I remember the first time I threw up while pregnant. I was only four or five weeks along, but the nausea had been unrelenting for days. I would wake up with it, feel it in the back of my throat all day, and then crawl into bed with it still hanging on. Every single smell was overwhelming, whether it was perfume or a garbage can. I was constantly gagging, then dry heaving until my stomach muscles ached.
When it finally led to actual vomiting, I was relieved and strangely excited. Morning sickness! I’d read that it was a sign of a healthy pregnancy. As awful as I felt, I took it as a positive indication and started counting down the weeks until I hit my second trimester when this feeling would surely end. Twelve weeks was the magic number, everyone around me agreed. Once that milestone was hit, everything would be fine.
Twelve weeks came and passed. It wasn’t fine.
My growing baby was healthy, fortunately, but I was not. Somewhere around the sixth or seventh week of my pregnancy, I started vomiting upwards of ten times a day. The number climbed to twenty, and some days, even higher. I stopped counting, but I never stopped throwing up. This was a substantial feat, considering I was barely able to eat or drink through my nausea. I couldn’t work, I couldn’t socialize, I couldn’t even go to the grocery store. I took to lying on the bathroom floor because it was comfortingly cold and close enough to the toilet that I’d usually make it when the vomiting started. Nothing helped.
Reactions to my condition usually centered around unsolicited advice, most of which was repeated until I wanted to scream. Yes, I had tried ginger/crackers/soda water/everything. I had one of those sea bands. I knew about pressure points, sucking on ice cubes, and that sour candies sometimes helped. I was also on 8 diclectin a day and still throwing up. By week 16 of my pregnancy, I had lost around 20 lbs and was dizzy from low blood pressure and a lack of caloric intake. “You look great!” one relative enthused when I saw her, my face grey. “You’re so lucky—you don’t even look pregnant.” I didn’t feel pregnant, either—I felt like I had the worst food poisoning anyone had ever had, constantly, for months on end. It carried onto into the fifth month, and then the sixth. I was a wreck, and no one could tell me why or when it would stop.
My days were spent curled in a ball on the couch or bed, the lights down low. I rarely left the house, and when I did, I often threw up in public or ended up lying down in strange places to avoid passing out. As a freelance writer, I didn’t have an office to go to daily or even steady responsibilities at a job. I let my clients know that I was having a difficult pregnancy and essentially stopped working. At 25 and 26 years old, my husband and I weren’t rolling in money—we’d just paid off my student loans a few months prior – but we made it work.
Occasionally, I’d have a good day—or even a good couple of hours—and would convince myself that I’d turned a corner. During the seventh month of my pregnancy, I started throwing up dramatically less and gained a few pounds. I ate simple meals, did some Christmas shopping on my own and got a haircut for the first time in ages. I felt human again. It felt like a miracle, but it was short-lived. Sometime during the eighth month, the vomiting increased again. It lasted until my daughter was born. Apparently, the actual magic number that cured my “morning sickness” wasn’t twelve weeks – it was nine months.
My daughter was just over five pounds when she was born, but she was healthy and strong. She was also sweet, smart, adorable and made motherhood seem like the easiest thing in the world…which explains how I was pregnant again ten months after her birth.
Kate Middleton suffered from Hyperemesis Gravidarum during all three of her pregnancies
The HG came back, though I willed it not to. I was violently ill again, but this time, I couldn’t lie on the bathroom floor all day or sleep when I needed to. I had a baby who needed me to take care of her in every way. I took to lying on the playroom floor with a bowl beside me, my daughter playing happily with her toys while I threw up and then cried.
My doctor approved a dose of up to 10 diclectin a day, but the pills made me fall asleep and I couldn’t stop vomiting. I tore a stomach muscle and popped a blood vessel near my eye. By week ten, I was weak and losing weight again. My husband used up most of his vacation days taking care of our daughter while I was too sick to function. The smell of my daughter’s shampoo, diapers, and baby food made me throw up. Everything did.
I had a particularly bad week and was hospitalized for dehydration. Lying in the hospital, on IV fluids and Zofran to stop the vomiting, I cried again. This was not how I had imagined pregnancy. Even after the first time, I had held out hope for a smoother ride with baby #2. Instead, it was so much worse. I felt naïve, stupid and helpless, comforted only by the knowledge that this would end when the baby was born.
We hired a babysitter to help care for my daughter during those last few months. She was wonderful, but I was jealous of their time together and each giggle hit me like a ton of bricks. I wanted to be the one making my daughter laugh! My heart was broken and physically, I felt like my body was shutting down. Friends and relatives continued to offer me ginger. More than one person told me stories about how they were nauseous during their pregnancies, too, but “pushed on through”. I wondered if they ever threw up so hard they peed their pants like I did.
The final weeks of my pregnancy were a blur, but I know I had a lot of help. The anti-nausea drugs made me want to sleep all day (a common side effect) and I was still having violent episodes of illness. I was missing out on precious time with my one-year-old daughter and I had no idea how I’d ever get my career back on track after dropping clients twice in two years. I survived on Booster Juice and Iced Capps, sipped slowly between pops of diclectin. And then finally, it was over—a healthy baby boy, and a healthy me. It was almost instant.
The term “hyperemesis gravidarum” wasn’t used by my doctors until late in my second pregnancy. Until then, I was treated for “nausea and vomiting in pregnancy”—a term that downplayed the severity of my experience and created a sense of shame around my inability to function. I hid away from the world, tired of the advice and the subtle digs from those who didn’t understand. I put my head down quietly and waited for it to be over.
My children are the greatest thing that has ever happened to me, but my pregnancies were traumatic, isolating events. When I heard snarky comments about Princess Kate milking her “morning sickness” it hit me in the gut because I’ve been there and it doesn’t matter who you are. She’s probably been as weak, scared and sick as I was, and no amount of money or privilege can stop that. Her mom guilt is just as real as mine.
I am thankful every day for my kids and would go through HG again in a heartbeat to have them, but I have also chosen to never get pregnant again—I can’t do that to myself or my family.
It’s no joke, and it’s not morning sickness. But thankfully, it comes with an expiration date and a baby at the end.