Pregnancy is hard. For those suffering from Hyperemesis Gravidarum, it can be even harder.
My husband and I found out we were expecting our first child when I was barely more than 4 weeks pregnant. We were elated, and called all of our immediate family members as soon as the second line dried on our pregnancy test.
Having never really been around anyone during their pregnancy, we had no idea what to expect.
Everyone has heard of so-called “morning sickness”, so when I was hit with severe nausea around 6 weeks into my pregnancy, I wasn’t concerned at all. Even after discovering that “morning” sickness actually lasted all day, every day, I was excited to be experiencing this rite of passage into motherhood. I looked forward to the 12-week mark when the nausea would supposedly let up and I could return to my normal daily activities.
The first three months, I was vomiting 4-5 times a day and took numerous sick days off of work as I just couldn’t function properly. I was weak, dizzy, nauseous, and fatigued at all hours of the day and night. I had to give up my daily gym routine, and could barely even walk the dog around the block without rushing back home to get sick again.
I thought this was normal.
At my 4-month check-up with my OB/GYN, I discovered that I had already lost 8 pounds from my pre-pregnancy weight. I was astonished, but the doctor didn’t seem too concerned as I was just coming out of the first trimester; she said a bit of weight loss was normal. I was prescribed Zofran to help with the nausea, and the doctor encouraged me to catch up on weight gain for the next month.
However, my body (and my baby) had other plans.
For the next month I diligently took Zofran three times a day, despite the horrendous side effects I was experiencing, and for a week or two, I was able to eat whatever I wanted and keep it down! This stretch was short-lived, though, as the Zofran stopped working before my next appointment.
By this time, I was well into my second trimester, but instead of feeling better, my nausea and vomiting was getting progressively worse. I was now throwing up 5-9 times per day, my once-muscular legs had developed a severe thigh-gap (not at all in a good way), and my face looked gaunt and sickly. Vomiting was so violent that I often burst all of the blood vessels in my face, which took days to clear up.
Because of COVID-19, my 5-month appointment took place virtually, so I couldn’t get an updated weight or blood pressure reading. However, even on the video call, my doctor acknowledged that my face looked emaciated and that I was very obviously still losing weight. I begged for a different prescription in the hopes that it would ease my nausea and allow me to eat, and she obliged by prescribing Phenergan to be picked up at the pharmacy immediately. She also encouraged me to purchase a scale for our home so I could monitor my weight loss (and hopefully soon, my weight gain). Because of the pandemic, my doctor did not want me ending up in the Emergency Room for fluids like they would normally recommend, so she also recommended that I continue with the Zofran in addition to the Phenergan.
The new prescription was a life-changer! But unfortunately, not a perfect solution.
My scale came in the mail rather quickly (thanks, Amazon!) and I discovered that by only 17 weeks pregnant, I had lost almost 20 pounds! I was determined to catch up on my weight gain, so I began taking Phenergan every morning. I then quickly discovered that Phenergan comes with a very powerful side effect: drowsiness, which I learned upon waking up at my work desk after a deep and very impromptu nap!
Despite the new medication, I still experienced vomiting around 4 times a day until it eased up to just once a day or so around 20 weeks. By 33 weeks, it was down to “every once in a while”, but as it came at random, it was still difficult to leave the house confidently without worrying if I would get sick in public or not. I took to keeping extra plastic bags in my cars glove compartment in case I had to throw up while running errands.
Medication is necessary, and can be life-saving for you and your baby.
I was so concerned throughout my pregnancy that my dramatic weight loss and inability to eat or drink would somehow harm my baby. And these concerns are completely valid. Hyperemesis gravidarum (HG) can lead to hospitalization of the mother due to severe dehydration, and if the mother becomes malnourished enough, it can even lead to placental insufficiency. I was fortunate enough that my doctors listened to my concerns and prescribed me multiple types of medication to mitigate my HG before I ended up in the hospital or ended up harming my unborn baby.
What is HG, and what causes it?
Hyperemesis gravidarum is described as “severe nausea and vomiting during pregnancy”, and it is not well-understood by the medical community. In my case, my doctor determined that I likely had HG when I was vomiting more than 4 times per day and I had lost about 15 pounds, or 10% of my body weight. I’ve read elsewhere that HG is common in women whose mothers and/or grandmothers also experienced severe morning sickness, but in my case, neither my mother nor grandmothers experienced anywhere near the level of nausea and vomiting that I did!
Natural solutions are not enough.
Believe me when I say that, especially in my first trimester, I tried every “natural” trick in the book to combat my nausea and vomiting:
- Ginger candies
- Staying hydrated
- Sleeping through it
…and nothing even touched my nausea at all! I probably ate three entire boxes of saltine crackers in early pregnancy, desperate for some relief, but my symptoms did not ease in the slightest until I started taking Zofran.
If you suspect that you have HG, my biggest recommendation is that you talk to and listen to your doctor, and get on medications as early as possible to prevent severe weight loss and dehydration. Pregnancy is hard enough, and you shouldnt have to suffer the entire 9 months!
Did you experience HG during any of your pregnancies? I’d love to hear your stories and suggestions for surviving in the comments below!