Sarah's Story - Guest Post
Life seems to be busy on a whole new level recently. Unfortunately Pregnancy Sickness Support got turned down for it's bid to the National Lottery and so I've been working hard to streamline the organisation's resources and looking to the future as well as getting the e-book version of Hyperemesis Gravidarum - The Definitive Guide ready for release. And obviously then there is family, work and all that... So frankly I'm really glad I invited a number of guest posts a few weeks back!
Continuing with my theme of giving other survivors a voice to tell their stories via my platform I've got the story of Sarah's battle with hyperemesis gravidarum for you this week. Sarah has her own blog, excellently titled "No More Ginger Biscuits" so check it out...
Somewhere after about 4 years of being married, and approaching our late 20s, my husband and I started to imagine having some little ones around. We imagined a tiny person joining us for babycinos at the cafes we frequent, an additional passenger joining us on our love of travel, and creating a loving home for them to grow up in. In September 2011 I gave birth to our beautiful daughter, and indeed have for the most part enjoyed the reality of what we had imagined parenthood to be. 3 years down the line, it was time for a sibling and so I find myself 22 weeks pregnant with number 2!
However, when we set out imagining and planning our little family, nothing could have prepared me for a condition which would turn out to overshadow and rob from these years. It has hard to imagine the extent to which an illness I had never heard of – hyperemesis gravidarum – could shape my experience of pregnancy. I have never been panicky about health matters, or much of a worrier to that end, and I assumed that pregnancy would be pretty straight forward if we just went with the flow. I had read a lot of information about pregnancy, I knew a lot of women who had had babies, and pregnancy for the most part seemed pretty straight forward. So when I was sick the first time at 5 weeks with my first pregnancy I remember thinking ‘oh, this must be morning sickness’ and attempting to get on with my day. However, as the days progressed I started to realise it was not normal.
With my first pregnancy I was not diagnosed with hyperemesis until 24 weeks, prior to that it was a battle of me versus medical staff who just thought I was unable to cope with morning sickness. So I was uninformed, dehydrated and eventually offered medication reluctantly by a GP uttering the words ‘I wouldn’t take these if I were you, as they probably are not safe’, and left to my own devices. The sickness did not stop until I delivered at 42+ weeks, and I can assure you despite having had a terrible labour and an emergency C-section I have NEVER felt better than I did the day after I gave birth! I was bounding around that ward like it was Christmas come early!
Hyperemesis is extreme pregnancy sickness, and so something quite normal, a bit of nausea and vomiting in the early stages of pregnancy, becomes magnified exponentially. In my current pregnancy the vomiting is somewhat reduced by medication, but the nausea is totally relentless. There are nights in the dark when the nausea is so terrifying you actually wonder if you can make it until the morning.
In my experience, the ramifications of hyperemesis are also extreme; the price of a pregnancy is emotional, relational, financial, professional and practical. It can feel like the progress you have made in your life, parenting, career etc. are slowly unravelled in front of your eyes as you are stuck in a state debilitated by nausea and vomiting. I have a degree and a masters and a good job, and yet on the days I can crawl into work I am pretty much useless. The smell of the clinic room makes me sick, the sight of my computer screen, the sound of the phone, the pitch of the patients voices – all contribute to the nausea. Hyperemesis is a dark time. We are called hyperemesis survivors, and there is a reason for that. I talk more in my blog, No More Ginger Biscuits, about this, but in my first pregnancy alone I clocked up some 3018 hours of nausea. So now half way through my second the numbers are up again. It feels like I am allergic to being pregnant. My body literally can’t cope in the normal way with carrying a baby.
But for me it is the isolation of hyperemesis that is the aspect for which I was least prepared. It is a hidden illness at times, raging in the mind and body, but with nothing obviously broken on the outside. It appears impossible for people to understand. Pregnancy is a time when we are bombarded with the image of women glowing and blossoming, bonding with their yet-to-be-born babies.
However, for women, like myself, who have sickness day and night for the full duration of their pregnancies, I have found that people don’t really know what to say. The fact the symptoms are nausea and vomiting, symptoms which most people have experienced in life from time to time, actually makes it more isolating. People think they know what it is like. Most people have the odd sick bug, or have maybe thrown up after a dodgy take away. If they have nausea they probably lie down, and feel better in the morning.
Hyperemesis resets your daily baseline ‘norm’ to the feeling of being really sick and then adds to that further waves of more crippling nausea which attacks the very fibre of your being. Every minute I have been awake since July I have felt sick. It is the first thing I know when I wake up, the last thing on my mind when I go to sleep. It takes over your mind, and empties your emotions and body in a way that is hard to communicate. The nausea with hyperemesis is absolutely relentless. Every single event for the duration of the pregnancy - birthdays, anniversary, Christmas, child’s milestones, scans is overshadowed by nausea. There is no escape. I found the early days of parenthood a walk in the park in comparison, because there is a break. I could leave my baby with my husband and have a rest. I could get a babysitter and go out and be carefree. However, even the most supportive husband, which I am thankful to have, cannot take this away from me. Hyperemesis is a battle that is mine to fight, and mine alone.
I am grateful that there is an increase in awareness of hyperemesis. I appreciate that there are books being written and more articles in magazines about this illness. Thankfully, in my experience the doctors I have seen second time round have been far more caring, informed and helpful than the first time round. However, I think we need to remember that for women with hyperemesis the familiar decision to have a child, that natural part of many people’s lives, comes with a price tag that most women simply don’t have to pay.