More than morning sickness: hyperemesis gravidarum
Calling hyperemesis gravidarum (HG) morning sickness, is like calling a hurricane "a little rain". Jayde Eddy, who suffered from HG for four months during her second pregnancy, and was rushed to the emergency department several times, says the strain on her body, on her relationship with her family, and the mental stress was often almost too much to bear. Here, Jayde shares her honest, heartfelt story with us.
Hyperemesis Gravidarum took me into some very dark places. What you’re about to read is a blatantly open and honest account of what it was like living with this condition. I wanted to share my story because, although there is medical help for HG, I really needed help with the mental side of things. I wrote this in the hope that it lets HG sufferers know that they aren’t alone.
After my daughter Lillie, turned one, people kept asking if we were going to have another baby.
In my head I’d answer, “Of course, I love being a mum, but if only you knew what that meant for me.” However, my actual response was, “I’m happy with one.” It was just easier than having to explain the inner workings of my mind.
As the months passed, talks with my partner and friends always centred on how nice it would be for Lillie to have a sibling. I talked a lot about HG and it’s effect, but no matter how much I tried to explain how bad it could get, it never seemed like it was a big deal to them. The thought of carrying another pregnancy made me feel anxious, sick to the stomach and petrified. And I felt angry: wasn’t what I endured with Lillie enough?
As friends had their own babies, I got clucky and slowly succumbed to the idea that maybe I should stop being so selfish, and stop putting this condition first. I reminded myself to look what we got out of it - a beautiful child. I tried to talk myself out of thinking of the bad stuff.
‘Maybe I won’t get so sick, or maybe I won’t get sick at all. Maybe I’ll be stronger this time since I know what to expect.”
I almost convinced myself that I’d be okay. Wishful thinking. The next time someone tries to tell you your HG ‘might not be as bad this time’, remind them that it’s more than just morning sickness. Calling HG morning sickness, is like calling a hurricane ‘a little rain’.
Studies have shown that HG only happens in 0.3 to 2% of pregnancies. Seriously? I’m in that minority twice? And studies have also shown a high recurrence rate, so if you had HG with one pregnancy, you’re likely to get it again.
When we started trying to conceive, I would constantly remind my partner how sick I’d get. Maybe I became a broken record, but it seemed like my warnings went in one ear and out the other. It felt like he wasn’t taking me seriously. I’d get really upset, especially if he just shrugged it off. I felt it was the only way to prepare him for what could come, because if he wasn’t prepared, then I flat out refused to let it happen at all. After all, it would be me doing all the sacrificing again. So even when those two lines did appear on the pregnancy test, and we had that moment of elation, I quietly went into shock.
I worried about what would happen to me, about how I’d keep my job, how I’d look after Lillie, how we’d cope financially. But these fears only lasted for a couple of weeks as I miscarried. The miscarriage hit us hard and in my darkest times I blamed myself, thinking that because I hadn’t been wholeheartely into having that baby, that I must have caused it.
It wasn’t long before we found out that I was pregnant again. The same fears flooded back, but even more forcefully. But this time I didn’t let it overwhelm me for too long. I told close friends, family and informed my work. Again, I tried to prepare them and my partner for the likelihood that I’d get HG, but my partner thought I was just resigning myself to getting sick and therefore I would get sick. To me it was just being realistic about how bad it could get.
And, it got bad. Right on the six week mark, it hit really hard. I was nauseous and vomiting constantly. I couldn’t even stand up for long. I’d want to eat, but would just vomit it all up again, losing precious energy and nutrition each time. This continued for weeks on end and each day I just got weaker and weaker. Staying in bed was the only way I felt I could control the intensity of the nausea. Literally for weeks, I just stayed in bed. I became almost primal, worrying only about whether I had drunk enough, if I had managed a mouthful of food, and when I last went to the toilet. That’s all I could focus on. So over the time I was ill, I had no idea how our finances were, no idea how any of my friends’ lives were, and I wasn’t even remotely interested in how my partner was doing at work or in his study. It sounds awful, but I just couldn’t face anything else. I had to resign from work, as I just knew it wasn’t going to get any better. I also had to resign myself to not being well on my daughter’s second birthday. This was one of the hardest things I had to do throughout this journey. At that stage I still had to hide the fact we were pregnant, and come up with a cover for why I looked like death. If it wasn’t for family and my closest friends stepping in to decorate, organise and worry about all those finer details, Lillie wouldn’t have had a party. I cringe when I think back to that day. I just felt absolutely disgusting, and don’t know how I managed to get through it.
