Hyperemesis Gravidarum Pregnancy.
Every blogger out there has a nemesis of a story they want to share. I never intended to share this one because it’s not a fun and positive experience – I am known for being optimistic and enthusiastic, full of energy – but in all honesty there is not much I enjoyed about the experience of pregnancy. I went from posting copious amounts of selfies regularly to hiding myself away – so there’s not many nice pics to fill this blog. This is going to be a long one as I have a lot to tell.
Being somewhat addicted to social media I often come across posts from pregnant women experiencing the same kind of thing and I can’t scroll past without offering some support or advice and I figured that someone somewhere might find it useful to read about my pregnancy experience and then glimpse at some of the fun things we get up to now and realise that there is a light at the end of the tunnel.
So let’s turn the pages right back to September 2016. Arlo was a “happy accident” – Lee and I flew to Mexico for the holiday of a lifetime, and whilst out there we visited lots of off the beaten track places, had some Mayan blessings and also happened to be at one of the most auspicious places for the Mayans on the autumnal equinox. It was a magical fortnight, and we came home with lots of tequila, some happy memories and unbeknownst to us a little stowaway.
As soon as we landed back home in England it was back to normality. I went and completed a mud run – I’d been hooked on these crazy sport events for a couple of years and made friends with a group called the mud queens online – I would head off with my running shoes most weekends and take part in 5-10k obstacle/endurance events for fun – and end up covered in bruises and aching for a few days but hang all my medals up on the curtain poles in the front room.
Business as usual for me, I was a field based sales rep driving all over the south east to visit my accounts – and I remember the sickness feeling took over on a work team building trip mid October – We headed up to the Lake District for a 5k, building a raft on a lake and I was busy getting stuck right in…. diving under the cold water to tie ropes around cold barrels and drinking shots of tequila and telling everyone all about my Mexican adventures during a meal.
The hangover the next day – I didn’t think I’d had thaaaat much to drink but I felt shaky, nauseous and the smell of the bacon cooking for breakfast made me heave. The headache stuck and it was debilitating. I couldn’t eat or drink, saliva pooled in my mouth and I couldn’t concentrate on anything.
I tried to shake it off. We were car sharing so I slept most of the way home, and then over the weekend I felt as though cold/flu like symptoms were kicking in. I also used to freelance as a mobile bartender – I loved cocktails / drinking and it was fun to work for a couple of events companies on the odd occasion and earn some extra money. Prior to the HG experience I was literally always busy. I’m not one of those people who can ever sit still for long.
The smell of some of the ingredients I loved suddenly overpowered me, the lychee and passionfruit flavours which were my favourites suddenly were really offputting, and causing me to heave. I hadn’t eaten much that day so there was nothing for me to bring up. I struggled through the shift, I had really low energy and didn’t feel like myself at all – I spent the rest of the weekend resting and told myself I’d been burning the candle at both ends.
I pulled myself together for work on Monday, had a couple of ibuprofen and then whilst chatting to one of my close work friends she said that I really didn’tseem like myself and that I should stop being so independent and go to a doctor …. half joking that I could have contracted that Zika virus from Mexico.
So off I went to the doctor, after googling my symptoms and diagnosing myself with zika my GP suggested that I take a test (a pregnancy test!) ….. and that was that. A positive result which was a surprise, a pretty cool surprise and one which we were both delighted about…… but then came the dismissive comments almost immediately.
“It’s just morning sickness”
I was about four weeks pregnant when the symptoms started and six weeks when I found out I was pregnant. By eight weeks I had lost half a stone, but I was told to eat ginger biscuits. Mumsnet and google reassured me that the morning sickness fades at the end of the first trimester – little did I know.
By 25th November I was in hospital experiencing my first IV drip. I was so dehydrated my Ketones were +4, and I was unable to drink or eat anything without being violently sick. The only positive is that I had a very early scan to see our little dot flickering away….. although I didn’t realise that I would be getting a scan when I was ushered into a side room so Lee missed out on this experience whilst sat in the waiting room.
They said they always check for twins with extreme sickness cases, but didn’t mention HG at any point. As soon as my ketones were back up to a normal level I was allowed to go home, so this first time it was only one night admission and I left after just some fluids.
No-one understood – at this stage we hadn’t announced the pregnancy but I was avoiding social situations so some people had guessed. My favourite roast dinners with family every Sunday were suddenly something I avoided – having experienced the gagging sensation after bringing up some beautifully cooked meat I spent the rest of my pregnancy avoiding meat. I sat through various family meals feeling miserable, jealous and hungry. I wasn’t very good company at all.
