Tracey Story - Guest Post
I'm in Telford tonight having set up the Pregnancy Sickness Support stand ready for the next two intense days at the Royal College of Midwives Annual Conference. I'll be speaking to hundreds of midwives and student midwives as they shuffle past our few feet of expensive floor space, which will make it worth every penny of the charity's hard raised money. I'll also have copies of Hyperemesis Gravidarum - The Definitive Guide available there and had amazing feedback today from a women whose GP was reluctant to prescribe until she showed him the book... she's now getting excellent care! AMAZING! So in advance of tomorrow I want to share this guest post by Tracy Morgan, because it demonstrates clearly why midwives knowing about this condition is so vital and why I'll be working my socks off for the next two days to raise as much awareness with this key group of professionals as I possibly can.
Hyperemesis Gravidarum - My Story, by Tracy Morgan
The first time I ever heard the term Hyperemesis Gravidarum, my first son was a few months old. When I think back now, it is hard to imagine how I got through those long, torturous months with absolutely no idea of what was wrong with me. I have always been a Google queen – any symptoms and I am there at my computer seeking, and inevitably finding, the worst case scenario. So, only ten short years ago, how come there wasn’t any information to find? I actually don’t ever recall googling my symptoms. And really, why would I? The medical professions I dealt with never gave me any reason to think how I was feeling was anything more than morning sickness, and neither did anyone else. So it stands to reason that I would be left completely in the dark to the true nature of how bad I was feeling.
My first pregnancy was horrific. It robbed me of a time that should have been cherished, magical and incredibly special. Instead, it was miserable and downright unbearable. I started to feel sick at about five weeks pregnant, and by seven weeks, HG was in full throes. I couldn’t keep anything down, not even water, and the weight dropped off me. I rarely got out of bed, stopped showering, and at one point, I didn’t wash my hair for weeks on end - I just didn’t have the energy, and the smell of the shampoo was totally over-powering.
Surprisingly, other than those mentioned, I remember very few specifics about my first pregnancy. I just seems a blur. Considering my aversion to food – the look, smell and taste - I thought about it a lot. I remember getting terrible cravings for McDonald’s fries with tons of salt, and I would lie in bed just fantasising about them. I knew I wouldn’t have been able to eat them; in fact, I didn’t even really want to try to eat them, but the image of them replayed in my mind like a quirky home movie. I also slept a great deal. Although HG is exhausting, I used sleep as a way to escape; ten minutes unconscious was ten minutes nearer to the end of my pregnancy.
At my first midwife’s appointment at 10 weeks, I tried to explain how ill I felt, that I couldn’t keep anything down, not even water. Her response was unsympathetic, and she suggested I try to drink water with a teaspoon, instead. Wow! A teaspoon! Who would have thought? So simple. So utterly stupid. The water wouldn’t have stayed down even if I’d used a garden hose. This total lack of empathy or concern set a pattern for things to come - at no point during my pregnancy did any medical professional ever voice concern over my weight-loss; this is despite the fact that my chart showed a drop in weight at every appointment, and me weighing less in the delivery room (carry a 9lb baby), than I had right before getting pregnant. Nothing was ever mentioned about the sickness being anything other than a normal, expected side-effect of pregnancy.
As well as the terrible physical punishment my body sustained, HG also had a serious detrimental effect on my mental well-being. If this was normal, something many women went through without any problem, then I must be an over-dramatic, self-absorbed, bitter woman purposely trying to spoil what should have been the most beautiful time in my life. Yet, I knew this wasn’t true. Why would I want this special time to be ruined? The battle between knowing how ill I truly felt, and other people’s obvious opinions that I had no more than simple morning sickness, caused me to feel totally ostracised, misunderstood, isolated and incredibly lonely. My mum experienced what sounds like HG (of course undiagnosed), and although fairly sympathetic, she was thousands of miles away. My partner really tried his hardest to understand, and even though I am sure there were times when he thought I was over-reacting, or a pain in the bum; he never showed it. It was an incredibly stressful time for him, too – he worked long days, right through until the early hours of the morning, did all the housework, as well as taking care of a miserable and sick woman, all without moaning. I was lucky to have him; simply couldn’t have done it without him.
So, the realisation months after giving birth, that I’d had way more than just normal pregnancy symptoms, understandably brought about a multitude of overwhelming sensations. At first, I felt relief and vindication. This was proof that I hadn’t imagined it, or exaggerated how terrible I’d felt. Knowing that it was a medical condition, and not my fault, was like a weight off my shoulders. Then, came a deep, crushing sadness. A sense of why me? I felt robbed of my chance to blossom, to float around proud and happy, cherishing every precious second of my pregnancy. Lastly, and probably the strongest of the emotions, was anger. A huge sense of being let down, not only by the medical professionals supposedly there to support me, but the people around me. I wanted to scream in the face of every disbeliever: I TOLD YOU SO!
