During my first pregnancy, my doctor never used the phrase “hyperemesis gravidarum.”
That first trimester I had pretty bad morning sickness, which was especially hard to manage at work. A key moment? Travelling to Manila, Philippines at around 10 weeks, I was pretty embarrassed to make the government van pull over to the side of the road as I had gotten very sick!
I tried all the usual remedies and just lost weight and got sick. Most days I kept nothing down but the ice cream in the evening. It became some sort of science and I knew all the places where I could duck out to get sick. My eyes grew bloodshot from being so ill so frequently with such force.
But not having a lot of support in the way of knowledgeable friends and family, I carried on until about week 19 when I was throwing up before going to my parents’ for Christmas, and the toilet seat smashed my nose, giving me a nose bleed, too. I called my doctor and demanded anything that would make it stop.
I don’t think I realized how bad it was until one day in January I forgot to take my ondansetron. By the time I got into work, I was throwing up all the water I had consumed and couldn’t even keep that down. Luckily, as I was in the US, my doctor’s office had a local clinic walking distance away. They stayed open through lunch to see me and gave me IV fluids, anti-emetics and a dark, quiet, soothing room to lie in.
At 7 months, I was moving to the UK and was petrified now of being without ondansetron. While I never was able to eat much, at least what I did eat was staying down. My doctor gave me enough prescription to get me through the 9 months and luckily my son was born just a day or two before I ran out. That’s the day the nausea lifted –I felt the difference the moment he was born. Hospital food never tasted so amazing.
When we decided to have a second child, I didn’t expect that my toddler would be nursing throughout my second pregnancy. I also didn’t expect to get so sick. As I never had a diagnosis, I didn’t know that I had an 80% chance of reoccurrence. And by 5 weeks, the old cycle started right up again.
I found it much more mentally straining. I had an unfortunate time battling with various NHS practices to get the drugs I needed. Ondansetron was no longer cutting it, once I finally got it. The consultants I saw didn’t believe I was so ill, and certainly didn’t understand why I was still nursing my son. While I never was admitted to the hospital, the mental strain of proving myself over and over, begging for drugs I knew I needed to keep me out of the hospital, asking for help from anyone who would actually talk with me and not just proscribe from a distance, was one of the most difficult things I ever had to do. Nothing has ever made me feel so invisible, so like a vessel, so unhuman.
If I am being honest with myself, I haven’t really let myself explore what happened to me mentally. Feeling guilty enough at being so sick and exhausted, my toddler needed what little I could give him. My heart broke when he would stroke my back as I threw up again and again, my solace being at least he wouldn’t remember being so young!
One of the few ways I could keep my strength through this time was by fully immersing myself in my hobby of motherhood – woven baby wraps, a type of baby carrier made from long cloth. I would lay next to my sleeping toddler, just so happy to have that stillness, and scroll through Facebook posts and bulletin boards reading about these woven wraps – old classics from 10 or more years ago, searching different language buy/sell/trade boards to find them, preparing to make memories with this new baby whose initial memories of pregnancy I so wanted to forget as quickly as possible. Instead I was focusing on all the new memories I would have of keeping her close in beautiful fabrics, made of cashmere and silk, and building up friendships with mums also in this hobby along the way.
Now I’m coming up on 10 months postpartum and my beautiful daughter is a delight. She and my son play together happily. I am still be recovering, physically and mentally, but I am also so grateful to have a chance to give back to PregnancySickness Support for the essential support they provided me while I was going through the worst of the worst, navigating a system that didn’t want to work with me.
Next month, on 6 May, I am co-organising The Wrap Show – an event focused on those beautiful woven wraps brought to London for the first time. Part of the proceeds from the show and our charity tombola and raffle will go to PSS and I couldn’t be more excited. We have guests coming from over 19 countries and brands from 4 continents.
I hope that other carers who are going through such difficult times can find their support, whether it’s through great charities like PSS or through support networks like that I found in woven wraps.