Poor Duchess Kate suffered with hyperemesis gravidarum during her first two pregnancies and has been forced to announce her pregnancy early again, due to being unwell from the condition.
In her first pregnancy, she copped flak for ‘acting like a princess’, but not so second time around. Her bouts of hyperemesis gravidarum brought the realities of the illness some much-needed publicity so for that, I thank the Duchess for sharing her story. The more people who know about this serious pregnancy condition, the more seriously it will be taken.
Hyperemesis gravidarum is not just your run-of-the-mill ‘morning’ – or even all day – sickness. It can be extremely severe and a real concern to both the woman and baby. It’s not just ‘feeling queasy’, or the occasional vomit. It’s not simply waking up with that dizzy, sick feeling and eating some crackers to calm your stomach. It’s not even the fairly ‘normal’ first-trimester-long nausea that up to 85 per cent of pregnant women suffer through.
It’s more like walking around with that feeling all day long, for weeks on end, with no respite – if you can even get out of bed at all. I know how she feels, and it’s not pretty. I suffered with HG for two pregnancies – worse with my second, which saw me hospitalised for dehydration and exhaustion. This severe form of ‘morning sickness’ – oh, ha freaking ha – meant that my pregnancies became traumatic to cope with rather than the joyful time every woman wishes for.
The realities of Hyperemesis Gravidarum
For me, hyperemesis gravidarum was like a long, dark night in my memory.
It involved uncontrollable retching occurring regularly all day and night, with so many triggers that I became unable to go anywhere without something in which to catch the inevitable vomit. On one occasion before I had properly figured this out, I had to get off a bus a stop early to let loose into a public bin on the footpath. Not my best day, but still, not even my worst – at least I was up and about!
And you know how vomiting can tend to wrench your stomach and back muscles until it hurts to move? Imagine vomiting til there’s nothing left to vomit, then vomiting some more – and doing that Every. Single. Day. Those wrenched muscles lasted for 9 months straight, making every move a painful experience.
During my second pregnancy, when my daughter was 3 years of age, this was particularly debilitating. A child that age just wants her mum to pick her up sometimes, but I would need to walk her to somewhere I could sit down just to hold her. Even bending down to pick her up her left me at risk of keeling over with vertigo and nausea.
Being a naturally slender person, I lost weight instead of gaining it for my pregnancy, which brought about lots of concerned suggestions and remedies from well-meaning friends and family. But you’ll understand why I wasn’t too enthused … you can bet I had tried it all with no success. Even plain water made me retch. In fact, even my own spit did sometimes.
So many, many things made me want to vomit – here’s just some of the list:
- The smell of: cooking foods, raw meats, tree/flower blossoms, cleaning products, vehicle exhaust, air fresheners (particularly used in stores and cars), and basically the entire cleaning aisle in the supermarket.
- The taste of: coffee (imagine the devastation for this coffee-lover), anything spicy, anything too sweet.
- The texture of: bananas, kiwi fruit, tomatoes, and oddly – plain milk.
- Anything fizzy, anything milky, anything soft-but-lumpy like fruit yoghurts and porridge.
- Motion sickness was suddenly amplified by a million – going round corners or reversing in the car set me off every time, even bending over or rising from lying down to a seated position made me dizzy and queasy. Sometimes, just turning my head did it.
- Brushing my teeth.
- Cutlery and kebab or icypole sticks – anything that you held in your mouth for any reason.
I basically survived on what little avocado on toast I could keep down, and Frosty Fruit icypoles (avoiding any contact with the stick in case it made me gag). It was like I was wasting away. The circles under my eyes made me look like a zombie. My partner and daughter had to watch on as I struggled daily.
Lily, aged 3, would bring me a bucket and stroke my face as I lay on the bed, retching and hurting. I cried one morning when she said, “Are you feeling ‘crooked’ again today, Mummy?” She was so used to seeing me like this, it had become the norm for her. My poor partner felt powerless and confused – being unable to do anything to help me except sympathise and help with our daughter.
I was prescribed medication after medication to try and ease the quease – but nothing helped. Even the specialist medication that I could only buy from the hospital pharmacy and cost me over $100 (ouch!) failed to make a difference.
Not even hospitalisation really helped – though I felt less dehydrated after a few 4-hour fluid drips had passed through my system. There’s just really not much you can do for utter and complete exhaustion, besides rest. And we all know how THAT works for a Mum.
What comes after baby arrives
While the births of my babies saw an almost immediate reprieve from the nausea issues, I was left with a range of ongoing problems that stem directly from HG.
Those strained muscles in the stomach, back and neck became one of the hardest things to recover from, with ongoing physio needed to ease muscle spasms as well as posture and pelvic floor issues. I’ve had a slipped disc and pinched nerves which has led to irreversible nerve damage.
My teeth also suffered, with many of them now crumbling due to the acid wear from copious vomiting and the lack of decent vitamin and mineral intake for the duration of my pregnancies.
I have to admit that I was also left with some fear of another pregnancy in case this were to happen to me again, even though the doctors say there is no guarantee that it would recur. While my babies were most definitely worth every moment of discomfort, illness and pain, I had such serious doubts about my ability to care for my two kids throughout another bout of HG that it impacted my plans for a larger family.
My partner and I decided to give my body a break and call our (biological) family complete after two children, though I still haven’t ruled out the idea of becoming a foster carer one day – there are plenty of children in so much need.
Hyperemesis Gravidarum symptoms include:
- Persistent excessive vomiting (more than 3 or 4 times a day)
- Unrelenting, severe nausea
- A decrease in urination due to dehydration
- Maternal weight loss or failure to gain weight
- Rapid heartbeat
- Headaches and confusion
Severe morning sickness is considered Hyperemesis Gravidarum when:
- There is a loss of greater than 5% of pre-pregnancy body weight – this weight loss is often over 10%
- There is dehydration and a production of ketones (chemicals in the body that are present due to the breakdown of fat. Ketones are harmful in large amounts.)
- There are nutritional deficiencies
- There are metabolic imbalances
- There is a serious and ongoing inability to participate in regular daily activities
Hyperemesis Gravidarum usually lasts longer than the usual first trimester period for morning sickness but it does tend to resolve around 21 weeks – although, about half of HG sufferers experience symptoms for the entire duration of their pregnancy.
So, before you judge Kate Middleton, or any other woman, for being sick enough to be hospitalised with ‘morning sickness’, think about how overwhelming this problem really can be:
Hyperemesis Gravidarum is a serious condition that needs aggressive treatment and care to avoid life-threatening complications. Early intervention and treatment, which very often includes hospitalisation, is vital to keep both mum and baby from becoming seriously unwell.
Women living through this are really suffering and need as much emotional and physical support as they can get. I’m sending Kate lots of get-well wishes and I hope that the illness passes quickly for her this time, so that she can enjoy at least SOME of her pregnancy.