“I couldn’t keep anything down, not even an ice-cube” -The debilitating pregnancy condition that is Hyperemesis Gravidarum

Morning sickness is a nasty side-effect of pregnancy which affects 70-80% of pregnant women in some capacity, but it generally doesn’t affect daily life in that an expectant mother can usually continue her regular activities such as working, caring for her family and enjoying hobbies. Hyperemesis Gravidarum (HG) however, can often be mistaken for morning sickness but presents much more severe symptoms and can have a debilitating effect on its pregnant sufferer.

HG brings with it an array of hideous symptoms such as extreme levels of nausea and vomiting, crippling fatigue, food aversions, dehydration, rapid heart-rate and fainting, to name but a few. Unlike regular morning sickness which typically only lasts for the first trimester of pregnancy, HG is not normal and left untreated, can be life-threatening for a pregnant woman. It can strike at any time of the day or night and can last for the entire pregnancy in 20% of sufferers. Having HG can be a lonely and frightening experience, particularly in years gone by as the condition was relatively unheard of. Fortunately, with the progression of research and medication, there is now treatment available which can alleviate symptoms and in some cases eradicate symptoms altogether, having said this treatment does not work for everyone, leaving some to deal with the condition for a long 9 months with no relent.

The Circular recently spoke to 3 different ladies, all whom have experienced HG to varying degrees:

Sarah O Connor Finlay, Meath.

Sarah, who is mother to 4 young children, all under the age of 7 years, suffered with HG on her last two pregnancies.

“My first two pregnancies were what they call ‘textbook’, I didn’t experience any sickness and I felt good” explains Sarah.

Sarah O Connor Finlay

“My third and fourth pregnancies were very different however and I suffered with severe vomiting for the entirety of both.”

Sarah O Connor Finlay

Constantly feeling unwell and being sick is a challenge for anyone, but Sarah had the added pressure of caring for her other children all the while.

When asked if she had any good points in her HG pregnancies where the sickness eased, Sarah reports feeling “a slight let up” between weeks 20-25 where she was able to keep something down. Sarah was prescribed anti-sickness medication which helped ease her symptoms somewhat but she still experienced vomiting up to 3 times a day, even with the medication.  Sarah recalls living on sugary sweets and toast with ham and cheese during this time, these were the only things that didn’t make her sick and as a result of her minimal diet, Sarah lost a substantial amount of weight.

Thankfully, HG usually disappears almost immediately after giving birth;

“I was looking forward to enjoying my tea and toast after labour,”

Sarah O Connor Finlay

Having said this, HG may disappear upon the arrival of your baby, but it can have a range of lasting health effects, from dental problems to fatigue.

While Sarah’s youngest son weighed a healthy “10lb at birth” and is now 6 months old, it has taken Sarah some time to regain her previous state of health;

“I have been taking probiotics since the birth of my son in order to build myself up again,” states Sarah.

Sarah now has her hands and heart full with juggling work and caring for her little family.

Edel Hardiman, Wexford.

Edel suffered with Hyperemesis Gravidarum twice, the first time being 15 years ago when the condition was quite uncommon. Edel who was “so happy” to find out that she was expecting, was soon taken down from the elation of finding out she was pregnant when she suddenly started to experience extreme vomiting at only 4 weeks gestation.

“I couldn’t keep anything down, not even an ice-cube, so I went to my doctor. She sent me straight to A&E. This was my first stay in hospital where I was on a drip for 5 days; this hospital was to become my new home for the next 8 months… I was on fluids, vitamin injections and was losing weight rather than putting it on,” explains Edel.

Edel Hardiman

Edel goes on to explain that there is nothing glamorous about the condition which apparently affected The Duchess of Cambridge; Kate Middleton during her pregnancies,

“I couldn’t wash properly; I couldn’t even brush my teeth without being sick.”

Edel Hardiman

Edel was so unwell that she could not continue to hold down her day job during her pregnancy as her hospital admissions took up all of her time. However, at the end of 9 long months came her beautiful healthy daughter who weighed 7lb 12oz.

3 years later, after fear of a subsequent pregnancy due to the possibility of the return of HG, Edel fell pregnant with twins. HG soon made its appearance once again, leaving Edel back to where she started with her first pregnancy. Unfortunately, one of Edel’s twins passed away at 19 weeks gestation, a trauma which added fury to her already delicate condition. Edel and her husband had to make the difficult decision to send their 3 year old daughter to stay with her Grandmother in Galway as Edel herself was so ill and her husband had to continue to work. They were down to one income and “the bills still had to be paid.”  

HG does not confine its damage to just one person, but it extends to the entire family unit as everyone is affected by the consequences of a family member suffering from it.

“Hyperemesis not only affects the mother,” explains Edel, “It affects the father too, my poor husband was lost; his wife was in hospital, his little girl in Galway and he still had to keep going.”

Edel Hardiman

Thankfully Edel gave birth to another healthy baby girl and subsequently, a rainbow baby boy too. When discharged from hospital after giving birth to both of her daughters, Edel was a tiny 6 stone 5lb so it took a considerable length of time to regain her health and strength.

Rebecca Harte, Monaghan.

Rebecca, mother of 2 under 2 years of age, also gave a brief insight into how HG affected her life during her two pregnancies;

“I started feeling terribly sick at just 4 weeks pregnant and by week 6 I was unable to get out of bed as the minute I lifted my head from the pillow I would start vomiting.”

Rebecca Harte

Rebecca recalls thinking that this was just a normal part of pregnancy on her first as she had never heard of HG before;

“I had heard of morning sickness and thought that this must be what I had, but when it got to the point that I could no longer eat anything other than dry toast and I hadn’t got the energy to shower I realized there was something more going on.”

Rebecca Harte

Rebecca suffered with HG until the 5th month of her first pregnancy, when her symptoms gradually eased. Just a little over a year after giving birth, Rebecca began to experience the horrors of HG once again when she fell pregnant with her second child.

“I wasn’t even 4 weeks pregnant when HG struck in my second pregnancy. This time, I was constantly in and out of hospital for fluids in the first trimester and part of the second. I was so dehydrated and began to vomit blood as I had been sick every day for so many months which had torn the lining of my throat,”

Rebecca Harte

Rebecca was then prescribed anti-sickness medication in order to combat the effects of HG.

“I count myself as one of the lucky ones because my sickness vanished around 20 weeks and my appetite returned almost overnight, this is something not everyone with HG can say.”

Rebecca Harte

When asked if she found anything helpful while suffering from HG, Rebecca says she sipped ice-cold water when she felt nauseous and found that eating something small first thing in the morning, as hard as it was, helped as she felt worse with a completely empty stomach.

Research has suggested that Hyperemesis Gravidarum may be caused by the rise in hormone levels during pregnancies, yet there has been no definite explanation for the condition.

While medication, fluids and rest are among the most common forms of treatment, some believe that alternative remedies such as wearing sea-bands, sipping ginger extract or eating ginger-nut biscuits, undergoing hypnosis and having acupuncture can all help alleviate the symptoms of HG. Unfortunately none of these alternative treatments have been proven effective and it is important not to self-medicate by taking over-the-counter medication as most are not safe during pregnancy. If you are feeling dehydrated, are unable to eat and drink normally due to nausea/vomiting or are unable to enjoy normal daily activities, it is advisable to see your doctor, midwife or obstetrician who can put you on the right road to recovery.

For more information and support, please see www.hyperemesis.ie

Thank you to the three inspirational ladies; Sarah, Edel and Rebecca, who kindly spoke to The Circular and shared their experiences.