Pregnancy

Have you tried ginger? What not to ask someone with Hyperemesis Gravidarum

To all Hyperemesis Gravidarum warriors – you are epic women. Note this article talks about food.

To all those fortunate enough not to have Hyperemesis Gravidarum we need you to understand it is not just morning sickness. It is not a normal part of pregnancy. It can lead to all sorts of complications – physically and mentally. We need you to support, love, care for us – sometimes in ways which may seem counter-intuitive. This article is written to help all those who have this condition who come after me.

One day you are fine and the next day the nausea comes and it stays. As an IBS sufferer, I am used to nausea every morning so I hoped it would go away but it didn’t. I had a long train journey to make with a heavy hiking sack and my stomach felt tender – not ideal with a hip strap. We made it home and I went to bed. The next day was similar and I managed to do a food shop but the nausea did not go away. Other symptoms suggested it might not be IBS and I took a pregnancy test. It was positive. The emotions which came were numbness mixed with an overwhelming sense of ‘I should be happy’. It was great news and yet my previous pregnancies have been far from a lot of fun.

I suffer from Hyperemesis Gravidarum. You may have heard about it when the Duchess of Cambridge had it and people told her to get on with it – just a royal wanting some sympathy. That is so far from the truth and this mentality is very damaging. Hyperemesis is extreme morning sickness -all day and all night. Women can end up hospitalised if they don’t keep enough fluids down. I was almost at this point with my 2nd pregnancy. Thanks to a drug which they normally give chemo patients to stop sickness, this time I have managed to keep food down- most of the time -with a big dose of determination to lie still and keep my mouth shut, and a lot of help.  

Let me try and describe my day to you.

I wake up feeling nauseous and reach for a bowl of oats soaked in milk my husband has left by my bed. I eat the first few spoonfuls lying down until my stomach settles enough for me to sit up, if I can at all.

I eat slowly; whilst eating the nausea seems to reduce. I have water and my tablets and then sit very still for the next half an hour or more, not talking and sometimes not even able to listen to anything, to try and keep the food down.

Mornings are the best time of day for me (ironically, given the term ‘morning sickness’) and I can usually sit up for an hour and do some admin on the computer or even get up and do some tidying. Too much bending means I am back in bed so the house work is largely left to others or not done at all.

By about 11.15am I’m hungry and the nausea is beginning to build again. If I don’t eat soon, I will be sick. The bad taste in my mouth makes me want something full of flavour but I don’t have much capacity for cooking. As a nutritionist, I know lots about what my body and this baby need, but sometimes I just have to put that aside to get through the day. The medication is playing havoc with my digestive system so I opt for something with plenty of fibre and something as balanced as I can make avoiding certain things which make the nausea even worse. The number 1 goal is to keep food and fluid down.

After lunch I sit again very still and quietly. The nausea builds and I try to sleep. Sometimes I can but other times I have too much on my mind, or I simply haven’t been active enough to need to sleep, so I just lie in bed as the nausea gets worse. I have some crisps to try to help. It helps, but only for a few minutes. My boys (age 10 and 6) get home from school and I drag myself out of bed to open the door, sometimes able to say hello and sometimes not. (I am so grateful to the people who have picked my boys up from school and brought them home every day).  The boys want to talk, to do what I have always done with them – shared their day when they come home from school – but I can’t. I have to go back up to bed. They get sorted by themselves and then come and chat to me. I respond in nods; if I can muster more, I do. I can still do cuddles and they are so important for all of us.

I stay in bed until someone brings food (again we have been very fortunate to have friends who have helped by bringing hot meals tailored to my food needs – critically not tomato based foods as they have been unbearable – which is hard when lots of family meals are tomato based!). If I don’t eat early enough I am sick so the family routine has had to change too. If I can, I sit with the boys to have food. They want to talk and sometimes I can manage a little chat whilst I am eating but as soon as I stop eating the nausea comes back in force. I retreat to bed and sit again in the quiet and then lie down when I can’t sit any more. There I stay until bedtime. I only get up to get a snack or to go to the loo. Ice cold water helps reduce the nausea so I am drinking about 1200ml between dinner and bed. Little sips.

Nights are variable. My body is not tired in the way it would be after a full day so sleep can be broken or it can take a while to get off to sleep. When I wake up I can be nauseous and have headaches which is not much fun.

I have been fortunate in a number of ways:

  • my bedroom has a big bay window and is south facing. The sunshine has made such a difference.
  • we have had lots of people who have helped us with shopping, cooking, lifts and school pickups
  • my boys can do quite a bit for themselves so I have been able to stay still and keep food down
  • I have been able to cope with most food smells (some people can’t and even reading, thinking or talking about food can make them sick)
  • I have not been hospitalised (as it often the case with hyperemesis)

Despite all this to be grateful for, it has been very hard.

We have taken a financial hit with me not working – I have had to cancel trainings and not take on clients who have contacted me – I feel like I am letting people down. We have also had to pay for breakfast club at school so my husband can get to work at a sensible time (I used to do the school runs). We are also spending more on food because we have had to opt for convenience foods more.

I am an independent woman. I like to help people and be busy. I can’t. It also gives me too much time to think and worry. Too much time to wonder what life is going to be like with 3, what I can do work wise, what the impact on the boys will be.

It is also incredibly lonely on my own, not able to talk to people. I have done some chatting via Facebook Messenger but if I have a headache that’s not always possible. I miss people, real conversations, people telling me how they, are not just asking how I am doing – I know how I am doing! My mental health has been in a bad place and although I know this will end, it doesn’t make it easier in the process.

The other thing which has been hard, and having looked at the information on the Pregnancy Sickness Support website I am not alone in this, is when people give suggestions on what might help. This makes me feel like I am not trying hard enough, with thoughts like “maybe if I did this small thing then I would be better”. Hyperemesis doesn’t work like that. I am doing EVERYTHING I can to look after myself.

It has also not been helpful when people have said “Once you get to 12 weeks, it will get better”. It might not. Some people improve, some people’s symptoms go away completely around this time but some don’t. I already feel like I am not doing things right but to hear people talk about the 12-week mark makes me feel like, if I don’t improve by then, I will have failed even more. Have you ever waited ages for a bus when you are running late or really cold and wet, and then you think you see it, and then you realise it was just a truck and there is no bus in sight? Multiply that feeling by a thousand and you get to somewhere near how this feels.

This is not just being sick in pregnancy. If you know someone who has this condition: they have seen their GP or midwife; they are getting medical support; they don’t need advice from every angle, however well meaning; they need you to listen to them, to be available if they need them, to encourage them, to listen to what they need and how they need it and then act…

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