“Have you tried eating ginger?” a well-meaning friend asks as you feel your blood boil. You have tried ginger, you have tried seabands… you have tried everything, and still nothing works. Constant nausea overwhelming your body and mind. This is not the typical morning sickness associated with the early stages of pregnancy. This is Hyperemesis Gravidarum (HG), a severe condition which can be threatening for you and your baby. Symptoms of HG include severe nausea and vomiting, weight loss, dehydration, feeling lightheadedness and fainting. HG is a complication of pregnancy that is often misunderstood and not taken seriously. Many women who experience HG struggle to talk about it and often wonder if they are exaggerating their symptoms or if they “should” feel better by now. This can cause them to not seek the treatment that they need.
HG reportedly occurs in every 1 out of 100 women, however as an HG mom myself I would bet that the number is much higher than this. Many women that I have spoken with have experienced it and underreported it to their doctors. HG has a profound impact on the mental health of expectant mothers, and for a long time women have felt ashamed to talk about it. They chalk it up to just typical morning sickness, and something that they should be able to power through with some crackers and ginger ale.
According to research “18% of women with HG reported full criteria for PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder) and have substantially higher rates of negative life outcomes such as inability to breastfeed, marital problems, financial problems, and inability of self-care.” (Smith & Gold, 2011)
Most recently due to the brave voices of celebrities such as Kate Middelton, Amy Schumer, and Kim Kardashian, more and more women are feeling empowered to share their own experiences. To explore the impact that HG has on maternal mental health, two brave HG moms have agreed to share their stories with me for the sake of this blog. With their consent, I will share their experiences as well as my own to highlight the importance of talking about, treating, and supporting moms with HG.
“Before becoming pregnant with my first son I had never heard of HG or knew anyone who had experienced it. When I became violently ill and unable to function, friends, family members, and doctors would all suggest their over the counter remedies that would do nothing to help me. After battling HG for 3 months with just medication, I had a piic line put in and received at home IV treatment for 8 hours each day. At a time when most women are glowing and excited for the birth of their little one, I felt like I was dying up until the moment I delivered. My son’s delivery, and thereafter, was traumatic. He spent six weeks of his life in the NICU fighting for his life. There is no question, the entire experience left me drained and with PTSD. I waited four years before having another child, and suffered from HG again. This time having to take care of my son while battling this illness. HG is scary and left me never wanting more kids again. I will never be the same after experiencing HG.”
Through Mallory’s story we can see the frustration of feeling misunderstood and not taken seriously by family and friends. Although well meaning, it is exceedingly frustrating for an HG mom to be told remedies for morning sickness when in reality this is something much more serious. This naivety from family and friends leaves many HG mothers questioning the severity of their symptoms. They’re too embarrassed to reach out to a doctor for help, only further worsening their condition and their mental health. Mallory’s experience with HG was so severe that she was attached to an IV for hours each day. As a business owner, this was no small feat for her. HG caused her to become unable to do the things that she wanted to do, and had a huge impact on her quality of life and mental health. Her second experience was just as severe, but now she had a young son to care for. The trauma that she experienced for the 18 months of two HG pregnancies has left her never wanting to have another child, completely changing the course of her life.
“For roughly 230 days I have not slept through the night or gone 24 hours without vomiting. I am not able to tolerate foods. Dizzy spells throughout the day, and fainting. Walking around seeing happy women, other expecting moms grinning ear to ear and here I am crying on the inside. HG is the side effect of pregnancy no one takes seriously, even I didn’t understand it. This experience leaves me wondering… Why am I so weak? What makes this so hard for me? Why is this my body’s reaction to pregnancy? I don’t think people realize the general toll HG takes on you mentally. It’s embarrassing to walk into the office and vomit at your desk. In the middle of a sentence to dry heave. I had to stop working at 16 weeks pregnant. The amount of pressure and anxiety that puts on me is tremendous.”
Through Nicole’s story we see the impact that HG has on self efficacy and quality of life. There are many different aspects of the experience of HG that can impact mental health. From the physical symptoms, to the impact it may have on your work and home life, your friends and families responses, leaving you feeling alone. Nicole bravely shares the real life impacts that HG had on her life including the financial impact on her family.
I was overjoyed to become pregnant with my first child. When the morning sickness started, I fought through. I would tell myself that I was lucky to be pregnant, so I could deal with the side effects. I would try many over the counter remedies, nothing seemed to work. I first knew something was wrong when I wasn’t gaining weight the way I should have been. Then it all came to a head one night when I vomited over 15 times, causing me to be hospitalized. It was at that point that I knew that what I was experiencing was not typical, this was HG. My pride stopped me from reaching out for help sooner. I felt as though no one understood me as I struggled daily to complete simple tasks, while other pregnant women went about their lives normally. HG felt like a battle I had to fight each and every day for 9 months until the day my son was born. It was exhausting.
Moms, why are we not talking about this more? I fought the battle, and with my voice and the voices of other brave HG moms like Mallory and Nicole, I hope we can speak out and put an end to the stigma. You are not weak, and there is not something inherently wrong with you as a woman if your experience with pregnancy is different from others. There is help available, and we can support each other through these experiences. If you feel that your morning sickness is severe and impacting your quality of life, here are 3 action steps for you.
- Speak with your medical provider. Don’t wait. Call today. Make an appointment this week.
- There are options available including medications or a piic line. Educate yourself on these options and go to your appointment prepared with questions.
- Seek support. Educate your partner, family and friends. If you continue to be impacted physically and emotionally after seeking the help of your medical provider, get a mental health professional in your corner who can see you through the pain. You don’t have to suffer alone or carry PTSD into motherhood.
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Jessica is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker who is passionate about helping those struggling with postpartum depression and birth trauma. She creates a safe place for her clients to share their stories and develop the necessary skills to thrive. Jessica specializes in treatment for children, families, and mothers.