After my first son, I swore blind I would never get pregnant again, but two years later I found myself on the HG merry-go-round once more. This time, I was forewarned and forearmed. I was determined that I wouldn’t allow anybody to try to tell me this was just part and parcel of pregnancy; I was on the war-path! I went to my first midwife’s appointment at eight weeks pumped up, and ready to do battle. Thankfully, there was no need - I told her about my first pregnancy, and she immediately said hyperemesis gravidarum. Oh, the absolute relief! That sensation of being believed and understood is as powerful now, as it was then - it makes my eyes well up at the thought. With my midwife’s support, and medication, my second pregnancy was easier. It didn’t make HG go away, but knowing I had someone in my corner, fighting on my behalf, allowed me the strength to stand up to people who still failed to show me a shred of understanding. Because, the sad fact is, that even though the midwife prescribed me medication, even though HG was now in my medical notes, people around me still remained sceptical. I guess it is much easier to believe that a woman would willingly make herself so miserable, than to accept that she was actually telling the truth.
Having HG with a two year old in the house is indescribable. It actually helped in a bizarre kind of way, in that I had to get up to look after him; I couldn’t not feed him. But, trying to take care of a chattering small toddler when your head is pounding, and your stomach is so queasy, is hard. I would lie down close to him whenever I could. I would put his favourite DVD on and pray that he would watch it longer than five minutes (which was the best I could hope for with my energetic, easily-bored child). It became our little game - let’s see where we can lie down and have a cuddle. I was just as isolated this time around, in fact, perhaps more so. At least I’d only had myself to look after the first time, with my second pregnancy, I also had a two-year old. Nobody offered to look after him - I guess people either didn’t care, or didn’t think to offer.
Although medication stopped vomiting at around 10 weeks during my second pregnancy, I never stopped feeling sick. I couldn’t bear to smell food cooking, and I was constantly swallowing wads of gross mucous, which just increased the feeling of nausea. Every waking minute, I longed for the excruciatingly endless day to be over; the thought “I can’t take any more” reverberated around my mind constantly and unwaveringly.
HG is hard to describe to someone who has no idea what it is like. Saying you feel sick is like saying your arm hurts a little when, in reality, it has been ripped off at the elbow. It is so hard to explain how it makes you feel – it just affects every single part of your body and being, physically and mentally. The closest I could come up with, was to say it was like the worst hangover you could imagine, only rather than being cured by a lie-in and a quick fry up; it’s 24/7, and lasts for 40 incredibly LONG weeks.
The legacy of HG lives with me to this day, and probably always will. I still feel incredibly defensive and unfairly treated. I also believe that I suffered some kind of PTSD. How could you not go through being so poorly, and for so long, without support, and not suffer trauma? For the most part, I tuck it firmly in the back of my mind, but as of late; it is increasingly brought to the surface by media coverage, largely due to the Duchess of Cambridge’s pregnancy. I have sat with my hands scrunched together, experiencing almost physical pain, listening to ignorant people bemoan the fact that “they just had to get on with pregnancy, and it must be nice to be a royal”. The problem with HG is that it is similar (I am loathe to say similar, but can’t find another way to describe it) to morning sickness, which is of course a normal symptom of early pregnancy, and therefore, one that many can relate to. Because they can relate on that level, they automatically assume that HG is the same as the touch of morning sickness they had, which perpetuates misunderstanding, and leads to a lack of support and care.
Another thing that cropped up when I tried to explain about HG, was other women proudly exclaiming that they didn’t care how ill or uncomfortable they were during their pregnancy, that they only thing that mattered was that they had a healthy baby, and how grateful they were for that. None of these women had HG, I hasten to add. This feeling that HG sufferers are moaning, ungrateful women, who should shut up and thank their lucky stars, is ridiculous. It doesn’t work like that. Never did I ever forget how lucky I was to be pregnant (I suffered a miscarriage before my first son) and this feeling that we need to button our lip and get on with it, because otherwise we seem ungrateful, needs to change.
The sad fact is that, even now, there will be people reading this, rolling their eyes and sighing with frustration. They probably think I am exaggerating, that it couldn’t possibly have been that bad. Perhaps they feel that ten years on, I need to get over it. But that’s the thing - I doubt I ever will. I won’t ever forget it, and just can’t stop trying to justify how HG made me (and others) feel. Women with HG, and survivors of the condition, just want recognition, and empathy. That’s all.
Today I wear my HG badge with honour. I stand tall, proud of not only living through the nightmare that is HG, but surviving to tell the tale. Not everyone is as lucky as me, and I know that compared to some women, my HG was a walk in the park. I came out the other end with two amazing boys, who make all the heart-ache, pain, misery and sadness so very worth it.