My thanks to Sarah Baker for sharing her experiences with HeartMummy Musings.
Recently I have had the chance to chat with the most amazing Health Visitor and it got me thinking on how my life has changed since I became a mummy and also to reflect on my experiences of pregnancy and childbirth.
Looking back, I knew my journey into motherhood would never be an easy one, my husband is in the British Armed Forces and in the last few years we have lived in two different countries, 5 different houses and have been forced to live separately twice. This combined with the fact that I was told I was infertile and could not conceive made things challenging to say the least, but against all the odds, after over 4 years of trying and 5 days before my husband deployed to Afghanistan for 6 months I found out I was pregnant. This was one of the happiest moments of my life! I was ecstatic, shocked, scared and above all amazed!
After my husband deployed I spent a lot of those first few weeks looking through pregnancy and new baby magazines, I even remember commenting to my mum on how good I felt and how lucky I was not to be experiencing any symptoms. This did not last! When I looked at all those magazines one thing in particular struck me, how happy and vibrant all the women looked, how their partners gazed at them in love and wonder and how relaxed they always seemed. I guess in my head, this was what I then came to expect; I knew it wouldn’t all be rosy, but I wanted that pregnancy glow, that loving and bonding feeling between me, my hubby and my growing bump. In reality what I experienced was a far cry from those picture perfect moments. Looking back now I can be honest and say being pregnant was one of the worst times of my life. I don’t mean in any way shape or form that I regretted being pregnant, or that I don’t love and cherish both my children, but I genuinely hated the actual physical state of being pregnant. I hate being pregnant! There, I finally said it out loud!
With no family history of problems in pregnancy or getting pregnant I assumed I wouldn’t either, but mother nature had other plans. For the first 4 weeks of both my pregnancies I was fine, no symptoms, nothing……but once I moved past that point the dreaded Hyperemesis Gavidarum raised its head. Most people, myself included, had never even heard of HG: there was a bit of interest in it after Princess Katherine’s pregnancies, but on the whole most people I met either knew nothing of it or assumed it was ‘just morning sickness’. That was one of the biggest battles to overcome, lack of knowledge, shortly followed by lack of support and lack of understanding, not just from friends and family, but from professionals too.
HG is more than just sickness! For me it started around the 5th/6th week of pregnancies and by week 7 with my first and week 6 with my second I was on my first stint in hospital. I could be sick over 20 times a day, everything and anything could trigger it. Being sick so often left me with crippling acid reflux, but I couldn’t take Gaviscon as that made me sick. It also left me with no energy, feeling drained, my hair started falling out and it caused me to lose massive amounts of weight very quickly. I’m not the smallest person in the world, so luckily I had some weight to lose, but in my second pregnancy I lost nearly 4 stone in weight. The emotional drain of all this was horrible. I was still working when I became pregnant the first time and was left trying to explain to my employer why I needed such extreme amounts of time off work for ‘just being pregnant’ as they saw it. I lost touch with friends because I couldn’t leave the house. After a while people stopped asking after me because they either didn’t understand what was wrong, didn’t want to know the details of sickness or simply believed it was ‘only morning sickness’ and everyone gets that so I should just suck it up and get on with it.
I struggled to eat, but that made the sickness worse, which meant eating became impossible….it was a vicious cycle to be stuck in. With my first I knew no difference so thought everyone went through this. When I spoke to the practise nurse the first time I was told that morning sickness just meant baby was healthy and growing……in reality that is not always true and definitely not necessarily true for HG. I had to push and push to be seen by a doctor and even then they were reluctant to prescribe me anything. By the time I finally got hold of some anti-emetics I was being sick so often that I couldn’t keep the tablets down, so their benefits were non existent. Even with my second pregnancy I was faced with misinformation and delays in treatment. I remember going to see the nurse and saying I thought I was pregnant again. Once she had done the urine test the first thing I asked was about HG, only to be told that the chances of it happening again were slim…..another piece of misinformation: chances of suffering HG in subsequent pregnancies are high and increase with the number of further pregnancies. Again this meant a delay in getting access to medication, and again I was left at home without support until it was too late and I needed to be hospitalised.
If anything could change with the diagnosis and care of HG suffers I think the biggest thing would be to change knowledge around this condition so to allow care to become proactive rather than reactive.
There is nothing worse than someone asking you if you have tried ginger/seasickness bands/grapefruit/sucking a mint or whatever other old wives’ tale they think might help when all you can think about is where the nearest bin is to be sick in. Being sick is horrendous, but almost worse than that is the feeling and knowledge that you are going to be sick. Even now, that feeling of impending sickness brings me out in a cold sweat and leaves me panicking and shaking.
In the space of a few weeks I went from a happy mum-to-be who was working, running the family home and generally in control to a scared, emotionally and physically drained shell of the person I was, hiding in my house, restricted to the ground floor as I was too weak to climb the stairs.
