Morning sickness is a very common symptom of pregnancy, with most women suffering from it at some point during the first 16 weeks of pregnancy. I have to admit I thought I had got away with not having morning sickness, but it struck me quite suddenly at 11 weeks and continued until the day before my 20 week scan. I would generally feel nauseous for a few hours in the morning and then again in the evening, or whenever I was very very tired (which was pretty much all the time during the first trimester!!) I was lucky that I was rarely sick, I just felt nauseous all the time and was unable to eat much apart from breadsticks and dry crackers. However, after watching my sister go through Hyperemesis Gravidarum (HG) for both her pregnancies, I counted myself very, very lucky.
The NHS website described HG as “excessive nausea and vomiting” and women suffering from this condition “might be sick many times a day and be unable to keep food or drink down, which can have a negative effect on their daily life.”
HG is something you may have heard of recently due to some celebrities, such as Kate Middleton and Frankie Bridge from The Saturdays suffering from the condition.
It is thought that around 1 in 100 women suffer from HG, which can include symptoms such as being sick up to 50 times a day, severe dehydration, ketosis, weight loss and low blood pressure, resulting in fainting. It is thought to be linked to hormone changes, but no-one really knows why some women get it and some women don’t.
You may also have seen the recent news report regarding this illness, and how many women suffered terribly by not getting the right treatment for their illness. This is due to some doctors not being aware of the correct treatment or even how series the issue is. There have been reports to say that many women were told “to pull themselves together” and that anti-sickness tablets and trips to the hospital weren’t necessary. Some women have even reported considering termination because their illness and the lack of support was so bad.
I was aware of the condition a long time ago as my poor sister Zoe suffered from it throughout both her pregnancies. I spoke to her about her experience, and the treatment she received and what she would recommend to other women suffering the same.
Zoe, thank you for agreeing to take part in this interview to get more information out there about the illness HG.
Can you give me a brief overview of what you experienced, and how you first knew you were suffering with something more than normal morning sickness
With my first pregnancy, I started getting sickness from around 9 weeks. At first I thought it was just normal morning sickness, until it continued long in to the pregnancy. I was being sick about 20-30 times a day, sometimes more, regularly fainting and had severe swollen ankles. With my second pregnancy, the sickness was from 6 weeks, but severe sickness, 60+ times a day. I also suffered from fainting, low iron, severe dehydration, and constant headaches.
I definitely spotted it quicker in my second pregnancy, probably because it was so much more severe. I suffered throughout both pregnancies and with my second, I was still suffering for about 5 days after I had him.
What were your main symptoms?
My second pregnancy was much worse than my first. But both pregnancies I suffered from dizziness, severe sickness, fainting and extreme tiredness.
What did you doctor suggest to help with the sickness?
I think doctors suffer with a lack of knowledge. My first pregnancy my doctor told me it was just common pregnancy symptoms. My second I went to see my GP after being sick considerably (60+ times a day for 3 days). He asked for a urine sample. I explained that I hadn’t been to the toilet for a day…. he asked me to wait in the waiting room until I needed to go! I spent 45 minutes in the patient toilet being sick until a receptionist asked for the doctor to do more, they then referred me to hospital.
From then I went to hospital and got put on a vitamin drip to try and restore what my body had lost. This however left a taste in my mouth, and made me really sick! I was then put on drip after drip for 24 hours, along with anti-sickness injections.
The problem with HG is that everyone suffers differently. I couldn’t keep tablets down at all so that narrowed down medication. Some sufferers were put on a drip for 24 hours, then were given water, then food and so were out of hospital within 48 hrs…. however my body just couldn’t hold anything so my stays varied from 7 days with my longest being 17 days continually attached to a drip.
Eventually I was put on steroids and anti-sickness medication which is usually used as medication for chemotherapy patients and so hasn’t had a great deal of testing on pregnant women. This itself was very worrying.
How did the illness affect your day to day life
I am not one to have a day off or work or be ill ever so this really hit me! I felt guilty on my son who was only 3 at the time. He used to lay in the hall way listening to me be sick as I was often in the toilet being ill for hours at a time. I even remember teaching him to call 999 and knock for the next door neighbour if anything happened to me. I missed his 4th birthday, his birthday party and his first day at school from being in hospital.
How did the illness affect your pregnancies? Did you suffer differently with both pregnancies?
My first, looking back was a terrible pregnancy when I compare it to other expectant mums but my second was another level. We had planned to have our third straight after this pregnancy, but I could never go through this again. In my second pregnancy I lost 3 stone in weight, damaged my kidneys and I have a hiatal hernia from being sick so much.
I was already classed as high risk due to a bad labour in my previous pregnancy, so I don’t know if that meant I received better treatment as I was already under a consultant and had more regular appointments. My c-section was brought forward a week as there was concern the baby wasn’t growing…. he was born at 38 weeks at 8lb 2oz so he was fine!
Did other people understand what you were going through?
I genuinely think people tried to understand and many also said to me that they ‘suffered morning sickness too’ or that ginger biscuits worked for them. I think people don’t understand that HG is really devastating. I was being sick on average 70 times a day at my worst eventually bringing up blood. Mine continued throughout the pregnancy, and at its best I was still being sick around 30 times a day. For 8 months family life pretty much stopped and my husband also had to miss lots of time off work to care for our son or me.
My family were great though in terms of helping out and understanding that I was really suffering without me having to say and feeling like a burden.
Has your illness affected your decision to have more children or not?
Yes, as much as I would love to I cannot go through another pregnancy. Practically it wouldn’t work with childcare and missing work, but also it is just so awful. I remember my husband coming into hospital saying to me we needed to discuss terminating the pregnancy as he was so worried about me.
What would you say to anyone going through HG now?
There is light at the end of the tunnel! It doesn’t last for ever. But do not be a martyr and ask for help quicker! I often left it too late which made me so dehydrated meaning spending longer in hospital. Leave the housework… and ask for help. If your kids have to have ready meals and frozen food for a bit they will survive. You wont lose your job and the midwives are there to help!
Do you have anything else to add?
I hope that more research will be made into this. It really is a debilitating illness. Some people will argue that you choose to get pregnant and that you are lucky to have a baby. I completely agree but it really was one of the most awful experiences for me and if more research was done, I would hope many other mums don’t have to go through it!
I would like to thank Zoe for opening up and sharing her experience on the blog today, I really hope this can help others out there realise they are not alone.
If anyone is suffering from HG, on top of the support your doctor and midwife can give you, there are some great organisations out there that can help, such as:
Linking up with: