I Know What Kate Middleton Is Going Through: Surviving Hyperemesis Gravidarum
June 2009. Two pink lines on the little stick. This wasn’t supposed to happen! I was pregnant with my third child – a child I swore I would never have, after hyperemesis gravidarum (chronic ‘morning sickness’ or HG for short) plunged me into a dark abyss during my second pregnancy. I was beyond terrified at the thought of going back there.
By now we’ve all heard of Kate Middleton’s pregnancies and her much-publicised hospital stints due to HG. During all my viable pregnancies, I have also suffered from HG. It’s a debilitating condition afflicting only about 3% of pregnant women. Oh how lucky the other 97% of you are!
In early 2003, after years trying to conceive, I finally discovered I was pregnant. At the 7-week mark, nausea set in. Fine, I thought. Nothing unusual with that, according to the mountain of pregnancy books I had stacked on my bedside table. At first I was unperturbed – overjoyed even – because the doctors told me the nausea meant I had high levels of pregnancy hormones and therefore a strong, viable pregnancy. Even when the persistent vomiting began, I figuratively kept my chin up, stoic and uncomplaining. After all, this baby was what I wanted more than anything else in life. Having no one else to look after, I slept as much as possible – the only time I didn’t feel or get sick – and by about week 28 it slowly dissipated, to the point where I was able to forget about the unpleasant pregnancy once our first daughter arrived.
For the next two pregnancies, things didn’t work out nearly so well. On both occasions, by the time I was seven weeks down the track, my world turned to hell.
My experience of HG was like a relentless nine-month bout of gastroenteritis, only with a toddler or two to care for thrown into the mix. Can you imagine that? It was brutal. Every second was excruciating. I walked through life like a zombie, with the belief this physical torture and emotional emptiness would never end, and I wanted nothing more than to be dead.
Each morning during my second pregnancy, when my sacred state of sleep was broken, the nausea would king-hit me, followed swiftly by vomiting. As each interminably long day lay ahead, alone and with a toddler to entertain and care for, I found myself sobbing uncontrollably without pause. I was confused by these emotions, having been lucky until now to be an upbeat person. My GP explained the sickness had annihilated my serotonin levels, hence my depressed mood, and while this simple explanation made me relieved that someone understood, of course the diagnosis alone did not cure me.
My GP also advised me to seek childcare for my daughter, even just one day a week to give me some respite. Living in an inner-city suburb meant childcare places were at a premium, and I recall the hollow feeling of hopelessness as I dragged us both from one institution after another, unsuccessfully trying to hide my tears as I was repeatedly told, “Sorry, there are no spots available”. My sense of isolation and desperation grew.
I would vomit bile every morning in the shower, doubled over as my two-year-old watched on in horror. Nothing would quell the ever-present nausea. At first I tried all the pharmaceutical drugs available, as well as every herbal and natural remedy under the sun, shelling out money left, right and centre in a desperate search for relief, but to no avail. My obstetrician ended up hospitalising me several times during my second and third pregnancies, for stints of around eight days each time, to be rehydrated and to recover from the physical toll the HG was taking on my body.
During my third pregnancy, each day I would rise from bed to start the day’s vomiting, then head to the chart on the wall I made that counted down the last 240 days before my scheduled C-section. My husband used to beg me to take that chart down, arguing that looking at what still lay in store for me would be too depressing, but I chose to look at it the opposite way – each time I got to put a big red cross through the previous day, I was giving HG the proverbial finger, and was one step closer to my baby’s birth. The HG hung around for the entirety of this pregnancy; literally until the glorious moment the doctor pulled my tiny, precious daughter from inside me.
The affects of suffering hyperemesis are both long-term and wide-ranging. For many, it is a lifelong trauma. Many sufferers stop drinking alcohol or doing anything that might trigger nausea such as going on carnival rides, boat trips, long car drives and the like. I’ve also had the added pain and expense of numerous dental cavities, a result of calcium deficiency and the erosive nature of the bile that spent nine months washing over my teeth with each pregnancy. Other women suffer from severe gallstones and kidney infections as a result of HG.
It’s tough to think back on the pain and suffering that HG and the associated antenatal depression caused in my life – it took a huge toll on my mind, body and unfortunately relationships too, but I know how lucky I am to have three beautiful healthy daughters, and that I was eventually able to get back to feeling well, mentally and physically.
The only difference between me now and my pre-pregnancies is that I’ll do whatever it takes to avoid a situation where I may vomit; my children are vigilant hand washers, and close friends know to stay well away from me if their family has gastro, because I’ve vomited way more than my share for one lifetime!
So while Kate Middleton is ‘lucky’ in the respect that she has access to limitless childcare and the best medical attention available, I know that neither of these things magically remove the shocking reality of constant nausea and vomiting, nor the guilt associated with feeling like you are never fully present in your children’s lives because of the overwhelming intensity of HG. For that I have the greatest amount of empathy for her.
I look forward to hearing about the arrival of the new royal baby, mainly because it means Kate will have made it to the finish line and beaten HG once again. It’s certainly a social leveler – HG doesn’t give a damn about royal titles, leaving Kate no choice but to soldier on… and maybe get herself a very majestic chart and a fancy marker so she can put a big red cross on it to signify every day she conquers.