The HER Foundation began after my first pregnancy. I started having increasing nausea and vomiting a few weeks after our honeymoon that I thought was due to a stomach ulcer or the flu. I was absolutely shocked when the doctors said I was pregnant. While I was not ready to be pregnant because I had just started graduate school, I was excited to be a mom.
The nausea and vomiting continued to worsen, and I just assumed it was normal morning sickness, but I couldn’t imagine how other people functioned if what I had was morning sickness. The nausea wasn’t just in the morning; it was 24/7 and made it impossible to eat much or drink. I didn’t just vomit a few times and feel better. I would vomit off and on all day until I nearly passed out from suffocation. I would choke on foods when I tried to eat. I could not tolerate motion, noise, or light, and definitely not the sight, thought, or smell of food. I ate very little and what I could eat changed every few days.
HG is more than what they see
My midwife suggested that perhaps since I was not planning to start a family for a few years, vomiting was symbolic rejection of my pregnancy. I felt conflicted about that until I realized that I was sick before I even thought I might be pregnant. Then I was so hurt she would suggest that when I could not control being sick.
I wanted a natural pregnancy and tried herbs which made me sicker just from the smell, acupressure, homeopathics, and several other alternative treatments. Nothing had more than a slight benefit for a short time. So, ultimately I was admitted for IV fluids for the first of four times. I was cold and shaking violently. I could barely walk. I was losing 3 pounds a week and losing my ability to think. Thankfully, the ER doc recognized that I had a condition called hyperemesis gravidarum, or HG.
Hyper means excessive (like hyperactivity), emesis means vomiting in the medical world, and gravidarum is Latin for during pregnancy. The doctor knew HG as his wife experienced it, so he immediately gave me medication that blocked my body’s ability to vomit to a degree. I was still sick a lot because he gave me a low dose, and I needed nutrition and electrolytes, but at least it kept me from losing my baby from constant dehydration and malnutrition.
By 4 months, I’d lost pretty much all my muscle and about 15% of my body weight. I weighed what I did when I was 12 years old. I was so weak, my goal for the day was to eat 500 calories and sit upright for 15 minutes. I finally dropped out of grad school and just focused on surviving each day.
About mid pregnancy, things began to improve, and I had a good day. I was so excited. However, a few days later, I was back to being sick again. Only now with the baby growing, I had severe reflux that worsened HG. A midwife at my childbirth class asked if I had tried eating Saltines before I got out of bed. I was stunned she could possibly think that would cure HG!
I pushed through each day and was depleted and totally exhausted, only able to lift 5 pounds by delivery. Somehow I gained 14 pounds but was having constant contractions from dehydration. So doctors induced me at 39 weeks. After 30 hours of traumatic labor with a failed epidural, my son was finally born.
Incredibly, I was able to eat a few hours later and I ate a lot! I was still nauseous and weak so holding my baby was impossible. A few weeks later, I weighed myself and I dropped over 8 pounds below my prepregnancy weight. I felt as if I’d pass out when I stood up.
Finally, a year after his birth, I was able to think with some clarity and realized that it was likely that if I had gotten more aggressive medical care, I might not have been so sick and my son would have been healthier. I felt I had to do something so others would not have to suffer as we had. I reviewed the research on HG back to the 1700’s and put a website online to educate others about HG and possible treatments. I also added a forum for women to find support. I called it the Hyperemesis Education and Research Organization. It was the first comprehensive website on HG in 2000.
A few years later, after 3 miscarriages, I became pregnant with my daughter. I planned ahead and found a very compassionate doctor willing to do anything I needed. With the higher doses of medications, more support and preparation, and a better understanding of what I would face, it was less traumatic but still extremely miserable. While I was pregnant, a man named Jeremy King found my website when his wife, Ann Marie, was severely ill with HG and doctors were unsure if she would live. Together we worked to figure out better treatment options and his wife survived as did their son. They were so grateful that they wanted to support my organization. The Kings helped launch and grow the nonprofit charity, Hyperemesis Education and Research (HER) Foundation in 2003, and the Foundation has become the leading source of information, advocacy, research, and support for HG.