My Story: Surviving Hyperemesis Gravidarum

Boutique Shows is super excited to have Mommalikeme as our guest blogger today. Talking about her very personal journey about surviving two pregnancies with Hyperemesis Gravidarum. Please enjoy her post.

This was a hugely emotional and lengthy post for me to write, but if it can reach and help just one momma battling this, that’s enough.  My ‘morning sickness’ wasn’t just in the morning, it was all day, most days and on average I’d have my head slumped over the toilet bowl 22 times a day. I was one of the 0.3 – 2% of pregnant women who was affected by Hyperemesis Gravidarum.

“Hyperemesis gravidarum (HG) is a rare disorder characterized by severe and persistent nausea and vomiting during pregnancy that may necessitate hospitalization. As a result of frequent nausea and vomiting, affected women experience dehydration, vitamin and mineral deficit, and the loss of greater than five percent of their original body weight.” – The National Organization for Rare Disorders (NORD)

Dyl and I got married at the end of August 2011 and decided that once that pack of pills was done, I’d go off contraceptives completely.  We were desperate to become parents and had talked about it for years.  Three days after the wedding we packed up our home and dogs and left behind my job to move to Lephalale, Limpopo, where my husband’s company was working on the Medupi Power Station. We left for a delayed honeymoon in the first week of December 2011 and unbeknownst to me I was already pregnant with Oli.  The very day we landed back on SA soil I began to feel ‘off’. Thinking it was just a weird bug I’d picked up in Thailand or on the flight, I didn’t give it much thought.  The next day, Christmas Eve, I woke up feeling bloated and queasy and finally I thought maybe, just maybe, this wasn’t a bug after all.  Three tests from the pharmacy later, it was confirmed I was indeed pregnant. Exactly a year to the day that Dyl had proposed to me.

At 6 weeks pregnant, the Hyperemesis Gravidarum (HG) kicked in – I was curled up on the cold bathroom tiles feeling like death’s door.  I remember both my grandmothers telling me about their awful pregnancies but had just assumed mine would be picture-book perfect – as all expectant mommas do.  We were in a strange town, knew hardly anyone, and certainly didn’t have a doctor or gynae to call on.  The closest pharmacy suggested a male GP (there was no gynae in the town!) that was very good with pregnancies, and so we ended up with Dr. M.  Blood tests confirmed I was pregnant, and as I cried in the doctor’s consultation room (a mix of emotions) the reality set in – this would be my reality for a large portion of my pregnancy.  He sent me home with a revolting syrup called EMEX and assured me, along with some Game juice and Marie Biscuits, that I would be just fine.  Wrong.  I vomited day and night and could only manage to keep down Soleros (an ice lolly) on the odd occasion.  My weight dropped dramatically, instead of picking up.  In hindsight I was so terribly dehydrated that what I really needed were some schedule 4 meds and a saline drip, but, scared of being hospitalized, I battled ignorantly on.  The EMEX never worked, nor did the Asic tablets.  I begged the doctor to allow me half a Valoid a day, which he finally agreed to and was sent to the physio for the debilitating headaches.  None of it worked.  I got sick (literally) of having people tell me to ‘suck it up’, drink ginger ale, eat ginger biscuits or any number of home remedies – no one will understand quite how desperate you feel until you have HG.

There is almost no awareness of HG in South Africa, so it’s misunderstood and lumped in with general morning sickness. One of my close friends, Solange, mentioned that when she was so sick with her pregnancy, how a baked or boiled potato helped.  Bingo!  I ate one potato a day for the first four months and eventually at 24 weeks could get out of bed and stomach the smells from the kitchen.  This was how Dyl learned to cook and bake – a blessing in disguise! Nausea reared its ugly head every few days but nothing like it was earlier in the pregnancy. At 38 weeks 4 days, I delivered Oliver Cameron Ras – via emergency c-section – a beautiful, healthy little boy.

baby oli in my arms

It was announced in early December 2012 that the Duchess of Cambridge was expecting her first child and she too was suffering from HG – finally I had a reference point for explaining what my condition was to people!

I swore during my pregnancy, and for the first 6 or so months of his life, that Oli would be an only child purely because I couldn’t face the prospect of going through another rough pregnancy.  After consulting with the local GP again, he assured me my next pregnancy could go one of two ways – the HG wouldn’t reappear at all or, potentially it could be worse.  We decided to take the risk and give Oli a sibling. We found out a few days after Oli’s 2nd birthday and I fervently began praying this pregnancy would be different.

