My story

Hi, I’m Charlotte Howden and I am a HG survivor. My journey into the nightmare that is HG started in August 2015. After nearly 2 years of trying to conceive I finally got my BFP. After that I soon started planning being a mother, checking online due date calendars and picking out nursery colours. I already knew that I would be finding out the sex of the baby, as I am super impatient.

Whilst this was going on I was terrified that something was wrong with my pregnancy, as at 6 weeks I FELT NOTHING. No twinges, no nausea and no morning sickness. So much so I begged my midwife to give me an earlier booking appointment (how stupid was I, she couldn’t do anything to see if everything was okay) and also booked an early scan at 8 weeks. Oh the irony. At 7 weeks pregnant my HG started.

Fat hippo looking at another fat hippo (but I was well at this point)

I don’t have any other photos of me when I was pregnant, as I did not want to document any of it. I was so ill and looked and felt so wretched, that even when I was better, mentally I didn’t want any reminder of being pregnant and what I had endured.

From 7 weeks pregnant until around 11 weeks I suffered alone, in my room, with no help. My husband was my main carer, whilst also trying to run a new start-up business by himself (he literally incorporated the company the day before I found out I was pregnant).

During these 4 weeks I was sick up to 20 times a day, had excessive saliva (another lovely side effect of HG), which used to choke me in my sleep and did not eat for weeks. I lost <5% of my body weight and nearer the end of that time, my body started to refuse water. I suffered with sever dehydration towards the end as well as hallucinations and sever depression.

It was at this point that my husband and my mother (who had to advocate for me as I mentally was not capable of doing so) forced me to go to my GP.

My experience with primary care (GPs) was not the best. On my first visit I was given rehydration sachets to put in to water to help with my dehydration and prescribed Cyclizine. Cyclizine is basically a antihistamine and side effects for me were severe sleepiness and poor vision.

Its deemed to be safe to take in pregnancy and it certainly stopped me from being sick……BECAUSE I WAS ASLEEP FOR 20 HOURS OF THE DAY. As a self employed marketer and event presenter, I was unable to work and could not financially contribute anymore to my household bills.

My husband was suffering, I was beyond any mental help and had started in the 4 hours I was awake to vomit stomach acid and bile. Another intervention and another trip to the GP. This time I was forced to give a urine sample to show whether I was dehydrated. Despite not being able to keep down little if any fluid. Surprise surprise I was severely dehydrated (no shit sherlock) and was told to go straight to the early pregnancy unit for immediate rehydration via a drip.

Short on beds, I was in a ward with women who had miscarried, had just had a hysterectomy and also women with ectopic pregnancies. I felt like a fraud. But after bags of fluid and anti sickness medication via a drip, I was better. I ACTUALLY ORDERED HOSPITAL FOOD AND ATE IT AND KEPT IT DOWN. So I was discharged. Within 10 hours of release I was being sick again.

I spent another week in agony, and at nearly 12 weeks pregnant I was so low that I dreamt of dying, prayed to die and started to contemplate abortion. You see HG has no cure. Ill just leave that there for you to think about.

I couldn’t understand why I was so well after being in hospital, to come back home again and be so ill. The medication the GP prescribing doing nothing, but the drugs in hospital making me able to think I could maybe do this and continue with this pregnancy.

Another week, another 7 days of being sick 20 times a day, no longer keeping any medication down and no longer able to drink water.

This time I took myself to the hospital and I begged them (whilst my mother was sat crying next to me) to “help” me, which was code for give me an abortion. I received the fluids and the drugs via an IV again and was momentarily well again, and with my mind back to some functionality, I begged the doctor to give me the drugs she has given me via the drip to take home with me. “I can’t”, she said. “I cannot prescribe anything, your GP has to”.

So armed with the bane of the wonder drug, Ondansetron, I went to my GP and I asked for it. “No”, she said. “Ondansetron, is not licensed for use in pregnancy and so I can’t give it to you.” Wait, but they have been giving it to my in hospital……WHAT’S THE DIFFERENCE? No answer. I left convinced that within 10 hours I would be back to being sick and not able to drink water, and that this would continue until my child was born and I just knew that I couldn’t do it. I honestly thought that this would kill me.

I was one of the lucky ones though, I didn’t realise this at the time and I am thankful for it now. My doctor at the hospital fought my GPs decision and I was prescribed Ondansetron. If it wasn’t for her and for me not giving up, I am not 100% convinced that my son would be here today. For some women they have no one to fight for them. Also, Ondansetron worked for me. It doesn’t for many women, and after this drug the only place to go is steroids (like way harder to get hold of, almost impossible).

By 22 weeks, I wasn’t over it, but I was better and life had gone back to some relative normality. But my mental health didn’t recover and still hasn’t.

1000 women a year terminate because of HG. Due in part to a lack of support and access to medication.

Something has to be done to standardise the care and treatment of women with HG in the UK and the world.

The Sick Film is my contribution to doing just that.