Far more than just ‘extreme morning sickness’, Hyperemesis Gravidarum can have a physical, emotional and financial impact both during pregnancy and beyond. Three women share their experiences and ask Stephen Donnelly to fulfil his promise to make the medication available to treat HG on the medical card and drugs payment scheme
Hyperemesis Gravidarum or HG is a complication of pregnancy in which sufferers experience extreme levels of nausea and vomiting. In rare cases, it can be life-threatening. The cost of medication needed to treat Hyperemesis can also lead to significant financial hardship for those who need it.
Here, journalist Cara Doyle shares her and other women’s experiences of living with HG. They, along with Hyperemesis Ireland, call on the Minister of Health to deliver on his promise and make this much-needed medication available on the medical card and the Drugs Payment Scheme before the Dáil rises on July 14.
Looking in the mirror at the busted blood vessels on my face, my first thought was, “how will I cover this up in time for my first meeting this morning?”
I was eight weeks pregnant, and I had been puking and dry retching violently for over two weeks. I knew this wasn’t normal but I put it down to my age, work schedule, and any other excuse I could muster to avoid facing the reality that something was seriously wrong.
That morning I covered the bruising with makeup, set myself up with a sick bowl on either side of my laptop and prayed I wouldn’t get sick in the middle of my Zoom call.
Two days later, I was admitted to hospital for the first time. Injected with anti-sickness meds and hooked up to a drip, I felt somewhat normal for the first time in weeks. I hoped this would be the quick fix I needed to get back to my work, life, and family with the gusto of a woman who thinks she has no time to be sick.
A second hospital admission followed soon after. That’s when I heard the words Hyperemesis Gravidarum for the first time. It was a relief to have a diagnosis, to know that the myriad of symptoms I was experiencing wasn’t normal and it wasn’t in my head.
Every part of my body felt nauseous. I was getting sick and dry retching up to twenty times a day. I had headaches, heart palpations and low blood pressure, and the expensive cocktail of medication I had been prescribed did nothing to help.
By my third hospital admission a few weeks later, I was at rock bottom. Ketones in my urine meant I was starting to show signs of starvation. However, my mental health was taking an even more significant toll. I felt like I was failing everyone — failing my baby because my body wasn’t doing what it was supposed to do, failing at my job because I couldn’t maintain the ridiculous standards I set for myself, failing my daughter because I couldn’t be the parent I used to be and failing my husband because I couldn’t share his joy about this pregnancy.
This is what Hyperemesis does: it’s the thief of joy. It steals away every positive experience you hope for in pregnancy. It’s incredibly isolating. Hyperemesis physically, emotionally and mentally drains you to the point that some days you feel like you can’t go on.
Eventually, I was prescribed Cariban, which cost us nearly €3000. I was beyond grateful that I could afford to be treated with it because it works. However, the privilege of being able to afford basic medical care was not lost on me.
It’s hard to comprehend that others may continue to suffer in this way through every day of their pregnancy because they can’t afford the medication they desperately need.
Early last year, Hyperemesis Ireland launched a campaign called #HG2costly. They called for Cariban and other first-line treatments to be reimbursed on the Drugs Payment Scheme and available on the Medical Card.
Since then, many women have shared their stories of how the cost of this medication has impacted their lives — women like Trish, who had to give up her house to afford her medication or Eleanor, for whom half her social welfare payment went towards Cariban, leaving her with just €46 to live on each week.
For me, Cariban meant I was able to claim back some semblance of normality in the last few months of my pregnancy. My son Arthur is now six months old and is happy and content.
Thankfully my symptoms cleared up as soon as he was born, but for some women, the symptoms and recovery can last anywhere from a couple of months to two years. There is also an increased risk of postpartum depression, thyroid disease, and post-traumatic stress disorder.
Hyperemesis leaves no stone unturned when it comes to impacting the lives of sufferers. Here Janine, mum to Milo; and Nicola, mum to Nina and Ivy, share their stories.
There are three reactions you get when you tell someone you have Hyperemesis. They are ‘oh, I had a touch of that’ or ‘have you tried ginger biscuits?’ or the one that annoys me the most — ‘Oh didn’t Kate Middleton have that?’
When you decide to sleep on the bathroom floor instead of a bed because you can’t stop puking, you will know there is no such thing as ‘I had a touch of that’ or when you have to decide if you’re going to puke in a bowl or pee on the toilet or do both at the same time, you know there is no amount of ginger biscuits that will help.
