After the diagnosis: Battling HG for a healthy twin pregnancy

by Chelsea Devona

NOTE: In this post, Chelsea describes her experience after receiving a diagnosis of hyperemesis gravidarum. Her earlier post describes her experience up to the diagnosis.

Quotation from Chelsea Devona: "Most disabled people can relate to the horrid conundrum of trying to balance more doctor appointments with less energy and capability to get there; of having more medical expenses while often having less money because of time off work and other needs. Combining all this with the mental stress was acute."

The physical toll of a pregnancy with twins with a diagnosis of hyperemesis gravidarum was enormous. I experienced intense nausea immediately and it continued throughout my entire pregnancy. The anti-nausea medications I was prescribed are so strong, they’re used for chemo patients; even with them, my nausea was debilitating. I’d vomit if a person just mentioned seafood or eggs and could often only be around food for a couple minutes before my body would reject it. 

Someone else often had to prepare my food, and often I could barely keep food down. If able to eat, I laid down for an hour after and I Did Not Move to ensure it wouldn’t come back up. 

Women with HG are so sick that up to half are reported to consider termination of their pregnancy, even when they desperately wanted the baby, because of how much HG disables them and renders them unable to hold a job or care for themselves, let alone other children. Although I knew I was not going to terminate, I absolutely understand why these women would feel like they might need to consider other options. As disabling as hyperemesis was physically, the mental and emotional toll was worse—and for more than just me.

I often was too unwell to drive, and I had doctor appointments every week or more. This meant my wife (or a family member or friend) had to take off from work to drive me, or I would simply not make an appointment. In the third trimester, I needed weekly, then twice-weekly, then every-other-day monitoring. These doctor appointments could take hours; one took almost eight.

Although I did everything I could to push through my illness and work as much as my symptoms would allow, I lost my job, even though I had doctor’s notes for reduced work hours and communicated this well in advance. This, combined with the expense of weekly IVs and hospital visits, put a huge financial burden on my family. We had budgeted for some extra sick days off during the pregnancy, and for me ending work a few weeks before the due date; we had not budgeted for me off work for months, with thousands of dollars of unplanned medical expenses—and an extra baby.

The author during her pregnancy, standing with hands on her belly (one near the top and the other at the bottom); she is wearing a black bra and black stretch pants and is standing on a bridge overlooking water and trees
Photo of the author during her pregnancy. Credit: Caedy Convis Photography

Most disabled people can relate to the horrid conundrum of trying to balance more doctor appointments with less energy and capability to get there; of having more medical expenses while often having less money because of time off work and other needs. Combining all this with the mental stress was acute. 

The mental stress meant I was not only constantly worried about myself; I now had two little ones to worry about too. How was my vomiting and nausea affecting them? Was I depriving them of important nutrients? What if I couldn’t keep down my prenatal vitamins today? Would they also be born with health struggles because of me? What if today was a day where I threw up after every meal? Should I go back to the ER if I haven’t kept down more than crackers, or would they just turn me away til I was even sicker?

When a mom is diagnosed with HG, the treatments, although not considered to be dangerous long-term for the fetus, still carry side effects, such as a baby being born with short-term impact to their nervous system that can lead to them being jittery, harder to soothe, and likely to cry more for a few days after birth. 

But not treating HG can be so dangerous that it can lead to not only permanent complications or the death of the fetus, but permanent complications for or death of the mother as well. This meant that in order to keep my babies (and myself) alive, I had to do something (take medication) that I knew would be bad for them in the short-run. Even though I couldn’t help it, and it was the only way to keep them as healthy as I can, I still felt wildly guilty. Even if all I could keep down was pasta, I felt so guilty that I couldn’t give them nutrition. Even if the only way to keep down food was to be on bedrest, I felt so guilty that I couldn’t exercise.

My HG took so much from me. 

It took away the joy in my pregnancy: the simplicity of having days where I was simply happy that I was pregnant. 

It took away my peace: I worried constantly about how my malnutrition and vomiting was affecting the babies. 

It took away my job.

It took away my ability to go to social events, see friends, or have community support. I felt wildly socially isolated. 

It took away even the simple ability to move, to exercise, to take a walk. I was in constant pain and couldn’t do stretches or yoga to support my body.

It took away my ability to even sit up. Sitting up would put pressure on my esophageal sphincter and often trigger a vomiting episode. 

It took away a huge portion of my financial savings during a time when I needed savings the most. 

It took away my ability to choose what was best for my babies. Too often, my choice was “what’s the least worse,” not “what’s best.” It took away my chance to have another pregnancy. HG has a recurrence rate of up to 80%, and I fell in the same camp as women who have decided it was too dangerous to risk another pregnancy. But I have no regrets—none—about having my twins.

As truly horrific as my pregnancy was, I am so grateful that the HG medications, countless doctor appointments, and support by my community supported me to get my twins to 36 weeks—close to full term! I wish I had known about HG sooner, so I could have gotten my diagnosis and medical support sooner. But I am so grateful my boys and I survived, and that I have them in my life.

Photo of the author standing in a grassy area, before the water's edge with a scene of city buildings on the other side of the water; she is wearing a long flowing off-the-shoulder red dress and holding her belly top and bottom while gazing downward
Photo of the author during her pregnancy. Credit: Caedy Convis Photography

Chelsea would like you to know:

If you or a friend you know thinks their morning sickness is worse than normal, you don’t have to suffer alone—check out the Hyperemesis Gravidarum Foundation’s criteria for HG, and advocate for yourself at your doctor’s before it worsens.

Logo for the National Center for Disability & Pregnancy Research

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