When Princess Catherine made the announcement of the royal fetus growing in her womb, I bet she never thought she would bring awareness to a condition few people suffer from and even fewer know about.
The Duchess of Cambridge is the new face of hyperemesis gravidarum.
More commonly known as extreme morning sickness, it’s the burden 2 percent of pregnant women have to bear, including Kate and her publicized struggle. Before her was author Charlotte Bronte?, who is rumored to have died from hyperemesis gravidarum while four months pregnant.
But this is 2013, not 1855, and when faced with finding these 2-perecenters, where else is a gal to turn?
Facebook, of course.
Before I could even say hyperemesis gravidarum, almost two dozen women responded, offering their experience or passing on a name of someone they knew who suffered with HG.
Not only were people willing to talk about it, but also a small community formed on my Facebook wall.
While 85 percent of expectant mothers experience nausea during their pregnancy, hyperemesis gravidarum is severe nausea and vomiting. A woman can keep very little, if any, food or liquid down and can vomit daily in the double digits. This persistent vomiting can lead to dehydration, electrolyte imbalance, light headiness and cause the body to break down fat to get vital nutrients. Women suffering from HG can lose 5-10 percent of their pre-pregnancy body weight rapidly. It often presents sooner than regular morning sickness and lasts longer.
Lauren McCoid, 28, of Cumberland, suffered with hyperemesis gravidarum during her first pregnancy at 19. Avry will be 9 in September.
Starting at six weeks, she couldn’t keep a sip of water down. She was so dehydrated, she was delusional. She went to the hospital, where she received IV hydration. She couldn’t make it more than two weeks without returning to the hospital for a good part of her pregnancy.
“I would sleep as much as I could and when I wasn’t sleeping, I was throwing up,” McCoid said. “I wasn’t eating or drinking, so I was primarily getting all my fluids through the hospital and getting the IV.
“If you’re not eating, there’s a chance you could lose your baby and that’s what the scariest thing is. There’s another life at stake,” McCoid said.
When she could tolerate food, she would often eat based on how painful it was to throw up later. She relied on cereal, apples and even McDonald’s chicken nuggets in her first pregnancy, worrying less about weight gain and putting an emphasis on any food that would stay down.
Avry, McCoid’s oldest, who was with her mom during the interview, exclaimed how much she loves apples and McDonald’s.
Paired with the IV fluids, she also received the anti-nausea medication Zofran at the hospital. While created to help chemotherapy patients, Zofran proves to give pregnant women some relief from crippling nausea.
Debbie Breton has been as a nurse at Mercy Hospital since 1986, working at both the prenatal clinic and the Birthplace.
“We see hyperemesis gravidarum a fair amount, it’s not very common. Every few weeks a patient comes in for IV hydration and medication,” she said.
Breton wonders if she suffered from hyperemesis gravidarum herself: While pregnant with her first child, a famous Breton family tale includes her being so sensitive to smells, she sent her husband outside to eat. In January.
Like McCoid, Breton notes that women suffering with this condition often have repeated hospitalizations, with treatment taking a few hours and sometimes require an overnight stay. IV therapy at home can occur but is rare, she said.
Breton said the hospital tries to avoid giving medication in the first trimester, but Zofran is a newer anti-nausea medication that is more effective than Phenergan, an older standard that would put people to sleep – a common side effect of many anti-nausea meds.
Breton also said that while each pregnancy is different, with hyperemesis gravidarum patients, symptoms return for subsequent pregnancies, often getting worse.
When asked if she thought about sticking to having only one baby after nine months of suffering, McCoid quickly answered, “Nope.”
“The second I held her, I said, ‘That was so worth it.’ I would do that a million times just for that moment. Absolutely,” McCoid said.
McCoid would later give birth to Avry’s brothers, Liam and Aidan, now 5 and 3, respectively.
McCoid didn’t gain weight in any of her pregnancies.
“I’m the only person I know who had to go out and get smaller sizes in pants,” she said.
She did get some relief from her hyperemesis gravidarum symptoms in the middle months of her pregnancy.
Breton said for most women suffering with hyperemesis gravidarum, their symptoms let up between 16 and 20 weeks.
