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.

Struggling Emotionally with Hyperemesis Gravidarum

depression woman girl hyperemesis gravidarum

Hyperemesis gravidarum is such a difficult road.  I knew it would be hard, but I really underestimated things.

I really feel like I am winning the physical battle against HG.  I’m able to eat specific foods: Tostitos corn chips, my mom’s potato casserole (potatoes, cheese, and sour cream), baked potatoes, artichokes with ranch dressing, McDonald’s cheeseburgers no onions extra pickles, cheesy-bread from Topper’s Pizza with lots of ranch dressing, the occasional salad with ranch dressing, and most recently egg noodles with a little butter and a lot of Parmesan.  That is really, really good.

I’m having a harder time getting fluids in.  Up until recently, if it wasn’t frozen and sour it wasn’t going to work.  Frozen cranberry juice is how I start my morning, then I suck on ice cubes the rest of the day.  I’m getting, on average, around 30 oz of fluids a day.  I’m only barely staying ahead of that central line, which I want to avoid if at all possible.

I’m not throwing up that much.  Maybe once every 4-5 days.  I’m nauseated a lot, but less than I expected to be.  I just feel weak all the time.  Getting up and doing anything is very difficult.

The emotional battle, though, I feel like I am losing.  Sometimes I think of myself in the past tense.  I used to love to travel.  I used to be an active and involved mom.  I used to love, love, love eating food.  I feel like I am forgetting the person I used to be and I wonder if I will remember how to be that person when this is all over.  It’s harder and harder to get out of bed.  It’s harder and harder to take a shower.  Friday, I just lay in bed filthy.  Mom is doing her best to encourage me and get me moving, but I know she’s frustrated.  Is there such a thing as pre-partum depression?

Let me be very clear.  HG causes depresssion, not the other way around.  No amount of fresh air, getting up and moving around, showering, or thinking positive will make this disease go away.

I don’t feel like a pregnant lady.  I think we HGers have more in common with cancer patients than pregnant women.  Granted, our illness isn’t terminal assuming we have proper medical support.  But with all the stuff we have to deal with: IVs, PICC lines, running out of veins, arms destroyed by needle sticks, central lines, TPN, NJ feeding, and just the intensity and length of the sickness.  It’s not fair.

Saturday, I talked to the fellow that does our yard.  He knows I’m sick, and he asked how I was doing.  I admitted that I was feeling pretty defeated, and he said something that really touched me.  He said, “Don’t let the Redeemer’s fire burn you up.”  Does this mean I will be stronger and braver when all this is done?  I don’t feel that way right now.

I’ve been trying to hold images in my head of things that remind me of this:  the phoenix and the sacred lotus that rises out of the mud to blossom and now the fire in a forge.

But more and more I feel like I’m just sinking.

I have another doctor’s appointment on Wednesday.  I think she will ask me if I want to go on steroids.  I wonder if those will get me through the next couple of weeks and into the part of pregnancy where I don’t feel like utter crap.