Pregnant with Severe Sickness and How I Got Through it 3 Times!
*Detailed discussion of extreme morning sickness*
Last month there was a recognised day for Hyperemesis Gravidium (HG). You might be thinking there’s a bloomin’ day for everything now (you’re probably right), or you could be asking what even is Hyperemesis Gravidum?! Now this question I can help you with. The NHS describe it as ‘Severe vomiting in pregnancy’ and quite frankly that’s only touching the surface. There is so much to this condition that people are still unaware of and this only adds to the confusion, loneliness and guilt surrounding it. But I can promise you that if you want an accurate account of what living with HG is like and how you can get through the day without wanting to cry, scream or take a cocktail of medication to just make the sickness go away you’ve found that here (ok I did lie a little bit there was some crying and medication involved, but only the one!).
I am extremely grateful to have experienced pregnancy 3 times, and to have 2 fantastic, healthy children and another one due any week now. BUT that doesn’t mean I have enjoyed each pregnancy or breezed through them with that fresh glow everyone talks about. The reality is I have experienced HG in all 3 of my pregnancies resulting in being hospitalised and having to take medication every single day. The guilt that comes with having extreme sickness, especially when you have children already can be overwhelming. It’s at this point that I want to stress that this is my story and I am sharing it to help raise exposure and awareness of this condition. It is not medical advice or setting the example I believe everyone should take. Every pregnancy is unique and you should always do what feels right for you. This is just how I have managed to function, at times barely surviving, and in the end thrive through out my current pregnancy.
For me, the sickness has always started bang on 6 weeks. It hits me like a bus and completely wipes me out. The constant feeling of nausea, regular sprints to the bathroom (often not actually making it - it’s a good job I carry dog poo bags in my pocket out of habit!), and catching a sniff of something that makes me want to cry, block my nostrils and gag all at the same time. The first 14 weeks are hell! The only medication that works for me isn’t safe to take during this time so the only option is to battle through. Resting whenever I can (with a preschooler and toddler is near impossible!), sipping water regularly and sticking to cold, bland food as and when I feel able to is key. I feel extremely lucky that my Husband and my Mother In Law, who lives with us, have been around to support me and accept that there are times when I just couldn’t get out of bed. Who knows how many times I woke them in the night projectile vomiting in the bathroom, on the landing and in the kitchen as I ran, hands covering my mouth, to try and reach the downstairs toilet in an attempt to be quiet! The practical side of looking after children when you feel so awful is what I have found the hardest, and what brings the most guilt. Every day tasks like changing them, cooking for them and even helping them to brush their teeth were unbearable. I would gag and heave as I changed pooey nappies, fight back sickness as I cooked their dinner because the smell of hot food was just so horrendous and the thought of having a toothbrush in my mouth would tip me over the edge. Brushing my own teeth became a game of seeing how quickly I could get it over with touching as little of the inside of my mouth as possible and trying not to spit as this just signalled to my body that I was ready to vomit. Thinking about it now I actually don’t know how I got through that. But I did. For 3 pregnancies! Man that took an unbelievable amount of strength and support.
Heartbreakingly there are many women who end their pregnancies because the symptoms of their HG are just so horrendous they see no other way out. For some women the mediation doesn’t work at all, they might not have any support and the guilt that tears them up from not being able to look after their other children is enough to only see one way out. I’m sharing this because I want to get across how much of a battle it is inside your mind, as well as physically when you are living something so awful that feels in some way your fault. There are also lots of medical professionals who still don’t understand HG and refuse to write out prescriptions or share their own viewpoints and opinions around taking medication whilst pregnant - some even saying it’s just morning sickness and will pass. This is NOT helpful and this level of ignorance can be extremely damaging to the mindset of women already in a vulnerable place. If you are struggling and feel your medical professionals aren’t listening or supporting you as you’d like them to then please ask to see someone else as having someone who gets it makes such a huge difference!
For me I had to regularly tell myself that this wasn’t forever and it would all end one day. There was always hope that day would come sooner but with all of my pregnancies I’ve experienced HG right until birth. That doesn’t mean every day has been horrendous, some are better than others but it highlights how everyone is so different. This time around knowing what to expect, and feeling more confident that I could get through it really helped me mentally and it supported me in being proactive and putting a plan in place. My Midwives and Doctors have been brilliant and for the majority of the time have made sure I had the medication that works for me, knew all my options and received the support I needed. I also knew that there would be times I would vomit and it would come from no where -cue the back pocket of poo bags, and the stash of poo bags, wipes and mints in the car. I had ginger biscuits to help get me through the night when id wake up hungry but feeling sick. I stocked up on things I craved that helped me feel less nauseas; milk shake, orange juice, dried apricots, salty crisps, cheese so I always had something to hand to help me. I accepted that most days I would need at least 2 breakfasts and avoided things like porridge because FYI you do not want to throw that up! Seriously you won’t be able to breathe! When cooking for the kids I would block my nose with tissue and breathe through my mouth or if I could get someone else to cook and stay upstairs out of the way. I ate cold foods rather than hot foods as these didn’t tend to smell and avoided places that might have strong food smells (lockdown actually helped with this). I accepted ALL support and help I could and rested whenever possible. I had weeks when I didn’t wash my hair and really dragged out the mum bun and dry shampoo and just learned to be ok with that. I wore clothes that didn’t feel tight around my tummy and bump because this added to the sick feeling. I started taking medication as soon as I could and continued it knowing that it worked for me. I had a few extra private scans for my peace of mind as this helped me to be less anxious and I told myself when I was feeling guilty that I was doing everything I could for my baby and my body at that time. Of course I wish I didn’t have to take medication. Of course I wish I could eat what I wanted to and spend quality time with my 2 other children every day. But some days all we can do is our best and accepting this is what helped me to not only survive but in the end thrive. My children are not damaged because some days they watching lots of tv. They don’t feel any less attached to me because at times I couldn’t be there and I had to rely on other people. They aren’t worried about me because me and my husband explained clearly and simply to them when I was being sick that Mummy is ok, just sometimes when people grow babies it makes them feel poorly.
As I said at the beginning I feel extremely grateful for my family, but you are allowed to feel grateful and sad at the same time. You have permission to grieve for the pregnancy experience you thought you would have but haven’t. If you are suffering I hope you find some comfort in knowing you’re not on your own and that there are options to help you feel better. I urge you to try them and accept support whenever you can. If you know someone with HG, or even general morning sickness, please reach out to them and see if there’s anything you can do. Together we can all make a difference, and before you know it your baby will be in your arms and the rest as they say is history x
Hi I’m Olivia The Positive Parent Coach and Mum to 2 little people, soon to be 3! I have struggled with extreme sickness in all 3 of my pregnancies and wanted to share my story of how I have coped whilst also having to look after my other children. I pride myself in being real and honest, as I am with all the families I work with, and I hope my blog either helps to develop your understanding or see that you are not alone in experiencing lows in pregnancy. There is so much pressure on Mums to enjoy every second of pregnancy and motherhood and this is unrealistic and actually damaging to our mindsets as it most certainly sets us all up to fail. I’ve worked hard over the last 13 years to support and empower Mums to be the best they can be on that day and not to put too much pressure on themselves. Thank you Allie for giving me the platform to share something so close to my heart, and thank you to you all for taking the time to read it.x
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If you or someone you know is experiencing HG, Olivia recommends the group 'Pregnancy Wellbeing Hub' on Facebook, as a source of support.