6 weeks came and like clockwork, the overwhelming wave of nausea arrived.  This time around I had done some research into the disorder and asked my GP for Zofran.  She gave me Zofran, Zofer Rapitabs and Clopamon.  I wish I could say this eased the constant vomiting and nausea, but it didn’t.  I felt guilty for throwing up the R130-a-pill-6 hourly-Zofran and even more guilty that this pregnancy, I had a two-year-old boy who desperately needed his momma.  Just the smell of my sweet little boy sent me retching.  Dyl had just started a new job and had to divide his attention between his job, Oli, an incredibly ill wife and running the home.  I can’t begin to imagine how hard this was on him too.  He was relegated to the spare bedroom and took the dogs with him.  I couldn’t stand to even hold a conversation with anyone, or focus enough through the fog that enveloped me, to watch TV or read a book.  On the odd occasion I could concentrate momentarily, I trawled the HG forums and read other sufferers stories, hoping to come across some miracle cure, or just to read that I wasn’t alone in this.  I read countless stories of moms aborting their pregnancies because it was simply all too much to bear.

My first hospitalization was at 7 weeks.  By this stage, I could no longer shower myself or even get out of bed.  This would be my first of three hospitalizations before the actual birth of our second child.  Once admitted, I was hooked up to two drips and had the nurses inject me with Stemetil and Zofran alternatively.  Zofran is commonly used to combat the side effects of chemotherapy.  I was also put onto Phenergran – an allergy and motion sickness medication used sometimes in cases like mine.  After three days in hospital I went home, feeling marginally better after being hydrated, but the very next day, it was back.  I sobbed myself to sleep day after day.  I managed to eat one measly tennis biscuit a day and lost 15% of my body weight.  I felt completely crippled by the condition and fell into a depression, I couldn’t see a way out of.  We had an amazing gynae who approached my pregnancy with so much care and a willingness to try whatever he could to make me better.  At 12 weeks I was back for my 2nd hospitalization.  It was at this time I remember texting Dyl saying I didn’t think I could carry this baby anymore.  Even saying those words horrifies me to the core.  I wasn’t by any means suggesting an abortion, but it was a cry for help – It felt like my body was giving up on me.  I didn’t go to the toilet for three weeks – a combination of extreme dehydration and malnutrition coupled with the side effects of all the drugs. During the many blood tests they conducted, they picked up my ALT levels were dramatically elevated –  an indication of either viral hepatitis (enlargement of the liver), or as a result of the HG, so I began seeing a gastroenterologist as well. He couldn’t work out if the vomiting was causing my liver to become enlarged or if the liver was aggravating my nausea – a case of the chicken and the egg. Through the debilitating haze, the news that we were having a little girl broke through the darkness.  I stayed bed-bound for nearly 5 months.  The feeling of normalcy eventually returned and I felt like I had my two most important roles back – wife and mother.  I’d still get sick every few days but that was substantially better than being bed-ridden, it genuinely felt like a veil had been lifted.  Weekly blood tests confirmed my ALT levels were returning to normal and I didn’t need any further treatment for my liver.   On Easter Monday, 06 April 2015 – two days earlier than her scheduled c-section date, Sophie Blair Ras arrived into the world – and all was good again.

bugs delivery

My advice to HG sufferers is simple – accept whatever help and support you are offered – you won’t be able to do this alone.  Take the drip!  Eat whatever you can keep down – anything in your tummy is better than nothing.  Talk to you partner about how you are feeling.  Have faith –  delivery day will come and you will feel better.  You will need to see the dentist, make this a priority – my teeth suffered enormously from all the acid, and I’m still paying the price today. In most cases, although the momma feels like they are dying, the baby is blissfully unaware and most importantly, unharmed.  To this day, certain things will trigger the memories of the nausea – a song that played on the radio, a specific smell or an animated movie Oli was watching at the time –  and I will never touch another bloody Tennis Biscuit again.  In the end, this is the reward for battling this disorder.

oli with baby bugs

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ultrasound bump pregnancy

Boutique Shows is super excited to introduce you to one of our Guest Bloggers, Tranquility by Hehe. A doula by profession, she really views herself as the guardian of the energy of your birth experience. 

If you’ve ever spoken to HeHe before…

Then you know how frustrating it is to me that healthcare providers put so much weight on due dates–I literally cringe. It evokes such a dramatic eye-roll, I worry my eyes may never recover. Your due date is a guess. It is an estimated guess, so it’s really a guess-stimate. To place so much emphasis on a guess-stimate is silly. Then, the expectant parents become infatuated with this one day. The expectant grandparents are obsessed with this date. Friends and family count down the days until this guess-stimate arrives. It creates so much build-up to a date that is simply an estimate. 
And what happens when that date has come and gone, yet you are still pregnant? You still don’t have a baby to snuggle? You still have to lift your pregnant belly each time you pee and you still have to sleep with a million pillows? Heartache and disappointment is what happens. Moms, dads, non-binary parents, grandparents, aunt, uncles, and the list goes on and on–everyone is disappointed and anxiety begins to grow. You (as the expectant parent) and everyone around you feels let down somehow. As if it was anti-climatic and you had a much bigger, grandiose idea in mind for this guess-stimate date.

