The Vagenda

Just Call Me Duchess: My Hyperemeisis Hell


It’s four in the morning on a Thursday and I’m pretty sure I’m dying. But I can’t be dying, the baby can’t be dying, I’m just pregnant and this is just a part of pregnancy. I need to toughen up and get on with it. Cut to two hours later, I’m dragging myself downstairs, exhausted, faint and shaking to wake my Mum up. She takes one look at me and calls an ambulance. An hour later I’m in A&E. When my Mum asks a nurse what is wrong with me, the nurse, who happens to very pregnant herself, says it’s bad morning sickness and ‘just a normal part of pregnancy’. I look at her, all happy, healthy and round, compared with my gaunt haggard self, and think ‘it is not normal to vomit so much that you burn your throat on your own stomach acid. It is not normal to vomit blood’. I feel weak and defeated, I can’t muster the energy to lift my head up when I vomit let alone argue with the nurse.

After I was examined by a doctor and my blood and urine tests came back it transpired I was severely dehydrated. There were ketones in my urine, which is very bad. It means your body is starving. I was put on a drip, and admitted to gynaecology for monitoring and rehydration. The doctor diagnosed me with hyperemesis gravidarum (or HG if, like me, you’re shit at pronouncing Latin words). I was in hospital for two days, hooked up to a drip which was giving me fluids, vitamins and medication. I was given a scan, and through some miracle our baby was alright. I eventually convinced my husband not to get his work to charter a helicopter to fly him home so he could be at my bed side. I pointed out I was in the best place, there is nothing he can do other than sit, feel guilty and watch me suffer, and that we really need his wages to pay our mortgage because I could not stand up, let alone go to work.

When I eventually regained the energy to sit up, I started to research HG. While I found lots of great websites and support groups I also found in worryingly equal measure lots of misinformed, shitty patriarchal attitudes about the condition. So I decided to write an article for The Vagenda to inform my fellow readers about this little understood condition so you can all spread the word.

Things hyperemesis gravidarum is NOT:

a.) It is NOT MORNING SICKNESS. Helpful and insightful comments from the media when the Duchess of Cambridge was admitted to hospital suffering with the condition included ”Kate was admitted to the hospital today with ‘hyperemesis gravidarum,’ which is what they call regular old morning sickness when you are a princess.” As doctor Jennifer Ashton beautifully put it: “This is morning sickness like a hurricane is a little bit of rain.”

b.) Something that can be helped by ginger biscuits and mint tea. When I first got very ill, before the hospital and the machines and injections, I was prescribed anti-sickness drugs. When my husband went to the pharmacy to get them, the pharmacy assistant helpfully informed him that when she had triplets she managed to cope with her morning sickness eating ginger biscuits, suggesting to him maybe I should try that first. I like, totes would have tried her helpful tips but, you know accidentally swallowing my own saliva was making me vom so a cuppa and a biccy was a no go. If one more person suggests mint tea or foxes ginger nuts can help my plight, delicious as their biscuity goodness is, I will respond by kicking them in the shin. Hard.

c.) Something that is your fault. At first, I really believed I was doing something wrong.

Things hyperemeisis gravidarum is-

a.) All day, all night, relentless non stop sickness and nausea. Imagine food poising without the shitting yourself part but all the time, for weeks on end. It’s a crippling condition in pregnancy that effects a very small percentage of women. If it isn’t treated properly it can cause serious medical problems such as malnutrition, ketosis, extreme weight loss, renal failure, anaemia and death. If untreated, it can also lead to the premature birth of your baby.

b.) A condition which needs to be treated with anti-sickness medication. I found a lot women-shaming articles about how the weaker sex need to just toughen up and deal with the sickness as taking medication could be harmful to a developing foetus. I eventually was given cyclizine hydrochloride via an injection after a week of non-stop vomiting because my doctor firmly told me that if I didn’t take it, the baby would die. We all agreed this would be worse for the baby then the very slim possibility of the cyclizine affecting it.

c.) Traumatising. The non stop sickness/nausea, losing all control of your own body, being unable to leave the house for weeks on end, the pain when you have retched constantly for days. Not knowing when/if it will end. Not knowing if your baby will be OK, even after you have been through all this crap to grow it.

It’s a condition that can damage your mental, as well as physical health. Pregnancy sickness support identify depression as a common side effect of HG.

All in all, it does not make for fun times.

The HER foundation found that 10% of HG pregnancies end in a women having to terminate their pregnancy. They claim many of these terminations happened because women were not receiving the right support, due to a lack of understanding from the medical professionals treating them. The effects of aborting a pregnancy that you planned and wanted must be devastating.

Blogger and HG Dad Evan Derkacz wrote that “the fact remains that HG can be a brutal, crippling condition that goes largely ignored and untreated, partly due to its overlap with ordinary pregnancy sickness and partly to our attitude toward suffering, and the suffering of pregnant women in particular.”

Only when we as a society start to acknowledge women’s suffering will HG be taken as seriously and women enduring the condition be given the support they require to survive it.

