Hurtful and Helpful Things to Say to Someone with Hyperemesis Gravidarum

Hyperemesis gravidarum can bring out the best and the worst in our friends and family.  Heck, even the most well-meaning comment can be… shall we say, ill-timed.

I want to take a moment to highlight a few of the low- and high-points of comments I’ve personally heard over these one and a third pregnancies.  This post is intended to be eye-rolling and funny.  If you find yourself on the guilty list, don’t get your undies in a bunch.  Laugh, shake your head, and go forward a little wiser.

I’ll start with the Hurtful things people have said to me and the witty and snarky responses I wish I could have come up with at the time:

  1. “Have you tried ginger?” “Seriously?  Ginger?  That never occurred to me!  And here I am shelling out $40 a day for this Zofran pump!  Wow!  Thank you so much for that priceless piece of advice!”  See also: Ginger and hyperemesis gravidarum..
  2. “Have you tried eating [insert food item here]?”  Bonus points if the speaker begins waxing poetic about said food item. “Really?  And all this time I thought starvation was good for my baby!”  The absolute worst example of this came from a woman working in the Panera Cafe when I was pregnant with the Grasshopper.  She began describing in detail how her mother could only eat liver and onions.  No I am not making that up.  Can you imagine?  I was feeling proud of myself for being able to get down the damn broccoli and cheddar soup and she’s over there describing freakin’ liver and onions!  It was jaw-droppingly stupid on her part.  As I recall, I had to just walk away from her mid-sentence because she would not shut up about it.
  3. “I feel sorry for your baby.” “I feel sorry for your face.”  There really is no good comeback to that kind of comment that doesn’t involve physical violence.  The one time this was said to me, it was said in reference to the meds I was taking and with such a tone of disgust and disdain.  I never really spoke to that person again.
  4. “But is that safe for the baby?” “What about me?”  This is the gentler cousin of the #3 comment.  It’s a nasty, guilt inducing comment.  The implication being that I may not be clever enough or careful enough to do my research to understand the risks and benefits of what I am taking to deal with the HG.  It’s my doctor’s job to keep both myself and the baby safe.  Let’s let her do that.  And you know what?  At some point, when you’re as sick as you can get with hyperemesis gravidarum, you reach a point where you just want the sickness to go away.  Let’s ask ourselves what is more dangerous to a baby: meds that have not been shown to have ill-effects on a fetus or a mother who is so sick and so desperate for relief that she will begin contemplating terminating a pregnancy.  This innocent-sounding question automatically gets a knee-jerk rage reaction from me.
  5. “Should you really be eating that?” “Honey, if it stays down, I’m going to eat it.”  Yeah, I eat a whole lot of fast food when I’m pregnant.  McDonald’s and Taco Bell are my favorites right now.  I would love to be able to eat an organic, free-range diet, but that just ain’t happenin’.  If it hasn’t been processed to within an inch of being actual food, my tummy rejects it.  Sorry.  You can live on fast food.  It ain’t pretty but it’s better than starvation and malnutrition which absolutely will kill a fetus.
  6. “You look good!  Have you lost weight?”  Or really any other comment about weight. “Ah, yes.  It’s this new diet I’m on called starvation.  You should totally try it!”  I think the thing about this comment that sets me off is the value US society puts on being thin at all cost.  Trust me, when this was said to me, I did not look healthy-thin.  I looked really and truly ill.  That thinness, despite the very obvious ill-health, seemed to be the be-all, end all, it just was deeply disturbing to me.  Let’s be happy with our bodies folks!  Let’s strive for health, not some number on the scale!
  7. “I totally understand what you are going through.” “No.  You don’t.”  Not to put too fine a point on it, but unless you’ve actually lived through HG, you don’t understand.  You can’t understand.  Trust me, you don’t want to understand.

Phew!  I feel better!  Got a lot off my chest there!

Now, I’d like to mention a few of the really awesome things people have said to me that have helped me make it through.

