Interview by Kylie
Leanne is one of our lovely BHT volunteer administrators, she has been a valued member of the team for over twelve months now. Hyperemesis Gravidarum is an issue close to her heart having suffered through each of her 3 pregnancies, throwing up between 3-30 times a day. We had a chat about what it all meant for her and the effect on her and her family.
Tell us a little about HG
This pregnancy condition affects a small percentage of women called Hyperemesis Gravidarum (HG), I want to inform people about the disease and let those who may be suffering know that they are in no way alone.
HG is classified as severe and constant vomiting while pregnant. This is NOT to be confused with general morning sickness as they are two completely different things. HG is unrelenting, excessive pregnancy related nausea and/or vomiting that prevents adequate intake of food and fluids. It’s associated with:
- loss of greater than 5% of pre pregnancy body weight (usually over 10%)
- dehydration and production of ketones
- nutritional deficiencies
- difficulty with daily activities
HG generally goes beyond the first trimester but can in some cases resolve or decrease at around 21 weeks. Unfortunately, some women suffer the entire pregnancy.
How did it affect you in your pregnancies?
I have a lot of experience with HG as I suffered with it in all three of my pregnancies. It lasted the entire way through, or at least the nausea did; the vomiting reduced at around week 22 each time. I could throw up anywhere between 3-30 times a day, just moving made me vomit. I had many hospital visits each pregnancy, with an average of weekly for the first half, sometimes staying in for up to five nights getting rehydrated. It is very hard to explain to people who have not had this just how horrible and debilitating HG is. It affected every aspect of my life, which got harder with the second and third pregnancy because I also had other children to look after. I found it impossible to work, getting out of bed was hard enough, and I couldn’t do housework, cook, clean, and showering was a struggle that I could not even do every day. Personal life went out the door; I had to rely on my amazing husband for everything, which was particularly hard on him, especially by the third pregnancy. In my second pregnancy we also had to move in with my mum for months as I just couldn’t look after my daughter properly, which devastated me.
Emotionally, the toll HG took on me was incredibly hard. The amount of days I spent crying and crying because I felt so horrible – there were even times I wished I wasn’t pregnant anymore which was so, so horrible for me to say but I literally felt like I could not go on, that I couldn’t survive this anymore. There have been cases of women terminating their pregnancies because of HG, and these are much wanted babies. Some days I was so down I thought, “What’s the point in trying to eat and drink when I’m only going to throw it up again,” it’s so horrid throwing up everything you eat and drink and I would just get to a point where I’d feel why bother!
When did you first start seeing symptoms?
My symptoms began around five weeks gestation each time, within a week or two after finding out I was pregnant. It started with a strong feeling of nausea at first but within a couple days the vomiting would start.
What did you try yourself prior to seeing your medical professional? Natural therapies? Herbal? Old wives tales?
The thing with HG is that all those morning sickness tips people give are useless. Ginger, eating before getting up, regular small snacks, dry crackers do nothing. In fact, most women I know who had HG want to run screaming from anyone that suggests these things. I even tried the sickness bands that use pressure points.
Were there any foods that helped you? Or that made it worse?
The common theme that seems to help sufferers are the things that are bad for you. A lot of sufferers I know, including myself, found things like coke and salty fries were the things that help the nausea. My mum would go through McDonalds every morning at 10:30am and get me some fries and a coke to settle my stomach for a while. I also sucked lollipops and life savers, chewing gum helped me as well.
Were you prescribed medications? What were they? What worked?
The next step was the doctor’s. In my first pregnancy twelve years ago, all they gave me was Maxalon and they would put vitamin B6 in my drips, which did nothing and I would just throw the tablet up. Second time around was the same at first, but then I was told about Zofran (Ondansetron). My doctor would not prescribe it to me until my second trimester, so I found a new doctor who did prescribe it. The only trouble was that it cost me $50 for four tablets – I could have easily had all four in a single day, but due to the price I could only have them on my extremely bad days. Third time around my doctor was great with treating HG. He started off slow when it was just nausea but it didn’t take long to get given Zofran. At that stage I could get ten tablets for around $55, so the cost in medicating myself was still extreme but better. I still only tried to have one tablet a day, but some days I would need more. I was also periodically given prednisolone which really helped but I was only allowed on it for limited days, and I tried Stemetil and a few other things just to try to ease it all. When I was in hospital not only was I kept hydrated but I was given Zofran four times a day which was amazing but unfortunately at home we could just not afford this. I always felt better in hospital but at the same time hated being away from my family. My daughter would cry every time she saw me because she missed me and wanted me home.
How easy was the decision to have a second and third baby?
The decision to have more children when you have suffered HG is more about “Can I handle the pregnancy” than it is “Do I want more kids.” After my first I thought it might have just been a bad pregnancy and the next could be better, so we waited four years as I needed to forget just a little of my experience before thinking about doing it again. However, the next was worse. I was in hospital more, threw up more and couldn’t look after my darling daughter. My husband and I signed an agreement with each other that we would not have any more kids, but then I went and got all clucky again and so did he. We waited for my then youngest to be at school so that if I did get sick again at least I only had myself during the day to look after, which is hard enough might I add. The third was worse again and the toll it took on my kids and husband was incredibly hard, and we decided we would not have any more even if we wanted to. I could not physically or mentally go through it again.
What words of wisdom do you have for any mummies who are currently going through this?
You need help from family, friends, doctors, community, anyone. You MUST take medication to survive it. Always seek medical attention when you know you are dehydrated – the signs are easy to pick up on and you will know that you feel at your worse. Don’t listen to those who say, “You just need fresh air, try to get out a bit, I threw up every day but I didn’t take any drugs for it, just take some ginger.” These people are blind to HG and have no idea what you’re going through. But most importantly, you will get better, and it will be worth it in the end. It will affect you forever you and will never forget it, but you are so strong to be a able to do this and your little HG co-survivor will give you so much happiness after the fight you put up to have them. Remember, “You never know how strong you are until being strong is the only choice you have.”
There is support out there. Facebook have a few groups such as Hyperemesis Gravidarum Support Australia and Hyperemesis Gravidarum Survivors Australia. There is an email you can contact women directly which is [email protected]. Also, the website http://www.helpher.org is fantastic.
Thanks for reading my story, please message the page if you want to ask me anything or need to chat, I hope those suffering as they read this have not thrown up too many times today.