I was 18 years old when I visited Florida for a two-week holiday of sunshine and theme parks. I could never have imagined that by week two I would become extremely ill and that this would only be the beginning.
At first, I assumed that I was suffering from sun stroke but my vomiting was relentless and I soon contacted a doctor, who visited me at my hotel room. It was the doctor who suggested that I might be pregnant and her suspicions were soon confirmed: I was 5 weeks pregnant. I spent the remainder of that second week recovering from the shock of this news, whilst confined to the bed in my hotel room on intravenous fluids. This was the first time I had ever heard of the illness known as hyperemesis gravidarum.
Although I was told that I may not be able to fly home to England on my scheduled flight, I summoned up some strength at the end of that week and made it home to my parents. But it didn’t end there. Soon after returning home, I was admitted into hospital with severe sickness. My hospital stays became the norm throughout the whole of my pregnancy and I spent most of those miserable months confined to a hospital bed on IV fluids and anti-sickness injections.
Different anti-sickness drugs were administered in attempts to ease the sickness. These included cyclizine and stemetil. However, cyclizine proved ineffective and stemetil triggered a frightening reaction; I experienced abnormal movements of my jaw and body and found myself hurling my body from one side of the bed to the other. This is a rare side effect of stemetil, known as tardive dyskinsea. To treat this, I was given another injection, and the side effect of this was vomiting.
Rapid weight-loss, combined with constant weakness, dehydration and feeling faint, eventually led to a treatment of steroids, and I spent the remainder of my pregnancy taking those. Nonetheless, my sickness persisted. I remained bedbound and isolated. Simple tasks, such as showering and walking became very difficult to carry out unaided, and depression set in.
Even swallowing my own saliva would result in severe fits of vomiting. In fact, from so much extreme heaving, my left lung became damaged, causing surgical emphysema. At this point, I experienced shortness of breath and air became trapped under my skin along the left side of my body. I remember my blind panic when a team of doctors surrounded my bed to discuss my condition and when it was explained that surgery may be needed, which would cause me to lose my baby. After a long time of careful observation, it was finally agreed that I would not need surgery and the air bubbles under my skin gradually began to disappear.
After months of suffering, I gave birth to a healthy baby boy. I vomited right up to the moment I gave birth, and Jack was born on 26th October 2004.
Five years later, I became pregnant with my second child. I was unsure if I would endure the same experience – I’d been previously advised that no two pregnancies are the same – but HG took over, once again, in the fifth or sixth week of my pregnancy.
Hospital once more became my home away from home, and I struggled to look after myself and Jack. On top of this, I will never forget the poor treatment that I endured in the care of one particular midwife. In her ignorance, she would make jibes at me, suggesting that my illness was no more than ordinary morning sickness; she would open my bed curtains wide during visiting times when I would be retching and in desperate need of privacy; she would offer tablets as my only source of anti-sickness drug (as opposed to injections) when I could not keep tablets down. But the incident that remains with me as clear as day is when she brought me to the restroom in a wheelchair and forgot to come back for me.
After a while, I didn’t think I could go through with this pregnancy. A consultant discussed with my mother what could be done and, together, they convinced me that the best course of action was to be placed under the guidance of a dietician and to move back to my parents’ home for the remainder of my pregnancy. There, my mother looked after both myself and Jack, offering us her full care and attention. She would look after me in the brief intervals between my hospital stays, washing and dressing me, and offering words of encouragement to eat and drink small amounts and to move around the house.
I was also prescribed an anti-sickness drug known as Ondansetron (Zofran). This was much more powerful than other drugs I’d previously been given and, although it didn’t stop my suffering, it made it slightly more bearable.
I remember walking outside in December 2009 – my first venture outdoors since I’d discovered I was pregnant three months earlier – and I was in awe of the Christmas decorations in shop windows and found myself wondering how I hadn’t noticed Christmas approaching. I remember this as my one moment of complete bliss amid my HG ordeal.
I continued to battle with HG throughout this pregnancy, but on 6th June 2010 I gave birth to my second healthy baby boy, Caidan.
My two beautiful little boys were worth every moment of my HG suffering. But the lack of understanding that I experienced from so many people, including health-care professionals, combined with the limited treatment available for HG women, was and is very unsettling. Now that I have the strength to take some action, I want to offer something to anyone who has and who continues to suffer with this dreadful condition. I would like to raise awareness of HG and to fundraise in the name of Hyperemesis education and research, in the hope that one day others won’t need to suffer like I did.
My partner, Gary, and I will be taking a Leap4HER during a sky-dive on 16TH August 2014. We hope that by doing so, we will achieve our aim to raise awareness and to raise funds that we can contribute to The HER Foundation and all the amazing work that they do.