After four years of trying and a tough round of IVF I was finally pregnant. It was one of the best moments of my entire life, but I already knew I was thanks to the dreams I’d had all night long. Positive after positive. My body was trying to tell my mind. To finally get that result on the stick, to be able to rush into the bedroom and tell my husband “You’re going to be a daddy!” was just wild. I’ve never been so happy. We had a week of celebrating, opting to tell people rather than do the cautious wait as most of the family knew we were having IVF treatment. I think it’s something that should be discussed, not hidden away.
But that’s a story for another time.
Today I want to talk about what happened after the pregnancy test. After the euphoria. Today I want to talk about Hyperemesis Gravidarum.
We had a week of joy. Endlessly talking about the baby, what we’d do, where we’d live. Our best man came to stay for the night and shared the news that his wife, too, was expecting. We celebrated with pizza and toasted each other’s good fortune.
And then I got sick.
This wasn’t just morning sickness. This couldn’t be cured with ginger biscuits and eating little and often. This was absolutely off-the-charts vomiting. I couldn’t stop. I couldn’t eat, couldn’t drink, could barely move. All I could think about was the little life inside me, trying to survive whilst I puked and puked. At the end of my sixth week of pregnancy I ended up in A&E with severe dehydration. The hospital gave me a couple of bags of fluid and sent me home. By now I was on the entry-level drug for HG, cyclizine. It didn’t even touch it. Thankfully, an emergency scan showed the little heartbeat that was already going like the clappers, so we knew things were OK with the baby. But while he was cooking away, I couldn’t share a bed with my husband any more because his smell (I couldn’t believe how strongly he smelled all of a sudden) made me sick. We couldn’t even hug each other for comfort during those frightening days.
It was when I started vomiting blood that we got really scared. I remember a real low point. I was still trying desperately to struggle into work. I’d vomited on the train into a bag, then continued to vomit on the 20 minute walk from the station to the school where I worked. I just didn’t know how I could carry on. In the end I went on long-term sick leave, something I had never even considered I would need to do just for being pregnant. Over the course of six admissions to hospital, drips, overnight stays, chemo-strength anti-emetics and eventually steroids, there was never any doubt in my mind that this was a serious illness. On one overnight stay my mum lost count of how many bags of fluid they’d given me at 12.
By the 16th week of my pregnancy I had lost ten pounds in weight. I know that that was partially down to the vomiting, but also loss of muscle tone. I wasn’t able to move, so I was literally wasting away. On a visit to my parents’ in Lancashire, I was hospitalised again and found out for the first time what proper care looked like instead of being patted on the head and sent on my way.
By August I’d had a few ‘good’ days. My childhood friend (also my husband’s cousin) was getting married. He means the world to me, and I was determined to go. It turned out to be the final straw. I woke in the night shivering uncontrollably, and the vomiting started again. The next day, my husband drove me back to Lancashire and I transferred all of my care there. Away from the stews and smells of boiling hot London, cared for as an invalid by my parents, I made as much progress as I was ever going to. Thanks to my parents and the staff of Wigan’s Royal Albert Edward Infirmary, who finally prescribed the steroids I should have been given weeks earlier, I started to have a few vomit free days. I was still weak and terribly nauseous, but the worst had finally passed. By this time I was seven months pregnant. Without the drugs I was taking, managed carefully by my GP, there was no way I would have got to this point.I can’t imagine how I would have coped without the incredible support I received from my family; my brother even gave up a week of his holiday to care for me while my parents were away.
I’m really, really glad that Hyperemesis Gravidarum is in the news at present. People need to know about it, especially employers, and to understand that it is a real and debilitating condition. It makes me, and the other women I know who suffered, incredibly sad and angry that the BBC still saw fit to refer to it over and over again as ‘severe morning sickness’. That condition is bad enough, but HG is something else entirely.
I look at my beautiful, amazing 3 month old son and I’m so grateful that our fertility treatment worked, and we were able to bring him into the world with the help of the NHS, my parents and parents-in-law. But as to ever trying for another, I simply cannot imagine putting myself, my husband, and most importantly my son through it. We’d need more fertility treatment too, so it’s pretty much a non-starter. I know I’m not on my own in feeling this way.
I’d like to thank my parents, husband, in-laws, staff of the Albert Edward Infirmary for their amazing care of me and my baby Arthur. I’d also like to thank my head of department and headteacher, who were unfailingly supportive and understanding.
If you or anyone you know is suffering from Hyperemesis Gravidarum, please encourage them to seek help from the wonderful women at www.pregnancysicknesssupport.org.uk, where I found out what my care should be and found the strength to demand it.