I am not sure why I never wrote about this before, but I guess it was very traumatic for me. I have 3 beautiful, healthy kids thank God. I was diagnosed with hyperemesis gravidarum (HG) when I was six weeks pregnant with each of my pregnancies. At that point, I was vomiting 15-20 times a day, lost twenty plus pounds, and was extremely dehydrated and malnourished. I couldn’t stand for longer than a minute and had lost nearly all my strength. My hair fell out, my vision was blurry. I developed atelectasis, which is partial or complete collapse of the lung. It hit me suddenly and it hit me hard. I was scared and had no idea what was happening to my body.
HG, “is a debilitating and potentially life-threatening pregnancy disease marked by rapid weight loss, malnutrition, and dehydration due to unrelenting nausea and/or vomiting with potential adverse consequences for the mom-to-be and the newborn(s). Hyperemesis Gravidarum impacts 0.5- 1% of pregnant women.” O-N-E PERCENT!!! No cause and no cure, just some remedies and strong meds. Lots of “try this and that” and unsolicited advice. And a whole lot of judgement. As if I were purposely not eating.
I share my raw story not for your sympathy, but because I believe it is important that you understand. HG is awful. It absolutely, royally stinks. There are hundreds of women all over the world with HG suffering in isolation. They are fighting each day for their survival and the survival of their unborn child. I hope I can do my part to make these women feel less alone, to make them feel understood, and give them the strength to push through their own journey.
Hyperemesis Gravidarum (HG) hit me hard. Thanks to HG, I could no longer shower, walk, drive, go to the bathroom or do anything unassisted. This disease stole my hopes for a big family. I would have loved to have 5/6 kids. HG emptied my joy during a time when most women are filled to the brim with joy, beaming with that pregnancy glow. HG robbed my family, too, of this joyful time, and instantly turned my squeamish husband into my nurse and my mother into my full-time caregiver.
I hated HG for filling my living room with puke bins. There was no way that I was going to vomit in a toilet bowl. Because of HG, I would get bruises on my hands and knees when I threw up viciously on the floor. Because of HG, I could no longer eat dinner with my husband–a time that I cherished before I was destroyed by HG. TPN (total parenteral nutrition is a method of feeding that bypasses the gastrointestinal tract) was my dinner. No one was allowed to even open the refrigerator because the smell alone would induce vomit. My family did not have a home-cooked meal during the duration of each of my pregnancies because the smell of cooking made me throw up or, even worse, start dry heaving. HG burned my esophagus from the constant stomach acid I throw up — there was nothing left in my stomach. Sadly, I had HG with every pregnancy, even those I miscarried. People thought I was crazy when we announced that we were pregnant again. When I went to the first OBGYN visit with my 3rd kid, the doctor was so stunned to see me that she actually asked me, “are you keeping it?” She later apologized. But I think even she was traumatized from having me as a patient.
I hated HG for debilitating me not just physically, but mentally and emotionally as well. I hated the anxiety that HG had given me. I hated how consumed with fear I was every time I felt myself about to throw up yet again. I lost track of the number of times I had thrown up. I hated the mind games HG played with me—starvation, nausea, and vomiting all play dirty tricks on the mind. It was an absolute nightmare.
While expectant moms are usually nesting, the only thoughts I had about my baby were survival. Will I make it through this? Am I starving my baby? What kind of a mother am I? I struggled with so much guilt. I hated that other women at my OBGYN office stared at me and my IV pole. I was asked once in my many trips to the hospital, what kind of cancer I had. I looked like a chemo patient. Very sickly. “But I am just pregnant!” I wanted to scream but didn’t even have the energy to muster up the words. I absolutely hated that I had a picc line and an IV in my arm. That picc line got infected when I was pregnant with my daughter and I was hospitalized with sepsis, a collapsed lung and blood clot in the my left leg. They did not think that we were going to make it. My mother and my husband took turns sleeping in a hospital cot next me for a month. I had a 16 month old son at home that I couldn't even carry. This was not what it was supposed to be like.
