Pregnancy

'I felt helpless': Expectant dads at a loss over acute morning sickness 

Dec. 5, 2012 at 8:51 PM ET

Image: Prince William and the Duchess of Cambridge
TODAY
A smiling Duchess of Cambridge and Prince William leave a central London hospital after Kate checked in with extreme morning sickness.

When Jeremy King’s wife was ill with the same rare pregnancy complication that hospitalized Britain’s Duchess Kate for several days earlier this week, his dream of having a big family was abruptly put on hold as those months turned into the scariest time of his life.

While newly pregnant, King’s wife, Ann Marie, was diagnosed with hyperemesis gravidarum, or HG, a condition marked by excessive nausea and vomiting that can endanger the lives of the woman and her fetus if untreated. According to the American Journal of Perinatology, about 2 percent of pregnant women suffer from HG, and the condition has no known cause.

“We were very similar to Kate and William,” he said. “We were just around 30 and here we are excited to be having our first child and HG hit like a bomb.”

His wife vomited 15 to 20 times a day, was hospitalized on several occasions and needed a feeding tube for three months to sustain her pregnancy, which ended with the delivery of a healthy boy in 2003. 

Hyperemesis gravidarum: 'You just feel like you're dying'

“I always wanted to be a dad,” said King, who lives in Waterford, Va., and is 42. “But you couldn’t see a path to that until she turned some corners and the baby became viable.”

Like others husbands whose wives are suffering from HG, King felt scared and helpless as he worried about the life of his wife and unborn child. With Ann Marie sick for her entire pregnancy, unable even to drink water, the run-up to fatherhood was anything but giddy.

“It’s supposed to be an exciting time,” King said. “You want to celebrate all these fun times about your first pregnancy and it’s all overshadowed and replaced with fear. It’s just all, will my wife make it? Will my baby make it?”

“You see your wife, who is just basically fighting for survival, and you almost forget that she’s pregnant, but without a mother you don’t have a baby,” he said. 

The couple couldn’t find much information about HG, and their doctors didn’t always know how to treat the various complications that arose, like an infected feeding tube line. King scoured the Internet for information and stayed by his wife’s side, almost losing his job.

Image: King family
courtesy of the King family
The King family smiles on the beach this summer. Ann Marie King suffered from hyperemesis gravidarum while pregnant with her son, Conner, who hugs her in this photo.

“I was looking for answers,” said King, who with his wife co-founded an HG education and research group, the HER Foundation, after their son was born. “As a man and her husband and her protector, my job is to protect her and I felt helpless and the doctors didn’t necessarily know what to do. You just feel very helpless.”

Today, with a 9-year-old old son and a 4-year-old daughter the couple adopted rather than risk another case of HG, King has visited with families in the midst of HG through his work with the foundation.

“It’s always the same,” King said. “Men are scared, just like I was. They feel helpless and hopeless sometimes, because there are not a lot of answers.”

Men often feel that way because they typically want to solve a problem, but in cases like this, they can’t, said David Diamond, co-director of the Center for Reproductive Psychology in San Diego. And with so much focus on the pregnant woman, the men’s feelings of worry, stress and helplessness tend to get overlooked, he said.

“Society views the man as the strong one whose main role is to be supportive and it doesn’t occur to others that the man has his own worries,” Diamond says. “They don’t think he’s going to have an emotional investment or many feelings at all about the pregnancy.”

“He doesn’t get the social support and validation for his feelings that the woman is likely to going to get,” Diamond said.

But men are more involved in their wives’ pregnancies than people think, he said, and they do worry, often alone. While Diamond imagines Prince William will keep his concern to himself, the support of a friend or relative can help.

“Most men feel a lot of that they want to be strong and stoic but it’s nice if they have someplace they can be with somebody who understands,” Diamond said.

After fathers-to-be get over the initial shock of the HG diagnosis and begin to understand it, they have an important role in supporting their wives, says Ronald Levant, a psychology professor at the University of Akron who studies men and masculinity. It’s a job he thinks modern men are well attuned to.

“The foremost emotion that Will and men like him is likely to experience is extreme fear, even terror,” Levant said. “There’s a lot that men like William in this situation can do. Today’s husband is likely to feel very proactive and want to kind of do whatever he can to support his wife.”

When Grant Quick became a father, he had two reasons to celebrate. Not only did he have a healthy son, but his wife, ill throughout much of her pregnancy with HG, would finally return to her old bubbly self.

Image: Grant Quick holds his son
Courtesy of the Quick family
Grant Quick holds his 5-week-old son, Ben.

“It was a double blessing,” Quick said of the October birth of his first child, Benjamin.

Getting to that joyful day wasn’t easy. It was hard for Quick, 27, to see his wife, Brynn, unable to keep food down, losing weight and hospitalized three times.

“I felt useless throughout the whole thing,” he said. “You try to find the help, finding the people that can treat her but, personally, there’s not a lot you can do. You can’t take away the pain, you just need to try to support your wife.”

Quick helped his wife find a doctor equipped to treat HG and he kept offensive food smells out of their home. Still, like King, Quick said it was hard to think about becoming a dad when his wife was so ill.

“We picked out the name Benjamin early to think more positive about what was happening,” said Quick, of Ashburn, Va. But for couples battling HG, he says, "It’s really hard to get excited about being a parent.

"In Hollywood, we see it’s the happiest time of their lives,” Quick said of impending parenthood. “For my wife it was the complete opposite experience. You try to keep her positive and remind her it’s bad but it’s going to be better.

“It shook me to my core to see her so down and distraught,” he said.

Seeing the sacrifices that his wife endured makes him appreciate little Benjamin so much more, and has brought him closer to Brynn.

“At the end of the day, I think it’s going to bring them closer together,” said Quick, an Australian, of the British royals. “If you can keep together through hyperemessis, I think you can keep together through anything.”

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