I was asked to write an article for Australian Midwifery News journal on hyperemesis gravidarum.
It’s a letter for midwives (and doctors and caregivers) to help them understand what HG is like for the person who is inside it.
If you know of anyone who might benefit from this article, please do share it along.
Thank you for listening. Thank you for caring.
Next time you see a woman shuffling into the ward, grey shading her face, shaking because she hasn’t drunk water or eaten in days, the look of abject horror in her eyes, all life sucked from her system from relentless, intractable vomiting… may I please ask a favour?
Please know that this woman is suffering. Profoundly. Horrifically. More than any human ever should. She is in the midst of the darkest days of her life, a relentless midnight. She is not herself. She has been subsumed by the hell of her illness. Her life has been taken from her, and all that is left is the constant, chronic, debilitating nausea that she can barely breath beneath. She can barely manage to drink the water and eat the food necessary for her body to not shut down, and even then, she is often not able to accomplish even that.
Not only that, but she is a part of an ecosystem that is now under profound stress. Her income is gone. The cost of Zofran when you don’t have cancer is astronomical. If she already has children, they no longer have a mother. Their mother is writhing, rocking on the bed, praying to every deity under the sun: Please. Please make it stop. I can no longer cope. Another mother must be found – extended family or paid carers. No one able to cover the immense, gaping hole where she was. Her partner is no longer a partner, he is a caregiver. He watches his wife recede into the bedsheets, unable to accomplish even the smallest of daily tasks. They argue. He doesn’t understand. When he does, he feels helpless. His life too, is gone. No cooking in the house. Nothing more to incite the vomiting. She is one vomit away from another trip to emergency to get some water needled through her. Their family life revolves around: bed, the chemist, the emergency ward.
How does this family survive the profound financial, emotional, physical and logistical nightmare that is HG?
I do not know. I have been that shell of a woman – twice – once for five weeks, the second for nine months – and I still do not know fully.
But I do know that you are important. You are critical. You very well can make the difference between whether she becomes one of the estimated 15% of women suffering hyperemesis gravidarum who opt for a therapeutical termination. Please know that almost all of us are considering it. Not because we don’t want our babies – indeed, we deeply do. But we do not know how on earth we can survive the personal hell that HG is.
The support I received – from my husband, midwife, acupuncturist, doctor, chemist – was critical. Without them, I assure you, there would be just the idea, the memory, the grief, the loss of a baby, instead of the strawberry-blonde imp of an 18 month old who is gallivanting around the house with her older sister as I type this.
Support in all forms is required – medical support. Hospital stay support. Childcare support. Most of all, emotional support. I can’t tell you enough just how much compassion, empathy and understanding from people saved me, and saved my baby. Very clearly in my mind, I can recall the difference in care I got from medical professionals. The nurse who casually asked if I’d tried eating ginger as I lay grey, hooked to an IV drip in emergency. The doctor who dismissively asked me if I’d diagnosed myself using the internet when I probably was just experiencing morning sickness. That made me feel like this very real and very serious illness wasn’t being treated as such.
And then there was the doctor who saw me when I needed to talk about termination. He looked at me so gently and said
“This baby is a precious blessing. I know this is hard. Let me make calls. I will get you admitted to hospital tonight to see the best registrar I can. We will get you the support you need.”
And he did. To the midwives and doctors and pharmacists and acupuncturists who all listened, and heard my pain, and took my suffering seriously.
HG is serious. Unmanaged, it can result in the death of baby and mother.
For more support + a personal look into Hyperemesis Gravidarum, I created an illustrated zine.
I offer it for any woman who has ever been through H.G.. Or who is going through it right now. Or anyone with a debilitating illness. Or any woman who wants to understand.
Depression is a secondary complication of HG. I don’t know how you can experience HG and not feel deeply and doubtlessly into depression. Profound, unrelenting and devastating. Medication is needed. Counselling too. And counselling is the hardest to get to – being bedridden and barely able to speak. Our life is gone, subsumed as we toil at staying alive so we can bring another life into the world.
Can I please put forth a HG Do’s + Don’t List (A Mother’s Perspective):
- Please DON’T ever utter “morning sickness” to us. “Hey! You have cancer! That’s basically the same as a common cold, right?”
- Things that don’t cure or in anyway assist with HG: ginger or dry biscuits. “Hey! You have cancer! Have you tried Vitamin C + Echinacea?”
- Please don’t belittle this illness. Don’t make it smaller than what it is. It is serious, and it is horrific to experience.
- You can make a very real difference in whether we have a termination or not.
18 months on, my body is still recovering and healing from HG. My teeth will never be the same, my body is still rebuilding itself after nine long, horrific months of malnutrition and muscle waste. It is a trauma to the body and to the soul. Emotionally, I am still learning how to trust a world that would allow HG to happen. Six months ago, I gave myself the gift of knowing I would never, ever experience HG again: a tubal ligation.
Next time you see my HG sisters shuffling into your ward, please remember you are glimpsing a woman in the darkest days of her life. She needs your concern and she needs your support and she needs your empathy in order to make it through, out to the other side, with babe in arms.
All my love,
P.S. More HG reading:
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