After eight days, I had to go to the Emergency Department for my first lot of fluids because I was dehydrated from not being able to keep anything down. This happened a lot sooner than in my first pregnancy, which worried me big time. The ED gave me Ondansetron and Cyclizine to help manage the nausea and discharged me home. Four days later I had to go back for more IV fluids. This time we asked the doctor to refer me to the Early Pregnancy Clinic (EPC) so that I could stop having to go through the ED department every time I needed fluids. Over the next week, I could feel that the Ondansetron and Cyclizine were not working. The anti-nausea bands constantly hurt my wrists. Ginger biscuits did nothing. Ginger beer just made me ill thinking about it. Plain crackers, toast and biscuits didn’t stay down. Water was even starting to come back up. There’s one particular day that I will never forget, 6th March 2016. It was the day after the wedding of a good friend, and I hadn’t been able to go. My partner was really concerned so he rang my mum and asked her to come over. She took one look at me and said we were going straight to the hospital. I had to be carried as I couldn’t even sit up or stand. I knew I was bad, but I was also in denial as I absolutely hated being pricked and prodded. At ED I had a pulse of 150, so I was rushed straight through. They pushed three bags of fluid through me this time before deciding to admit me as my pulse was still 130 and wasn’t going down. I had two ECG heart tests and was admitted to the Maternity Ward as the hospital was full. I was given Cyclizine, another anti nausea drug, through the IV line. It made the inside of my head feel like it was at sea, and I could tell my heart was going absolutely nuts. My adrenalin started pumping and I panicked, calling for mum, who ran to get a nurse. The nurse immediately yanked the oxygen mask off the wall, pushed the emergency button and put the mask on my face. I started to get really upset as what felt like hundreds of people (but probably only seven or eight) ran into my room. I said, “Mum, I’m scared,” but mum had had to move back and I was surrounded by hospital staff. My original midwife bent close to me, and said it was going to be alright. What I didn’t know at the time was that the rapid response team had been called in as my heartbeat had skyrocketed to 190 BPM. I had one person on each arm taking my pulse, another recording those pulses, one person getting the ECG machine ready to hook up to me, one shoving another IV line into my other arm to rush through double bags of fluid. A nurse shoved a shot of adrenalin into my stomach, another kept trying to shove a needle in my wrist to take a blood test. I remember yelling at her to, “stop please stop!” Another nurse held my hand and bent close to my ear, urging me to breathe in through my nose and out through my mouth. My eyes were shut, my breathing was shallow and I could feel my head closing in on me – I actually thought I was going to die.
Another fact I didn’t know then was that if I didn’t slow my own breathing down, I’d go into cardiac arrest and would have had to be intubated. I had to use all my might not to “fall asleep” or give in to that feeling of my head closing in. ‘Don’t let this take over,’ I told myself. ‘Stay awake, breathe, you can do this.’ I opened my eyes and told my mum, “I’m back!”
After that ordeal, I was transferred for my first stay at the Intensive Care Unit (ICU). I was still in shock and kept asking the doctor if my heart was going to stop. I still thought I was going to die. It took until about 3-4am to get my heart rate down to something more reasonable. I ended up with a fever and sweated through the entire bed. The nurses were absolutely lovely, but I didn’t sleep at all. I hated being hooked up to so many machines, hated the fact that I couldn’t be at home in my bed, but I also had this overwhelming fear that if I went to sleep I wasn’t going to wake up.
The next morning, I was seen by specialists and was given a super-long list of new medication (about nine different types) to take at home. I had normal iodine and folic acid tablets, then stomach acid settlers, vitamin B tablets, thymine tablets and anti-nausea tablets. I wondered how I was going to take nine tablets a day when I couldn’t even stomach one! I was allowed to go home later that day, but my mental state at this stage was not good. As soon as my mum came, I burst into tears and told her that I didn’t want this baby, that I wanted it out of me, and that I couldn’t do this anymore. I tried to tell my partner exactly how I was feeling, but I couldn’t even get the words out to him - I could see he knew what was coming. He looked away, so I knew he was breaking down, and that was another pinnacle point for me. I was still overwhelmed with anxiety, and every fibre of me wanted the baby out so that my first wouldn’t lose me. Two special friends visited me the day after I got home from hospital, and encouraged me to think of the end product. But to be honest, you don’t think ahead. The sickness takes over and all you can focus on is how sick you feel, how gross and weak you are, and how much this sickness is taking from you.
I had to have someone at the house with me at all times after my ICU stint, as we all decided that I couldn’t monitor my own condition anymore and I desperately needed help with looking after Lillie. I felt like the HG had ripped me away from my little girl: I couldn’t get up to her, I couldn’t talk to her much and I couldn’t be there for her. After a few weeks she even stopped coming down to the room to see me, as she would either get told off for jumping on the bed or I just couldn’t handle her being in the room. This made me feel the absolute worst, and is when my deep feelings of resentment started. I blamed the baby for taking motherhood from me. Some days I even hoped I would miscarry again.
