When the Doctor Becomes the Patient
Severe hyperemesis gravidarum (HG) requiring hospitalization typically occurs in up to 3% of pregnancies. But sadly, there is still a lack of knowledge regarding HG, even within the field of medicine, with many brushing it off as ”a mindset.” As a doctor, I have seen patients with HG many times before. Yet, I never fully understood the profound effect this disease can have until I went through it myself.
So, I would like to start by affirming what many others in the medical profession have not—HG is not morning sickness. Furthermore, common morning sickness remedies do not work with HG. I was devastated by this disease, not just physically but mentally and psychosocially. This is my story of surviving severe hyperemesis gravidarum.
A Double Blessing— Then Hyperemesis Gravidarum Strikes Hard
After a three and a half-year infertility journey, we were celebrating getting through our first round of IVF and being blessed with twins when HG started in week five.
From week six onwards, I was in and out of the hospital for severe dehydration, abnormal liver tests that lasted until postpartum, and persistent ketones in my urine. All this, despite the pints and pints of IV drips I was getting. Basically, my body was in starvation mode.
Traumatized by my first two hospital admissions, I refused to go back to the hospital and made my husband, who is also a doctor, give me infusions at home. Thank God for him because he insisted that I go to the hospital again and again when I couldn’t even keep water down, let alone eat anything.
Hyperemesis Gravidarum with Twins
Despite the popular belief that HG lasts for only one trimester, my symptoms lasted ALL THE WAY until my babies were born by C-section. I lost almost 20 kgs during the first few weeks and only managed to put four kgs back on during the rest of my pregnancy.
I could barely eat anything at all until the last few weeks. The twins practically survived on Ondansetron (Zofran) and Nexium, not to mention all of the other meds, vitamins, and supplements.
Once, I actually counted the scars on my hands and arms. I had endured at least 30 IV catheters stuck into me, not counting the frequent blood taking. One time, when my urine ketones were very high, my husband could no longer find any veins for an IV. I remember crying and begging him to find one because I did not want to be admitted again. Finally, he managed to get one measly IV line in my arm on his seventh attempt. I have a high pain threshold, but by that point, I had practically lost all sensation of pain in my arms due to the repeated poking and prodding.
The Mental Toll of Hyperemesis Gravidarum
A twin pregnancy, by itself, can be extremely exhausting and fraught with issues and complications. When combined with HG, it becomes debilitating, and I spent eight months being confined indoors. Becoming weak, losing my independence, and requiring help to carry out the simplest activities — my mental health deteriorated. There were times I needed help taking a bath and even walking.
As someone who loves food, I looked forward to indulging in pregnancy cravings. It was extremely depressing not to have a single craving, not to be able to eat at all. Cooking and baking were a big part of my life, and I could not even step into the kitchen.
Each week, I was counting down to the end of the pregnancy, and there were times when I truly felt like dying.
I blamed myself, even though my doctor reassured me that it was not anything I had or had not done.
A Support System Makes All the Difference
I will be forever grateful for the IV fluids and medications that helped me make it through this ordeal. But I also could not have made it without my very supportive and empathetic spouse. He basically became not only my full-time caretaker but my understanding doctor, who did not once ask me to “try ginger”!
I was supported in other ways as well. I joined an HG support group on Facebook. I had the benefit of a friend who went through HG in both of her pregnancies, and she provided much encouragement and comfort. I also had amazing parents, who dropped everything to come to care for me, and friends and family who constantly checked in and sent prayers. All of these helped me hold on.
Learn more: Support for Mothers & Families
The Lasting Effects
This experience has definitely increased my empathy towards those with difficult pregnancies. And it’s true what they say: the moment the babies are out, the symptoms go away. I have gotten my appetite and some weight back. My elevated liver tests have resolved, and my reflux symptoms are down to a bare minimum.
Yet, the effects of HG linger. I still occasionally experience anxiety when I think about those pregnancy days, and it’s something that I hope never to relive again.