In days before Kate Middleton became a household name Hyperemesis gravidarum (HG) was only really on the radar of those unfortunate enough to suffer from this extreme and debilitating illness. It is still not widely known, or understood even by some healthcare professionals, and many many women suffer daily for weeks (and often months) on end with little to no support. I wanted to share my experiences of extreme Morning Sickness, better described as Nausea and Vomiting in Pregnancy as another voice in raising awareness – I am one of the lucky ones, I did not have HG, but the impact NVP can have on your life is dramatic, and to all the women suffering with HG – you are true survivors.
NVP hit me before I even knew I was pregnant with my first baby. I was helping lay a concrete floor (!) as we were renovating our workshop, the energy drained from me and I could barely put one foot in front of the other, let alone push a barrow of concrete mix. Extreme nausea built up rapidly over the next few days until just walking into the kitchen would make me retch uncontrollably. I have never felt so ill and would describe it as a cross between the flu, a hangover and Norovirus all rolled in to one. Luckily I was working from home – I don’t know how I would have made it into work, it took all my strength to drag myself around the animals to do the morning chores – having to stop regularly to retch. For some reason the smell of hay seemed to affect me the most badly – so feeding the goats was agonising. And that would be pretty much it for the rest of the day drifting in and out of consciousness in bed, taking sips of water and trying to force down some toast. The nausea was relentless, all day every day, with a brief window of relief in the early evening- my partner would get home from work and cook tea, which I would be able to keep down. Inevitably I lost a lot of weight, but neither my partner, or parents could understand why I was so ill, I was after all, only pregnant.
My doctor, and midwife were entirely unsupportive – as long as I was keeping some liquid down I was fine, it was just a bit of Morning Sickness and was completely normal. I suppose to a certain extent I didn’t give them the true extent of how ill I actually was – as my first pregnancy I didn’t really have anything to compare it to and could not understand why my body was having such a hard time dealing with pregnancy. The magazines they give you at your first midwife appointment convinced me that I was overreacting and that is was very unlikely that I would get any medical help. It was not just my body that suffered, but my mind as well. From being a very busy, active smallholder to suddenly being bed ridden for weeks on end took its toll. There were some extremely dark days, one being admitting to my mum that if I lost this baby at least it would bring an end to this misery. Looking at my bouncing, bright 5 year old son I could never imagine life without him or how I could ever have felt like this – but one of the most tragic statistics of HG is that 1000 pregnancies are terminated each year by women suffering from this horrifying illness.
My second pregnancy was a very different story thankfully. It also brought home quite how ill I was with my first. Yes there was some sickness, and exhaustion, and I didn’t fancy a cup of tea in the morning, but I could look after my toddler and get out and about to do the daily chores. This, I realised, was what many people experience as Morning Sickness, and this I could cope with.
Roll on to pregnancy number three. I knew pretty much immediately that I was pregnant, and I was anticipating the nausea. It hit me like a tonne of bricks on week five, which also happened to be the first week of the summer holidays. I let those close to me know early on – I knew I would need all the help I could get, but rather than the excitement I wanted to feel about this much wanted pregnancy, the reality was I just felt very ill. This time I went straight to the doctors and was relieved to get a sympathetic response- particularly as I had two young boys at home for the summer. I was prescribed an antiemetic, and other than having to up the dosage, it brought the all day nausea under some sort of control and I was able to eat. It was not the fun packed summer I had planned, but I managed to get the boys out most days. By week 10 I was starting to come out the other side, and have cut down on the antiemetics and am looking forward to the 2nd trimester burst of energy!
My advice for anyone suffering NVP – particularly if this is your first pregnancy – is don’t suffer in silence. Get to the doctors early and explain exactly what sort of impact is having on your life. HG is a serious and life threatening condition requiring hospitalisation, and can leave sufferers with long term ongoing health problems. There are very safe meditations available for NVP, and although they don’t alleviate the symptoms entirely, they really can make life more bearable. It can be very isolating as so many people are unaware of how severe the symptoms can be, but a great source of online support and information can be found at www.pregnancysicknesssupport.org.uk