Today is National Hyperemesis Gravidarum Awareness Day.
I had HG throughout the entirety of all four of my pregnancies.
What is Hyperemesis Gravidarum?
HG is unrelenting nausea and vomiting during pregnancy. It is not the same thing as morning sickness. HG often resolves around 20 weeks, but I got lucky — I had hypermesis gravidarum throughout my entire pregnancy all 4 times. What that means is for a collective 973 days it felt like I had food poisoning. The debilitating nausea was constant, as were the stabbing hunger pains. The world spun before me. Light made me feel worse. I could smell the coils on my electric stove heating two rooms away and that scent would make me hurl. It didn’t matter how many times my husband showered with unscented soap, the smell of his skin made me sick. I couldn’t sleep facing him, let alone kiss him. I slept on the edge of the bed, facing the wall, my nose slathered in vicks vapor rub so I wouldn’t smell anything else. I extended my leg behind me so I could, at least, touch his feet with mine. I ached for his touch and for the comfort of his arms. I couldn’t see my friends, read a book, or smell the beautiful sunlight outside without feeling sicker. Anytime I moved, switched positions, sat up or laid down, the nausea increased. On good days, I could talk and keep down a little food. On bad days, I vomited blood and bile until my throat was seared with stomach acid.
How do they treat Hyperemesis Gravidarum?
They sustained my first pregnancy with Phenergan. I found solace in sleep. It was my least severe experience with HG, but I still woke up to vomit every hour or so. With my 2nd pregnancy, my condition was much worse. I am 5′ 5″ and went from 140lbs to 120lbs in two weeks. I underwent IV hydrations and stayed on a steady diet of dissolvable Zofran. Zofran is what they use to combat vomiting in patients undergoing chemotherapy. The recommended dose for an adult going through chemo is 16mg a day. I was on 32mg
a day and still throwing up. When all was said and done, that baby cost more than $50,000.00. Throughout my third pregnancy I stayed on 32mg of zofran, but needed more frequent rehydrations. We also added Benadryl to the mix. My fourth pregnancy was the hardest. I was on complete bedrest the whole time, plus iv fluids,zofran, Benadryl and unisom. I weighed 132lbs the day I got pregnant. I weighed 120lbs after I had him. There were times where I’d feel better for an hour or two, or I’d double up on my meds so I could go out without having to vomit for a little. It was so nice, but then my nausea would return tenfold and I’d be out of commission all over again. I got used to it. I learned to cope. It became my new normal.
What the residual side effects?
(Consider yourself warned, this section may contain TMI)
Most women don’t go through HG as many times as I did. As Christians, we believe that children are a blessing from God, and my husband and I both wanted a big family. We decided together to have our first two, and the second two were welcomed surprises. There are the obvious repercussions of going through this kind of thing for so long: muscle atrophy from bedrest, sore joints from malnutrition, rectal varicosities from long-term zofran use, dental work needed from the constant throwing up, my metabolism was pretty shot and I was always, always hungry. It’s been over 2 years since the birth of my last baby and I still have to remind myself that I don’t always need seconds (or third or fourths) of every meal. With my first 3 babies, the nausea and vomiting vanished before my last dose of pre-labor zofran wore off. After I weaned my 4th baby, the nausea returned. My 28-year-old body had transitioned into pre-menopause. I didn’t ovulate very often, and eventually my periods stopped altogether. I was having menopausal symptoms; hot flashes, night sweats, mood swings, hair loss, a general spacey-ness, just to name a few. When I started on menopause supplements, most of the symptoms dissipated. I tried weaning off the supplements a couple of times to find all the old symptoms re-emerge. We found out that early onset menopause is not uncommon with women who go through long-term starvation. I had also stopped sleeping for more than an hour or two a night. During my last pregnancy, I had begun to have violent panic attacks. Little things would send me over the edge. I stopped being able to answer my phone. Anxiety hung over me constantly. I tried everything to combat it. I prayed, I studied my Bible, I memorized scripture, I exercised, stopped drinking my morning coffee, stopped eating chocolate in the evenings, I made sure I was eating healthy foods. Last month I finally went in to see a doctor about it. I was too sleepy to perform normal activities and I was getting sleepier all the time. I’d find myself somewhere and not remember how or why I was there. It was scary. The suggested diagnosis was Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. At the time of diagnosis, I was taking 100mg of unisom, 20mg of melatonin and several cocktails just to fall asleep at night. I’d wake up shortly after going to sleep with my heart racing, completely unable to go back to sleep for hours. After a mercifully short trial period of trying different prescriptions and dosages, we found a combination that worked and I slept through the night for the first time in years. My husband reports a complete change in my personality. I’m more relaxed, I enjoy the activities I used to, I can answer my phone again, I can run errands anxiety free. My body weight finally evened out at 140lbs. I started exercising (mostly cardio for my heart and a little yoga) and gained another 10lbs. I feel so much better! It doesn’t hurt to walk anymore. I have more energy, I’m enjoying writing (a little) and reading (a lot) without struggling to concentrate. I can cook again as long as I avoid certain smells that still trigger nausea. It has been wonderful to really start enjoying my marriage again!
The truth is that Hyperemesis Gravidarum was the worst thing and the best thing that has ever happened to me. It’s true that HG was my own personal hell. It broke down both my body and my mind, at times it even attacked my soul. But I believe that life is designed to be spent. I believe that God gives us more than we can handle so we can learn to rely on Him. He designed and created our bodies, our minds and our souls. What is the use of having a body that can do all these amazing things (like create and sustain another human life) unless we actually do it? What is the point of having a mind and a soul if we don’t take them out for a test drive? And look, no seriously, LOOK at what I got out of my experience with Hyperemesis Gravidarum:
Aren’t they beautiful? Are they not wonderfully and fearfully made? God has been so kind to me! He gave me this body and it is incredible! He gave me a man who loves me more than anyone ever has, he stood by and encouraged me through years of suffering. God gave me four (FOUR!) amazing children. He gave me doctors, and medications, and nurses and midwives. He gave me His Word and His Holy Spirit to remind me of His promises. He has given me everything I have needed and everything I ever will need. How could I be bitter when I have been given all this? How could I regret getting pregnant when the fruits of my struggle quite literally dance before my eyes on a daily basis? The Lord Jesus Christ is my salvation and I am not disappointed. Hello, my name is Abra Carnahan and I had Hyperemesis Gravidarum.
“You made all the delicate, inner parts of my body and knit them together in my mother’s womb. Thank you for making me so wonderfully complex! It is amazing to think about. Your workmanship is marvelous—and how well I know it. You were there while I was being formed in utter seclusion!You saw me before I was born and scheduled each day of my life before I began to breathe. Every day was recorded in your book! How precious it is, Lord, to realize that you are thinking about me constantly! I can’t even count how many times a day your thoughts turn toward me. And when I waken in the morning, you are still thinking of me!” -Psalm 139:13-18