I’ve debated publishing this post for some time – in fact months. Every week I’ve said to my husband that I’ll finish it off but I’ve always found an excuse not to. I’ve been plagued with worry about what people would think – whether they would think I was pathetic, dramatic and over the top. But I decided today is the day. Today has been really tough after another hospital visit – I always seem to be in hospital for one reason or another these days and it takes its toll on me and my family. But tonight as I sat down and began to cry from feeling terrible and relentlessly sick, my little one (Rishi, who is now 17months) went into my bag, found me a tissue and then gave me a cuddle. That has given me the push I needed as I just thought that I owe it to my family and those that have supported me to be open and frank about what it is like to be pregnant and suffer with hyperemesis.
So, if you have five minutes to spare, please read on. It might give you a little insight into an illness that you may or may not have heard of.
“Wow, you look amazing” said friend
“Thanks, I literally love being pregnant, I haven’t felt sick once” said other woman
I am pregnant. Now, don’t get me wrong. I love the result that being pregnant produces … just not the 9 months that precedes it. This is because I have a condition known as hyperemesis gravidarum (or more commonly known as HG).
When I dreamt of being pregnant (which I used to do – a lot – fearing it would never happen) I always imagined I would be that pregnant woman with gorgeous glowing hair, cute clothes, wedges and just generally bossing it. A close friend of mine that I love very much is one of those people… she was radiant and loved being pregnant. At the time I was so envious I would sometimes cry but now I am so so pleased that she loved it and she got to experience the magic of it all. In all my day-dreaming of being pregnant I never imagined that I would be losing (not gaining) weight, be bed bound for days on end and struggling to eat or drink, preferring to be alone than be in the company of my best friends. I do regularly tell myself off if I am feeling sad. Old me would have listened to new me moaning about pregnant and said “oh shut up, you’re pregnant, it’s a blessing”. And you know what, if the choice is pregnant and having HG or not being pregnant at all I would demand that sick bowl, hook myself up to an IV and be ready to face anything head on. Some days I can recognise that this is an illness which I need to deal with and that I need help, love and support. Other days I think I am shit at being pregnant and hating myself for dealing with it all so badly. But that’s the first hurdle: trying to overcome the shame that I can’t handle something that I am biologically made for, because a lot of the time I feel embarrassed that I can’t cope with something natural, that I can’t make it down the street, let alone socialise or make it to work.
But here we are, and after losing one baby and then having HG with Rishi… I’m laid here pregnant with baby number two… with HG that is even worse than last time. For those of you that don’t know much about HG, let’s clarify a few things:
⁃ firstly, approximately 80per cent of women will suffer with some form of pregnancy sickness (and I call it that because it doesn’t just occur in the morning like the term morning sickness makes you think it will). The severity of that sickness can vary hugely;
⁃ Secondly, there are lots of things that can happen during pregnancy. Ladies, you are heroes… goddesses… if you’re pregnant, you’re coping with daily life and growing a human (which is like trying to ride the Tour De France whilst at the same time living a normal life), give yourself a pat on the back. One of those “things that can happen” is HG. It’s estimated that it affects around 1 per cent of pregnant woman, and it’s classed as severe nausea and vomiting, infact in some countries it’s classified as a temporary disability. HG will usually require medical intervention, you will suffer from rapid weight loss, dehydration and periods of sickness and nausea. It’s like a constant and unrelenting hangover – without any of the vodka or dancing on tables you would normally get to enjoy before hand. It can also have real mental side effects and an impact – anxiety, sadness, worry and just feeling like you are not enough. It can tail off or it can continue throughout pregnancy. Big shout out to my mum – she also suffered from HG and was sick every day of her pregnancy and right into labour. It can be a debilitating and life threatening condition and it is often greatly misunderstood;
⁃ Common pregnant sickness remedies won’t help. So if you have a friend suffering from HG, advising them of the power of ginger won’t really help them. Offer them love, support and hugs or just some of your time. My best friend and right hand woman sent me some sick bags and wet wipes as a little gift – useful and was really kind of her.
I can’t quite explain how difficult living through HG is. But really I am lucky. There are people out there dealing with chronic and debilitating illnesses. As bad as HG can be, at least it will be over at some point and, after that point, I will hopefully have a healthy baby to cuddle at the end of it. The effects of HG do not always last for the whole pregnancy, but mentally I am preparing myself that it will (the disappointment of focussing on a point in time after which it might get better, and then to wake up that next day and still feel like a bag of shit is more than I can take). So, in my mind, roll on January 2020. I want to meet this bun in the oven and go back to feeling like the mother, wife, friend, daughter and lawyer that I want to be, but can’t be at the moment.