Work was becoming impossible. I was pulling over on the hard shoulder of the M25 to heave up, so I had to tell work I was pregnant and call in sick a lot. Cancelling work appointments and avoiding social events was extremely isolating. People were used to me being the social butterfly, I would travel across the UK to visit friends and suddenly I was trapped indoors. I couldn’t manage the drive home to Birmingham to visit my family either.
I spoke with my sister and my mum often – they had both experienced HG symptoms, although my mum back in the eighties went undiagnosed – there is some research out there to suggest there is a genetic link so I think she must have had it. Empowered with the knowledge I spent my time researching….. yes I googled and went to chat forums, but I also looked at the NICE guidelines and local prescribing policies. I prepared myself fully expecting the GP to give me the brush off.
I went to my doctor armed with a ream of Information and asking for medication to relieve my sickness and I still remember him reaching for the BNF in his office and scratching his head about what to do. He suggested that he refer me and I move to a consultant led pregnancy…. I was not prepared to leave that office without a prescription – he did attempt to fob me off with recommending ginger and holistic therapies….. “try sipping water” is the most frustrating piece of advice to hear repeatedly but I was extremely assertive.
The first pharmaceutical solution offered was Cyclizine. These were a game changer for me… these tablets literally knocked me out, so I would take one when I woke up and then sleep through the feeling of sickness… until I woke up. I quickly realised how long the anti nausea effect lasted and would dread the 4 hour post tablet mark as it meant I would have to wait two hours and feel sick.
I planned my days around these tablets. I learnt that I could handle coca-cola from McDonalds – the coldness was something I could manage and their fries were also something I could eat without bringing them back up. The sleepy feeling wore off after about two hours so that gave me a safe window of about two hours to get stuff done. I used to choose foods which I knew I could digest quickly, and which wouldn’t hurt if I was sick – cold soup was okay. I learnt quickly that I couldn’t heat it up as the smell lingered behind.
It had been so long since I’d eaten properly that I had start to become afraid of food. My partner is a chef and we had just moved into a new home and bought a brand new oven to complete a kitchen renovation. He didn’t use the oven until after my pregnancy. He would eat at work, and only eat cold foods at home because I couldn’t handle the smell of anything indoors. Our life had revolved around food, we would eat out often together and all of this stopped. I was a pretty miserable date and he felt uncomfortable eating in front of me, as I refused to order and felt awful being sat at a table alone for half an hour or more if I was being sick in the toilets.
Most mornings would begin with my head down the toilet. I’d be sick until my chest hurt and then I was worried about my teeth and breath so I’d brush my teeth and then be sick all over again. I’d think I was safe, then try to walk towards the front door to leave the house but feel the urge to vomit again and again. I’m not exaggerating when I say that x20 times was ‘normal’ for me at this point.
I’d be upset because my hair would fall into the sick, or I’d splash vomit onto my clothes and I’d have to get changed – I was lucky to be if I could manage three days out of five at work, it was easier to take the medication and sleep all day.
I would take a tablet at around 5am, wait for it to kick in and for the drowsiness to wear off. Head out, brave the driving and my meetings, take a tablet as soon as I’d finished, sleep in my car for a few hours and then wake up and drive home.
This was not sustainable and I found myself back at the EPU on a drip for rehydration pretty quickly. They would use an IV to give me anti sickness medication, and once I was back to a normal ketone level I would feel amazing, fresh and energized for about 4 days, I bought urine testing kits from amazon to test my ketones at home and quickly learnt to recognise when I was struggling, and the trips to hospital were so frequent it was as if they had a revolving door.
The 12 week scan came and went – we’d told everybody by christmas and I was starting to get excited, but spent most of Christmas Day asleep. It’s all a bit of a blur really. Trying to put on a brave face and be positive about a pregnancy was a challenged especially for me. When people asked how I was feeling I wanted to be honest and say “really shit”- but I soon realised that this wasn’t the response people were expecting to hear.
I insisted in January that the doctors give me another option and this is where Ondansetron entered my life. As if everything I was experiencing wasn’t bad enough, the constipation side effects from this were crazy….. suddenly I wasn’t feeling sick at the sight and smell of food and I could eat!! This was amazing and I certainly overindulged….. and then the cruelty of the side effects kicked in. Every 4-5 days I would spend a whole night wide awake in severe pain with stomach cramps.
I can’t even describe this in detail as it’s embarrassing and gross – but the pain and the experience for me was worse than labour. (I’ll share that story another time). I would lie in a bath, I’d try gentle stretches and yoga poses, stomach massage etc. I would be sweating, tired and felt like I was going crazy.
