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 🙂

Butternut squash risotto with pea and rosemary pesto: non-smelly cooking!

If you’ve been reading my blog for more than a few weeks, you probably know that since I was about 6 weeks pregnant, I haven’t been able to smell food cooking without feeling nauseous. Until about week 15, it wasn’t just nausea – I would be physically sick whenever I smelled it. I didn’t actually realise that it was the food cooking smell that was such a major trigger to my sickness until we went on holiday for a week when I was 10 weeks pregnant: one evening we went out for a meal, and although I didn’t stay long or eat anything except some bread at the pub, when I went back to the house where we were staying I felt better than I had been all week at that time in the evening – it dawned on me that nobody had cooked anything there that evening. Since we got back from that holiday, we’ve not cooked anything in the flat. Don’t feel too sorry for my boys though, because Tom gets a free cooked lunch at work (Cambridge colleges seem to look after their staff), and Andrew has one meal a day heated up from the freezer that were very helpfully cooked by Granny at her house 80 miles away 🙂

Yummy! And my tasters thought so too - Andrew even asked for more!

Until recently we’ve mainly been eating salad, bread, cooked meats, cheese etc. I realised a while ago that boiling things like pasta, potatoes, rice was OK, because it didn’t smell that bad – the main trigger seems to be anything frying in oil/fat, particularly meat but also veg, or anything roasting in oil/fat, again particularly meat but also veg. So we’ve been able to make simple pasta and potato salads and eat them cold. I also found out relatively recently that putting a pizza in the oven for just 5-10 mins (all it needs in our efficient oven) is bearable, I guess because all it’s doing is melting cheese and heating up rather than actually cooking it. The past few weeks I’ve been able to stand the smell of baking (cakes, biscuits, bread etc.) much more than before.

Pea and rosemary pesto ready to go in the risotto when the rice is done. I love the bright green colour from the peas.

In the past week or so I’ve been feeling more adventurous in terms of thinking of things that I could ‘cook’ that don’t smell – basically this means avoiding frying or roasting. So instead of eating just cold things, we’ve actually had some ‘cooked’ meals. One of the dishes I came up with was a risotto, and it went down very well with both my tasters (aka Tom and Andrew) so I thought I’d blog it, because it’s so quick and easy to do, and really does taste as good as something that requires more ingredients and proper cooking. I don’t add salt to any of our food, both for Andrew’s sake and because I’m not a big fan of even slightly salty food – but this risotto could be made with a stock cube if you’d prefer, by just adding it to the boiling water as the rice and squash boil. I prefer to get all the flavour from the peas, cheese and rosemary in the homemade pesto. The first time I made it I left it veggie, but the second time I added a tin of tuna, because since being pregnant I’ve been more concerned that I get enough protein. It would also work with pulses as protein – I often stick beans in veggie risottos to give them a source of protein.

Anyway, here’s the recipe….

Ingredients – serves 2 adults and a toddler

  • 1 medium butternut squash, skin off and cut into small-ish cubes
  • 1 large mug of rice (I just use long grain for risottos to save on the cost of risotto rice)
  • 100g frozen peas
  • 50g cheese (I used cheddar because I’m not sure I can have parmesan at the moment as all the packs in the supermarket said unpasteurised – I’d probably try parmesan when I’m not pregnant)
  • olive oil – a few glugs
  • handful of fresh rosemary (we’re lucky that we have some growing in pots on our balcony – it’s amazing what you can grown even if you live in a flat – we have tomatoes, herbs and lettuce)

Method

  1. Place the squash cubes and rice in a large pan and add boiling water. Leave to boil for about 10 minutes, adding more boiling water if necessary once it starts to get absorbed into the rice.
  2. Meanwhile, cook the frozen peas in the microwave (or in a pan of boiling water). Once cooked, drain any excess water and place in a food processor. (I have one of those small whizzers, so I do half at a time).
  3. Chop the cheese into chunks and place in the food processor, along with the rosemary – remove the leaves from the stalky bits.
  4. Drizzle a glug or two of olive oil into the food processor.
  5. Whizz all the ingredients together until you have a smooth paste, adding more oil if necessary.
  6. Once the rice and squash are cooked, add the pesto to them and stir well to spread it around evenly. (If there is excess water in the pan, drain before adding the pesto, but it’s best to add a bit of water at a time to the rice and squash when they’re cooking, so you don’t end up with an excess in the first place.)
  7. Serve straight away. It also freezes well for another day – just make sure it’s thoroughly defrosted and heated through again.

Pregnancy diary: week 14 – hummus and med school

I promised more ramblings about pregnancy, and ramblings there shall be! Here are my baby-brained thoughts about what’s gone on in my life as a pregnant mum this week. Well the bad news is I’m still feeling very sick and tired (and also feeling very sick and tired of feeling very sick and tired). But the good news (for me) is that actually being sick seems to have stayed at low frequency for a whole week now, so I’m hoping it won’t get worse again; and the good news (for you) is that I’m not going to go on about sickness any more this week – I’m trying to be positive and boost my mood about it by writing funny tales on here.

Homemade hummus - my staple diet for week 14 of pregnancy - usually eaten in a wrap or sandwich, but shown here just with salad garnish so you can see it in all it's hummusy glory!