My mum and grandmother shared the responsibility of “babysitting” me. When I think back, I feel so sorry for them. I wasn’t a very nice person to be around. I was grumpy, I wasn’t “there” a lot of the time and I didn’t like to talk much. I lay in my bed day after day, following the same routine: going to the toilet, sipping small amounts of fluid, throwing it up. I felt my body eating away at itself as I lost weight. I was incredibly thankful for the help I did get, but couldn’t express it because of how I felt. I was angry most days and absolutely sick of feeling nauseous. I can’t remember the amount of times I broke down just wanting it all over.
When I think of what my partner endured during this time, I cringe. He found it incredibly hard and broke down twice. The poor guy was working full-time, maintaining daughter duties, trying to fit in study at night, and catering for my ever-changing food and drink needs as we desperately tried to find things I could stomach. When I said it was just me making all the sacrifices, well, I was wrong. My entire family had to make sacrifices. My daughter had to sacrifice time with me because I was too ill, my partner sacrificed his social life, work and his mental state for me, and my close family sacrificed time, work and money driving me to check-ups at the EPC three times a week, making sure we had food in the house and keeping the house clean for us.
After my ordeal in the ICU, I was referred to Maternal Mental Health (MMH) but I didn’t keep in contact with them. I hated my phone because it caused so much anxiety and nausea. I would leave it uncharged for days, so the MMH’s calls all went unanswered. I felt that because I had gone through HG before that I could do it again, without them. Now, I’m not sure whether that was the best decision, as I was so withdrawn and could feel darkness taking over. I can’t help but think that if I had accepted MMH help, maybe I wouldn’t have gotten so dark.
Over the next few weeks there were more hospital visits, more fluids pumped in and a trial of Stemetil suppositories, another anti-nausea drug, because I could no longer have Cyclizine, and Metoclopromide caused anxiety attacks. My arms were going black from the IV lines and blood tests. At one point doctors were going to put a permanent IV line in because some veins were blown and others couldn’t take any more. The Stemetil worked to a point, allowing me to eat small portions and some days even crack a smile. Then I was told that Stemetil production had stopped so I wouldn’t be able to get it anymore! I couldn’t believe that they would be taking away the one hope I had to get through. The news sent my anxiety into overdrive as I kept wondering how I would control the nausea. However, the doctors prescribed another tablet, the pill version of the Stemetil, which wasn’t as effective, but that I hoped would at least have a placebo effect.
My HG ordeal lasted until I was about 17 weeks pregnant, but the effects on my body lasted a lot longer. I was incredibly weak for a long time. My partner frustrated me because he thought that because I wasn’t vomiting as much, that I was better. When I could finally manage small meals I’d get excited as that meant I’d be getting some energy. The EPC visits got less and less, but I still relied on my grandmother or mum during the day because I still couldn’t look after Lillie alone. I had anxiety attacks about being alone. By week 21 I could manage some days at home alone, which helped me start to feel more normal, more human. By this stage my dark thoughts weren’t occurring as often, and it was like a weight had been lifted off my shoulders. I was finally starting to accept that there was a wee, innocent baby growing inside me, not a leech, but it took until then to let myself get attached to the baby, and by week 24 of the pregnancy I was my normal self!
Things went smoothly after that. I had what I like to think was a “normal” pregnancy even put on all the weight that I lost. HG was no longer my main concern, and you wouldn’t have known from looking at me that I had been so ill. I am incredibly thankful that it only lasted 24 weeks as I know there are some women for whom HG continues throughout the whole pregnancy. If this is you, then I am incredibly sorry. I feel for you, it’s such an awful condition. My advice would be to accept any help you’re offered. HG is debilitating and you need to be the priority.
I’d also say that you should voice how you’re feeling, whether it’s angry, dark or sad. Just be honest, don’t hold it in. And don’t feel bad for doing so. I can’t count the number of times I said that I did not want this wee baby. At the time I meant it, but when I’d escaped from the HG cloud, I was proud of myself for sticking with it and so happy to meet her. Mia was born on 4 October 2016, weighing in at 4 kg, and came out super healthy and hungry!
As I have two wee girls I know that the chances of them ending up with HG is possible, so I will definitely be using my experience to guide them through it if they end up with it. They both have special pregnancy journals that I wrote about my experience, but they’re not as detailed as this story. I’m hoping that when they’re older they will appreciate what we went through to bring them here and realise just how extra special they both are. Not only to me, but to my partner, family and also friends. And I want them to see that they are strong wee fighters and have been from day one. They both survived an HG pregnancy. I am so thankful to my partner for sticking to his guns and not letting me give in to my dark thoughts, and thankful to my family and friends for just being there. What I have also come to realise is how proud I am of myself for surviving HG twice. So big ups to all you HG mums out there, you are amazing!