I Lost So Much Weight During Pregnancy Due to Hyperemesis Gravidarum
Sixty-three pounds. That's the weight I lost during both my pregnancies combined. I dropped 41 pounds during my first, and 22 pounds in my second. While I heard compliments and praise of my ability to lose weight while carrying my children, the truth is it was far from intentional. I had hyperemesis gravidarum (HG), a condition that affects less than 2 percent of pregnancies. It causes debilitating nausea and vomiting, dehydration, severe fatigue, and ultimately, weight loss.
When I received confirmation of my second pregnancy, I recall a feeling of sudden panic since there's a high risk for recurrence. After surviving HG throughout my first pregnancy and losing so many pounds, I wasn't sure I could do it again. So many thoughts began racing through my mind: "How will I care for my daughter? Am I strong enough do this again? What if it's worse this time and the baby doesn't make it?"
I took a deep breath and prepared myself for the worst while I tried to stay positive. I delivered the news to my husband, who experienced a similar wave of emotions. Even so, he responded with an uncertain smile and some halfhearted words of encouragement.
I'm happy to say we're now the proud parents of two very healthy children (aged 3 and 1), and they didn't suffer adverse effects as a result of my weight loss or malnutrition. But to put it simply: my pregnancies were two of the most traumatizing moments of my life.
The truth about hyperemesis gravidarum
HG is nothing like typical morning sickness. My nausea was constant from morning to night. Even the thought of food or a sip of water made me vomit. On the worst days, breathing too deeply triggered waves of severe nausea and gagging that seemed impossible to overcome. In spite of this constant feeling of sickness, my empty stomach would rumble constantly, begging for food. On many days, my husband would return from work and find me still in bed, unable to muster up the strength to do anything aside from crawl to my en suite to throw up every 20 to 30 minutes.
Showering often made me feel as though I was going to faint; baths made me feel like I was battling giant waves at sea; and lifting my arm to brush my hair or my teeth was too much motion to handle.
During my first pregnancy, I spent many nights in the hospital receiving fluids intravenously. Most of those visits involved nurses taking turns trying to find a vein to insert my IV into. I was so dehydrated, it took them what seemed an eternity to find a viable one.
While I was lucky enough to have an OB-GYN who was familiar with HG and knew the best course of action to treat my symptoms, many nurses and doctors I encountered during my visits to the emergency room were far less educated on the subject. On one occasion, an admitting nurse informed me that "everyone has morning sickness and it's not a big deal." On another, a doctor advised me to buy acupressure wristbands and eat crackers in the morning to combat my nausea. If you've ever experienced HG, you know this suggestion is far from reasonable.
The physical effects of HG are horrible, but the psychological effects are often just as bad. Studies have shown depression, anxiety, and posttraumatic stress (PTSS) are possible complications. I luckily didn't experience any of those, but the social alienation I felt throughout my first pregnancy was palpable.
I had to quit my job when I was 20 weeks pregnant and missed countless days of work prior to that. Many trusted friends and family members wrote me off as a drama queen. One went so far as to tell me I "just wanted to be like Kate Middleton and I should stop complaining so much." When I stopped responding to phone calls and text messages due to my complete lack of energy, some wrote me off completely.
Dealing with the complications
More than a year after the birth of my youngest child, I'm still hypersensitive to smells and experience bouts of unexplained severe vomiting on a fairly regular basis. But it's really nothing compared to what I dealt with during my second pregnancy.
On the advice of my OB-GYN, I started my medication regimen early in my second pregnancy. There are several medications that doctors frequently prescribe to combat the symptoms of HG. Diclegis is the most common, as it's approved by the FDA for the prevention of nausea in pregnant women. Doctors may also resort to prescribing other antiemetics, such as Zofran and Reglan. Both of these medications are known to cause constipation. When combined with other factors such as pregnancy hormones, dehydration, and a low-fiber (or no food at all) diet, that constipation can become chronic and lead to hemorrhoids. Or in my case, the hemorrhoid to end all hemorrhoids.
After several visits to the hospital and no less than 15 medical students and residents visiting my treatment rooms to "get a look at this thing," I was finally admitted to the colorectal unit of my local hospital for surgery. My short surgery was torture. I was unable to receive general anesthesia due to the risk it could cause to the baby. My only option was to receive a spinal block, which is administered in the same way as an epidural. I was instantly paralyzed from the waist down.
Once the feeling in my rear end slowly returned after surgery, the pain I felt was unlike anything I've ever experienced. I spent the following four days hospitalized, the nurses pumping me full of fluids, antiemetics, and strong painkillers. It took six weeks to completely heal after I returned home.
Finding the right help
I recognized the signs of HG early in my pregnancies. (Chronic nausea and dehydration, frequent vomiting, and inability to gain weight after the first trimester, which usually leads to losing more than 5 percent of pre-pregnancy weight.)
My mother, who suffered from it when she carried me, instantly encouraged me to visit the doctor. My family doctor wrote me a prescription for Diclegis and referred me to an OB-GYN who was instrumental in my battles against HG. She recommended reasonable courses of action to treat my symptoms, which included Zofran, bed rest, and any food I could stand to eat, whenever I could eat it. She never judged or belittled me, and instead acted as my ally.
She was always honest about her concerns regarding my condition like how it was affecting my electrolytes and kidney function, and how it might affect my baby. I learned my inability to gain adequate weight during pregnancy could lead to premature birth and a low birth weight, which can result in lifelong health problems. But she was cautious to explain the risks without causing panic.
Unfortunately, many women struggle to find medical professionals who understand HG like my OB-GYN did. If you've been diagnosed with HG or think you may have it and aren't satisfied with the care you're receiving, I encourage you to access this database of HG-friendly doctors. It's maintained by the HER Foundation, which exists to increase awareness of the illness and to provide those suffering from HG with access to resources and support.