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20th Sep 2017

An Irish woman tells us of her experience with Hyperemesis Gravidarum

"It's bizarre how different every pregnancy can be".

Cathy Donohue

Hyperemesis Gravidarum

Kensington Palace recently announced that Kate Middleton is expecting her third child.

It’s believed that the pregnancy was announced early because the Duchess of Cambridge is again suffering from Hyperemesis Gravidarum (HG), a condition that causes extreme morning sickness and one that Kate also suffered from during her previous two pregnancies.

This prompted us here at Her Family to pen an article on Hyperemesis and how it can impact women in various ways, with some experiencing mild forms of HG and others having to be hospitalised numerous times as they are unable to keep food down.

Sharon Canavan was one of the women who commented on this article to discuss how much this affected her during pregnancy and so we contacted Sharon to tell us her story in full.

Tell me about your experience with HG

It was awful. I knew I was pregnant before even having to do a test because the vomiting started. I thought I had a bug at first, but after two weeks of getting sick every day, I knew I was pregnant. I had my booking-in appointment with my midwife at eight weeks. I fainted while having my bloods taken and was transferred to A&E by ambulance. After a course of IV fluids, I was discharged home to rest, dehydrated and exhausted. This continued the whole way through the pregnancy. I was sick morning, noon and night and would even wake up getting sick.

It got to the point that I was afraid to eat anything, or I’d eat things that I knew were easier to get back up because everything came back up. I tried to get on with it. I went about my day as best I could when I had the energy, you do what you have to do when you’re a Mam, but it definitely took its toll.

Although it’s different for everyone, can you describe what it was like to go through for you personally?

Physically, it was draining. I had an energetic toddler, who didn’t stop. There were days I didn’t have the energy to stand up, let alone carry him downstairs, so I’d hear him calling from his bed in the morning, and I’d crawl to his room and lay on his floor with him playing around me till my husband came home from work.

Hyperemesis Gravidarum

I lost 11KG from my eight-week booking in appointment to my six-week postpartum check-up. I was having scans every three weeks to make sure Daithí was ok. At one stage, I lost 1KG between scans, but he had gained 1.5KG, so I was in negative weight.

Emotionally, it was even more challenging. There were people (I’m talking family as well as strangers) who would scold me for feeling down and constantly remind me that I was lucky to be pregnant and that women would kill to be in my shoes.

Whatever about how physically draining it was, it was the emotional stress that I found worse. Sometimes you just need to acknowledge that things aren’t going according to plan, and you’re allowed to deal with that. I stopped talking about how I felt and would play down my symptoms because it was easier than having to listen to everyone.

Did HG continue for your entire pregnancy?

Yes, from day one, until after Daithí was born. I had a cup of tea and some toast about an hour after he was born, and within minutes had vomited it back up. I didn’t eat then until the next morning, and was fine!! The muscle damage from the constant retching and vomiting is still evident and took a few months for the pain to die down.

Were you hospitalised and if so, for how long?

Yes, in total I spent six weeks in the hospital. I was taken by ambulance twice. I fainted three times and had countless spells of such low blood pressure that I almost passed out. Daithí’s heart rate would drop every time my blood pressure did and I was rushed to the labour ward twice, fearing an early delivery would be necessary.

A midwife explained that there was nothing in my system to keep me going, so my body went into survival mode. Pulling resources from the extremities and just focusing on the vitals. It was like turning a computer off and on again. I’d get blurred vision, get dizzy and have to sit down. Then when my body realised I was ok, I would slowly be able to start doing things again.

Hyperemesis Gravidarum

What treatment were you given/offered? 

I was given every pill under the sun, but I’d puke them up as soon as I swallowed them. It was only when I was in the hospital and was given anti-sickness medicated Cyclizine through an IV that it made any difference. I would still retch, but I was able to keep small amounts of food down. I was given IV fluids daily while in hospital, and every week or two throughout the pregnancy.

Everyone who heard I was sick thought their home remedies would be the answer; ginger biscuits, crackers, flat 7up. When in reality I couldn’t even hold down my own saliva. If one more person suggested a dry cream cracker and I’d had the strength, I’d have killed them.

One of the more bizarre suggestions was to crawl around the house like a cat, apparently mimicking what a pregnant cat does, as that would stop me getting sick. In my desperation, I tried it…needless to say, it did not work.

How many children do you have? Did HG happen through all of your pregnancies?

This was my second pregnancy. I had a mild version of Hyperemesis from 20-42 weeks on my first pregnancy, but on my second it started from day one. I am now 32 weeks into my third, and I haven’t been sick. It’s bizarre how different every pregnancy can be. This pregnancy was a bit of a surprise, I definitely never would have intentionally tried to get pregnant so soon, after how awful the last one was.

Did you have to take time off work? If so, how much did it interfere with your job?

Yes, I had to come out of work, I was signed off with long-term sickness, and depression. This meant I had to start my maternity leave early. I ended up being made redundant the week Daithí was born. It wasn’t a fair move on the part of my employer, but I didn’t have the mental or emotional capacity at the time to fight it. My husband also had to come out of work for a month to mind Fionn while I was in the hospital.

Hyperemesis Gravidarum

What advice would you offer other women with Hyperemesis?

Push for a diagnosis. Doctors, especially male are too quick to dismiss us, so you sometimes need to shout to have your voice heard. Report everything. Keep a sickness diary if you must, and show it to every health care professional you see.

Also, seek out support. Preferably from people who have experienced it. It is very hard for people to understand unless they’ve lived it. From my experience, although often said with the best of intentions, some people’s ‘support’ and ‘advice’ can make you feel worse.

Do you think there is enough support available in Ireland for women with HG? How do you think this can be improved even further?

I am currently living in the UK, but I know from FB support groups, there is nowhere near enough support for women in either country. I think awareness among health care professionals as well as the general public is the best way forward. HG is not just morning sickness. It’s not just an inconvenient part of pregnancy. It’s debilitating and potentially dangerous. In extreme cases, it can cause irreversible damage and needs to be taken seriously. Women’s health, especially maternal health, in Ireland has been treated appallingly, and I think that is the root of the issue.  

Hyperemesis Gravidarum

Had you heard about Hyperemesis before you experienced it personally?

Only that Kate Middleton had it with Prince George a few months before I got pregnant with Fionn, I had never heard of it before. I don’t think a lot of people had. I’m glad she’s being open about it, and not pretending everything is ok. I don’t know if it’s the case of another taboo subject relating to pregnancy, like miscarriage or fertility issues, or depression, that we’re not supposed to talk about but the more people who do, the easier it will be for others.

Sharon has documented her birth story in full on her blog where she also describes life with two children and a third on the way. If you know anyone suffering from HG or simply want to read up on it, Hyperemesis Ireland is a charity established to help women suffering from the condition. You can contact them here.