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On her drive to work one day in 2010, Jennifer Fridy tightly clutched a Tupperware container in her lap. Every 10 to 15 minutes, Fridy, who was two months pregnant, tore open the lid, vomited in it, then snapped it shut.
“I started throwing up more and more. There was more and more stuff that I wasn’t able to keep down,” she told TODAY. “Just imagine throwing up every 10 minutes every day for 40 weeks."
Fridy, 41, had hyperemesis gravidarum (HG), severe vomiting, nausea, weight loss, and electrolyte imbalances. It is not morning sickness.
“It is an extreme manifestation of what we think of as typical morning sickness,” said Dr. Hyagriv Simhan, division director of maternal-fetal medicine and medical director of obstetrical services at Magee Womens Hospital of UPMC. “It’s essentially a state of persistent nausea and vomiting.”
Most have heard of HG because the Duchess of Cambridge, formerly Kate Middleton, has experienced it with her past two pregnancies and was even hospitalized when she had it in her first pregnancy. She has it with her third pregnancy and is taking it easy.
“Hats off to you for willingly going through this three times,” said Fridy of Duchess Kate. “You are made of sterner stuff than me.”
Fridy — who only had one child, Saffron, 6, partially because she didn’t think she could experience HG again — joins other women impressed by Kate’s willingness to go through another pregnancy with HG.
“When I saw she was pregnant again, I said ‘Oh man, she is brave,’” Melissa Benua, 33, of Seattle, told TODAY.
Benua experienced HG with both her pregnancies and visited the emergency room several times because her frequent vomiting caused dehydration. But in her second trimester the morning sickness drug Diclegis, a combination of B6 and an antihistamine, stopped the vomiting and allowed her to function at about 80 percent.
“It was a huge relief,” she said.
While Benua’s friend, Amy Tsang wouldn’t wish HG on anyone, she feels relieved that the Duchess of Cambridge’s experience with it has raised awareness about the condition. Though, it still seems as if people still struggle to understand HG.
“When Kate Middleton was first pregnant and the radio stations were mocking her and the hyperemesis, it made me want to cry,” Tsang, 37, of Seattle, told TODAY. “It is not something that seems to make sense to people — that somebody could be so sick.”
Tsang suspected she might develop the condition before she even got pregnant; her mother had it. Experts agree that women with mothers and sisters with HG are more likely to have it. When Tsang was five weeks pregnant with her first son, she realized she had it when she ran from the grocery store because the smell from the fish counter made her ill. Soon, she could eat and drink very little.
“I was vomiting everything I ate. I was vomiting bile,” she said.
But everyone told her morning sickness was normal and some even ignored her concerns.
“I was so dehydrated that I was urinating clumps. I should have said something to my midwife but I was so scared she would drop me as a client,” she said. “You get to a point where you are not telling your care provider you are going through this.”
Both Tsang and Fridy tried Zofran, a medication used by cancer patients to manage nausea and vomiting. While Zofran soothed Fridy’s symptoms, the drug didn’t help Tsang, which isn't uncommon. The two drugs available for treatment don't work for every woman with HG.
“My body would physically want to throw up and I wouldn’t be able to,” Tsang said.
The symptoms subside after giving birth and HG mostly does not affect the babies. Tsang isn’t having more children after Gabe, 4, and Walter, 1, but she hopes that Kate continues raising awareness about HG.
“I would consider hyperemesis as more of an illness, a disease," she said. “When people have it like Kate Middleton … they aren’t faking it for attention. Nobody wants that kind of attention.”