A woman who was suffering from severe pregnancy sickness made the heartbreaking decision of having an abortion as she couldn’t cope with the debilitating condition that she was being put through.
A new documentary has aired on Amazon Prime called Sick: The Battle Against HG, which explores the untold stories of people who have suffered from hyperemesis gravidarum; this is a chronic pregnancy condition which is characterised by severe nausea, vomiting and weight loss. The Duchess of Cambridge is known for suffering this condition throughout the three of her pregnancies.
Presented by Charlotte Howden, who suffered from HG throughout her own pregnancy with her son Henry, is urging medical professionals to take this condition much more seriously.
The presenter explained that when she was pregnant and suffering from HG, she didn’t feel “validated” by her GP and when she asked for medication to cope with the symptoms, she was denied – even though she had told them that the pain made her feel like she was “dying”.
Charlotte, from Southampton, said that eventually, she felt the HG was “all-consuming” after it kicked in at around seven weeks. She described it as being “24 hours a day, seven days a week” for around 20 weeks of the pregnancy. At one point, she admitted to considering taking her own life.
She confessed: “I would drink and I could count to 20 seconds and then I would be sick again… [I] would sit there in desperation and think I just want to die, and then the thoughts of abortion or termination would come into your head because… I’m only ill because I’m pregnant.
“If a doctor had come in the room and said, ‘If you drink bleach and jump out the window it will cure you’ I would have done it. Obviously, in the back of my mind I would have been saying, ‘If you drink bleach and jump out the window there’s a possibility that you will kill your unborn child,’ but I would have been like, ‘Mmm, but I’m dying so I have to think about myself’.”
Registered general nurse Caitlin Dean, from Cornwall, has spent her career dedicated to raising the profile of HG and has said that around 10 per cent of people who have the condition will feel that they have no choice but to have an abortion – this equates to around 1,500 abortions a year.
One woman, who wished to remain anonymous, spoke to Charlotte about her experience with HG and said that she felt that she had been left with no choice but to have an abortion. Although she was absolutely devastated by having to make such a choice, HG had made her feel so weak that she was unable to lift her body when she needed to be sick.
She told Charlotte: “I was housebound, I couldn’t go to work, couldn’t look after my child, even to go to doctors was a struggle.
“To think that was going to be my life, potentially for nine months…. we thought, we’re not going to be able to do this – we wouldn’t put our family or relationship through this again.”
Meanwhile, mum-to-be Kirsten, from San Diego, said that after she had her second child she would be having a hysterectomy, as throughout both pregnancies she’d battled with HG.
From her hospital bed, she had a video call with Charlotte and explained that she had been at the hospital for the majority of her pregnancy – at this point, she was 36 weeks gone.
Kirsten revealed that she hadn’t been able to keep solid food down for the past 32 weeks and had lost 52Ib. She added: “It’s pure hell, it’s basically someone’s worst nightmare happening. It makes somebody who is the strongest person in the world weak at the knees.
“You don’t get out of bed, you’re in bed 24-7 so you’re literally in bed for nine months straight. You’re puking for nine months straight, you’re nauseous for nine months. I would be puking up to 100 times plus a day which is no exaggeration.”
When discussing “having her tubes tied”, Kirsten said: “My fiancé and I just made the decision because we are afraid that the next time would actually kill me… we’d rather not take the risk.”
Charlotte then met mum-to-be Rachel, who had HG with her first child and was now experiencing it again at five weeks pregnant with her second. She has now been made bedbound once again.
Rachel explained how not many were understanding, as they couldn’t comprehend the extremity of the condition. At some points throughout her pregnancy, she had been made to feel “bad” at actually carrying a child.
Describing her first pregnancy, she broke down in tears as she recalled how it was a “lonely and dark time” where she had made to feel “super isolated” as she worried about failing and being a terrible mum before the baby had even been born.
In the documentary, Charlotte wrote a letter to the Royal College of GPs, in which she put forward the testemonies of those who had had HG and claimed that they’d been turned away by doctors.
However, the suggestion of this was “refuted”. Yet Dr Gillian Ostrowski, a GP and pregnancy sickness support trustee, said that many medical practitioners are concerned about prescribing anti-sickness drugs to pregnant women due to the thalidomide tragedy.
The drug thalidomide is estimated to have resulted in the death of 2,000 children and caused serious birth defects in around 10,000 children – approximately 5,000 of them being from west Germany. It was then taken off the market in November of 1961.
Dr Ostroski, who has had HG three times herself, told Charlotte: “I don’t know if that fear will ever go away, I really hope it will because as a sufferer I see the other side, and without medication, without the knowledge, experience and conviction of my own physician prescribing for me, I don’t think I would cope.”
Despite these concerns, there is new hope for HG sufferers. The latest research into the condition suggests that it is caused by genetic variations. Dr Marlena Fejzo, an associate researcher at UCLA and USC in California, has managed to identify the two genes which are associated with the condition.
Sick: The Battle Against HG is now available to watch on Amazon Prime.