Don’t mention ginger! It doesn’t help severe pregnancy sickness or #hyperemesis

I’m sure you’ve all noticed the big announcement in the news this week – little Prince George is going to be a big brother. Obviously that’s very happy news, but like when the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge announced their first pregnancy, this announcement has had to come earlier than the usual 12 week milestone when many people share their news because Kate is suffering again with Hyperemesis Gravidarum or HG – severe pregnancy sickness.

When the news broke last time, I felt the urge to write a blog post on it because of the way this severe form of pregnancy sickness was being talked about in the media. I kept reading about the fact that she was suffering from ‘morning sickness’, albeit an ‘acute’ or ‘severe’ case. This annoyed me then, and it still annoys me this time around, because there still seems to be a lack of understanding about what the poor mum is living with. Although the sickness I suffered in both pregnancies wasn’t quite as severe as hers, I do know what it’s like to have more than a spot of morning sickness.

Probably my biggest issue with the term ‘morning sickness’ and how it is used in reference to someone suffering with severe pregnancy sickness is the ‘morning’ bit of it. At the beginning of my pregnancies, I was sick any hour of the day and night, multiple times. In fact I’d say apart from the dash to the toilet as soon as I got up, I was sick more often towards the end of the day and into the evening, because the sickness was worse the more tired I was. In my second pregnancy, I can still distinctly remember feeling nauseous while in labour in the evening. HG is not confined to the morning, it takes over daily life, morning, afternoon, evening, night. I had a week off work when the sickness first hit in my first pregnancy, and I don’t take sick days lightly. In my second pregnancy I went to (paid) work for a rest as it was easier than looking after a toddler (not that I was very productive in that time).

This week I watched a TV programme in which a friend of mine, Amanda (who blogs at the Family Patch and has coauthored a book on HG) and TV doctor Dr Hilary were being interviewed about HG. It was great that they had invited someone in who has experienced HG and has researched a lot on the topic. Shame they also invited a (male) doctor who didn’t have a clue. One part of the interview that really annoyed me was when the doctor mentioned ginger. This natural substance has been found to relieve nausea, so is often suggested as something mums suffering from morning sickness can try. While this may well help those feeling a bit icky of a morning, in my experience it doesn’t do a thing for repeated vomiting and constant all-day nausea. If I had a pound for every time someone asked if I’d tried ginger when I was pregnant, at least I’d have made a fair financial profit from pregnancy. In all honesty, once I’d been asked for the umpteenth time, it was difficult not to slap the person asking! Apparently I’m not the only one who feels this way about the mention of ginger in talk of pregnancy sickness – there were plenty of us shouting at the screen when the TV doctor mentioned it on this interview.

Another aspect of pregnancy sickness that I find misunderstood is the length of time that it can go on for. Everyone says that you’ll feel better at the end of the first trimester, to just hang on in there until 12 weeks then it’ll all be fine. I was disappointed that this wasn’t the case for me. In my first pregnancy, I continued being and feeling sick well into the second trimester. In my second pregnancy, I was still being sick until about half way (20 weeks) and the nausea didn’t go until I gave birth. Imagine having one of those 24 stomach bugs, the kind that means you throw everything up for about half a day and then feel nauseous and wiped out for the other half of the day. Now imagine that on a 9 month time scale. NOT NICE.

I, like many other mums, found that my sickness got worse (lasted longer) in my second pregnancy. I often get asked if we’d like a third child (mostly in reference to whether we’d like a girl – but that’s another blog post entirely) and my answer always goes something like this… No way at the moment! Some days and in some ways I’d quite like a third child, but the main thing that puts me off is doing pregnancy while looking after 2 active boys – I’d worry that my sickness would be even worse a third time round, and I’m not sure how I’d cope. I think having a newborn as well as the boys would still be hard work, but I think I could cope more with that than the 9 months before it. I know that some mums who’ve had severe pregnancy sickness decide to stick with an only child because they can’t face it again. This sickness is a serious matter if it puts you off having another child.

This royal baby is a second pregnancy, so the chances are, the Duchess is feeling even worse than last time and it might go on for longer. It’s encouraging, though, that she is being treated at home rather than hospital this time, particularly because she has another child to look after (though I’m sure she has plenty of help with that). As much as I wouldn’t wish HG on anyone, I do hope that the fact that someone so present in the media spotlight is suffering with it will ultimately help others – with blog posts like this and all the opportunities for previous sufferers to tell their stories to others while it is so prominent in the media coverage, I hope that awareness will be raised of exactly what it is like, how it’s not just about feeling a bit icky in the morning, and how ginger will not help, so don’t even suggest it!

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 🙂

And then there were four….

