Selin, a RCOG Women’s Voices Member, shares her story to raise awareness of Hyperemesis Gravidarum.
My story involves pregnancy complicated by Hyperemesis Gravidarum (HG), a condition that tested the limits of my physical and emotional resilience. And I endured it twice.
It began around the sixth week of my first pregnancy. Like many women, I anticipated some morning sickness. Little did I know, the unrelenting nausea I felt was not the usual discomfort associated with pregnancy. Initially, I dismissed it as ‘normal’ morning sickness, but the severity of my symptoms escalated rapidly.
The general feeling of nausea soon transformed into a relentless cycle of vomiting, triggered not just by the smell of food, but the sight or thought of triggers (for example, seeing an insect). I found myself confined to the house, afraid to venture out due to the constant fear of being sick. Driving to ultrasound scans became a daunting task, and once-routine activities felt impossible. I had to take sick bags with me whenever I absolutely had to go out.
Desperation led me to seek advice from my GP, but I was told this was typical morning sickness. Ginger and rest were the initial suggestions, but as the symptoms continued to worsen, I was prescribed two different medications. Still, relief remained elusive, even after my dosages were increased and I found myself signed off from work.
I spent several weeks in bed, feeling nauseous anytime I was awake. Unlike an illness where you get some relief after you vomit, the nausea always remained and it felt like I had perpetual seasickness. Everything came to a standstill. No outings, no work, no TV, no hobbies. My once-active life was halted, and by extension my husband’s, who almost overnight became my carer.
Adding to the physical toll was the emotional strain of dealing with the perception of my illness. The doctor's note, explaining it as "pregnancy sickness," inadvertently revealed my condition to my employer and made it sound less serious than it was. The struggle to hide my illness, and my early pregnancy, became a battle, as colleagues, friends, and family speculated about my well-being. Guilt crept in as I grappled with the inability to work efficiently, feeling like I was falling short in my professional and personal responsibilities.
It was the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, and I really wanted to avoid going to the hospital. However, this was all my GP could suggest after treatments so far had failed. At my absolute limit, I consulted a private obstetrician to get help. It was then that I learned about Hyperemesis Gravidarum, a condition that goes beyond the norm of morning sickness. This obstetrician took the time to understand the depth of my struggles, acknowledging the severity of my condition and discussed my options with me. I finally felt heard. He immediately prescribed new medication which provided the relief I desperately needed, allowing me to regain some resemblance of normalcy. The medications didn't eliminate the nauseous feeling entirely, but they offered a lifeline, enabling me to work, go outside and have hobbies again. I had to take them until the end of my pregnancy as if I tried to wean off them, the nausea and vomiting came back.
People say you forget about difficult pregnancies or difficult births once you have your baby. I didn’t. I spent a lot of time mourning having a very unpleasant pregnancy and pouring time into finding out why it took so long to get the support I needed. I spoke to the Pregnancy Sickness Support charity to understand as much as I could about HG in case I were to ever have another baby. This was also the reason I joined the RCOG women’s voices involvement panel.
My husband and I had always talked about having two children, but after my first pregnancy, I was terrified of having HG again and it being dismissed as having morning sickness. How could I cope this time around? How could I leave everything to my husband again, and now with a toddler? It was the only reason we considered just having one. Ultimately we decided to have another, but only because of the help I had received from my obstetrician in treating my HG.
I approached my second pregnancy with determination to advocate for myself. I would not be told it was ‘normal’ morning sickness and that there weren’t many options for treatment because I knew that wasn’t the case. The second time was much better - I had the support I needed, both from my obstetrician, friends, and my family, despite getting HG earlier and more severely the second time before I began treatment.
My journey through two hyperemesis pregnancies was marked by isolation, uncertainty, and a relentless fight for relief. While the physical toll was immense, the emotional impact was equally significant. Sharing my story is in an effort to shed light on a condition often misunderstood and overlooked. Hyperemesis Gravidarum is not mere morning sickness—it's a battle that requires acknowledgment, support, and above all, compassionate care.
For more information and support:
- Green-Top Guideline on The Management of Nausea and Vomiting in Pregnancy and Hyperemesis Gravidarum
- Pregnancy Sickness Support
- Read the Patient Information Resource on Pregnancy sickness (nausea and vomiting of pregnancy and hyperemesis gravidarum)
- NHS information on Nausea and morning sickness