  1. “I don’t know what you’re going through, but I think of you often.” I had a lot of friends in real-life and online make similar comments to this one.  Just knowing that someone is thinking of me is huge.  It means so much.  There is a certain family whose name starts with a B and rhymes with “miss” that were a huge rock of support.  I got regular emails from several members of the family, and getting those surprise emails periodically really got me through some rough patches.  You know who you are.  Thank you.
  2. “I’m going to cook ____ for your family for dinner tonight.” Mom, bless you.  Feeding my family was a huge stressor.  Having some meals ready for them in the evenings was awesome.
  3. “You CAN do this.”
  4. “This will end.” In the thick of things, time stands still.  Being reminded that there will be an end is really valuable.
  5. “Don’t let the redeemer’s fire burn you up.” Said to me by the man who does my yard.  I got so much strength from this simple statement.  It’s one that I repeat to myself often.  I don’t know him too awfully well, so I hope some day I get the courage to tell him what strength he gave me when he said that. I’m not sure the bible verse he’s referring to, but when I heard this, I thought of a forge, and right now, I kind of feel like that’s where I am. I hope I will come out of this stronger.
  6. “You will never have to experience this week again.” Said to me by my doctor.  I loved her for that.  It was a good reminder that what had passed was over.  Progress was moving forward.
  7. “You’ve made it to week _____!” My mom took the time to remind me often how far I’d come.  When time is standing still, being reminded that it’s not and there is a light that you are getting closer and closer to at the end of the tunnel is awesome.

What about you?  What hurtful and helpful things have people said to you?  I just have one request.  If you post a hurtful thing, please do your best to include a helpful thing, too.  Venting is wonderful and cathartic, and even better when you can get out the negative and replace it with a positive.

Love to you all!

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19 thoughts on “Hurtful and Helpful Things to Say to Someone with Hyperemesis Gravidarum

  1. I have not gone through HG but I have been through tough times and I think we can all use our own tough times as a reminder of how to treat others during their own unique struggles. Personally, I would stay away from recommending religious expressions unless you’re absolutely sure that the other person is on the same page as you. What could sound like comfort to you could come across as condemnation or opportunistic preaching to another. Just knowing someone is thinking of you does help so much. So does having someone say, “Tell me more, I want to try to understand.”

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  2. My mom would often call at the same time every day to check on me (she is 8 hrs away by car). Each conversation she would remind me that this illness was only temporary. Her famous words still ring true to my heart, “this too shall pass”.

    Sadly I know those hurtful things people have said to me while suffering from HG. And boy do I remember the days I would go to the drive-thru at McDonalds at ask for a plain biscuit or going to KFC and just get plain mashed potatoes. If it stayed down, I would eat it. Like you said, it might have been much, but it was something.

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  3. I agree with Starla on the religion thing. I identify myself as Christian, but I cannot tell you how many times I wanted to smack people who thought that telling me that bad things that happened were part of God’s plan for me, or that Jesus would carry me through tough times. Especially people who didn’t know what my beliefs were at the time. It was incredibly insulting and in some ways condescending: as if I’d only be able to survive hardship if I prayed hard enough, and if I didn’t manage to get through things unscathed, it must have been because I wasn’t devout enough.

    On the other hand, being told, “I’ll keep you in my thoughts/prayers” was touching and sweet.

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  4. Hurtful…
    1. Being told, “Maybe it’s just your nerves.” (What does that even really mean?)
    2. Being told in the middle of HG- “You HAVE to have more babies after this.” (No, I don’t HAVE to. That’s my choice and my business.)
    3. L&D nurses that wear strong, stinky perfume. (Isn’t that against the rules?)
    4. Making snotty comments to my husband about me being sick. (Yeah, that’s exactly what HG husbands need.)

    Helpful…
    1. Sunshine (though, I know the heat/light makes some people worse)
    2. My MOM! She knew when to push me to do a little more and when to not let me do anything at all… she REALLY listened and did exactly what I needed when I needed it. (Including all of my dirty laundry.)
    3. Good medical care (And unplanned ultrasounds just to “remind me why I’m doing this…”)
    4. My praying friends and family.

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  5. Hurtful/Unhelpful:

    (1) “When you have a couple of kids, you won’t be able to lie around all day.”

    (2) “It probably won’t happen next time, so don’t worry about it coming back.”

    (3) “Just get some fresh air and take a brisk walk.”

    Helpful:

    (1) The prayers and encouragement of my church family! Especially the second time around, when I was able to lay out exactly what I was facing and give details. They were so wonderful!

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  6. What’s been the strangest thing (and a little scary) for me is the people I know who are cancer survivors that really seem to have a good understanding of how I feel! They have been the most supportive helpful people to me during this time. They really understand the uncontrollable nausea, the effects the meds put on your body and what you can eat and not eat to stay alive. Just having them say they are thinking of me and praying for me and making some suggestions – ones that I know come from being in a similar situation – has been invaluable to me. God bless them for what they went through and for helping me through my own struggle.

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  7. “Maybe God gave you hyperemesis gravidarum, because you’re not a good mother, and it was His way of preventing you from having more children.”
    This was said to me by someone who did not know my son is autistic (which contributes to behavior issues).