A while ago I wrote a short post just in case anyone was missing me on here, because I knew I wasn’t writing as often as I once was. I talked about a couple of projects – one was my editorial work for my local NCT branch magazine, and the other wasn’t quite ready to be announced back then. Well the time has finally come when I’d like to share with you our news (in case you hadn’t guessed already from my not-so-cryptic clue, or seen on Facebook)….. I’m pregnant! That’s right, at the end of October, our three-person family will expand to four 🙂 We’re very excited, and very much looking forward to the new arrival.

Isn't he/she cute?!
Baby Cumming (2) at 13 weeks and 2 days

This scan photo was taken earlier this week, at 13 weeks and 2 days (according to size estimations from the scan itself), giving us a due date of 30th October. As I remember feeling at our first scan with Andrew, this was an amazing experience, because it was the first time we saw a proper picture of our baby (I say proper, since we actually had a scan at 9 weeks this time – but baby still looked like a prawn then – because of a mix up with dates and communication between our community midwife and the hospital ultrasound department procedures…. gotta love the NHS!) Until this week, all I had to ‘prove’ I really did have a real, live and kicking baby growing inside me were a couple of pregnancy tests (we did two just to really believe them) and awful sickness. Seeing baby move on screen, and its little heart beating, was a lovely reassurance that all was fine.

I’m going to try and write a kind of pregnancy diary on the blog, hopefully weekly or thereabouts, to keep anyone interested up to date with how things are going. I’ve even created a new category called ‘pregnancy and breastfeeding’. Although I’ve talked about breastfeeding before on here, it’s always just come under ‘mum-hood’. But as it is one of the biggest things on my mind in this pregnancy so far, I feel it could really do with its own space. I have a feeling there’s going to be a lot I want to share on that front – all the things I know now having struggled through the first 6 months of breastfeeding Andrew, but having come out the other side feeling very positive, making it to toddler breastfeeding, and now even breastfeeding in pregnancy! Eek, how did I ever get to be doing that?! (I feel that needs a post in its own right some time.)

So, as a first addition to this pregnancy diary, how would I summarise the first 13 weeks? That’s pretty easy really: sickness, nausea and exhaustion. Not very positive, sorry! As many of you will know from your own or friends’ experience, the first trimester (and beyond) of pregnancy can be pretty awful for mum, and leave you feeling rubbish at a time when you expected to be feeling over the moon. Since about week six, I’ve been feeling constantly nauseous, and been sick several times a day, although this week less often, so I’m hoping that actually being sick is wearing off, and that at some point the constant nausea will too (it did at about 20 weeks with Andrew).

This time round I can’t say that it’s been any easier than last, even though I now have Andrew as living proof that all the sickness really will be worth it in the end. In some ways it’s been even harder than last, probably because I’ve been more tired through looking after Andrew, and I can’t just take things at my own pace. It did help that I had a (totally co-incidental, not planned that way) week of annual leave from work in March just as I started to be really sick, and another week and a half at Easter, when I was very grateful to our amazing families who gave us a week of rest when we all went on holiday together.

Like last time, I’ve learned coping strategies for getting through the day, like what to try and eat when, and what to do and avoid doing (for example, rest as much as possible and not be near any food that’s being cooked!) If anyone wants to suggest ginger – been there, done that, doesn’t help. I’m wearing seabands – not that I think they make much (any?!) difference, but I don’t want to take them off and potentially feel even worse than I do, it’s just not worth the risk. My bedtime has ranged from about 5.30pm when Tom gets in from work, to 8pm when Andrew is asleep; even if I don’t get to sleep straight away due to the nausea, at least I’m lying down in a darkened room.

Maybe this is all a bit too much information? Well the reason I decided to be so up front about this is that I think pregnancy sickness is something that there could be more support for, rather than something mums-to-be feel they just have to ‘put up with’ alone. A friend of mine and fellow blogger, Amanda over at the Family Patch, is doing great things to promote awareness of nausea and vomiting in pregnancy (NVP), and its most severe form, Hyperemesis gravidarum, which she suffered from whilst carrying her son. I totally agree with her that more can be done to support mums who are battling with feeling so awful and isolated, and also to research what causes NVP and how best to help. It is so good to know that I’m not alone in this, and although that doesn’t get rid of the NVP problem, it does help to try and deal with it on a daily basis. I’m also very grateful that Tom is very supportive, not only by keeping on top of all the housework that I haven’t been able to do, but also listening to me whinge about how rubbish I’m feeling.

Having written this, I don’t want to detract from what is a very positive and exciting time for us. Despite the sickness, I’m feeling very happy that I’m soon going to be a mum of two little ones 🙂 This really is a dream come true, and something that I didn’t take for granted would just happen. Since I gave birth to Andrew, I have felt increasingly as though my main role in life is being mum; although I returned to work part-time when he was 9 months old, I have known since then that I would take a break from paid work either at the end of my contract, or if and when we were blessed with another baby (which turns out to be 2 months before the end of my contract), to look after our family. I’m looking forward to sharing more about how things progress with this pregnancy over the weeks, and I’m sure future diary posts will be full of good times. Exciting!