So my words to summarise pregnancy this week are: hummus and med school. Odd combination, I know. In fact they aren’t related at all, but both have featured prominently since I last wrote a pregnancy post. Let’s start with hummus. Or shall I be more precise and say ‘homemade’ hummus. I haven’t eaten any hot cooked food since the middle of March. I’ve been surviving on (as much as I can keep down of) things like cereals, sandwiches, crackers, salad, and selected fruits (totally gone off bananas again, as with Andrew). A few weeks ago I walked past hummus in the supermarket, and thought to myself that I quite fancied it, and it would make a nice sandwich with some salad, so I popped it in my basket. However, when I actually ate some later that day, I really did NOT like the taste of it and was almost sick (ooh sorry, I mentioned the ‘s’ word again; last time!) So I carried on with my staple sandwich filling of cheese.

Until one day last week when I decided that I hadn’t made homemade hummus for Andrew in a while, and that it would be a good thing for him to have for tea (lots of protein in the chickpeas and no salt, unlike lots of processed food that I was tempted to buy having no will or energy to prepare things myself). Tom, who is always willing to do what I ask of him at the moment (amazing man!), happily set to and followed my rather garbled instructions on how to make it. I never measure things, so my ingredients list was something like ‘chick peas, a bit of yoghurt, and a glug or 2 of olive oil’ – Tom prefers to have internationally recognised units of measurement when cooking! You just whizz them all up together in a food processor and voilà, hummus. The difference between this and the shop-bought stuff is basically no garlic or tahini paste (sesame seeds), but great for Andrew as I know exactly what’s in it. Anyway….. as I was serving some up for him, I got a blob on my hand, and without thinking I licked it off. It flashed through my mind that I wouldn’t like it right now, as I suddenly thought about my previous encounter with hummus, but that was soon followed by a feeling of ‘oooh I actually quite like that!’ So I tasted a spoonful myself and confirmed that it was definitely in the ‘foods I can currently tolerate the taste of’ category.

I liked it so much that I had a hummus wrap for tea myself that day, and the next, and the next…. in fact I’ve eaten homemade hummus for at least one meal if not two every day since the discovery. I don’t know what it is exactly about it, but somehow the combination of ingredients is perfect for my taste-buds at the moment. Maybe it was the tahini or garlic in the shop-bought stuff that was a no-no. So is this a craving? I wouldn’t go that far (yet) – I can’t say that I actively long to eat it, as I don’t really want to eat anything, I just eat out of the fact I know I need to and to some extent eating little and often helps to keep the ‘s’ word at bay during the earlier part of the day. Oh, feeling of hunger, please come back and send the feeling of nausea packing! That’s how hummus has dominated my week, and I have no inclination that this will stop any time soon.

Moving on to med school….. Don’t worry, I haven’t signed up for any more studying! I told Tom during my PhD that if I even looked like I was going to apply for any kind of course to get another degree/qualification then he had my permission to do whatever it took to stop me. But since I am a researcher, I’m always willing to help out others in their quest to find participants for research or training studies; and as we live in Cambridge, where there’s a big medical school and the teaching hospital includes a maternity unit, there’s always stuff that needs signing up to. When I went for my scan, I picked up 2 leaflets about volunteering to help medics (of the student or qualified variety).

The first was something I already took part in when I was pregnant with Andrew. It’s called ‘Preparing for Patients’, and it’s a course that all 3rd year undergrad medical students complete, in the hope that it will help them relate their theoretical work to real patients’ experiences. For this they visit a pregnant mum (and her family) in her home, twice before the birth and twice afterwards, and ask her questions about pregnancy, birth and early days with a baby. I love to talk (as if I need to point that out), and with Andrew I was happy to share my experiences in the aid of a good cause (or course! ;)) So I was keen to help out again. The only potential problem was that the leaflet was advertising for mums due between ‘November and early March’, and my due date (if you believe in such things – I don’t) is 30th October. I thought it was worth a quick email anyway, making it clear that I understood if I couldn’t be useful being due 2 days before November. Within half an hour, the course admin had emailed back saying congratulations on being the very first volunteer for this year! (That is if I didn’t mind having my antenatal visits close together right at the start of term – which I don’t.) I know I’m a keen bean for these things, but I don’t think I’ve ever been anyone’s first participant – someone’s gotta be it! They need 150 volunteers altogether, so if you’re pregnant, due November to March (well, Feb-March babies won’t have been conceived yet), and live in Cambridge or the area, why not offer your time if you can? (Disclaimer: I have not been paid/persuaded by other means to write this, it is merely a suggestion from my inner keen volunteer!)

The second thing to sign up for was an hour being ultrasound scanned by a junior doctor or two, who are training in foetal medicine. Of course they need to practice using the fancy equipment and figuring out what all the bits of a baby look like in black and white ‘magic-eye’ style! The criteria for taking part were: 1) between 11 and 32 weeks pregnant in the week beginning 9th July; 2) a singleton pregnancy; 3) a desire to help junior doctors in their training. I fit that bill nicely, and anyway it sounded like fun – mainly because it means I get to have a free scan, complete with take-home pictures, extra to the routine one at 20 weeks that I get from the NHS. I even get my parking paid, so I can travel in four-wheeled luxury (or our Corsa) rather than struggling there by bike (I won’t be brave enough to cycle with a bump, unlike many pregnant ladies in Cambridge). They’re doing this for one week only in mid July, when I’ll be 24 weeks. All I had to do was sort out childcare for Andrew (thanks, Granny), otherwise the doctors would get more than they bargained for – I can just imagine Andrew’s fascination with pressing buttons and pulling things out of holes getting the better of him, and the scan ending in technological disaster.

That brings me, finally, to the end of my ramblings about week 14 of this pregnancy. I hope you had fun reading it and will come back for more next week. Right, I’m off to get some sleep now, at the fine hour of 19.30. Night, night!

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!