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What It’s Really Like for Women Struggling with Hyperemesis Gravidarum

Earlier this week, news came from Kensington Palace that the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge — AKA Will and Kate — are expecting a third royal baby. Almost immediately, the world erupted in a collective squeal. But while the news is no doubt good news all-round, for Kate, just getting through the pregnancy part is going to be harder than one might expect.

That’s because along with the announcement of her third pregnancy came the admission that Kate is once again suffering from hyperemesis gravidarum, otherwise known as severe morning sickness. Yet even though news of her HG made headlines before during her two previous pregnancies, there’s still a lot about the condition that many don’t know.

For starters, HG isn’t just a harder than usual bout of morning queasiness — it’s characterized by excessive nausea and vomiting which often leads to dehydration, weight loss, and/or malnourishment during pregnancy. According to recent studies, it’s estimated that about 1-3 percent of pregnant women with experience the condition. And while that number may sound small, the American Pregnancy  estimated that far more cases go unreported. In the worst cases of HG, women often need to be hospitalized or receive home health care to continuously rehydrate them and/or provide proper nourishment to the fetus via a feeding tube through their pregnant belly.

I know the intensity of HG all too well myself. Like Kate, I also suffered from HG during each of my pregnancies; and it wasn’t just uncomfortable, it was downright terrifying. In the worst of it, which lasted with both pregnancies until about 16 weeks (when medication finally took effect and allowed me to usually keep down food and water), I could barely lift my head from a pillow or sip water without vomiting it right back up. At times, I felt too weak to walk or even get in the shower and when I did, I often had to lay back down immediately. I threw up every last speck of food and liquid within me, and then dry heaved over the toilet for hours on end. In short, it was hell.

When I was pregnant with my second child, the condition was somehow even worse — and this time, I had a 3-year-old to tend to at the same time. Our everyday lives were totally altered and shaped by it, and doing the bare minimum was all I could muster the energy for. I can’t tell you how many times I drove to pick up my daughter from preschool with a plastic bag in my lap (the most hellish drives of my life), only to return home and turn on the TV for her, as I poured myself a hot bath. That was how we spent weeks 6 to 16 of my pregnancy with her brother. Meanwhile, my husband took to doing all of the grocery shopping and cooking on his own, as being around the sight and smell of food would send me vomiting almost immediately.

I spent so many days crying, not just out of sheer discomfort and nausea, but because I wanted to be there for my child in ways that I couldn’t, no matter how hard I tried to get it together.
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But the worst part wasn’t even the sickness itself. On top of feeling utterly dreadful, and like I couldn’t stand another minute of throwing up my insides, I was also overcome with a terrible, nagging guilt. I couldn’t shake feeling like a horrible mother for not being able to give my daughter the care she needed, at a time she needed it most. Until that point, she had only watched TV or been left to play by herself occasionally, and suddenly, it was becoming her new constant.

I felt like I was turning into a completely different mother; a different person. I spent so many days crying, not just out of sheer discomfort and nausea, but because I wanted to be there for my child in ways that I couldn’t, no matter how hard I tried to get it together.

Every time I hear about Kate Middleton’s HG, whether in her first pregnancy, or now in her third, I can’t help but feel deeply for her. Princess or not, hyperemesis gravidarum isn’t an easy condition for anyone to cope with, especially a mother who already has two children to care for and a long list of obligations. While I know what the experience was like for me, I can’t even begin to imagine what she’s going through and will likely continue to go through for several more weeks, if not longer.

Of course, Kate will receive top notch treatment, and I’m sure she’s surrounded by lots of loving care. But for many women, myself included, medication doesn’t really do much to help with the unrelenting nausea and vomiting. She may just have to suffer with the condition and get through as best she can, until it ultimately decides to relent on its own.

If there’s any silver lining at all to her suffering though, it’s that her struggle continues to raise awareness about a condition that still boggles the medical community and has many who haven’t experienced it first-hand rolling their eyes. Even in 2017, it’s a serious pregnancy condition that’s so misunderstood. I can’t tell you how many times someone told me to just suck on a piece of ginger or eat some saltines (HGers like to refer to this as “getting crackered,” FYI).

Unfortunately, the cure for HG is not so simple. But it seems that only the women who’ve experienced it really understand this hard truth. While care providers are learning more about how to provide better help for those suffering, there’s still no one-size-fits-all cure. Still, increased awareness means more research and better treatment plans for women in need — and hopefully, that will lead to a cure sooner rather than later.

In the meantime, from one HG mom to another, I’ll be sending all the love and strength I have to the princess. Royalty or not, I’m sure she’ll be needing it.

Visit www.HelpHer.org for more information on hyperemesis gravidarum.

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