It’s not just about feeling a bit icky first thing when you wake up!

This wasn’t what I expected to be writing about whilst sitting feeding my 5 week old baby; I thought I’d left it behind us when he was born. But with the news that the Duchess of Cambridge is pregnant but in hospital with “acute morning sickness”, I decided I had to write a quick post to try and spread the word that calling her condition “morning sickness”, even with the adjective “severe” or “acute”, trivialises what she is going through.

In both my pregnancies I suffered with nausea and vomiting. As I had this blog during my second pregnancy, I wrote about it in my pregnancy diary posts quite often in the first half of pregnancy: week 14, week 15, week 16, week 17, week 18, week 19. The graph below is taken from my week 15 post. The second pregnancy was slightly worse than the first in terms of how long the nausea went on for – I felt sick at some point in every day of it, even up to the night he was born. At first it was all day, yes that’s right, ALL DAY, worse in the evening, yes that’s right, the EVENing, but after about 20 weeks (out of 40) it started to just be in the afternoon and evening. Until about 15 weeks I was being sick several times a day, which eased to just a couple of times a day until about 20 weeks and then no actual vomiting just the constant nausea after that. It was similar timescales in my first pregnancy, except the nausea did wear off towards the very end – possibly because I had toddler to tire me out second time round, or because apparently it can get worse with successive pregnancies.

I did not enjoy being pregnant; I never got that ‘blooming’ feeling that people talk about. I never felt hungry – hunger just translated to nausea. I distinctly remember the first time I felt properly hungry again after each birth, and could enjoy a nice meal rather than just eating because I knew I had to. I just got through each day knowing that it would be worth it in the end, and it was. Of course that bit was easier second time around as I had Andrew as living proof right there in front of me (even if he was tiring to look after!) Nothing helped to relieve the nausea and vomiting – if I had a pound for every time someone asked me if I’d tried ginger I’d at least have made a healthy profit out of feeling so rubbish.

The statistician in me (the one who was taught all she knew during the PhD) understands that every ‘normal distribution’ is a curve – some lucky ladies are in the thin end at the left and suffer no or hardly any nausea and sickness (lucky them, she says gritting her teeth), some not-so-lucky ladies are around the peak of the curve and suffer nausea and sickness for about 14-15 weeks, and some unlucky ladies find themselves in the thin end at the right and get the nausea and sickness thing real bad and/or for ages. So far (week 15) I’m hanging around to the right of the peak, waiting to see whether I’ll slide any further down into the gloomy far-right of the curve, or whether I’ll be spared from the descent.

The nausea and vomiting in pregnancy (or NVP) had a big impact on daily life for both me and our family. When I was pregnant with Andrew, I had a week off work when the NVP first hit, and then was less productive at work for quite a while, taking several breaks, sometimes leaving early or working from home. Tom took care of everything around the flat, and we hardly saw each other as I would go to bed not long after he got in from work about 5.30pm. It surprised me how quickly the NVP came on – one day I was fine, and the next I woke up and was sick, thinking it would pass by the time I was dressed and ready, but it didn’t pass until many weeks later, like a constant tummy bug. So I completely understand how Kate could go from walking through Cambridge last Wednesday to lying in a hospital bed the following Monday.

When I was pregnant with Joel, I had a well-timed, but totally unplanned that way, week of annual leave from my then part-time job, which meant I could at least have a couple of days rest whilst Andrew was with the childminder. When I went back, I was again less productive, similar to the first time, and it was good timing with Easter week being at the height of the NVP and we went away with family so I could get lots of rest. However, the days I didn’t work were even harder, as I had Andrew to entertain. The groups we went to were in the morning, so most weeks I could just about manage to get us there and sit down whilst he played; then in the afternoon (I felt worse than in the morning), he would nap and I would spend that time flitting between lying down on the bed and having my head down the toilet. On a good day that would leave only an hour and a half or so to entertain him, usually with DVDs, until Tom got home, which is when I’d crawl into bed, though not always get off to sleep as the nausea was so bad. I do feel bad that Andrew had to put up with a less than with it mum then, just like I feel bad that I’m spending lots of time feeding Joel now, so he watches lots of DVDs and youtube. I guess that’s just part of having more than 1 child, and I always knew that it would be likely that I would get NVP again, but we decided it was better then than waiting longer, by which time he might not have been napping much and would need even more entertaining. Again, Tom was left to deal with everything around the flat, as well as this time looking after a toddler for every hour that he wasn’t working. Not particularly fun for any of us!

Now if that sounds bad enough, and I hope I’ve got the message across that it was, I actually count myself lucky! My mum suffered much more than that, being sick every day for two entire pregnancies, and a good friend of mine, Amanda over at the Family Patch also suffered very severe NVP with her son. Severe cases of NVP are actually called hyperemesis gravidarum or HG. This term is featured in some media reports of Kate’s pregnancy, but you have to search pretty deeply into them beyond the headlines, opening paragraphs and one-liners. “Morning sickness” gives the impression that it’s just about feeling sick first thing, and can lead to people who haven’t experienced moderate to severe NVP, even mums who have been pregnant themselves but not had these symptoms, wondering what all the fuss is about – can’t she just ‘get over it’? Amanda has written a very informative blog post as to why you can’t just ‘get over’ HG. My NVP wasn’t severe enough to call it HG, but it was certainly more than “morning sickness”.

It was hard enough coping with NVP in my relatively uneventful life, but I can’t imagine what it’s like having such severe HG and also being in the media spotlight. I feel so sorry for Kate, and wish her all the best, hoping that those caring for her can make the pregnancy as comfortable as possible. Before 12 weeks of pregnancy, the chances of something going wrong are still pretty high. I struggled with knowing this when feeling so awful, I was torn: do I tell people so that I don’t have to hide the NVP, or do I not tell in case I miscarry and have to go through telling people that? Again, in the media spotlight this must be an even harder decision, so I hate to think how Kate and William must have felt in making it. In the end we did what they have done and told people because it was too hard to hide any longer. This was more the case for my first pregnancy as I was working full-time in a big office, whereas second time I got away with telling fewer people before 12 weeks as I was working part-time and we’d moved offices to one where I was mostly in a room on my own, and on days I looked after Andrew I could avoid seeing lots of people.

I hope this post has helped show that “morning sickness” is a poorly (no pun intended) used term, and that NVP is a real condition to cope with that has a major impact on many pregnant mums and their families. Please share this, re-tweet it, or do whatever you can to help raise awareness. Thank you 🙂

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2 thoughts on “It’s not just about feeling a bit icky first thing when you wake up!”

  1. Well said! My “morning sickness” in both pregnancies started at 4pm and lasted all night! An interesting challenge this time round with a 1 year old and work! I have to say poor will is stuck doing lots of the household jobs and entertaining Lizzie when he gets home. But I count myself lucky as you so beautifully point out at least I don’t have to deal with the media circus!

    1. Thanks Laura. Yes it’s interesting how most mums i’ve spoken to who’ve had more than just a bit of sickness say that it’s worse later in the day. I’m sure mine was correlated with tiredness – the more tired I was, the more sick I was. We are definitely lucky to not be in the media!!

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