At first, she was so excited. Her first baby, her first time to hear a heartbeat inside her womb, her first I’m-really-a-mom moment. You were excited with her–but then suddenly she disappeared. No social events, no church, no driving, and no shopping–ESPECIALLY for groceries! The beast of scary pregnancies just struck: hyperemesis gravidarum. That’s a long and very difficult name for when you just can’t stop throwing up while pregnant. Doctors invented the term, I am confident, to allow women with this condition to make people stop saying, “Oh, you’re having morning sickness? Everyone has morning sickness when they’re pregnant!”
Hyperemesis gravidarum, or HG for short, is not morning sickness. It is all-day-long sickness, nausea so violent that almost nothing stays down, weight loss, and dehydration. As if that weren’t enough, if you have HG, it’s unlikely that your symptoms will decrease at the magic 12-weeks mark. There is no magic mark. The vomiting might last until 14 weeks, or 20 weeks, or until the baby pops out.
So how can you help your friend?
As a survivor of HG (mine was only severe until 20 weeks, when I was able to stop taking any kind of medication, and then made a weak reappearance the last few weeks of pregnancy), here are my suggestions:
When you have hyperemesis gravidarum, you feel completely isolated. If you’re taking the Unisom plus B-12 combination or just about any nausea prevention medication, you’re drowsy a lot of the time. That further prevents you from driving. You’re stuck. Inside your apartment/house. Somebody talk to me in here and ask how I’m doing?
Research HG before you tell her to eat gingersnaps.
It’s great to tell her what helped you during your pregnancy, but make sure she knows that you’re just trying to be helpful and you don’t think she’s doing something wrong. She can’t help that she vomits every time she stands up. You can bring her things that might be helpful (my mother-in-law gave me peppermint essential oil to apply under my nose, which actually did help reduce vomiting by blocking offensive smells). Just don’t be offended if she doesn’t use your remedy.
Come help her.
Don’t wait for her to ask. Send her a message asking when would be a good time to come. She probably can’t even get off the couch to do laundry, cook, or clean up, and it’s making her miserable watching everything disintegrate around her. A friend of mine drove an hour to spend the day with me when I was especially helpless. She brought ingredients that didn’t have strong smells and cooked for us. She swept my tiny kitchen floor in the apartment we were living in then. She prayed for me and just hung out with me. I will never forget that day! I didn’t have any other children, but my cousin’s wife is experiencing HG for the 3rd time right now. She struggles to care for her 1-year-old toddler when she doesn’t even have the energy to get off the mattress in the living room. Another friend of mine who’s experiencing severe nausea and vomiting asked someone to come clear out the smell offenders in her kitchen (like onions).
Pray for her.
She has disappeared from your view, maybe, but keep her in your thoughts. She’ll always be grateful.
Don’t be a fear-monger.
Telling about the birth defects a certain medication causes won’t help her–she’s already read all about the risks and is probably worrying about them. Wondering aloud if her baby will get spina bifida because she can’t keep down her prenatal vitamin is also off-limits. She’s been thinking about it constantly. (By the way, my baby boy is perfectly healthy!)
Pregnancy doesn’t last forever, and the reward is well worth the trials. Don’t tell her to countdown until her due date, because right now even a month seems like a lifetime to her. Break it up: “In two days you’ll be 13 weeks pregnant! You can make it two more days!”
More About Hyperemesis Gravidarum:
If you’re the one experiencing all-day-and-night vomiting and nausea, please go see a doctor. An OBGYN will keep trying different medications to help you. The medications might scare you if you’re a natural-when-possible girl like I am, but they may help you survive. When my doctor found a medication that worked for me, I felt like a new woman. Still a sick woman, but no longer vomiting so much that I was losing weight far into the 2nd trimester. My husband was so excited about the change after about 13 weeks of complete misery.
If you want to avoid regularly getting rehydration through an IV at the hospital, or you can’t keep down bottled rehydration drinks, you can try some rehydration recipes at home. (However, keep a close eye on your weight and make sure you keep drinking, even when it seems to all come right back up. Keep in touch with your doctor so you know when you need to be hospitalized.) Here’s a rehydration recipe that was helpful for me:
Citrus Rehydration Solution
- Six (6) level teaspoons of Sugar
- Half (1/2) level teaspoon of Salt
- 4-5 cups liquid (mixture of water, a fresh-squeezed orange, and a fresh-squeezed lemon)
And, yes, my husband squeezed the orange and lemon for me. I couldn’t do it.
Hyperemesis gravidarum can’t last forever. It just feels like it does. And a friend who tries to understand and help is a very bright spot in the darkness.