Compassion, not ginger - my Hyperemesis story

If, after six months of vomiting, endless nausea, dehydration and fatigue your health care professional laughs outright and tells you to 'try eating ginger', how would you feel?

Because that is what me, and hundreds of other woman have to face when they suffer from hyperemesis gravidarum, or, if you've never had it then you may know it as 'the-morning-sickness-that-Kate-Middleton-had'.

Is it not surprising in 2017 so many people have never heard of a significant sickness that affects so many pregnant women? You'd think that at least our doctors and midwives would be better informed, more knowledgeable about treatments and most importantly, more understanding.

The sickness in my second pregnancy kicked in about eight weeks. It started slowly, throwing up a little food once or twice a day but by 16 weeks I struggled to keep down food or liquids. It was obviously worse than my first pregnancy (which was bad enough) and there were days when even swallowing my own saliva would trigger the vomiting. I couldn't work, I couldn't parent my child, most days I could do nothing except lie in bed.

I tell people I was sick "eight or more times a day" but that was only on the days I bothered to count. After a while there just isn't any point in trying to document how often you sat clutching the side of the toilet.

And yet, unlike most illnesses, the way I was feeling - both physically and emotionally, was ignored and overlooked.

Some people laughed.

Because, to them, to someone who hasn't suffered from it, pregnancy sickness is just an unfortunate side-effect of having a baby. You feel nauseous in the morning, have a couple of dry crackers and some ginger then emerge as a blooming picture of health and vitality.

It's only when the Duchess of Cambridge has it or when bloggers like Spewing Mummy (Caitlin Dean) speak out in the media that people are told about the 'extreme' end of the scale. Even then, it's more tempting to focus on how wonderful a newborn baby will be, than consider the possible long-term physical and mental effects of being so ill and isolated for nine months.

In the later stages of my pregnancy, during an admission to hospital I was devastated to be told by a consultant that the illness I was suffering from was 'mental not physical'. He took one quick browse through my notes and saw that I had previously suffered from Postnatal Depression. He scoffed when my husband told him I couldn't keep any food down and told me to try eating some ginger.

After he left my bedside I remember sobbing to the nurse. "I'm not ill because I am depressed, I am starting to feel depressed because I am sick all the time".

There is no doubt in my mind that hyperemesis exacerbated any PND symptoms I had but the sickness was never 'just in my head'.

No one knows what causes such extreme sickness in some pregnant women but that isn't an excuse to fall back on old-fashioned and out of date theories. Like Caitlin Dean explains in this article for The Guardian, a huge amount of research has proven that hyperemesis is not a psychological condition and yet many professionals still refer back to a psychodynamic theory - leaving many women lonely, confused and unsupported.

And this may only be my story, but I can assure you that there are many women out there who have it far worse. Friends who are so sick they are hospitalised for days at a time, abandoned in a dark and cold office because there are no beds available in the maternity ward. I haven't met anyone who has terminated their pregnancy because they are so sick but my heart aches for the stories of those who have felt driven to abortion out of fear and desperation.

It's comforting to know that specialist units are being introduced to help women suffering from hyperemesis an increase in services dedicated to helping pregnant women is always going to get a thumbs up from me.

However, I can't help but ask whether these units would be necessary if the GPs, consultants and midwives on the front line showed a little more understanding and compassion towards to hyperemesis sufferers in their care. Having someone take you seriously is half the battle.

Until they do, if you are pregnant and suffering then do check out Pregnancy Sickness Support. I found the information on the website invaluable when worrying about medication, treatments and how to approach my employers.You can find them here:

Not all my doctors and consultants were cold or apparently uncaring. My female GP was wonderful - prescribing medication, pointing me to support websites, writing a note for my employer and telling me to rest. It made a real difference to be listened to, rather than my condition being dismissed as 'normal' - if a non-pregnant person was exhibiting these symptoms they would be taken seriously and looked after, not packed off home with the advice to "try some ginger". Vomiting constantly is never 'normal'.
Anonymous said...

Katherine, Duchess of Cornwall, Mother of a Future not a Princess. Nor is here name Kate.

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