Even the Royal family has caught on to this idea that your Estimated Due Date is really a Guess-stimated Due Date. Check out how Kate Middleton has adopted this trend that we, at Tranquility by HeHe, know all too well. 

I made it to 40+1…Bummer. 

Your due date is based off your last ovulation (which is always changing). Some people have no clue when the first day of their last period was and some people keep strict, regimented diaries of their cycles. You can fall anywhere on this spectrum, but nevertheless, the date you give your healthcare provider is what your guess-stimate date will be based on. From that, your doctor (or midwife) will guess 40 weeks from the point in which they (with your help) guesses that you conceived your baby. See how things might be off by a day or so? Or maybe even a week or two?

With this Due Date in mind, your baby could still come 14 days before or after that date (and still be considered full-term). Obviously, there is always a risk that your baby could come before the two week period leading up to your guess-stimated due date. This is called Preterm Birth. Pregnancies that begin to approach the 42-week mark will begin to be pressured to have interventions such as inductions to help progress or initiate labor. It’s challenging (but not impossible) to find a healthcare provider that is comfortable (or will even “allow” you) to go past 14 days of your original due date.

40 weeks + 1 day, 40+2, 40+3 and so on is the language used to talk about “overdue” pregnancies. It’s how we talk about parents who went “past their due date” or baby’s who were “a little too comfy.” If you find yourself in this population of expectant parents, don’t fret. Instead, plan ahead for this likely possibility. Create a space for your body to continue to work hard and grow that healthy baby. Allow your baby more time to continue to develop and prepare for their journey earthside.

So Now What? 

Occupy yourself and trust your body. I know, I know, you’re thinking, “yeah right!” I know. It’s hard.

It can be so hard to do this. On a day that you have looked forward to for roughly 8 months and you wake up to no signs of oncoming labor. This can be devastating. It can feel so deeply disappointing if you aren’t properly prepared. It can be challenging to cope with the fact that most babies are not born on their due date–especially since society (and the birth world) makes such a big deal of this date. A date based in guess-stimation. 

It is even more important at this stage of your pregnancy to trust in your body. Trust that your baby knows when to begin making moves. Michel Odent has been teaching birth workers and expectant parents the skill of trusting our bodies for ages. He believes (and so do I) that the baby talks to the birthing parent’s body. The baby’s body will literally send signals to the parent’s body to say, “It’s go-time!” Up until this point, you risk certain adverse affects such as your baby’s lung not being fully developed and under-prepared for the strain of the outside world. He explains how we understand that the initiation of labor remains in the baby’s hands and to trust your baby to know when they are mature enough for life independent of the parent’s body and support. Odent believes that scheduled c-sections without the trial of labor and the induction of labor is forcing a premature delivery on babies who have not signaled that they are ready. To read more about Odent’s teachings and research, check out the book Pushed by Jennifer Block.

With your guess-stimate date approaching, create a day filled with activities. Maybe this is the evening that you and your partner have a final date night before baby arrives. Maybe you spend this day pampering yourself with spa appointments, acupuncture, and getting your nails done because who knows when the next time you’ll have time for luxury and leisure all to yourself. Maybe you spend the day meeting with friends that you haven’t seen in a while, spend the day creating a baby book, or catching up on thank-you notes for items you received at showers.  Treating this day like any other day has proved to be near impossible for most expectant parents I have ever worked with–mainly because so much weighs on this date. Reserving this day for special activities makes it a day you still look forward too (and are excited about), but it has more attached to it than just the (unlikely) birth of your child. 

Trust the Process…  

When you understand and trust the process, it’s easy to trust your body. You know you can trust your baby to make their grand debut when they are ready. It’s also helpful to think about your “due date” in terms of a “due period” or a “due month.” To avoid deep disappointment if (and when) your due date comes and goes with no baby to cuddle, plan a day filled with special activities to celebrate the so-soon-arrival of your little one. Trying to treat your guess-stimate date as any other ordinary day can be challenging, painful and anxiety-provoking for most. Coping ahead of time and understanding the facts can help you feel more relaxed on your guess-stimate date and more confident in your body to work it’s magic when your baby signals they are ready.
You can read more blogs from Tranquility by Hehe at her blog here
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