I hated when people constantly told me “it will be worth it,” as if I were doing it for reasons other than it all being worth it. "Why don’t you just try to drink something?" Do they know the hellish nightmare it is living with HG every day for almost an entire year? It is not morning sickness. It is 24 hours of severe sickness. Never goes away. It’s a fact that 15% of women who suffer with HG choose to terminate at least one pregnancy. I understood why. It went against every core value that I had but I get it. I thought about it in my weakest moments and I could’ve easily been in that statistic. I hated HG and what it did to me. And I was so isolated and ashamed for how my body betrayed me and my how my thoughts betrayed me.
Hyperemesis gravidarum (HG) took a huge toll on everything. HG stole my identity. HG stole my ability to work. HG stole my independence.
But … I also love HG. While HG took everything away from me, it simultaneously gave me everything: it made me a mother. I love that, despite all the darkness, HG has also showed me the light. This illness taught me to be still (even though I had no choice). I watched my mother take care of my family and pour love into our home, into me. She is the reason.
I love HG for strengthening the bond between my husband and me. I watched him flush my picc line every night diligently with saline and heparin. I am happy to report that he only passed out once when he drew blood into the line. As this 6-foot 3-inch hunk of a man was going down, he slowly mumbled, “call 9—1---MON...” (thump) I replied with actual annoyance “for you or for me, you pansy! Get up and take care of us!" Happy to report he got up shortly in a pool of sweat and 3 kids later he still hates the sight of blood. We can and will get through anything after this.
I love HG for showing me every day how tough I am. I love HG for making me feel like a warrior. I now know I can conquer anything. I love HG for forcing me to change my perspective and know what is important. I love that I now stop to appreciate the taste of water and feel so grateful to have clean, running water to drink. I love that even in my weakest moments, HG has taught me to be patient and kind to myself.
I love that I have friends who were my champions and made me feel completely understood. I love that they understood not just the physical toll that HG has taken on my body, but the psychological one as well. This is incredibly hard to find, as most people were just not compassionate to women suffering from HG and don’t fully understand its debilitating symptoms. I love that my family took the time to learn about HG in order to better support me. I smiled every time I heard my mom say “hyper gravy haga (something)” because I know the more we talk about this rare disease the more we can support others.
I love HG for teaching me that God will get me through it. He created me for this. I didn’t watch movies or have the energy to read. Even books had a nauseating smell to them. So I prayed. I talked to God every moment I was awake, and He listened. Sometimes I begged Him to put me in a coma and wake me up when the baby was ready to come into the world. Those nights I often fell asleep and dreamt of Saint Kyrillos VI. He took care of us. He filled me with so much of His grace, that I fearlessly did it 2 more times and I would do it all over again for them. Thank God for every condition.
My tips to help someone through HG: • Try to be patient and understanding. Everything needs to be done on their terms. • Don't bring food over unless you have checked what they can tolerate. The list of what they can tolerate will be a lot shorter than what they can't tolerate. • Watch out for their mental health and make sure they have someone they can talk too or seek help from a professional. This condition is so draining and isolating. • If you know your friend has HG, don't share scary experiences or go over the top sharing how much you loved being pregnant and that you wish you could be pregnant forever. If you have Hyperemesis Gravadarum, it is important to contact your doctor for advice and support when your symptoms are severe and concerning. Remember Mama, take it easy and try to take care of yourself as best as you can throughout the 9 month stretch. Please get the support you need and the care you deserve. If not, ask for help and don't be afraid to tell people no. Be kind to yourself and allow yourself to heal. Although this feels like a long and impossible journey, you will get through and eventually start to feel human again. Lots of love.
Silvia Farag, MSW, LSW, PsyD Candidate runs the Christian Center for Counseling and works with adolescent and adult clients in individual, couples & family therapy. Her personal philosophy is that through human connection, we can foster the encouragement needed to take courageous steps toward creating positive change. She uses evidenced based and strengths-based approaches & believes in the inherent ability of everyone to overcome when they are willing to step into their potential. Therapy illuminates the path so the client can make conscious steps towards emotional health. Her attitude is one of respect and acceptance of each client’s individuality, allowing for the creation of a safe, therapeutic space. Silvia serves with Coptic Women Fellowship, an archdiocese ministry focused on enriching, supporting, and strengthening the lives of women, along with the clergy and several accomplished women of the Coptic Orthodox Archdiocese of North America.