- Charlotte Glover

18 thoughts on “Just Call Me Duchess: My Hyperemeisis Hell

  1. Goodness that sounds utterly horrendous!!! I have HUGE sympathy for anyone suffering from HG.
    I’m curious, if a person has HG once, is it likely they’ll have it again if they had a second baby?

    • Don’t know of any statistics, but my sister had HG with her first but just plain old sickness with her second and third.

      Super article! That statistic on terminations is heartbreaking.

      • There was a old study which stated there was around a 15% likely hood of reoccurrence in subsequent pregagnancies. Current thinking however puts it at more like 50-80%. I know, abortion should always be about choice and if medical professionals are denying a women her health due to their lack of understanding and unwillingness to perscribe the right medication, you are taking away her choice.

    • In this very good article in The Guardian: the woman who had this illness who wrote it says she can’t risk having any more children as the odds of her having it again are high. I knew the sickness was hospitalisation level but I had no idea you could lose your baby or have to abort; so horrible!

  2. Great article, until recently I knew very little about this condition but it sounds more than tough and I think you have highlighted the need for greater support and understanding about this! Having been lucky enough to experience a relatively easy pregnancy, I did have a short stay in hospital with dehydration from a sickness bug and can only imagine the horror, worry and pure pain of that being a longer term situation. Too often women are just expected to ‘get on with it’ especially during a planned for pregnancy with the opinion of ‘it was your choice so deal with it’ but let’s face it growing a human is never going to be a walk in the park without the added burden of HG to deal. Well done for highlighting that only with the right medical care, advice and support can women get through this in a functioning and healthy way and showing that the media still have a long way to go in accurate portrayals of women today. Good luck for the rest of your pregnancy Xx

  3. Superb article, I think it is high time that people knew more about this debilitating illness. Good luck and all the best :)

  4. Great article. As someone is currently suffering from regular morning/afternoon/evening sickness I have huge sympathy for people suffering from HG. I can’t imagine how awful that must be (being dizzy & nauseous is bad enough, as far as I’m concerned).

    • If you are vomiting more than a couple of times a day, you should go an see your GP. When my HG first started I was being sick several times in the morning and a couple of times in the evening. I was still manage to go to work and carry on as normal, just feeling crappy. It was only when it got worse I was admitted to hospital that the gynaecologist told me that wasn’t ‘normal’ morning sickness. Normal sickness is feeling nauseous and possibly vomiting a couple of times. With severe vomiting and HG, the early you’re treated the more chance there is of getting it under control. I hope it clears up soon for you.

  5. Thank you so much for writing this. HG is an experience you can’t possibly understand unless you’ve been through it. I had it in both pregnancies, and being an obese woman outside of pregnancy it was almost impossible to be taken seriously. When I told doctors I’d lost 20kg in a matter of weeks, they said it was a good thing. I remember thinking ‘I want to die’ over and over day after day. Each night I would tell myself that this was one more day over, one more day closer to having my baby, and one more day I would *never* have to endure again. It was all that kept me going. In my second pregnancy, I ended up hospitalised for weeks and my older boy had to go and live with my parents, which was horrible too. I’m so grateful for a single doctor who took me seriously and who hunted for a medication that would help me. In the end he found the right one and the rest of my pregnancy was amazing.

    If only more health care providers could be like that doctor, HG might not have to be the living hell it is for so many women.

  6. I remember the media in my country reporting that Kate Middleton was in hospital because of ‘morning sickness’. Thank you for clarifying again! It seems that pregnant women often face horribly unsympathetic attitudes from people, I wonder why?

  7. I went to my midwife due to being sick day in day out. Couldnt eat or drink anything. Was told to eat a mars bar. The smell of one would have made me sick. Few weeks later I had a miscarriage.

  8. Goodness I had totally forgot that I had vomited up blood too. I had horrific experiences with my doctors too, one male doctors telling me “well that’s pregnancy, what did you expect?” Surprisingly NOT weight loss when you are growing another prison, last thing I ever thought would happen. So sick of hearing “pregnancy isn’t an illness” on one hand and then “didn’t Charlotte bronte die from morning sickness” on the other. Being yelled at on a bus because I was sat down. Pregnancy made me never want to do it again. But my SOMEHOW huge little boy (8.11!! Vampire baby as he was called) makes it worth while (and time, you forget so quickly how it felt).

  9. My mum suffered from this when she was pregnant with both my sister and myself. One doctor asked her if she was ‘sure’ she wanted the baby (me) and that this wasn’t just a psychological reaction to not wanting to be pregnant. I always wish she had boked on his shoes in reply.

  10. I had HG twice. The first time my boss was not sympathetic to the six months I spent signed off work due to constant vomiting, and that did not help. I started my maternity leave (or had it started for me by an unsympathetic HR policy) three months before I had hoped to. All in all I spent about fourteen days of my pregnancy actually working, and even then I’d usually be sent home by lunchtime for vomiting.
    The worst part the second time was my complete inability to care for my first child, and of course the knowledge that in spite of really wanting a large family, there was no way I ever wanted to be pregnant ever again…

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