I was diagnosed with hyperemesis gravidarum (HG) when I was seven weeks pregnant. At that point, I was vomiting 15-20 times a day, lost twenty pounds, and was extremely dehydrated and malnourished. I couldn’t stand for longer than a minute and had lost nearly all my strength. HG hit me suddenly and it hit me hard. I was scared and had no idea what was happening to my body.
I did not know much about HG at that time but recalled hearing that Princess Kate was diagnosed with this during her pregnancies. So, what did I do? I went straight to trusty Google. A quick Google search revealed that HG, “is a debilitating and potentially life-threatening pregnancy disease marked by rapid weight loss, malnutrition, and dehydration due to unrelenting nausea and/or vomiting with potential adverse consequences for the mom-to-be and the newborn(s). Hyperemesis Gravidarum impacts 0.5- 2% of pregnant women.”
Throughout my HG journey people will say, “That’s what Kate Middleton had, right?” Or “That’s the Princess disease!” (Insert eye roll here.) These comments make me mad, and I become more and more irritated each time I hear them. While I am grateful the terminology is now more familiar because of Princess Kate, I am also resentful because she made HG look both glamorous and easy, neither of which accurately depict the reality and hardships women with this disease and their families face.
I share my raw and honest story not for your sympathy, but because I believe it is important that you know the real story. HG is fucking awful. It sucks. It absolutely, royally sucks. And if the royal family won’t speak on it, then I will — because there are thousands of women all over the world with HG suffering in isolation. They are fighting each day for their survival and the survival of their unborn child. I hope I can do my part to make these women feel less alone, to make them feel understood, and give them the strength to push through their own journey.
Hyperemesis gravidarum (HG) took everything away from me overnight. HG stole my identity. HG stole my ability to work. HG stole my independence. Thanks to HG I can no longer shower, walk, drive, go to the bathroom or do anything unassisted. This disease stole my hopes for a big family. HG stole and emptied my joy during a time when most women are filled to the brim with joy. HG robbed my family, too, of this blissful time, and instantly turned my husband into my full-time caregiver.
While I am grateful the terminology is now more familiar because of Princess Kate, I am also resentful because she made HG look both glamorous and easy, neither of which is true.
I hate HG for turning my home, once warm and filled with so much happiness, into a dark place that looks more like a hospital room. I hate HG for filling my living room with puke bins. I hate HG for tainting the memories I have of my community because I’ve vomited in so many places including the office, gym, mall, grocery store, movie theater, Walgreens, and too many restaurants to list. Because of HG I now have to use the warm and cozy blankets on my couch to protect my hands and knees from bruising when I throw up viciously on the floor. Because of HG I can no longer eat dinner with my husband–a time that I cherished before I was destroyed by HG. I hate that my husband has not been able to eat a home-cooked meal in over six months because the smell of cooking makes me throw up or, even worse, start dry heaving. I hate HG for burning my esophagus from the constant stomach acid I am throwing up — there is nothing left in my stomach.
I hate HG for sapping me of all my energy. I can’t even walk up my stairs. Because of HG, our downstairs guest bathroom has a toothbrush and toothpaste so that when I am done throwing up, at least for a few minutes, someone can easily hand these to me. I hate the taste of throw up in my mouth. I hate that I can’t get a haircut because I need to make sure my hair can be done in a ponytail, and done quickly to avoid puke in my hair.
I hate that I have to think about every sip or bite I take and that the first thought is always, “What will this taste or feel like coming up?” I hate that I can tell you the best foods to eat not because they taste good, but how little they burn on the way back up.
I hate HG for debilitating me not just physically, but mentally and emotionally as well. I hate the anxiety that HG has given me. I hate how consumed with fear I am every time I feel myself about to throw up yet again. I have lost track of the number of times I have thrown up—it’s too hard to keep track when it’s all I do. I hate the mind games HG plays with me—starvation, nausea, and vomiting all play dirty tricks on the mind.
I hate that I haven’t thought about my baby at all because of HG. I have only thought about myself and my survival. What kind of mother am I? I hate that other women at my OBGYN office stare at me and my IV pole. I absolutely hate that I have a feeding tube and an IV in my arm. This is not what pregnant women are supposed to look like. I hate watching other women come running into the doctor’s office in their work clothes and typing away on their laptops while waiting for their appointments. That was supposed to be me. When I see this I can only think how lucky I am that I even made it out of the house and was able to walk the 50 feet (with several breaks) into the waiting room. I hate that others tell me constantly “it will be worth it,” as if I were doing it for reasons other than it all being worth it. Do they know the hellish nightmare it is living with HG every day for almost an entire year? It’s a fact that 15% of women who suffer with HG choose to terminate at least one pregnancy. I totally understand why. I get it. I thought about termination multiple times and could’ve easily been in that statistic. I f*cking hate HG and what it has done to me.
Hyperemesis gravidarum (HG) took everything away from me overnight. HG stole my identity. HG stole my ability to work. HG stole my independence.
But … I also love HG. While HG took everything away from me, it simultaneously gave me everything: it made me a mother. I love that, despite all the darkness, HG has also showed me the light. This disease has taught me to be mindful. When you only get an hour free from throwing up, or a lower level of nausea, you learn quickly to be grateful for this hour and learn to live in the moment. I love HG for strengthening the already strong bond between my husband and I. We can and will get through anything after this. I love HG for showing me every day how tough I am. I love HG for making me feel like a warrior. I now know I can indeed conquer anything.
I love that HG has taught me to appreciate small progress. I don’t always have to achieve huge goals to feel I have accomplished something in my life. Today, I walked up the stairs unassisted with no breaks. This was a huge achievement and enormous progress from where I was months ago. I love HG for teaching me to be patient with my body. I never know how my body is going to feel each day, each hour, or each minute. It’s constantly changing and I am learning to embrace the unknowns, which I must confess is not an easy task for this type-A girl who absolutely loves planning.
Because of HG, I have no control over my body, nor my bodily fluids. While I hate this, I love that I am learning each day to be better at letting go and letting my body dictate the day. I love HG for forcing me to change my perspective on life and know what is actually really important. I love that I now stop to appreciate the taste of water flowing down my throat and feel so grateful to have clean, running water to drink. I love that even in my weakest moments, HG has taught me to be patient and kind to myself.
I love that I have a doctor who has been my champion and makes me feel completely understood. I love that he understands not just the physical toll that HG has taken on my body, but the psychological one as well. This is incredibly hard to find, as most medical professionals are not compassionate to women suffering from HG and don’t fully understand its debilitating symptoms. I love that my family has taken the time to learn about HG in order to better support me. I smile every time I hear my mom say “hyperemesis gravidarum” because I know the more we talk about this rare disease the more we can educate others, one small step at a time.
I love the pride that I already feel for my future son or daughter. They have accomplished more in their short lifetime than most people ever will. They are surviving HG and all its malice. This baby is filled with grit, a fighting heart, and maybe even a little stubbornness (not sure where they could’ve gotten that from?). I am so proud of their resiliency and fighting spirit. Keep fighting, Baby, you’ve got this and Mommy is fighting with you!
For all this and much more, I am thankful for HG. I oddly love HG. Until my next awful and incredibly tough vomiting session when I start hating HG again, that is.
For more information or to receive support if you are suffering with Hyperemesis Gravidarum, check out the Hyperemesis Education and Research (HER) Foundation at www.hyperemesis.org.