A year and a half ago, I met a new friend in a mom group on Facebook. We really didn't have that much in common, aside from us both being pregnant. She posted that she had hyperemesis gravidarum (HG) — severe nausea and vomiting in pregnancy. I wanted to make sure that she had at least one person in her life who understood the hell that is because, guys, other people don't get it. Whether intentionally or not, people do things to women with HG that are uninformed, rude, insensitive, and actually kind of cruel.
I honestly don't think people do these things on purpose. At least, I hope they don't. They just don't understand, and probably never will unless they go through it themselves. And there in lies the problem: you want some support and solidarity, but you wouldn't wish HG on anyone. So you're stuck, feeling alone and miserable. I also easy to assume that everyone is happy about their pregnancy. But trust me, when you are literally starving or throwing up 24-hours-a-day, it's hard to put on a smile and go on and on about a pregnancy you actually wanted. So, well-meaning people will say things like "at least you can get pregnant" or "it's just a few more months and you'll have a precious baby" and then you're left wondering if you should just puke on them.
Then, of course, there are the people who just don't understand the choices you have to make to stay healthy and alive, like taking medications to control your nausea and vomiting or having to take a leave of absence from work. It's more than a little cruel to compare your non-HG pregnancy experience to mine, or worse, to accuse me of being selfish for taking life-saving medication. My last two pregnancies were a nightmare because of HG, so much so that I made the decision to get a tubal ligation rather than risk getting pregnant ever again. I wish I could say that other people understood, but that was rarely the case. In fact, and sadly, most people did some pretty cruel things instead.
Offer Her Unsolicited Advice
I actually wish people wouldn't offer any pregnant people unsolicited advice, but this is especially true if they have HG. I kind of wish I had a shirt that said, "I don't want your advice" or "I've already tried eating ginger ale and saltine crackers." HG is not like a bad hangover or run-of-the-mill morning sickness. It's just not.
Suggest That Her Medications Might Cause Birth Defects
There's plenty of research available about the safety, and risks, of medications used to treat HG. But even if there wasn't, what someone else puts in their body isn't up to you. The only people who need to be involved in medical decision-making are the person in question and her medical providers. If you are not one of those people, mentioning birth defects to a pregnant person is not OK.
Complement Her On Her Weight Loss
No, I was not "lucky" that I had HG and, as a result, actually lost weight during my pregnancy. I was literally starving. Could we just collectively stop associating weight loss with health? It's so gross.
Try To Sell Her Something
I do not want to buy the shakes, vitamins, or essential oils you are selling, regardless of whether or not I'm pregnant. I found it especially cruel when people would comment on my posts in HG or pregnancy groups or send me private messages promising to cure my HG with the amazing product they sell. Just no.
Say Anything About Her HG That Starts With "Just" Or "At Least"
As author Brené Brown said in her TED Talk on empathy, "Rarely, if ever, does an empathic response begin with 'at least'." When someone has HG, it might seem easier to try to find the "bright side" of their situation, because, "Hey, they are pregnant and that's generally awesome!'" but all you're doing is invalidating someone's experience. Just say, "OMG, I'm so sorry."
Tell Her She's Hurting Her Baby
So many people suggested that I was somehow hurting my baby by trying to stay alive. Yes, I know that a steady diet of salt and vinegar chips, lemonade, sour patch kids, and Coke is not exactly healthy, but those were my "safe foods" I could at least keep down most days. Plus, if you're not an OB-GYN or medical provider who specializes in fetal health, you have no business telling me what is or is not "hurting" my future baby.
Call Her Lazy
I went from running marathons to barely being able to make it from my bed to the bathroom without vomiting all over myself. I was sick, not lazy. If you actually understood the hell that HG moms go through to stay pregnant, upright, and alive, you would never call them lazy.
Fire Her When She Can't Work
There were many days when I just couldn't work, at least not without spending time on the side of the road or in a public restroom puking the majority of the day. Unfortunately, my employer just didn't understand why I needed time off, even with a doctor's note. I felt stuck.
Question Her Decisions About Her Pregnancy
My last pregnancy was so bad that I had to be treated for HG and prenatal depression. It's unbearably hard to feel suicidal about a wanted pregnancy. I thought about getting an abortion more than once. So, when I told people about it — even other pro-choice feminists — and they questioned whether it was really that bad, it made me feel like the worst mom on the planet.
Tell Her She Shouldn't Have Gotten Pregnant
Then, sadly, there were the many people who suggested that I simply suck it up. I mean, if I didn't want to have "morning sickness" I shouldn't have gotten pregnant in the first place, right? Wrong. So wrong, and so unbelievably cruel. HG is to morning sickness like a dripping faucet is to a waterfall. Besides, no one deserves to be sick, regardless of whether or not their pregnancy was planned.
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