    There was no malice in what she said, just ignorance and emotional klutziness. It hurt, but I forgave her. To this day she does not know how her comment made me feel. To seek grace is to give grace. Tough, but I try.
    🙂

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  8. If it stayed down then I would eat it even if it meant frozen pizza and fast food french fries.

    During my second and worst pregnency my midwife told me, after she weighed me and I was down another 2 pounds for that week,
    “What are you eating? You just need to eat” “Eat before going to bed. When you are sleeping you wont throw up, that’s what I did when I had morning sickness”

    She rolled her eyes when I told her it didn’t matter what I ate, it all came back. And my body wakes me up just to throw up.

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  9. ROFLMAO!!! I almost wish someone would insult me now so I could say I feel sorry for their face!!! BEST LINE EVER!!!

    I’ve never had HG but b/c of lots of sinus issues I went through a period of 4 straight weeks (and on/off after that) of what I call ‘the bad smell’. Everything smelled and tasted grody. The only thing that was good? Bagel Bites. Lots and lots of Bagel Bites. 🙂

    I know I don’t comment very often, but the vibes are with you full flow!!! ~~~~!!!!! <– the vibes 😉

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  10. Oh my…the comments. Lol!

    Bad:
    “Staying in your bathroom is probably what’s making you sick in the first place!”
    “Maybe you just need to open up a few windows and get some fresh air…”
    “I know this baby wasn’t exactly planned [he was], maybe you’re suffering from depression over the unexpected pregnancy. You need to talk to someone.” (No one in our family could really believe he was planned because we’d only been married for 6 months. “Who wants a baby six months into marriage?!!!” Well, we did. Back off!)

    Good:
    My husband would remind me almost every evening, “Today’s over…” Thank God!
    “You’re almost there!” From my amazing doc, nearly every time I saw her. Lie to me, doc!

    One thing I started telling myself while my face was over some kind of puke basin, “This lasts seconds. You can do this!” I started viewing throwing up as the enemy who had to be squashed. I would literally cheer myself on in my head while I got sick. It occurred to me that it was only a few seconds of the worst, and then mostly just nausea (which could be moderately maintained 50% of the time).

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  11. Re: Don’t let the Redeemer’s fire burn you up:
    I actually think this comes from 1 Corinthians 3: 13-15, and if so it may be a misuse of the Scripture. However, it certainly can have applications, especially in the realm of HG.

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  12. In reference to Ashli’s comment about the Redeemer’s fire… I’ve been thinking about that statement too. Here’s my take (for whatever that’s worth.) I say this from personal experience, btw. I know the Lord, the Redeemer, allows “fires” in our lives for a purpose. We can ignore him in the fire and try to fight it on our own strength and it can burn us up (because we can’t do it on our own.) OR we can turn to him and allow him to show us his greater purpose in our struggles and thus be refined by the fire. Forever changed for the better. Anyway, maybe that’s not what he meant, but that’s what I’ve learned about life’s fires through HG…

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  13. Telling me that it was all in my head…
    “You’re starving your baby.”
    “If you really wanted this baby, you would eat more.”
    “When are you going to stop spitting anyway?”
    “I’ve noticed that you eat the same foods all the time.” in reference to Tim Hortons that I have only had twice and just happended to work for me twice during my eighth month of pregnancy.
    “You look really good. I like you skinnier.”
    “I was taught that hyperemesis women are crazy, but you are normal.”

    We could go on all day!

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  14. I just found your blog and can REALLY relate.

    My favorite is when a friend asks how I’m doing and I tell them I’m not doing so great and have HG and they respond with “Oh, I remember those days! So, will you be at church on Sunday?” Really? I can barely sit most days… I WISH! Unless of course, you mean a Sunday 2 months from now…

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  15. “Is that good for the baby?” – Yeah, because starving to death is a better option? I love how people just assume that we’re not actually in any real danger. It never occurs to them that without medical treatment, many of us would die of dehydration & malnutrition. It also never occurs to them that if they continue making comments like that, they themselves could be in mortal danger… from me..

    “At least you won’t have much weight to lose.” Yes, and you don’t have many more brains you could lose, so hang on to them please.

    “Ohhhh I was sick too. I actually threw up that one time.” Yep. You were sick the way the pacific ocean could be called a kiddie pool.

    Thanks for giving us a place to say all these things! HG is the most horrible thing, but it taught me something very important – There is a critical difference between sympathy & empathy. When talking to someone who is having a hard time, please make sure you know which of those emotions you are capable of feeling for them.

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    1. Great point about the difference between sympathy and empathy. There’s nothing wrong with saying, “I have no idea what you’re going through.” In fact, I’d rather hear that than someone trying to relate my experience to their morning sickness.

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