The psychological impact of feeling like this is something which I didn’t realise at the time, but I’ve no idea how my partner put up with me. I’d been a nightmare to live with. The lack of sleep, the constant hunger and the underlying fear of the medications affecting my pregnancy took over my life. If I forgot to take one of my tablets at the right time the sickness reared it’s head with a vengeance but for a few weeks things started to feel good. One crazy thing was seeing the first visible movements – after being constipated and bloated, when things cleared it was like there was a party going on inside me because of all the extra room the baby had.
We did our gender scan at a private venue for a ‘Mother’s Day’ experience and I managed to get through it without being sick…. we found out we were expecting a boy and suddenly I got some focus. I was starting to shop for the new arrival and focusing on things like booking the NCT course….. And then boom!!
St Patrick’s day weekend I spent the entire time in hospital. Something strange happens in pregnancy, where at around this 26 week mark you suddenly get a baby growth spurt and the symptoms which I thought I’d managed to get under control overwhelmed me….. and then the nightmare was back. There’s not much known about HG but it seems as though it is related to a reaction to the surge in growth hormones.
Every single morning was like waking up with that hangover feeling I had right at the beginning, but without the excitement of having had a night out. By this time everyone else was sick of me being sick too…. my partner had run out of sympathy, the doctor had run out of options and I spent most of my time curled up in bed and chatting to other women online experiencing the same thing – moaning about the constant ‘have a ginger biscuit’ comment and sharing tips….. get a cup of ice and just suck the cubes, try salty crisps because they trick you into feeling thirsty….. I don’t know what I would have done if I didn’t have some of these women to talk to. At the same time it wasn’t the healthiest of ways to manage.
We all had the same fears….. and funnily enough it was quite common to hear that the ‘safe foods’ for many included Coca-Cola – which meant that we were all facing the dreaded gestational diabetes glucose tolerance test. (How on earth could we even do the test if we would be sick after drinking?) We were all worried about our babies growth rates and having extra scans booked in.
I tried to tough it out….. the days where the medication worked were fluffy so there were some good days but reading back some of my posts in my support group on Facebook are crazy and I barely recognise myself. Towards the final stretch the heartburn was just another symptom made to make my life hell. I was tired, uncomfortable, hungry and angry. Every night I would try and prop myself up with pillows to sleep, and had a bottle of gaviscon next to the tablets at my bedside.
My last proper hospital admission was the end of May for rehydration and IV meds – I was gutted because I was trying to hold on at work, but calling in sick meant that my maternity leave started a bit earlier than I wanted it to – however this was a blessing in disguise because Arlo decided to arrive three weeks early. I spent that entire bank holiday weekend stuck in hospital, they didn’t let me go home until the Tuesday and I sat in my bed feeling so bitter that everyone was enjoying the glorious sunshine as a heatwave started.
My waters broke one evening at home – I went into hospital but because labour hadn’t started they decided to send me home with a plan to induce me later on. I was so physically exhausted and weak, feeling the effects of dehydration I went back after a few hours and one of my regular midwives put the IV fluids into me at a faster speed than usual. Some how my body managed to find an extra gear, I got myself through labour / childbirth and despite all of the worry Arlo was absolutely perfect.
Tiny, but perfect.
The amazing thing is that I was able to start eating almost immediately. I’d slightly overdone the gas and air so swallowing was tough at first but the cloud of nausea lifted almost immediately. My post-partum weight was exactly two stones less than my weight pre pregnancy (I had no trouble putting all of that back on).
One thing I will say is that I still get a fear of nausea. I don’t know if this is being a parent or a side effect of the HG but I haven’t wanted to drink alcohol and invoke sickness and a hangover in practically six years. When my monthly cycles reappeared, I knew they were coming because I was suddenly more sensitive to smell and certain foods would make me feel sick.
It’s five years since my HG pregnancy experience and I can finally look back at the pictures and be proud of myself. At the time I felt robbed of the “glow” and so angry with everyone and everything looking back at some of the things I wrote I barely recognise myself….. but I got through it… I’m a tougH Girl.
Here I am taking a selfie at go-karting just to show that I’m back!!!
For support if your are suffering right now:
Pregnancy Sickness Support is the only UK charity dedicated to supporting women and their families experiencing Pregnancy Sickness and Hyperemesis Gravidarum. We are also working to train and support Health Care Professionals across the UK and Ireland and research into the cause and treatment of the condition.
We receive no funding from the government. Most of our funds come from individual supporters.
To find out more info on donating visit www.pregnancysicknesssupport.org.uk