The Emotional Toll of Hyperemesis Gravidarum

I think most of us in the hyperemesis gravidarum community are thankful for the attention that HG has been receiving lately.  We’re finally seeing some recognition for the terrible physical hardships we endured bringing out babies into the world.  One thing that we haven’t seen much of, though, is coverage of the emotional toll HG takes.

HG is a traumatic experience that leaves many of us changed forever.  I posted recently on my Facebook page about this and got some heartbreaking responses:

It left me feeling depressed, and hopeless. I felt cheated out of a “normal” pregnancy experience. After my second pregnancy it has also left me terrified to have another child. – KH

Torn between wanting to carry my babies to term and wanting to terminate. Fear of ever getting pregnant again. Fear of vomiting in general. Lingering food and smell aversions. Scared of sex, what it protection fails? – JF

Depression. Hopelessness. Anger. Scared I wouldn’t make it the whole way through. I felt thoroughly misunderstood. Nobody understood what I was going through. I felt so alone. – RR

Major emotional depression from being in such a dysfunctional and debilitated state with little to no empathetic support. That totally did my head in and I struggled to find my strength for life after that. – BS

For myself, the HG caused depression, which was made worse by some of the medication.  When I started contemplating suicide in my first pregnancy, an alert home healthcare nurse stepped in and had my doctor stop the prescription of Reglan.  Turns out a side effect of that medication is suicidal ideation, and I had been taking it at its maximum dose via a subcutaneous drip.  No wonder I was experiencing those horrible side effects!

I thought the depression was mostly related to the Reglan, but I was not surprised to experience it again during my second pregnancy.  The sense of isolation and despair can become almost unbearable.  Yes, many of us are on bedrest, but perusing articles on bedrest survival and an HG survivor will quickly shake her had and dismiss the advice.  Much of the bedrest advice revolves around boredom: read parenting books, start a scrapbook, order baby gear online, chat with other moms on bedrest.  Those things are impossible for many HG sufferers.  For most of us, we spend our days and nights curled up, eyes shut, trying desperately to will ourselves not to throw up.  It is an inescapable hell that is difficult to comprehend or explain.  Is it any wonder that so many HG sufferers become depressed?

The deep sense of isolation is far and away the most painful part of HG. Knowing that many people can’t relate and fearing harsh words, many HG sufferers retreat from friends and family members. Even many doctors minimize the suffering caused by HG. A few days after being admitted to the hospital for the umpteenth time during my 2nd pregnancy because my ketones were off the charts and I had begun hallucinating, the on-call doctor told me that there was nothing wrong with me.  Is it any wonder we hide?

The trauma we experience during HG can lead to life-long anxiety.  HG survivors experience post traumatic stress disorder, emetophobia (fear of nausea and vomiting), postpartum depression, and a whole host of long-lasting emotional problems.  Some of us, myself included, develop anxiety around hospitals, needles, and medical procedures.  Many of us feel angry and cheated for not having the glowing pregnancy that other women get to experience.  This anger and anxiety comes up each time we hear news organizations referring to hyperemesis as “Extreme Morning Sickness.”

Please call hyperemesis gravidarum what it is.   If it’s hard to say, you can just call it HG.  The next time you speak to an HG sufferer or survivor, validate her struggle.  Express sympathy for what she went through and may still be experiencing.  Most of all, please understand that hyperemesis is a real and terrible disease that can have a lasting impact on survivors both physically and emotionally.

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16 thoughts on “The Emotional Toll of Hyperemesis Gravidarum

  1. Thanks for your post above. My baby is now 9 months old today! During my pregnancy everyone keep saying ” you’ll be right, just hang in there and it will be over soon and you’ll have a beautiful baby to show for it”. What they didn’t mention was the isolation that followed. The isolation you feel when all your friends and fellow baby group members talk glowingly about when they plan to fall pregnant with their second child. I usually stop talking and get a huge lump in my throat and just concentrate about holding back my tears. A second child literally seems an un-achievable goal. The first time I was working and thankfully it was a home based family business so I literally took a green bucket into my office and vomited continuously and when it was about lunch time and my brain simply wouldn’t function at all anymore I retreated to my bedroom to sleep the afternoon away and left my family to answer the business calls. Unfortunately the business has now moved and I honestly cannot imagine driving anywhere in that condition. Plus now I have a child to look after as well and a partner who works full time. I realize all HG sufferers probably have the same obstacles and having 6 months or more time off simply to have another child isn’t possible. It’s just heart breaking that having a family turns into something so emotionally and physically hard both during and after the birth for the sufferer. The isolation is unrelenting, even more than the nausea and vomiting.

