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The condition that feels worse than constant morning sickness

Tori Bowman Johnson

Tori Bowman Johnson

Tori, a freelance writer, has worked in production, talent management & branding since her agency role at Vivien’s Model Management in Melbourne in 2011. Tori has recently launched, The First Word; a conversational podcast for women, particularly those who juggle young children & paid work. Tori is also a very proud mum of two little boys.
Created on May 14, 2024 · 6 mins read
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“It’s like a shocking hangover," they say. No, it is not. Though women who suffer hyperemesis gravidarum (HG) might wish this were the case, the reality is a lot heavier.


For HG awareness day, I spoke to a number of women who endured HG throughout their pregnancy (or multiple).  What I learned simply took my breath away. 

But to appreciate these stories, we need context for what HG is.

What is hyperemesis gravidarum?


Hyperemesis gravidarum is still medically unresolved but, in short, refers to chronic morning sickness. It’s when nausea and vomiting with pregnancy become severe and last more than a few days – making it difficult to eat or drink. HG is a severe and debilitating condition that affects between 1-3% of pregnancies worldwide. 

Living with relentless nausea and days, weeks, or months of continuous vomiting, can cause women to experience severe dehydration, electrolyte imbalances, drastic weight loss, and extreme weakness. Most women with HG need to be hospitalised for IV fluids and treatment. 

Despite its severity, the condition is drastically underestimated. The knowledge gaps around HG leave too many women to ache in silence through an already vulnerable stage of life. So, they have to fight to be taken seriously.


An interview on HG from a mum who went through it


In speaking to mums who’ve had HG, one story hit me very hard – so I wanted to share it with you. Note that it is heavy, and references topics you might find too confronting right now. We’ve added a trigger warning, but ask that you check in with what you feel up to before reading ahead.

Trigger Warning: The below interview covers topics including depression, miscarriage, and suicidal thoughts. Please read with caution.

 

  1. Could you enjoy your pregnancy? Did you feel excited about the birth and the motherhood experience ahead? 

I had fleeting moments of happiness. But my first 6 months of pregnancy were tainted by severe nausea rendering me unable to get out of bed, watch TV, read a book, or even scroll on my phone. I spent 6 months in my bedroom in the supine position. I couldn’t work, socialise, drive, or perform basic activities of daily living.  This in turn had a massive impact on my mental health and well-being. 

I remember multiple times during the first 20 weeks I wanted to miscarry and even considered abortion with my partner.  I certainly do not recall feelings of happiness at all during my pregnancy. I was depressed and contemplated suicide on multiple occasions during the first 4 months when my relentless nausea was extreme. All love went out the window for my husband, my loved ones, and myself.

 

  1. Did your experience with HG impact your want for more children?

My child is three and a half and I am still not ready because I have no idea how I will manage a second pregnancy with the responsibility of caring for my child. My husband and I are going to try in the middle of this year however we are looking into nannying services in an attempt to bridge the gap if the nausea is like the first time. 

The first pregnancy rattled our entire lives. We now have a daughter, my husband need to carry a large load if we conceive and the situation is similar. We have to be prepared. I wish surrogacy was an option for us. However, I would go through it again for my daughter to have a sibling. I 100% respect and understand women who decide they can not endure it again. It was one of the toughest 8 months of my life and I wouldn’t wish it upon ANYONE.

 

  1. Did you feel properly empathised with and supported by the wider community – including health services?  If not, what would you like to see changed in the healthcare system? 

No one truly understands unless they have experienced it. It’s not a feeling of being hungover everyday. It is like a stomach bug with severe nausea that lasts for months, at all times of the day leaving you incapacitated.  

Only my sister and mum understood what I was going through as they had both experienced the same thing. I felt ashamed and embarrassed that I was unable to work, socialise or exercise. 

Perinatal pharmacological management is so limited because of the lack of scientific controlled trials performed on pregnant women due to the risk to the unborn baby. I appreciate this, however, there must be better nonpharmacological research and education about these severe nausea and vomiting side effects of pregnancy.  

My GP was amazing. She got me into psychology (even though it didn’t work for me)/ She was extremely caring and holistic in helping me manage this dark and sombre time. I was also under the high-risk mental health program at my birthing hospital and was fortunate to be under a perinatal psychiatrist there. On top of this, I was put on medication to help tame the nausea and depression. This took the edge off around the 6-month mark, however, a side effect was weight gain which resulted in my baby growing at a more rapid pace.  She was born 4kg, 3.5 weeks ahead of her due date.  

I was never educated about the side effects it would have on my child.


What does that leave us with?


So, how can we help? How do we make sure these women are heard and advocated for? Supported, acknowledged, and seen? 

More awareness, more accurate representations of what women go through, more funding for research into how HG is caused, and how we can isolate the acute cause/s to find answers. We need to bring relief. We need to investigate cures. 

Another woman I interviewed suggested that we (women and society in general) need more information about where and how to seek help. This same mother also mentioned it would have been very helpful to have been paired up with another woman who had previously experienced HG so that she had direct access to the most relevant support. “Almost like a Mothers Group for women with HG” –  I love this idea.

Finally, she added that more research and advice on management medications need to be made available, and recommended offering at-home IV drip services so women don’t have to go into the hospital when they’re feeling so depleted

Where to find support


If these stories mirror your own experiences, and you suspect you might be suffering from hyperemesis gravidarum, please visit Hyperemesis Australia or visit your GP or trusted health provider, to learn what the next steps are. NSW Health also has a helpful guide to assess your pregnancy symptoms with hyperemesis gravidarum. 

Wrapping it up


This piece is dedicated to the women within our communities who bring such glorious children into our lives after suffering months of unfair hardship.

You are strong. Your resilience is impeccable. You are truly applauded. 

We see you. 

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