Today is Hyperemesis Gravidarum Awareness Day. Many of my followers know that I am one of the 1-2% of pregnant women diagnosed with this debilitating disease, though most people still have very little idea, if any, what it actually is.
Hyperemesis Gravidarum, or HG, basically means "A whole lot of vomiting, pretty freaking serious".* HG is NOT morning sickness, to any extreme. HG is not a mental condition physically manifested, though HG can cause depression, anxiety, and PTSD, among other things. HG is not indicative of a healthy baby or healthy pregnancy; in fact, many women with HG will continue to suffer health problems such as poor oral health and GI issues for years after an HG pregnancy, and sadly some of these women will experience the loss of their much-desired little ones due to extreme malnutrition. Even HG mothers who do not lose their precious babes will often go into preterm labor and have to see their babies struggle for life for weeks or months in the NICU.
Hyperemesis does not discriminate. It does not care about a woman's age, race, social status, number of previous pregnancies, health prior to pregnancy, how hard she tried to get pregnant, or how much she desires her pregnancy. It also does not effect every woman the same way. While most HG patients throw up 10+ times a day (even up to and exceeding 50 times in a single 24 hour period), some women experience nausea to such an extreme that it is impossible to eat or drink anything.
As you can imagine, HG is a very dark and trying time for the sufferers and those close to them. Often times, when someone we care about is suffering from something that we don't understand, we find ourselves spouting things we mean to be helpful, but can actually be detrimental to the mental or even physical well-being of the person we love. So, instead of giving you a list of what NOT to say, I would like to present you with a list of things you CAN say to help an HG sufferer.
1. "I'm so sorry that you are suffering."
Simply acknowledging that the woman in your life experiencing HG will provide validation for how she's feeling. Making suggestions on ways to minimize or eliminate HG symptoms are not only generally futile, but tends to invalidate how the sufferer feels. Believe me, she's tried everything you can think of before you could suggest it, anyway. This simple statement is full of empathy and love, and will make a HUGE difference to the woman you love.
2. "What can I do to help?"
When I say that HG is debilitating, that barely scratches the surface. When I was in the most acute stages of HG and not in the hospital, I was confined to my bed. I could barely make it to the bathroom to heave, much less care for my toddler or normal household upkeep. I wore the same clothes for days on end because I didn't have the energy to move that much. If you are close enough, being even more specific is even better. Most women feel like they're failing in their roles as wives and mothers, and are hesitant to ask for assistance in any way. Asking things like, "Can I do your dishes/laundry for you," or "When would you like me to watch your child(ren) for you?" will take the weight off her shoulders of having to ask for specific help.
3. "What are your safe foods and drinks?"
Most women with HG will have a few things that they can stomach, though this is not always the case, and safe foods and drinks can change from day to day or week to week. These RARELY include ginger or crackers (seriously, PLEASE do not offer an HG sufferer ginger or crackers unless she asks for them). Common safe drinks are colas and slushies, though it's important to keep in mind this is not always the case. And, for the love of all that is holy, please keep any opinion of these safe foods to yourself. As someone who is generally a "clean eater," I am less than happy that for 2 weeks my safe food/drink combo was Reese's peanut butter cups and fountain root beer.
(Also, if she says, "nothing," please do not insist that she eats. Trust me, she wants to, but forcing the issue will only serve to make her feel worse and can cause her to get sick if she caves to your insistence.)
4. "What would you like me to use to clean your bathroom for you?"
Women with HG generally spend a majority of their time in the bathroom. Often times, they have so little energy between vomiting spells that they will sleep on the bathroom floor. As you can imagine, it gets pretty gross pretty fast. Cleaning the bathroom for her will lift her spirits tremendously! It is important to ask what kind of cleaners to use, though, as certain scents can actually trigger her into more vomiting/nausea spells.
5. "What are your triggers?"
A trigger is anything that causes a sufferer's symptoms to get worse. Knowing these triggers can help you help her. Common triggers can include (but are not limited to): scents, light, noise, movement, and even people. For me, the light, noise, and movement of the tv made me super ill. The normal activity of my toddler, Bean, running around the house made me hurl. The normal scent of my husband, Bear, (which I usually love) made me dizzy with nausea. The thought of some of my favorite meals sent me running (crawling) to the bathroom. As with safe foods, triggers vary from woman to woman and from day to day, so it's important to know those of your specific loved one.
6. "You have made it ___ weeks!"
As I'm sure you can imagine, HG is a very isolating, depressing, lonely, time-elongating disease. Minutes seem like hours, and a day feels like eternity. Instead of reminding her how much longer she has to go, cheer her on by reminding her how much she has accomplished already! And making it through another day IS a huge accomplishment.
7. "How are you feeling today?"
One of the most frustrating things for me has been people asking me if I feel better yet, and having to tell them no. HG is not a flu, or a cold. Approximately half of all HG sufferers will begin to find relief from some or even all of their symptoms around 16-20 weeks into their pregnancy. Many of them will relapse later in their pregnancy, and the rest will suffer the whole way through. Asking if I felt better yet was a constant reminder that, no, I did not. However, being asked how I felt that day would allow me to share what I was dealing with at that moment without the added pressure of thinking that I should be "feeling better by now."
8. "You are doing everything right."
Yes, she's drinking soda and eating junk food. Yes, she's taking a cocktail of controversial drugs to stay alive. Yes, she is in the hospital every couple days for fluids and infusions. And everything she's doing, she's doing to SURVIVE; and, therefore, SHE'S DOING THE RIGHT THING.
For more information on Hyperemesis Gravidarum, and ways you can help, please visit www.HelpHER.org and www.beyondmorningsickness.com.
*It has been brought to my attention that the word "Gravidarum" is correctly translated as "in pregnancy." My description was not meant to be literal, but I don't wish to confuse anyone, either. While not literal, I will be keeping my original statement, because that is how I (and most HG sufferers/survivors) feel. (:
Mama Bear of one Baby Bear, Bean, who both love Papa Bear, and live in a crafty, gluten-free cozy den.