How to help a friend with Hyperemesis Gravidarum
This post if for family and friends of women suffering hyperemesis gravidarum who don’t really know what is happening to their friend but would like to know more so they can help and support them… because that’s what family and friends do right… help and support each other!
Now I know that the very last thing you would want to do to someone you love and respect is hurt them or say cruel things to them, things which might harm your relationship with the woman. But you see the problem with hyperemesis gravidarum is that it is surrounded by stigma and misunderstanding and saying the wrong thing, no matter how kindly meant, can really truly hurt your friend. I’ve covered what not to say here and here so familiarising yourself with those would be a great start.
But what can you actually do to help? Well, there are two aspects to helping… the first is simply trying to understand the condition and the second is offering practical support to the sufferer – the person you love and respect and want to help, remember.
First - A bit about HG...
Hyperemesis Gravidarum is a serious complication of pregnancy. It is NOT morning sickness, it’s similarity with morning sickness ends when then sufferer can’t eat or drink, can’t move for retching, gets dehydrated and starts losing weight. If you had morning sickness in your pregnancy and therefore think you know what she is going through then stop yourself right there... you don't. HG is a whole different ball game! Whilst pregnancy itself is not an illness and the vast majority of pregnancies are normal and healthy, there are in fact a number of very serious illnesses that can be caused by pregnancy, many of which were commonly fatal in the past and occasionally still are now. Hyperemesis gravidarum is one of those.
In addition to the extreme nausea and vomiting there are a range of other symptoms which characterise HG. These include but are not limited to:
Extreme fatigue and lethargy (this can be a symptom of hypocalcemia which happens when you are dehydrated and throwing up all the time)
Extremely heightened sense of smell which is also warped so nice smells can smell awful
Excessive saliva, which not only increases dehydration but is unpleasant and embarrassing
Depression, from the severe ongoing symptoms, the isolation, concern over work and also a physical side effect of calcium deficiency as mentioned above.
HG is relentless… the nausea, which can feel like you’ve been poisoned, goes on and on and on, every minute of the day and night. Once the pregnancy hormone relaxin kicks in many women will find they wee when they throw up adding to the humiliation and the need to stay within the house. And then there is the emotional distress of having missed out on the pregnancy they were expecting, looking forward to, excited about.
What are some of the challenges of HG for your friend?
You would think that a condition that can have such serious impacts would be taken very seriously by doctors and midwives. Yet because this is a condition shrouded in stigma and old wives tales your friend may actually be finding that half the battle isn’t the condition itself but trying to get treatment and help for it… half the battle is simply being believed! Which is a strange place to find yourself when, as an adult, most of us take being believed for granted. If I hopped into A&E and said I thought my leg was broken and I was in a huge amount of pain the doctors would likely believe me, give me pain killers and send me for an X-ray. So it can come as quite a shock to find yourself dismissed and not believed and this is a major challenge for HG sufferers.
Another challenge is the social stigma of taking medication in pregnancy and the fear we have drilled into us about it. Most of us embark on our pregnancies hoping for natural healthy pregnancies… we give up wine and avoid every possible toxin from cigarette smoke to household cleaning sprays, we embrace organic food and don’t dye our hair and it’s all part of the initiation to motherhood… the idea that we go without for our children and do whatever it takes to ensure optimum health for our precious bundles. And so, to be faced with the awful situation of developing a complication of pregnancy which means you can either risk your baby’s health by becoming dehydrated and malnourished or you can take medication to get symptoms under control… it’s worse than a rock and a hard place!
So what can you do to help your friend?
1. Advocate for her with others… challenge the notion that she’s exaggerating, remind others that she’s normally tough and well and not prone to drama. Don’t just let the gossip slide and definitely don’t perpetuate it.
2. Help her make informed decisions, which in turn will reduce the anxiety about the decisions. Look for reputable sources of information such as Pregnancy Sickness Support, the HER Foundation and NHS Choices. Don’t forward her nonsense links about risks or other random medications or fear mongering pictures of babies affected by Thalidomide.
3. Offer practical help. Could you do some shopping for her or pop round and clean the house? If she has kids could you take them out while she rests or bring round some quite activity packs for them?
4. Support her via text/email/facebook etc. a regular message in the evening saying “Well done, that’s another day done that you don’t have to do again. One day closer to the end” would make a HUGE difference to someone whose days seem to drag like months and who feels like the end is just so far away.
5. Remember it’s not about you… If she doesn’t reply to your texts or doesn’t want you to come round then don’t take it personally or get stroppy about it… realise that the reason your friend is withdrawn is because she is so so so ill and if anything that means you should text more without expecting replies. She may get too sick from typing on her phone and she may not want you to visit if she’s worried about throwing up and wetting herself in front of people. She will appreciate your support and express that when she can.
If you’ve read this and learned something about how to support your friend then please do comment below or if you’ve supported a friend through HG and have other tips to post then let me know. It’s always nice to hear from people how haven’t’ suffered but “get it” and supported their friend.
If you had a friend who really supported you and helped you when you needed them then print out one of my HG Hero Certificates for them!
For more posts on how to help a friend with HG check out theses from my archive:
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In conjunction with Pregnancy Sickness Support and Plymouth University I am looking for women who have been treated for HG in the last 2 years in the UK to take part in a research survey. Please click here to find out more.
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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