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  2. Thank you for this post. The emotional side of HG is so real. People just can’t comprehend the complexities of HG. I truly believe that HG is a spiritual battle in addition to a physical one. I am struggling every day to simply survive and the isolation is so hard to deal on top of the overwhelming nausea!

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  3. Thank you for posting this!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!It sums up what I was feeling the whole time! I went crazy out of my head with both of my pregnancies… I just wanted to make the vomiting stop!TERRIBLE STUFF!!!!!

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  4. Thanks so much for posting this. I’m currently in the throes of hg. 3 months into my second hg pregnancy actually. I was so scarred the first time,I waited 13 years! I have been much worse this time & have become very depressed. I feel guilty for even the passing thoughts of termination. I just want the nausea to end. I don’t know anyone who’s ever had hg, so most people don’t understand. I have a few friends who have been very supportive. Some, not so much. I just keep taking it one day at a time.

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    1. Hi Shannon
      Just wanted to say your in my thoughts and my heart goes out to you. I’m a HG survivor and currently trying to gather the courage and emotional strength to fall pregnany with our second child. You are a very brave and courageous woman who has put herself second in order to have another child, what a wonderful mother you are!! Your baby hasn’t even taken Its 1st breath in this world and already you have shown that you will always put them 1st. What an amAzing woman you are! I read recently that being courageous isnt the absence of fear or despair but rather the strength to overcome them… You are strong! Or you wouldn’t have come this far. Hang in there, even though every day is a complete struggle and your enjoyment in all facets of daily like is currently on hold always remember to be proud of yourself. HG mothers are terribly unlucky but we forget we are also very very special because we get to prove that with every single vomit, every single wave of overselling nausea that we love our babies and we will do everything to protect them! Once again even though we are strangers you are still in my loving thoughts xx

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  5. I sat here, in tears, reading this article. Even though no one I know has experienced HG, I find strength in knowing that I am not alone in this world. I feel at times like I want to give up or I will go crazy. I have proven my strength to myself and my baby, if no one else. Thank you for writing these words.

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  6. Thank you for writing about and bringing attention to this incredibly important medical condition. Women need to start feeling comfortable talking about HG and when they share their pregnancy news and family and friends as the typical ‘how are you feeling?’ its OKAY to say, ‘not well’ otherwise we continue this idea that pregnancy is all amazing and wonderful. You can be happy you are pregnant while still giving the world the information they need to let them know you need support and that this is an incredibly difficult time. I feel the same happens with miscarriages. It is horrifically heartbreaking to go through but unfortunately there are not enough people talking about it and therefore support systems are lacking. Let’s keep the conversation moving!!!! Hugs to all who are currently struggling like myself.

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  7. Thank you for this article. I’m currently in my first trimester with my second HG pregnancy. I lost my first baby last year. I had resolved I wouldn’t become pregnant for several years due to the devastation of both the HG and miscarriage. I am distraught. I have such crippling depression. There just seems no end in sight. People keep telling me, “Don’t worry! You’ll only be sick for a few more weeks!” They really do not understand. I feel I have no control over my mind, my emotions, and my body. My mother had HG for each of her pregnancies and she is the only one who knows what this is like. My boyfriend tries to understand. He tries to help. The worse the HG gets the less I want to be touched or kissed or socialize and that has put so much strain on our relationship. He has been my best friend for years and I feel I have to keep him away for my own sanity.
    This article makes me feel like I’m not alone.

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    1. You are definitely not alone. I don’t think it’s possible to understand what this is like until you’ve lived it. And to add the emotional trauma of a pregnancy loss on top of it? (((hugs)))

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  8. Although there is some comfort in the realization that there are other women who share my pain, I’m having a lot of mental issues with my recent diagnosis of HG. I whole heartily agree with this article and, to me, the mental anguish is the worst. I can’t take care of my kids, go to work, clean my house etc. I’m useless and hopeless. I’m honestly thinking of therapeutic abortion as my only option. The IVs, subcue pumps oral and rectal medications are too much and not helping overall… How do you talk yourself into going another day…?

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    1. Oh, Amanda. I know the pain you’re going through. Honestly, the only way I got through it was with help. My mom came and stayed with me and took care of me and my daughter. We hired a housekeeper to clean the house. You aren’t useless, you are just very, very sick and you need help. (((hugs)))

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