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Journey into the world of hyperemesis gravidarum...
17Sep 13

10 tips to help a friend with hyperemesis gravidarum

The reality is that no one intentionally hurts or upsets a friend who is suffering - they simply don't realise the impact their innocent, well meaning suggestions can have. Often people feel very out of their depth trying to help a friend who is suffering in a way they can't personally imagine. And why should we be able to understand an experience which we haven't been through? Some things we can imagine are universally horrendous for anyone (deaths of love ones and so on) but of ailments, which we have no personal experience... how are we meant to know?
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:
  1. 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.
  2. 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!
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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”?
  8. 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.
  9. 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.
  10. 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.

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My daughter is 12 weeks pregnant and, although not vomiting, suffers almost constant nausea from food stuck in her oesophagus that just won't shift down. Even a small mouthful causes pain and discomfort, yet she is very hungry and if she doesn't eat she still suffers from excess acid. Reflux is getting under control but she still can't eat without discomfort. She is becoming so depressed (she suffered from PPD quite badly) and I worry that her low mood will affect her baby and her post natal mood. I live far from her and its not easy to get to her very often. Her husband cannot understand or help and she feels utterly alone without support. She knows of no one who suffers from this and feels she is being pathetic. She also suffers from extreme tiredness and is frustrated that she can't get motivated to anything but sleep when she can. She has an active toddler aged 3 so doesn't get much rest. If there is anyone out there who suffers as she does she might feel less isolated if she could chat to them. Help P-L-E-A-S-E !!!!!!
Unknown, 22nd September 2013

Hi! I'm so sorry to hear your daughter is suffering so badly. There is help out there. I can't post my email on here but you contact me using the form on the right or you can get her help by clicking on this link and filling the form in for the supporters network. There is treatment she can get and support she can access and you can help her by accessing that for her. I'd need to know where in the country she is. I can help but would need to take the communication with you further and off this public thread. Caitlin x
Spewing Mummy, 22nd September 2013

Hi Liam,

Thanks for your comment and praise. You sound like a wonderful supportive partner. And it's great that your employer has been so supportive.

I'll be doing a post on the partners experience soon and I would be keen to interview you for another project I'm working on if possible?

Also, there is a section on the PSS website forum for partners to get peer support. If you wanted to get involved with the charity, helping with the forum and supporting other partners I'd been keen to speak with you. You can email me using the contact form above and right.

Well done to you and your wife for getting through such a tough time together.

C x
Spewing Mummy, 26th September 2013

Hi Caitlin - I'd be happy to assist: contact details on their way!
Liam Faulkner, 26th September 2013

As somebody married to a hyperemesis sufferer (my wife is now at 22 weeks and still feeling sick at times) I can't congratulate you enough for your well-written blogs on the condition, and what people around can - and can't - do to help. Like most people we weren't really aware of what HG is or how debilitating it can be, and even after it being recognised by a consultant and my wife being admitted (for the first of six times to date) to be given IV fluid, we had to hunt around to find out information on what HG was, and how to cope with it. The sad truth is that there is scant information on the subject - well that's not entirely true because there is plenty of clinical information on what HG is, but little of any actual use when you're trying to struggle through it day-by-day.

This was particularly infuriating for me, because I (I'm a project manager by trade) like to have a plan on what to do, and have options open to me when things go wrong, but there's nothing worst when than being a partner to somebody who is clearly suffering and you want to help, but no help seems to exist. I did everything I could do to help my wife through the really bad times (thankfully the worst is behind us now) but there were time when I felt totally helpless and I didn't know what to do. All I could do to feel useful was to take as much pressure off her as possible

In the end we came to an agreement: if I felt that we were losing the fight and my wife needed some kind of medical help than I would make that decision. One of the things we realised the GP (or when she was in hospital) would do was check her ketone level, so I popped down to our GP surgery and asked if I could have a ketone testing kit. A presciption (and hunting around several pharmacists) later we had one. It seems obvious now, but having that to hand really helped in making that decision that it was time to call the doctor.

I also had to explain the situation with my boss who was incredibly understanding - and that really helped. They said that my wife came first: I was not to worry if I had to hang around for the GP or if I had to take her into hospital: we'd sort out all the leave at a later date and they turned a blind-eye to my slightly longer lunch-breaks (I go home - and still do - every lunchtime to check on my wife which is tricky to do in an hour when it's a 16 miles round-trip). I appreciate that not every employer would be like this, but I'd recommend to any partner of a woman suffering from HG to talk to their boss and explain the situation.

Liam Faulkner, 26th September 2013

Hi, I just wanted to say how useful this website is and how much I wish I'd found it a couple of months back when I was suffering badly (thankfully I'm at a point where I am being sick much less frequently and am coping much better). Number one on your list where you say 'believe her' really struck a chord with me. One thing I found a lot (other than people recommending bloody ginger!), was people not understanding the seriousness of it and making comments such as 'I had morning sickness and I didn't use it as an excuse to stay off work', or the one that really peed me off 'My friend is pregnant and has just run a half marathon. She's being sick, so if she can do that why can't you get out of bed?'
Anyway, keep up the good work :), 19th October 2013

Hi there, Thanks for your comment and I'm so glad to hear my blog is helping. People really do say the most ignorant things when faced with something they don't understand. Having HG has taught me a lot of things but probably top of the list is compassion, particularly for other conditions which I've never had and can barely imagine. People that make those sort of comments are generally luckily enough not to have suffered much of anything themselves and simply cannot imagine! I notice on your blog you mention a recent relapse - if you aren't already on one then consider discussing a strong antacid with your doctor like Omeprazole or Lanzoprozole. The relapse later in pregnancy is generally to do with acid reflux, even if you are unaware of other symptoms and one of those meds can really make a difference. Good luck with the rest of the pregnancy. xxx
Spewing Mummy, 19th October 2013

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Hyperemesis Gravidarum - The Definitive Guide by Caitlin Dean

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About Me

I am mother of three beautiful children and wife to a fantastic and supportive husband. I am a nurse, a farmer and a trustee for Pregnancy Sickness Support. I love working hard and spending time with my kids.

About this blog

Information and support for pregnancy sickness and hyperemesis gravidarum. Views are my own and do not represent those of any other organisation. Information provided here should not be a substitute for medical advice. My aim is to raise awareness and encourage sufferers to know they are not alone.

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