Every time the British royal family announced Kate Middleton’s previous pregnancies, it was always coupled with news that she was taking time off from her royal duties due to Hyperemesis Gravidarum (HG), commonly described as ‘severe morning sickness’.
This is a topic close to my heart, because I too, suffer from Hyperemesis Gravidarum. Coincidentally, both my pregnancies were around the same time as the duchess’ pregnancies with Prince George and Princess Charlotte. In a way, I was relieved that such a famous person was going through it because it made it easier to explain to others, especially to my colleagues. I would say “I have Hyperemesis, you know, that thing that Kate Middleton has”.
Hyperemesis- more than just severe morning sickness
According to the Hyperemesis Education & Research Centre , HG is characterised by weight loss, malnutrition and dehydration due to severe vomiting and/or nausea during pregnancy. While doctors typically associate HG with heightened hCG hormone level, there isn’t any conclusive research that can fully explain the cause of HG, for example, why only one in 100 women has this condition.
As with other health conditions, HG comes in varying degrees. In my case, the vomiting started at week 8 of the pregnancy when it was still tolerable at three times a day. But at around weeks 8 to 12, HG became apparent as I threw up everything I ate and drank, and when there was nothing left to vomit, I would vomit bile. That was about 4 weeks of what seemed like a vomit fest! It left me depleted of all energy, and my days would just see me drift in and out of sleep. I was also completely dependant on an IV drip for hydration and nutritional support for myself and the growing baby.
Between weeks 13 to 15, I was discharged to recover at home, where the vomiting was reduced to around three times a day with the help of anti-vomit drugs.
Hyperemesis also completely wrecked me emotionally, especially during the second pregnancy because I couldn’t function as a mum to my firstborn, who was only a year old at the time. I missed caring for her and needless to say, she turned from ‘team mummy’ to ‘team daddy’.
Since not many people around me know about HG and the extent that it can do, much less how to deal with a person going through it, I hope the following can shed some light to help other mums going through this ordeal.
Things not to say to a person going through HG:
1) “It’s all in the mind, don’t give in to the sickness” (or in Malay,“Jangan layan sangat sakit tu”).
Let me tell you first hand that it is not in the mind. It is the freaking hormones going haywire and making you vomit everything, leaving you drained of any energy. It is not overplay. Saying these things will only make us feel like we don’t possess strong will-power, or that we want to drown ourselves in pity.
The suffering is real. You can’t just get up and get on with your day when you haven’t had sufficient food or drink for weeks. Trust me, nobody wants to stay in bed for weeks and puke out stomach acid that burns their entire esophagus. Nobody!
2) “When I had morning sickness, ginger tea and plain crackers helped me to stop vomiting”.
Yes, that may help the usual morning sickness, but it won’t do anything to a person with HG. Of course, there are varying degrees to the ordeal. Some mothers will be extremely dehydrated and need to be hospitalised. Some may be able to control the vomiting with the help of prescribed drugs. But what’s certain is that crackers and ginger tea (and anything else) will only end up in the puke bucket five minutes later.
So how do you help a HG mum during this difficult phase?
The two most important things to someone with HG:
An understanding & supportive husband
My first pregnancy was probably just as challenging for my husband as it was for me. Neither of us knew how long the HG would last and how bad it could get. He sometimes got tired of cleaning up my puke bucket and asked me to stop throwing up, as though it was within my control.
But after going through the whole episode, he became a pro during my second pregnancy. He also read up a lot more about it and understood how difficult it was for me.
He always reminded me that this ordeal would end after a few months and at the end of it, we would be rewarded with a cute little baby.
A HG husband needs to be there emotionally for the wife, as negative thoughts will often cloud her mind. I remember blaming my husband for this ordeal, being the one who impregnated me, as though I wasn’t part of the equation. And to be brutally honest, the thought of terminating the pregnancy did come to mind. I read that other HG mums often felt that way too.
During this difficult time, it is crucial for a husband to remind his wife that her suffering is just temporary, and that there will great blessings and rewards from God for enduring such trials.
Words of encouragement from friends and family
I remember crying after the doctor did an ultrasound and told me the baby was growing fine despite my condition. I cried to my aunt who came to visit, because I didn’t feel at all happy to know that the baby was okay. I felt that it was the baby’s fault that I got so sick. Yes, it’s weird what hormones can do to you.
My aunt reminded me that there are a lot of people who wish they could have a child. She said singer Siti Nurhaliza (who at that point had not announced her pregnancy) would have done anything to have what I have, so I had to be strong and thankful. That made me smile, and our conversation made quite an impression on me.
It is important to have family members and friends to remind you to be strong and see the bigger picture, because depression is common among HG sufferers.
Support during HG
When I shared on Facebook that I was going through Hyperemesis Gravidarum, friends who had experienced it before reached out to me. They were good confidants and helped me feel normal. Sometimes, all your friends can say is “We feel you, hang in there,” but it does make a difference. If necessary, connect with Hyperemesis Gravidarum support groups on Facebook. It helps to talk to women who have been through it.
It is my hope that more people are aware of HG and how it goes beyond just being about morning sickness. When I heard about Kate Middleton’s third pregnancy, my first thought was “Was it an accident?”. I could not – cannot – imagine anyone wanting to go through HG for the third time!
But mums are crazy like that. We will go through anything for our babies.
So to all Kate Middletons out there, from one HG sufferer to another, hang in there. All will be worth it when you breathe in that newborn baby smell, and see your baby smiling at you!
By Farah Bashir
Farah Bashir used to drive the National Transformation Programme as a management consultant, but has since put away her power suits to be a stay-at-home mum to two lovely girls. Some days, she wonders why she traded intelligent problem-solving debates for negotiations with a toddler about changing diapers.