The first time I ever heard of Hyperemesis Gravidarum was when Kate Middleton announced her first pregnancy. "How awful for her," I thought. This time around, with the news she and Prince William are expecting their third child and she is again suffering from the condition , I know exactly how she feels.
Not long after I found out I was pregnant with my daughter, I started to get sick. At first, I thought it was just the usual morning sickness, an unpleasant but expected side-effect of pregnancy. According to Health Direct Australia, up to 80 percent of women experience some form of morning sickness. But as I rapidly lost weight, it became clear it was something else.
Like Kate Middleton, I had Hyperemesis Gravidarum (HG). It is a pregnancy complication that causes severe nausea and vomiting, leading to dehydration, weight loss, and in severe cases, miscarriage and even organ failure.
HG isn't just bad morning sickness. It's on a whole different scale.
I was diagnosed with HG after I lost more than seven kilos in my first trimester. Even the morning before my daughter was born, I weighed three kilos less than I had when I fell pregnant. For nine months, I struggled to eat, drink and perform even the most basic functions.
While my case wasn't as severe as many others, I was sick up to and including labour. I vomited daily – usually many times – throughout the first two trimesters of my pregnancy. I kept hoping it might end at 12 weeks, 14 weeks, 20 weeks, but it kept going. Even when things got a lot better in the third trimester, I still threw up at least once a week.
My memories of my pregnancy are dotted with all the different places I vomited: on the floor of the doctor's waiting room; in a rubbish bin at the train station; on the side of the road after we pulled over; discreetly, into plastic bags in public places; on the floor of the shower while I was in labour.
And those were on the rare occasions I actually managed to leave the house. For most of the time I was pregnant, I didn't venture very far. It wasn't just that I was afraid I'd vomit in public: I was able to eat very little, so I had no energy at all.
For weeks, my main sustenance was a mix of lemonade and mineral water (straight lemonade was much too rich). It was the only thing I could keep down. On good days, I might be able to eat some toast or mashed potato.
Cleaning my teeth, cooking dinner, even taking the rubbish out: these were fraught tasks that could provoke additional vomiting. It took me three goes, two hospital trips and intravenous Ondansetron – a medication usually given to chemotherapy patients to relieve their nausea – before I could complete the Oral Glucose Tolerance Test, an important test as I have Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome and was at a higher risk of gestational diabetes.
I lost count of the times I stared at a toilet bowl that was full of bright yellow bile, the only thing that had been left in my stomach. Or of the time spent wretching, my stomach convulsing, only there was nothing left to throw up.
I became intimately acquainted with my bathroom floor.
The only permanent casualty, though, was the tooth that had to be removed. It's very common with women with HG to suffer from dental problems as constant vomiting wears teeth down. A few months after my daughter was born, my face ballooned and I wound up in hospital for a weekend with a severe infection.
When I talked to other pregnant women who said they had a little bit of first trimester nausea, I was jealous. Jealous of the fact they were able to enjoy their pregnancies and still drink coffee (even if it was decaf) and go to pregnancy yoga without fear of fainting. I mourned for the joyful, relaxed pregnancy I wouldn't have, but was thankful for the continued health of my baby. It could have been much worse.
Once I gave birth, things were instantly better. That was the one upside to the experience: Compared to pregnancy with HG, having a newborn was a breeze.