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.