‘Have you tried taking ginger biscuits?’
‘Oh, hyperemesis is so on trend this year since Kate Middleton had it!’
Sentences that would drive any mama suffering with hyperemesis to drink (if we could stomach a drink!). Why yes, I chose to vomit 30 times a day just because I care so much about being in vogue. As far as the ginger goes, all I can do is laugh.
Would you believe it has taken me this long to be able to pen this particular blog post? Baby I is 18 months old and to be honest I haven’t had the stomach for it until now. I am hoping that this will help other women in a similar situation.
In late 2012, I fell pregnant with L. After the initial shock, we were overjoyed and were so excited to meet our new addition. By 6 weeks pregnant I was in a persistent and debilitating state of nausea and vomiting up to 30 times a day. It came on suddenly, almost overnight and plagued my entire pregnancy until the moment he was born. At first I assumed it was normal pregnancy related morning sickness, but after a week of relentless nausea and near-constant vomiting I went to my GP. I begged her for some medication to give me some relief. I am not paraphrasing here, my GP at the time, told me to ‘get on with it, all women go through this’ and I just needed to ‘learn how to deal with it’. Being told to ‘just get on with it’ is incredibly undermining and completely invalidates your feelings. The next day I was in hospital on IV fluids. The doctor in casualty very reluctantly prescribed me Zofran (ondansetron), enough for 3 days. That was all. I left feeling a little better and even managed to eat a few McDonalds chips on the way home, the first morsel of food I had eaten in days. I felt so guilty. As a midwife I knew all about the importance of a healthy pregnancy diet and here I was drinking soft drinks and eating chips. The first lesson I learned from hyperemesis was to let go of the guilt. The second was to eat anything that I could stomach. It was about 4 days before Christmas and I desperately hoped that the medication would keep me going through Christmas day. It didn’t. On Stephens day, I was back in hospital. More fluids and this time a slightly longer prescription for Zofran, still given reluctantly. This cycle of short prescriptions and then ending up back in hospital for fluids continued for the whole pregnancy. The reluctance to give me the medication I needed to survive was frustrating. I had lost 2 stone by 20 weeks. By then I needed Zantac to help with the heartburn and Stemetil to help with the increasing nausea and vomiting. Early in the pregnancy I had been told that the hyperemesis should pass by 16 weeks. It didn’t. This was a massive blow to my mental health. I was on permanent sick leave from work, I could barely leave the house. I had no energy. No lust for life. No will to live. Mr T kept me alive for those 9 months. He held me up both emotionally and physically. He cleaned the house, cooked his meals, helped me to and from the bathroom, washed my hair, kept me going. I can remember clearly wanting to end it all at times. Looking back now it seems strange that I ever felt that way but hyperemesis has a way of sucking the life force out of you and making everything around you seem bleak. I struggled through the pregnancy. Ten days past my due date, I went into labour and 5 hours later, L arrived. As if by magic the nausea disappeared. As quickly as it had come, it was gone.
Birth is the best amnesiac. Eight months later, I became pregnant with Baby I. I was quietly optimistic that I might get away nausea free this time around. I was wrong. At five weeks, the nausea and vomiting was back. This time around, there was a new drug on the block, Cariban. This new wonder drug (which will cost you about as much as a small mortgage) was now available to Irish women. When I say this stuff is expensive, I am not kidding. It worked out at around 4 euro per pill and you needed 3-4 a day. This is not available on the drugs payment scheme (of course not!). Cariban made a huge difference. It didn’t fully get rid of symptoms but definitely dulled them. I still needed Zofran, Zantac and Stemetil but I seemed to have my symptoms more under control second time around. It was still miserable but I was surviving. I lost almost 4 stone for the whole pregnancy. I could eat very small amounts of food. I lived on fizzy drinks. I had no stomach for fresh fruits or vegetables. If I could visualize it rotting, I couldn’t eat it. I asked to be referred to the mental health team in Holles street. I was feeling very low and very anxious. It was more apparent this time around because I had L to look after at home. This extra support was invaluable in helping me cope during the pregnancy. Another huge coping mechanism for me was breastfeeding. Lots of people tried to discourage me from continuing to feed L, but he was only 8 months old and I couldn’t imagine weaning him. I already felt guilty about getting pregnant while he was so little and I wasn’t going to let hyperemesis force my hand into weaning before we were ready. To be honest, the rush of Oxytocin I got from feeding was the only time I felt the cloud lift from me. I felt happy and content while nursing. Extraordinarily my milk didn’t dry up. Our bodies are kind of phenomenal in that way. I went through phases of nursing aversion particularly in the first 8 to 10 weeks when my nipples were very sensitive. The things that helped me to get through this were staying hydrated, especially before feeds, always having a distraction whilst feeding like my phone, a movie, or magazine. Sucking on sweets during a feed also helped keep my blood sugars up and stopped me feeling so ratty. Breastfeeding was my biggest ‘pick me up’ of the pregnancy as I felt like I was being useful in some small way. It helped me to feel less guilty about being so sick with such a small baby to look after and it made looking after a baby that much easier. When I couldn’t manage to get off the couch, I could call L over and he would climb up on me and feed which gave me the opportunity to rest more. I also had a great support system around me. My mum and Mr T’s mum helped me with L. Without them, I don’t know how I would have survived. As with L, the moment baby I was born, my symptoms disappeared. Just like that. I could eat again, drink again, live again. I always found the newborn phase so easy and I think that’s because anything seems easy after enduring 9 months of hyperemesis.
My advice to anyone suffering with hyperemesis. Early intervention is key to managing your symptoms. Insist on being taken seriously. The RCOG has released new guidelines for managing pregnancy nausea and hyperemesis, and medication management is listed as one of the treatments. If you cant keep any food or fluids down and are vomiting multiple times a day you need intervention. A referral to your hospital based mental health team is a must. They will be an extra support if you begin to feel low or anxious. Staring down the barrel of nine long months with nausea and vomiting is taxing on even the strongest of us. Drink and eat what you can. Soft drinks, ice pops, plain pasta and plain toast, ice cubes made of lucozade. Don’t feel guilty about your food choices, you are just trying to stay alive. My babies arrived weighing a healthy 7lbs 5oz and 7lbs 9oz respectively. Your body will always prioritise your growing baby before your own.
I would love to hear about anyone else’s experience of hyperemesis. Leave a comment below if you like! Hopefully this helps some of you navigate through this tough journey.
Bye for now!