10 tips to help a friend with HG
For those of us working entirely immersed in the hyperemesis gravidarum world, (namely myself and Karen Lodge in the Pregnancy Sickness Support office working alongside each other, her answering the helpline and my engaging in research activity and education for healthcare professions) there can be periods of time where we really feel the impact of the work we are doing and we go home at the end of the day knowing that so many women in the UK are getting really great care and support for their HG, in part thanks to the work that we’re doing from our little office in Cornwall.
The hip pain at night during pregnancy was awful but I honestly can't imagine what symphysis pubis dysfunction (SPD) is like because I didn't have it. To have that pain constantly! The GP who gave me such excellent and compassionate care never had any pregnancy sickness but she did have terrible SPD and described it as “every step was agony, like walking on broken glass, and no-one understood”.
Had I not have suffered HG myself I would have been the first to suggest the alternative remedies for pregnancy sickness, SPD and any other pregnancy aliment which I would assume myself to be an expert on simply from having been pregnant myself. Now I try to relay my experience with one misunderstood condition and apply similar sensitivity to other people's misunderstood conditions... SPD, migraine, myalgic encephalomyelitis, fibromyalgia, depression and so on.
Anyway... rather off track there!
Down to the business of how you can actually help a friend with HG. Here are my 10 top tips:
- Just listen and believe her. Unfortunately no suggestions you make are going to miraculously cure the HG and not suggesting them won't make her think you don't care. Quite the opposite... by not suggesting those things she will enjoy your company and support all the more.
- Offer practical support such as making some meals for the freezer that her partner will appreciate too... but PLEASE don't put any garlic in it... her partner won't appreciate relegation to the spare room for stinking!
- If she already has kids then perhaps take them out for the day? She'll be comforted to know they are having fun with friends.
- Going to the supermarket? Text to ask if she needs any essentials... bread, milk etc. If you drop them over put them actually in the fridge for her. A lot of women with HG can't stand the smell of the fridge.
- Be sensitive to how strong her sense of smell is. It's not just strong but it's warped too so once pleasant smells are absolutely revolting. Therefore, if visiting, avoid strong perfume, eating garlic the night before, smoking prior to visit and so on. As nice as flowers are she is likely not able to tolerate the smell.
- Talking about gifts - chocolates are a no no unless she has specified wanting them. A magazine would be better, perhaps rather than a pregnancy or girly one how about something that interests her like countryside, knitting, photography etc. Explain that while you appreciate she can't do those things at the moment you hoped that she would be able to flick through the pictures during her better moments and distract her a little.
- While you are there, nip to the loo and give it a clean. Don't tell her you're going to do that or ask if she wants you to... who on earth would say “yes please, if you don't mind cleaning the splatters of vomit off the inside of my toilet I'd really appreciate it”?
- Send her texts to check up on her and let her know you are thinking of her but don’t' get huffy if she doesn't reply all the time or with any speed. Phone screen induced vomiting is pretty standard but so too is the loneliness and depression which makes you want to shut off from the whole world... especially those who have never suffered. Your texts will mean more to her than you can imagine.
- If her partner works and isn't able to attend doctor appointments and you are able to go with her then great... advocate for her. If she can't speak for herself then speak up on her behalf... tell the doctor or midwife how it really is... ie. She's not being sick in a normal way 2-3 times a day, it's relentless, x-y times per day... she may not have the strength herself.
- If she is worried about prescribed meds then do a bit of research to reassure her of the safety – Contact charity Pregnancy Sickness Support for more info.
I realise a lot of those things are quite demanding of your time and energy and perhaps difficult to fit into a busy life with children and work. A lot of it will depend on how good a friend you are and the personal circumstances – a sister is clearly going to do more than a work colleague. But if you aim for the above and don't make any of the comments in the last post then you're on your way to winning the award for Best Friend of The Year!
Regardless of how bad the woman is suffering and to be honest what the condition is (I'm sure the above would apply to plenty of acute and chronic illnesses: cancer; flu; depression; broken limbs etc.) ultimately a bit of compassion goes a long way and is often appreciated all the more if it's acknowledged that you can't actually imagine the suffering they are experiencing but want to help if you can.
For further information about how to help a friend or relative suffering click here.