Most of the information I had about HG was from good old Dr Google, not the most reliable of sources, but I assumed that once in hospital I would at least be able to find help and support. Again this was not the case. I still remember a Nurse speaking to me and saying “You have to eat, think of your baby” as if I was choosing not to eat, as if anyone would choose HG?!?! I never chose any of it, I wouldn’t even wish it on my worst enemy.
With my HG I often found the severity of it would peak a bit and then drop a little, only to peak again. Every time it dipped a bit and things started to look a little better doctors and professionals were far too quick to sign me off, send me home and generally wash their hands of me. This meant when it peaked again, as it always did, I was back to the beginning and struggling for the support/recognition. A lot of my hospital admissions were through out of hours doctors or A&E because there were no other options available to me at that stage. Again, it was made so much harder for me to gain the support I desperately needed.
As I’ve said before though, the HG is more than just sickness. I began to dread anyone coming to the house because I was unable to clean or look after myself. During my first pregnancy I struggled to walk our dog and remember one time getting half way round the airfield only to be faced with that sickening feeling. There was nowhere to hide, nowhere to run so I crouched on the side of the airfield and threw up. My poor dog was so concerned she came running over to me….and I was promptly sick on her too. It’s degrading, it’s humiliating, it strips you of who you are and leaves you a frail shell of the person you once were. With my second I was unable to care for my daughter at home, I couldn’t cook her meals or play with her. She stayed at home with Daddy for a bit, before going into full time childcare, but I will still always worry about the effect all of this had on her and will forever remember how scared she was to see me in hospital with the central lines. It made me cry that she didn’t want to come near me or hug me, I felt I was not only missing out on my pregnancy, but now I was missing out on her childhood as well.
When I finally got the needed medication it was accompanied by lots of “only take this if you have to” style comments. Not the helpful message anyone suffering HG needs. If you are suffering HG you NEED to take the meds BEFORE you desperately need them otherwise you can’t keep them down and they are non effective, but the guilt ladled on with the prescriptions often left me waiting till it was too late to take them. To a certain extent, when my HG was at its worst, non of the combination of drugs I was on worked, none of them took me back to how I was before HG took its grip. It didn’t matter if “this drug is usually only used for people suffering sickness as a side effect from chemo” it still wasn’t enough to control the crippling nausea and sickness.
I also found the constant throwing up affected my teeth and in my second pregnancy I ended up having to have 3 teeth removed as they were so badly damaged, another lasting memory of the horrible HG. With my son the sickness was even worse and left me in hospital almost bed ridden for 4 months. My veins collapsed so much that they fitted me with a central line. In total I had 3 central lines, each one was a horrible experience and left me with both mental and physical scars. The 3rd central line became infected and then I ended up in ICU with septicaemia blood poisoning, septic shock and suspected multiple organ failure. My body was basically shutting down around me and this was one of the scariest times of my life. I was left with on going liver issues as well as anaemia and problems with my blood count.
I will admit, there was a point in both pregnancies where I thought “Enough is enough, I want out”. Its a horrible thing to admit, but one of the biggest things HG robbed me of was the ability to love my growing bump. When your in the midst of the grip of HG people say “think of your baby”, but I couldn’t, I could barely think of myself, all I could focus on was trying not to throw up or pass out for the next few minutes. I felt distant and removed from pregnancy. Pregnancy was meant to be this wonderful positive experience and it wasn’t. How could this nightmare of a situation be linked to a baby? My head couldn’t cope with it, so it was easier to just ignore the ‘baby’ element and try to survive the HG. No one ever spoke to me about how it made me feel, or if I was able to feel bonding or love for my bump. It made me feel empty, it made me feel angry, it made me feel sad and confused and above all scared. I love my children beyond measure, but at its worst it made me question my pregnancy and wonder if I would ever live through it.
Imagine going through all of that, both the physical and the emotional elements and still having to fight for treatment, fight people’s ignorance and fight their inability to see the wider effects HG has.
The assumption from all the professionals, my consultant and midwife was “it will all be worth it in the end” “ it will all go away once you have baby” That’s rubbish! It doesn’t just magically stop as soon as you give birth. Yes the physical sickness stopped for me, but I still had issues with my weight, my relationship with food, my mental health, my liver function and blood count and above all else I struggled to bond with my son. This was so hard and something I never talked about. How could I admit that having gone through all of that I couldn’t find the love for this tiny innocent baby? But I couldn’t and it was hard. I had become so detached from the pregnancy as a creation of a baby, I had become so consumed by HG that it was almost strange to be presented with this screaming small person at the end of it. We got there in the end, but again without the support of the professionals. Not once did anyone allow me to speak about HG after the birth or ask me how it was effecting me still. The consensus was it was now behind me, I had my healthy baby and I should be content with that. But even now, nearly 2 years after having my second, I am left with horrifying nightmares, flashbacks and panic attacks at the mention of a sickness bug. It’s left me fearing another pregnancy and even fearing sex itself and has put barriers between me and my husband.
We had always said we would have three children, three was our magic number. HG has robbed me of that too.