I am a terrible, rotten, no good person. I just celebrated the news that the Duchess of Cambridge is pregnant again and suffering from Hyperemesis Gravidarum, the condition for which she was admitted to the hospital for IV fluids in her first pregnancy.
Then I sat in the local coffee shop and wiped away tears.
I'm not actually happy that Kate Middleton has HG; I know the symptoms all too well. Not quite two years ago, I was in the thick of my sixth battle with HG, a PICC line in my arm and about 16 pounds below my pre-pregnancy weight (much better than the close to 40 pounds I lost with my first). I barely ate and a great day meant I was only throwing up 12 times. We were excited because it was my best pregnancy yet. And it still sucked. I wouldn't wish HG on my worst enemy. It ruins pregnancies, wrecks families, trashes the mother's body and in the worst cases, takes lives.
I don't really even know how to tell you about Hyperemesis Gravidarum. In short, it's a bitchy version of morning sickness hell-bent on being an overachiever. A relentless case of the stomach flu.
My experiences with HG have been traumatic. The end results have been beautiful babies and I'd go through it all over again for them, but HG has changed me physically and emotionally. My memories of my first three pregnancies are so painful that I struggle to put them into words. We've come a long way in the 14 years since I had my first child and at times, I wonder if the whole thing was in my head -- an experience of self-doubt that has, at times, been reinforced by medical professionals and strangers.
There may be one person I would wish HG on: the doctor who told me that if I really wanted my baby, I would stop throwing up. My will would be strong enough. Throwing up was my subconscious trying to rid my life of this baby. I would stop throwing up if I actually wanted her. That if I didn't, then I should just terminate her, because I wouldn't love her anyway. This doctor didn't tell me there was a name for what I was experiencing and told me my IV line would be pulled after two bags of fluid and I'd have to prove that I wanted this baby. At four months pregnant, I was 83 pounds. But I wanted my baby, I really did. I couldn't understand why I was so weak, why my body was betraying me. What horrible thoughts and feelings about my baby was I hiding from myself? How could I change them so I could stop throwing up and could keep my baby? Why wasn't I strong enough to stop throwing up? Emotionally broken and with my husband traveling, I agreed to the termination because I had two children already and I didn't want them to be motherless. I was so afraid of dying that I died on the inside.
The coffee shop napkins don't wipe up tears and snot so well. I want to explain to the people in this coffee shop shooting concerned looks my way, but saying I'm crying because Princess Kate is sick just won't come out right.
So, why would I celebrate and then break down in tears upon hearing that the princess has HG?
Seeing that Kate Middleton has HG, that the condition is receiving media coverage and she's receiving medical care and the support of people all over the world has turned me into a blubbering fool. I'm not her and she's not me, but a person, a celebrity, a real-life woman in the public eye has hyperemesis gravidarum! It's for real. Everyone is going to hear about it. I'm not crazy!
I've long known I'm not alone. While HG isn't common, it does impact about 2% of pregnancies and is increasingly recognized by health care professionals. In my fourth pregnancy, I found information, support, resources and most importantly, friendship with other women that have or were experiencing HG in their pregnancies through the Hyperemesis Education and Research Foundation HelpHer forums. With these women as my companions, we navigated the choppy waters of HG with more options in our boat. We learned what questions to ask, my husband became a more confident advocate for me, I admitted how bad I was and I relaxed about taking medication. My pregnancies got easier, but I've never experienced normal morning sickness, just less severe HG. My care has spanned from no intervention except when I would collapse, to occasional IVs, to a PICC and daily hydration, and in one pregnancy, a short bit with TPN until I developed sepsis and my line had to be pulled. All of them required anti-emetics and either hospitalization or home health care.
That pretty picture there was me getting my PICC inserted at home with my last pregnancy.
Some say I was crazy to go through six HG pregnancies, and maybe I was. I answer why we continued having babies even with HG here if you'd like to read the full story, but the short version is I didn't want HG to win, I didn't want my family planning determined by this condition. We felt we were missing people in our family and adoption wasn't an option. And I'm really, really stubborn. It doesn't matter, though; you don't have to understand it, my family planning choices aren't up for analysis, and the only opinions that matter are mine and my husband's when it comes to how many children we have and how many times I endured HG. I'm grateful for the scope of experience from which I can talk about Hyperemesis Gravidarum having survived six HG pregnancies.
We have a long, long way to go in understanding Hyperemesis Gravidarum. I hate that Kate is experiencing this; I hate that anybody would experience it. The comments on the articles about Kate's pregnancy troubles last time were a mix of support and downright nasty spite. Hopefully, though, Kate's suffering can do others a world of good by raising awareness and maybe even result in more research and the education of health professionals. I know that many of my HG sisters in the UK have struggled for appropriate treatment protocols in managing their HG, specifically in needing prescriptions for Zofran. I hope that an official diagnoses of HG for Kate would lead to a better standard of care for women in the UK suffering from this condition in the future. In time, I believe HG won't be mocked by the general public and will be accepted as a real condition that deserves real respect and support. We've already made progress.
Even with that progress I've heard people -- many my own health care providers -- say some incredibly hurtful and ignorant things about HG. Here's a sample, all of which came from my own health care providers along the way, some as recent as two years ago, but I know women suffering with HG are hearing things like this every day:
"If you really wanted this baby, you would will yourself to stop vomiting."
"It doesn't count as vomiting if nothing comes up any more." -My OB when I was in the hospital.
"You just need to make yourself eat."
"You don't need fluids yet, you still have tears." (Said as I cried in my OB's office.)
"Every pregnancy is different." (This one was a big part of me trying for the "perfect pregnancy.")
"If you come in here and have lost more weight, I'm going to be so upset with you."
"You just need to try harder."
"I think there has to be a mental component, why else would you vomit so much?"
"I don't understand why your food journal is blank." (After saying I threw everything up.)
"Oh no, we're not admitting you to L&D, that's for having babies, you're going to psych. because there is obviously something going on there with you."
"I've never met anyone that didn't experience relief with ginger, it shouldn't burn if you're doing it right."
"Just some tea and crackers before you get out of bed, you got up to pee first, that's why you still got sick."
"What message are you sending your children with throwing up so much? I would be worried about that."
"Are you sure you're not anorexic? I'm ordering a psych eval, you don't need meds, just help with your head."
"There must be some unconfessed sin in your life, confess it and be healed."
"Really, you can't complain, at least you won't have any weight to lose after the baby."
"How could you eat that? What a terrible choice." (It was a milk shake and the only thing I kept down that day.)
"Do you think you are suffering for the sins of your ancestors?" - A midwife, not mine, while I was on the floor vomiting.
"I'm not sure what you expect me to do, you just can't handle the realities of pregnancy."
"I don't like using medications in pregnancy, but I guess it's better than you dying." (I didn't stay with this midwife.)
I couldn't go through with that termination of my third. My heart wanted that baby even if my care provider didn't believe me and my body was fighting me for it. Today, that baby is 11 years old and an incredible sister to her five sisters. We survived. Now, as I cry over the princess of England having HG, I feel a part of me healing that I had thought died.
If you or someone you know is dealing with severe nausea and vomiting in pregnancy, please visit the Hyperemesis Education and Research Foundation website, helpher.org, for information and support. This pregnancy-related disease is very serious, please seek help if you are suffering.