Hyperemesis destroyed my body and my life for nine months — it nearly killed my baby and left me needing a wheelchair. There is no glamour in this disease.
I was eight weeks pregnant when I started first to bleed — I was puking and retching so forcefully that my placenta tore away from my uterus. I was admitted to hospital, and my maternity care team told me to expect the worst — my much-longed-for baby was unlikely to survive.
My journey to motherhood had begun years earlier. I had been diagnosed with skin cancer, and I decided I wouldn’t wait for Mr Right to become a mother. I didn’t want to delay my life any longer, so I chose to use donor sperm to conceive, and last year we created five successful embryos.
My first two embryo transfers failed, so I didn’t allow myself much hope when I had my third embryo transfer. However, I decided to do an early pregnancy test ten days later — it was positive. I had waited so long to see those lines. I had spent nearly €30,000 and put myself through years of gruelling treatment, but it was all worth it.
I could never have imagined that I would be lying in a hospital bed six weeks later, being told that my baby may not make it. I was losing so much blood and tissue that they thought I had already miscarried. I was numb and too sick to care — too sick to mourn for the baby I had battled for years to create. Too sick to worry about how I would afford to do it all again. I’d had enough. I consoled myself with the thoughts that if I was this sick, there was obviously something very wrong with the pregnancy.
Over the next 24 hours, I was treated with various forms of medication and fluids, and I was able to eat for the first time in weeks. The following morning, I was given a scan to assess the next steps, and to everyone’s surprise, there was still a heartbeat. My little fighter was still there.
I was on bed-rest for the remainder of my pregnancy, as the risk of miscarriage was still present. My life as I knew it completely stopped. It was and still is hard to comprehend that Hyperemesis wreaked so much havoc with my and my baby’s lives.
Financially, I was also struggling. I had been a successful business owner before this, and now I was trying to survive on €240 a week. I had to put my mortgage on hold to afford the medication and treatment I needed.
My son Milo made his arrival in December 2021. He is six months old now and a dream baby. He sleeps, takes his bottle and is the happiest little boy. I often think about how lucky I am, but perhaps that’s my reward for everything I went through. I finally have my son, and he is perfect.
Hyperemesis was the most difficult experience of my entire life and it’s still something I am coming to terms with years later.
I’ve had two Hyperemesis pregnancies. I was at the lower end of the Hyperemesis spectrum seven years ago during my first pregnancy with Nina. I say lower end, but I still had toe-curling, bone-crushing nausea 24/7. I couldn’t understand why my pregnancy was so different to everyone else — lots of my friends were pregnant at the same time, and it made me incredibly sad that I didn’t have the same experience as them.
Two years later, when I decided to try for a second child, I was determined to be prepared for a Hyperemesis pregnancy — I spoke to my GP, and we pre-agreed a care plan. I talked to my employer about the fact that I may need time off and I also helped set up the first Hyperemesis charity in Ireland.
When I eventually became pregnant with Ivy, I initially felt OK. I thought I had gotten away with it. I had set up this charity and done so much preparation I was almost embarrassed by how well I felt. Then one day, six weeks into my pregnancy, that familiar feeling in the pit of my stomach started to return, and within a few days, I was constantly vomiting. This time the Hyperemesis was much more severe — I couldn’t work. I couldn’t care for Nina. I was so sick I barely left my bed.
However, the deterioration in my mental health caused the most turmoil. I couldn’t sleep. I had panic attacks. I felt like I was heading for a complete mental breakdown. I remember Nina trying to comfort me when I was in the middle of a panic attack and couldn’t breathe. It’s heartbreaking now to remember my two-year-old trying to comfort me. I eventually went to A&E because I felt really mentally unstable and unwell. I was referred to a psychiatrist, and talking it through with him helped put things into perspective.
Slowly I began to understand that I was incredibly ill — my body was under extreme pressure and stress, so it’s no wonder I was mentally finding it difficult to cope.
People say having a baby changes your life. I would say being pregnant changed my life more than becoming a mother. When Ivy was born, the overriding emotion I felt was relief that my pregnancy was over. I felt that now she was born, I could focus on recovering from Hyperemesis and its impact on my family.
For more check out hyperemesis.ie