McCoid said the nausea in the first part of her pregnancies was bad, but as the babies grew in the last part of her pregnancies, their ever-expanding bodies pushed against her stomach causing nausea, too. She described months four, five and six as a level 7, rather than the rest of the time being at a level 10. Even in the middle she never quite felt good, but it was more manageable.
“A good day would be throwing up five times. A bad day would be 20-25.”
“It’s very hard on older siblings. I was non-existent, her dad was her only parent,” said McCoid. “But it was a hundred percent worth it each time.”
Erinn Tardiff, also 28, of Gray, found out she was pregnant with her first child in November 2008, and like McCoid, at around six weeks, the symptoms of HG kicked in.
“At first I dealt with it thinking this is what every woman goes through,” Tardiff said. “I tried all the regular remedies: ginger ale, Saltines, dry toast, scrambled eggs, but it just got worse. I contacted my doctor about the sickness and she said it was normal and soon it would pass.”
Tardiff was throwing up every 10 minutes and sleeping in her car on her lunch break.
She said her employer was supportive throughout her pregnancy, and it was her co-workers who urged her early on to return to the doctor after telling her their morning sickness paled in comparison to Tardiff’s.
She returned from the doctor with a recommended combination of vitamin B12, Unisom sleeping pills and fresh ginger. She couldn’t keep anything down, was out of work for the next two weeks and in worse shape than before.
“I did nothing but lay on the bathroom floor with re-runs of ‘Beverly Hills 90210’ on in the background. I was dry heaving 24/7, every 8 minutes for two weeks straight. I got to a point that I would force myself to drink Gatorade just so I would have something to throw up,” she said.
Finally, one night, Tardiff asked her husband Heath to take her to the hospital, then she passed out in the hallway.
Tardiff had lost 17 pounds in two weeks.
“The emergency doctor took one look at me and diagnosed my with hyperemesis gravidarum,” she said.
Like McCoid, Tardiff was given IV fluids and also prescribed Zofran.
After only one day, the nausea was gone. She continued taking it her entire pregnancy right up until labor.
“Before the Zofran, anything and everything would set me off: smells, light, sounds, my husband sitting on the bed to put his socks on. Any and every little thing sent me straight into the bathroom. It’s a miracle drug,” she said.
Both McCoid and Tardiff describe hyperemesis gravidarum as feeling like being allergic to your baby.
“I don’t talk about it a lot,” McCoid said. “People think I’m exaggerating. It makes you feel like your body’s not supposed to do this, even as a woman.”
While there is no definitive answer to what causes this unbearable condition, doctors think it’s due to the changing hormones of a woman’s body during pregnancy.
Hyperemesis gravidarum is believed to be hereditary. While no other cases have been reported in Tardiff’s family, McCoid’s mother suffered from a lighter version compared to her daughter. McCoid’s mother had symptoms while carrying Lauren, but wasn’t sick with Lauren’s older brother. While it’s not definitive, hyperemesis gravidarum tends to occur more often in pregnancies bearing a girl and with twins. Lauren’s grandmother had twins and McCoid suspected she also suffered.
While Tardiff and McCoid’s experience with hyperemesis gravidarum has a lot of similarities, Tardiff is wondering if she can do it all over again, for her now 3-year-old daughter Allyson’s future sister or brother.
“I had always pictured myself having two children and I do believe I will have another. Knowing that I have the condition and there is medication makes it a little better – I won’t have to suffer as long as I did. But in the end, when she tells me she loves me a million times a day it makes me forget about everything I went through,” Tardiff said.
“You don’t realize how strong you are until you go through something like that,” McCoid said. “The most important thing is to have support – to tell somebody and to be honest with them and say this is really bad.”
Both McCoid and Tardiff’s family support got them through.
“I lost a lot of people in my life when this happened because I was isolated. You already feel awful all the time and to be alone, is miserable. To have the support, especially of other women is very important. And not to let anybody ever minimize what you’re feeling,” McCoid said.
Lauren McCoid, with her husband Cory Small and their children, from left, Aidan, Avry and Liam, during a summer trip.
Three years later, Erinn says Allyson loves “all things Princess.”
Erinn and Allyson Tardiff rest comfortably their first night home from the hospital.