A new royal baby! Great news! The Duchess of Cambridge is expecting her third child! Everyone’s thrilled! Not me, though. I read the news – and I felt sick.
I’m not anti-royals. It’s just that Kate's had to announce this pregnancy quite early on, much like with babies number 1 and 2, because of hyperemesis gravidarum – a severe form of morning sickness – and its brought back some pretty horrendous memories of my own.
I fell pregnant on 1st January 2012, and a month later the nausea punched me in the throat. The pregnancy had been a surprise and I’d barely had two days to get used to the idea and work out what the hell we would do with a baby, when morning sickness kicked in. And it floored me – I couldn’t move, I could barely breathe without another surge of sickness coursing through my guts, chest and throat. I didn’t get out of bed for days on end, I didn’t eat but for the odd Cheerio my mum forced between my dry lips. It took up to ten minutes to swallow one sip of water.
Firstly, 'morning' sickness? What a crock. With HG, it’s a constant rolling from the minute you wake up to the minute you finally pass out for an hour’s sleep before another wave hits you so hard you wake up in a sweat. Secondly, there was nothing I could do to escape it. Lying down didn’t help, and trying to distract myself with reading or watching TV was out of the question. Scrolling through Twitter was like boarding a rollercoaster after a six-course banquet. And the food triggers were EVERYWHERE. It would get worse when I smelt anything, and my sense of smell had gone turbo – I could tell from upstairs when someone opened the lid of the bin in the kitchen. I could smell my husband’s car pulling up outside before I could hear it, and could smell his breath from the next room.
People offered advice. And I hated those people. “Have you tried ginger biscuits?” was the thing I heard most often, to which I’d reply, “Yes, thank you, I’ve tried every f*cking thing on the menu, NOTHING BLOODY WORKS!” The problem is, morning sickness is so common: 70-80% of women are affected, and the spectrum goes from feeling a bit queasy to full-on vomiting - so it felt like either I was a giant pussy, or nobody fully understood how bad I felt. Everyone made sympathetic sounds but ultimately still expected me to work, socialise and get ready for the baby. Luckily I was a freelance writer, so I could take a break, but still, when it didn't seem to be getting any better after a week, I sensed my husband getting frustrated. However, honestly, I was so ill, he could have left - everyone could have left - and I wouldn't have cared.
After a particularly horrendous episode about 3 weeks in my mum panicked and took me to the hospital. First, I had a scan to check I was definitely pregnant. It turned out they were scanning to establish I had just the one baby in there – apparently severe morning sickness is more common with multiple births (sidenote: OMG, imagine if Kate is having twins!) Then they ran some tests and it turned out my ketones – the acid that remains when your body burns through its own fat because it has little else to burn for energy – were really high. Essentially, my body was eating itself with nothing else on the menu. Like Kate, I was diagnosed with Hyperemesis Gravidarum, which affects 1% of women with pregnancy sickness. The cause is still unclear, although thank goodness we're out of the era when doctors assumed it was a psychosomatic disorder. If anyone had told me it was all in my head, I would have punched theirs.
The way it was affecting my body was putting both my child and myself in danger. If I lost too much weight or became too dehydrated, I'd lose the baby. They decided to admit me, put me on a drip and try medication for the nausea. It looked and felt as though I was dying. 'I am so ill', I kept thinking. 'Why is everyone congratulating me?' And I cried. A LOT. That first night in the hospital, I felt like a failure, that this supposedly natural process was beyond my body – I couldn’t cope. But 24 hours on a drip really took the edge off the nausea because, of course dehydration makes you feel even more sick, and then my doctor said I would be medicated with an anti-emetic, something to basically stop me vomiting so much that I turn into a husk. I wasn’t keen to take anything while I was pregnant, but they assured me this was my best chance at a healthy pregnancy – if my ketones went that high again, it could do untold damage.
After about three weeks on the meds, I started to feel better and was able to snack and drink water. Then after the 12-week scan, it went away for a while. For three months I felt OK, as long as I rested and didn’t rush about. I had to eat little and often, and carry a punnet of strawberries around with me, but otherwise I felt fairly normal. Then it struck again and lasted until I went into labour.
So yeah, it was not a joyful pregnancy, I didn’t bloom, I didn’t glow. Of course, as soon as my daughter arrived I didn’t care about how bad it had been. I had a miraculously easy labour, which I felt I was due after my pukey pregnancy and I'd do it all again, knowing how amazing the end game is. I think myself seriously lucky that I got the good drugs but whenever Kate gets pregnant or I see a headline about HG, I wince again, remembering those months of constant nausea.
Miss Manjeet Shehmar, Consultant Obstetrics & Gynecology gives her advice.
Speak to your GP as soon as you experience symptoms. Unfortunately, HG is not widely understood. If you're having a difficult time communicating with your health care professional, you could try taking as much info about your body weight, fluid intake, and urination frequency as possible or request them to take a urine sample, which can be tested for ketones. Most effective medications for nausea and vomiting are not yet licensed in pregnancy because pharmaceutical companies usually exclude pregnant women from drug trials. And so, unfortunately many GPs in the UK are unaware of modern treatment protocols for the management of HG. If your GP is unable to give you medication, and you want to pursue this treatment option contact PregnancySicknessSupport.org.uk for information.
Keep a daily diary of your symptoms so you know when to expect even the briefest of nausea-free moments and can eat something. If you cannot face a meal, keep nibbling your favourite food. Some women with HG say that eating small frequent meals and stopping eating as soon as your stomach feels full, is the most common way to improve their symptoms.
Drink as many fluids as you can to prevent dehydration. Again, use your nausea-free intervals to their best advantage, alternately with solids if you cannot take both at the same time. And avoid soft drinks with high caffeine content.
REST. Accept any help people offer, from childcare to household chores, in order to let your body recover.
Talk to your employer. Five separate medical studies have shown that 30% of pregnant women in paid employment need time off work due to NVP. Employers also need to recognise that about 8.6 million hours of paid employment are lost each year in England and Wales due to pregnancy sickness.
Carry a 'sick kit'. If you are able to get out for your normal daily activities you may find it helpful to carry a small pack of wipes or tissues, sick bags (disposable nappy bags are good), a small bottle of water and some mints or lemon sweets.
Take a look at the Pregnancy Sickness Support Forum, which can help you connect with other women who are going through, or have been through, a similar experience. Or call 024 7638 2020 to find a sympathetic listener to talk to.