victims should read with caution. Possible food/word triggers below.

HG is a real medical condition

HG is a medically recognized pregnancy disorder. A recent study by the HER foundation (dedicated to all things HG) has discovered it may be linked to overproduction of the proteins GDF15 and IGFBP7, but research is still being done. It is a horrible, very real disease that needs medical intervention, yet the top complaint women with HG have is not being taken seriously. If your doctor is undermining your symptoms or you are
feeling unheard, get another doctor. If that’s not an option, advocate for yourself until you get the help you need.

It’s different for everyone, but there are some commonalities

Since each of our bodies are different, each HG case will differ inside each body, but generally speaking, the worst weeks will be around 8-13. HG will come back with subsequent pregnancies (often worse), and women carrying multiples are more likely to get it. Tell your doctor to stop vitamin-shaming you (we just can’t keep ‘em down, doc) because most HG babies are born beautifully healthy and strong, despite the war raging outside the placenta. For the most part, women report feeling instantly better once the baby has left their womb.

Everything reeks

Nothing smells right, but it all sure smells. I often wonder if this is the way
dogs live. My sniffer is so amped up, I’m down the hallway in my bedroom with the door closed, but I still know the second the oven is turned on. My husband’s usually pleasant musk turns to rotted banana goo. If you have younger kids, changing a diaper is like unearthing a dead body from a landfill. Food smells are even worse. Some women dab a bit of Vick’s Vaporub under their nose or pleasant essential oils to mask the smell. Some invest in nose plugs. Whatever you try, you’ll know if it doesn’t work if it makes you throw up.

Eating is hard

Finding a “safe food” (that means a food you won’t throw up in HG language) feels impossible. Besides the whole nothing smelling right thing, nothing tastes right either. You must think about food as if it’s all flash cards. Cautiously flip through images of food in your brain. Ask yourself: do I think I could eat this? If the answer is no, flash to the next food image as quickly as possible. If yes, try it, whatever it may be. Safe foods can change. One week, all I could eat was bagels and cream cheese. Another week, instant mashed potatoes. Bland carbs are usually safer than fruit or veg, but I also had a frozen blueberry phase and a mandarin orange bout. Bottom line…eat what you think you can.

Drinking is hard

I never thought it possible to vomit water before having HG, but it can
definitely happen. Staying hydrated is paramount to keeping nausea at bay, so this is a real challenge. Many women find themselves in the hospital with an IV before they even realize what’s happening. To stay hydrated, women resort to ice cubes, frozen juices or sport drinks, popsicles, some swear by soda, but what helped me stay out of the hospital for two pregnancies was alkaline water—yes, I was able to drink WATER, and I highly recommend giving this a try.

Hello, triggers

What can trigger your nausea? Or rather, what can amp up your ever-present nausea into a regurgitation episode? Riding in the car. Brushing your teeth. Swallowing (did I mention some women get extra spit as a side-effect?). Someone sitting next to you or bumping your chair. Movement of any kind. Speaking. Bright lights. Turning your head too fast. Loud sounds. Pictures of food, talking about food, seeing food, smelling food, smelly smells, heck even memories of throwing up can make you throw up. Make sure your support team (see below) knows exactly what can trigger your nausea so everyone is on the same page.

Anti-nausea medicine is your new best friend

You will be prescribed a glorious invention called anti-nausea medication, some of which can be listed among the same prescriptions that cancer patients take when going through chemo. The common ones are Zofran, Phenergen, Diglecis, Bonjesta, Reglan, and Compazine. Some women only need one, some need two, some need all and it’s still not enough. All have fun side effects (like sleepiness and constipation), but the best side effect is taking the edge off the constant nausea you are experiencing. Talk to your
doctor about what medicine might be right for you.

People will annoy you

Well-meaning, misguided souls may try to give you advice on how to deal with HG. “Have you tried ginger/crackers/lemonade/peppermint/etc.?” “You just need to eat.” “I had the same thing when I was pregnant and I still went to work and took care of my family.” “Stop moping and go for a walk.” These types of comments are not only hurtful to you but illegitimize the disease and years of research. If you can, educate these people. If you can’t,
throw up on their shoes and walk away (not really, but let me know if it accidentally happens).

A support system is critical

It’s time to rally a team. Find whoever can help you. If your partner is
unwilling or unavailable, get a family member. If you don’t have any family, get a neighbor or trusted friend. If you don’t have a friend, tell your doctor and ask about local support. Message the HER foundation for help. Join an online HG support group (an excellent way to keep up with current tricks and tips and vent your woes to people who absolutely understand where you’re coming from). This is a condition that requires aid. Don’t be afraid to ask for help.

Forgive yourself

You are in survival mode to the extreme. Wave bye-bye to basic hygiene, chores, errands, and in some cases, jobs. It is not that you are not capable of doing these things. Clearly you have been or else you wouldn’t be a functioning human. Right now, your body is reacting to pregnancy in a way that is still being researched. That’s right. You’re a medical mystery! So wrap that guilt up in the smelly blanket you’ve been living in for weeks and rest.

HG can be an arduous mental journey

Keep tabs on your mental state throughout this pregnancy. You will have
down days. I mean real, gritty, down-right hellish days where you just can’t anymore. It’s going to happen. Some women experience PTSD from all the HG journey entails, but this is where love must come in and hold your hand. Keep that support team close because it’s going to be a battle, but at the end of this battle, you don’t get a castle or conquered land, you get the best prize of all—a squishy, adorable life.

Have you dealt with Hyperemesis Gravidarum?

Let us know what worked (and what didn’t) in the comments.

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