Most women experience some form of pregnancy sickness. But for some, severe pregnancy sickness, otherwise known as hyperemesis gravidarum, may be the most challenging thing they ever go through in their lives. I’m currently experiencing my second pregnancy with HG and I’m here to tell you, it’s no picnic.
HG is a debilitating form of unrelenting nausea and vomiting that sends about 50,000 women a year in the U.S. to the hospital and restricts others to their beds for the most incapacitating parts of the sickness. It can last anywhere from the first trimester all the way through until delivery and serious complications can arise. Severity varies from woman to woman but ladies who are struck with the illness are commonly so sick they become unable to work or in many cases even care for themselves. The nausea is powerful and persistent that women with the condition have immense difficulty eating or drinking anything without vomiting and usually lose more than 10% of their pre-pregnancy body weight.
For some women, medication can help, but it is not always a cure. For many, Zofran, a powerful anti-nausea medication commonly used to treat chemotherapy patients, does little or nothing to stop their vomiting. Miscarriage is not uncommon in such cases and sometimes suffering women with wanted babies even chose to terminate the pregnancy because they have become so ill. Aside from the persistent nausea and vomiting, HG can be coupled with constant migraines; sensitivity to light and extreme fatigue, making pregnancy truly feel like hell on earth. (From weeks six-fifteen, I kept all the blinds drawn in our home and was unable to even look at my cell phone without getting sick).
Given that this illness is so poorly understood, even by the medical community, the emotional hurdle that comes with it can be an even bigger obstacle than the physical one. A woman battling HG feels like she is in the fight of her life and in some cases, she is. But since many mistake her illness as nothing more than morning sickness, she is often made to feel that she is weak or exaggerating her illness, even by her own doctor.
Here are the worst things to say to a woman suffering from HG (and believe me, we’ve heard ‘em all).
10. “Well, at least you’re getting thinner.”
Oh boy. Women with HG of any weight do not care about getting thinner. In fact, it’s the one time when most women desire to be fat and happy, not so ill they are rapidly losing pounds left and right. These ladies would give anything to keep down even one meal so congratulating them on weight loss is insensitive to their dire situation.
9. “You aren’t working? I worked through all three of my pregnancies!”
Lucky you! Clearly, the person making this statement did not suffer from HG. Though some women who have success with medication are able to work after the first trimester, asking most women with severe HG to continue working is kind of a joke and next to impossible. Ask the person posing the question if they go to work with food poisoning or the flu, then multiply the discomfort times 100 and you’ll be somewhere close to the misery of HG.
8. “Just eat some crackers in the morning.”
During my first pregnancy, I was on the cracker diet. Crackers were the only thing that sometimes, maybe, sort of stayed down. I kept them on the night table and would nibble them throughout the night and first thing in the morning. But it did little to calm my stomach and often times even a few nibbles would send me retching over the toilet for an hour. Anything that came in immediately went out and no amount of ginger, salt or sniffing lavender oil did the trick. The level of this illness is far past the point of crackers and ginger ale.
7. “You just have to power through it.”
HAHAHA. That’s a funny one. Women with HG know that trying to power through extreme nausea and fatigue lands you on the floor (passed out) or in the hospital. When even walking across a room causes you extreme dizziness and vomiting, “powering through” is not really an option, though believe me, we’d love it if it was.
6. “You should be more grateful for your baby.”
HG can leave many women feeling extremely guilty that they are not more excited about their pregnancy. They are so overcome with sickness there is simply no room for joy until they get relief. This doesn’t mean they won’t make amazing mothers or won’t be grateful for their babies when they are in good health, in fact, they’ll likely be more grateful given what they had to sacrifice to get that baby.
5. “It’s mind over matter.”
Nope. It isn’t. At. All.
4. “You just have to force yourself to eat.”
Telling a woman who is constantly on the verge of vomiting to force herself to eat is bad advice. The woman knows that forcing herself will likely just bring on another vomiting spell that may take hours to stop. That is why she’s not eating (though she’s actually starving).
3. “It’s good for your kids. They’ll adjust easier when the new baby comes.”
For young children, watching their mother suffer with a severe illness for an extended period of time is not good for them. It’s traumatic and the mother likely hates that her kids have to see her that way. Though it may be true that the child will be somewhat adjusted to mom catering to them less once the baby arrives, it’s a pretty horrendous way to achieve that outcome. Don’t make light of how challenging this is for mom or other family members, especially children.
2. “You shouldn’t take medication while pregnant. It’s bad for the baby.”
Any woman prescribed Zofran, or other powerful anti-nauseas, are taking them because they have no other choice. I was terrified during my first pregnancy that it would harm my daughter, but I knew what would really harm her was continuing to lose weight (about twenty pounds in the first trimester alone). You can’t sustain a pregnancy on water and crackers. Do not add unnecessary guilt onto a woman taking control of her health and her baby’s.
1.It’s not that bad.
I think I speak for all HG survivors when I say, it is that bad. Actually, it’s worse. If you haven’t personally been there, please, do your research before telling a suffering woman that her misery is being exaggerated. She’d give anything to have “morning sickness” and not HG.
(Image: getty images)