Before going any further I want to get a few things off my chest. I know we are very lucky to have fallen pregnant and to have a beautiful baby boy. Before we had got pregnant with Rishi I would have lost it if I had heard someone “moaning about being pregnant”. I would have said that I would do anything to have a baby, whatever the cost, and that they should suck it up and be grateful. And, we are grateful. And blessed. But it’s not as simple as that. Turns out, old me, was an idiot. Sorry, old me, but you are… about a lot of stuff related to babies… stupid.
I also underestimated how bad hyperemesis could be a second time around. I was cocky and thought we did it once, we can do it again. I hadn’t prepared for the fact that it could be worse. Roughly the statistics say that if you have HG in your first pregnancy you are highly likely to get it again. This time round I have lost more weight, I have been hospitalised (a fair few times), have been on a cocktail of drugs to try to control it and have taken six weeks off as sick leave. This last bit is huge for me. I am never off work. But I also kick myself now because if I had researched more I would have known about preventative measures I could have taken to reduce the sickness, I would have known that if the first course of medication that the doctor prescribed didn’t work, there were other (better) options. Instead I needlessly suffered – in particular during that six week off work. And for that, I am kicking myself.
I know in comparison to others who suffer with HG, I am lucky as now at 30 weeks I have obtained something like semblance of a normal life and haven’t had long periods of time in hospital but with the combination of HG, horrid viruses (which are often another trigger for HG) and an untold effect on my mental health, I would say I am surviving.
Some days are better than others, and now I’m on the right medication (and by that I mean one that didn’t give me crippling side effects), the sickness is controlled. At this point I can’t manage without the medication and I am facing the fact that I will need it right unit new baby arrives. But I am a long way from the vomiting continuously for 6hours and being rushed to A&E or being bed bound and unable to pick up or play with Rishi. The nausea is still relentless (and if anything is worse than earlier in my pregnancy) and the mental side effects are there and my emotions are still all over the place. I imagine it will take some time post labour to really get back to “me”. I still suffer with food aversion but I’m really trying. I don’t know how I could have possibly coped without my husband and my parents support. I do sometimes feel isolated from friends (even my closest friends) and colleagues though. Ultimately I think the illness is not widely understood and so people just don’t really know how to address it. But I just need to keep going for my family, and this bump. Keep taking one day at a time and going from there.
If you know anyone that is suffering and want to help, you should know that just a few small acts of kindness will make a huge difference. Whether it’s dropping in to say hello or offering to babysit or even just a phone call – when I have been at my deepest lows these gestures really have helped pick me up and remind me that I am not alone. I remember a sunny afternoon when Rishi’s god mum was coming over to see me whilst my husband was out for the afternoon. It was the first time in several weeks that we were letting a non-family member in to the house and I cried all morning stressing about it – would I be able to make conversation with her? What would she would think of me in this state? But once she was in the house, she was wonderful. She didn’t react to the “me” she saw, she just spoke to me and made me feel comfortable.
Another thing that has helped me has been my amazing husband. As the illness is so misunderstood (even by GPs), you can find yourself being given the wrong advice and are too fatigued and anxious to say anything. This happened to me when my GP advised I stop taking all my medication because of the side effects (forgetting that there was a serious reason to be on the medication in the first place). But my husband told me to ignore my GP and came with me for my consultant appointment a few days later – and he came prepared. By the end of my consultation I finally had been put on to the right medication, had a care plan and had someone who understand my illness engage with me properly rather than trying to get rid of me. Up until then, the side effects had really taken hold – I panicked about being in a busy lift, I struggled to structure a sentence and was constantly shaking. I couldn’t leave the house and I couldn’t walk more than 100metres at a time. I needed someone to fight for the care I needed.
And in relation to HG, this experience has taught me:
⁃ to fight for the care you need and deserve and don’t be satisfied until you have a care plan in place;
⁃ to be aware that you shouldn’t be bed ridden and there is help. There are options;
⁃ to speak to other sufferers and contact Pregnancy Sickness Support. I cannot tell you how reassured I was after speaking to them and being told that I shouldn’t be feeling like I did and that there was care available. For the first time someone listened to me, told me it didn’t have to be like this and gave me the means to argue with the doctors for more support.
⁃ Generally people won’t understand how you feel. Some of the special people in your life might make the effort to read up on the subject and that has meant the world to me. But no one knows what it’s like to have any illness unless they have also had it (and even then, one persons illness might not be the same as another’s). For me, one of my main frustrations has been the misdiagnosis by friends and colleagues. People think I have morning sickness or just end up being dismissive about my illness. They fail to realise the implications of HG or that it is an illness. or the mental impact it has had and continues to have on me. I still get upset when that happens, I still get angry. And I want to educate…
But for anyone out there that is suffering with HG, I want you to know…
It’s not your fault.
You’re not a failure.
You are surviving through every day and you’re a hero – whatever happens.