24/7 sickness

Trigger Warning: this article talks about gross stuff. If you’re susceptible to mental images at the moment, read it at your own risk.

Yeah because “Morning Sickness” is the worst case of false advertising I’ve ever fallen victim to.

In movies and books, “morning” sickness is comically made out to be this cute little pregnancy symptom where you get up in the morning, rush to the loo, throw up, and then go about the rest of your day complaining about the lady with the very strong perfume in the lift at work all while wolfing down strawberries dipped in marmite or some other culinary blasphemy.

First, let me set you straight on one thing: you don’t complain about the woman with the strong perfume in the lift because you don’t take the lift any more. You take the stairs, because the lift does weird things to your stomach. However, you can still smell said woman’s very strong perfume throughout the whole building, all day, even though she was only there for half an hour before lunch.

This is if you’ve not been put on sick leave, which I was. If you’re on sick leave, you sit on the sofa all day, in a very particular back-aching position that hurts, but it’s the only position you can stand to sit in without retching out the contents of your already empty stomach. You try desperately to distract yourself. You watch videos, but you have to be careful to select videos that do not allude to food or anything remotely gross in any way. You listen to music, carefully noting which songs calm you down and which ones have a rhythm or a sound that somehow agitates your stomach. I tried singing, which helped sometimes when the song was low in pitch, and I even made an anti-nausea playlist on Grooveshark, though I haven’t actually used it much.

After three days, I’d eaten very little and was cold, shaking and throwing up everything I tried to keep down, even the plainest foods. My boyfriend rang the doctor, who advised him to give me sugary water, and not let me eat and drink at the same time. This helped for about a day, but the nausea is caused by your body’s reaction to HcG (that famous hormone measured by pregnancy tests), which just keeps going up during the first trimester. As soon as I thought I’d found a way of dealing with the nausea, it got worse.

After a week or so, Bf took me to the doctor. She gave me a packet of glucose tabs, the kind sporty people get for working out or something (I dunno, sporty people are a whole different species of human to me), and after three of these I stopped trembling and could speak somewhat coherently. She gave me some ginger-based pills to take and suggested I eat a little as often as possible, but that I drink outside of meals. Then she said there wasn’t much else she could do for me, and that if I couldn’t even keep water down, I’d have to be hospitalised for a while. That said, she reassured me, she’d seen much worse in terms of morning sickness.

Her advice – and the meds, which were more like ginger supplements – worked more or less for another week, but I was still carrying my basin around everywhere by the time I went for my second scan the week after. Gynocologists, of course, know more about how to deal with morning sickness than GPs do, and mine changed my prenatal vitamines to a ginger-based one with less iron, and gave me antihistamines. These really helped – thanks to this I became capable of keeping most of my food down, except for the mandatory morning vom, which seems to have abated now that I’m past the 10-week mark. I’m still on meds until I can eat my breakfast biscuits without retching though.

This is just my experience. Like everything else nowadays (because we’re finally realising the world is not all black and white), pregnancy nausea exists on a spectrum. On the one hand you have my grandma, who never had any problem with any of her three kids and who I wish I took after, and on the other extreme, you have hyperemesis gravidarum, which can so endanger the life of the mother that she has to be hospitalised and put on a drip. This condition can make her so miserable that women who originally wanted children have begged for abortions, or been strongly advised to get them, because of it. The consequent feelings of guilt, regret and terrible inadequacy and helplessness can lead to depression afterwards, or so I’ve read. Note that I do not have hyperemesis gravidarum (thank god). But you don’t have to belong to that small group of unfortunates to wonder, while cleaning the basin that now accompanies you everywhere and trying not to throw up until it’s clean, how humanity has managed to survive so long, and how women could possibly decide to have a second child after suffering so much for the first.

For those of you who are wondering the same thing while leaning over a basin and wondering if it’s a false alarm or not, here, then, are my tried-and-tested tips for dealing with 24/7 sickness:

– If you have a craving, run with it.
– Remember, there are no longer any “nice” smells. Unless there are, in which case you need more of that shit. But mostly there are either Nauseating Smells or Very Strong Smells that aren’t nauseating. Your nose will tell you that none of these smells are edible. If it’s not a nauseating smell, try the food anyway. You may be surprised.
– You can tell this is not gastroenteritis because your cravings / aversions may not correspond to any norm of what is digestible or not. For a while all I could eat was fruit, and anything boiled in water (including white rice) was sure to come back up. Be prepared to experiment.
– Also be prepared to buy stuff that you won’t eat. It helps if you have someone else to eat the things you don’t want to eat any more. I gave all my onions to a friend who came round to “walk” me round the block.
– Try not to throw up in the sink. It’s harder and grosser to clean than a portable basin.
– Try not to think about the time you threw up in the sink.
– Cry if you need to. It’s ok to feel shit, and bottled-up feelings make your stomach knot even more.
– Even though you’re probably feeling really crap and unsociable, ask close friends and family to keep you company, take you out for very slow granny walks (not too far from home), or at least talk over the phone about anything not pregnancy-related.
– Air your house/flat very often, but if you smell something nasty coming from outside (one of my neighbours smokes), shut the window immediately before it ruins your entire day.
– If you feel up to it, read up on hyperemesis gravidarum. If you think you have it, get it checked out with your gyno. If you don’t, you’ll feel marginally better in that at least things aren’t that bad.
– Leave the door open when you go to the loo. Embarassing? Yes. Worse than expelling stuff from both ends at once due to the smell? Nothing is worse than that. Believe me.
– If you have to leave the house, take biscuits, glucose/sugar tablets, fizzy water, lemonade, whatever you might be able to eat/drink with you.
– Try to get someone else to do your shopping, or get it delivered. Supermarkets are your worst enemy.
– Ditto for cooking and doing the dishes.
– If your partner is doing all the chores, don’t feel guilty. Remember, they’re in this with you. Just don’t forget to thank them. A lot.
– You’re probably not up to sex, but if you ever feel like you are, go for it. Just take your time. Try not to jiggle your stomach around too much.
– Don’t get frustrated if whatever miracle food/drink worked for you yesterday is suddenly gross today. Just start looking for another miracle food.
– Keep yourself distracted, in the calmest way possible. Read. Listen to calming music.
– Try self-hypnosis and meditation. Look it up on YouTube.
– Logically speaking, it’s reasonable to blame the baby. It’s not very healthy, however. Try to remember that you didn’t ask to be born and neither did he/she. If it makes you feel better, talk to the baby. Make it your companion for those lonely moments when you can’t find a distraction. You’re allowed to look like a crazy person when you’re pregnant, make the most of this advantage.
– Don’t feel guilty for anything you can’t control. You’re allowed to get frustrated, though, see “crying” above.- The time just after you’ve vomited is usually the best time to try and eat something, because that’s when you’re the least nauseous.
– It’s ok to binge on Canada Dry and biscuits for a while. The baby will take what it needs in terms of vitamines, like the tiny parasite that it is (my GP’s words, not mine). You can make up for it once the nausea has abated.
– Talk to your gynocologist about it. They should give you something to help that won’t harm the baby. If they don’t, talk to a different gynocologist.
– If it suddenly stops, don’t panic, you’re still pregnant. Boobs still bigger than before? Still starving? No bleeding? You’re fine. Make the most of this new period of respite.
– Finally, if you’re keeping a pregnancy blog, don’t write the article about nausea and vomiting while you’re still nauseous. I was sick twice while I wrote this thing. Now I’m off to clean my basin.

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