Laura Bourne explains the horror of HG, and explains how ‘helpful’ advice just makes her sick.
“Have you tried ginger?” the midwife asked, not even glancing up from my notes. A thousand responses tripped to the tip of my tongue. Have I tried ginger? Well, yes. Obviously. I’ve tried it in tea. And in weirdly expensive sweets you can only get from selected Holland and Barrett stores. I’ve tried it pickled, like in the little packets everyone discards in supermarket sushi, and I’ve tried it just grated from the root. I was clearly taking too long to answer her, because she looked up and smiled. “Or just sucking on a mint?” I bit my tongue and bile, or perhaps just plain old vomit, rose in my throat.
“I’ve tried most things.” I replied, in what I hoped was a measured tone. “I’ve taken cyclizine from the consultant, but that made me sleep, so I couldn’t look after my daughter. Or drive. I’ve had some success with Promethazine, but only if I’m not tired, because then it seems to make me twice as sick. Ondansetron is working quite well at the moment, so I’m sticking with that for now.” The midwife looked uncomfortable and went back to writing in my notes. Oh yeah, I thought, not so smart now are you, now it turns out I know the lingo. The rest of the appointment passed without anymore helpful suggestions for home remedies.
It isn’t the midwife’s fault she didn’t understand. No one understands unless they’ve been where I am, and that is on the business end of the glamorously titled Hyperemesis Gravadarum, AKA Latin for “Really Bloody Bad Morning Sickness”. Once you’ve had it for a while, you start calling it “HG”, mainly because it’s hard to spell. You’ve probably heard of it because Kate Middleton was reported to have had it when she was pregnant with Prince George. It is a much-misunderstood condition, mainly I think because half the population, i.e. pregnant women, do at some point suffer from morning sickness during their pregnancies, and that is entirely normal. A few weeks of boaking at the smell of coffee and a bit of a puke when you brush your teeth, or indeed having to eat a lot of plain crackers to alleviate intense nausea, is something that most women who’ve had a baby can relate to. And it’s grim, I’m not taking away from how horrible even just normal morning sickness is, but HG is in a whole other league.
I knew for sure that I had HG and not just “bad morning sickness” during week 16 of my first pregnancy, when I ended up on a ward in my local hospital for similar unfortunates. I had vomited all night, from 6pm on the Saturday until after 7am on the Sunday. It was during around the tenth hour of relentless chundering, when my sick was now just bile and we had no clean towels left that my husband Phil insisted that he was “going to phone someone”. Phil is a very stoic man, not often taken with drama, so I knew that things were bad. He phoned NHS 111 and from my position inside the sick bucket, I could hear his half of the conversation. Twenty minutes later an ambulance arrived to take me away, and a kind paramedic, after surveying the scene of towels, water bottles and tissues in our living room and observing me retching on fresh air, handed me a small cardboard bowl and said she was going to take me to the hospital “for some fluids”. This, to my dehydrated ears, sounded very nice, and I agreed to go with her, clinging on to her arm for support as I walked down the steps out of my house.
I don’t remember much else from that first day, other than that I eventually came to in a brightly lit ward of women hooked up to drips, and that when I looked over to the side of my bed I too was attached to a huge transparent bag of water. I closed my eyes and dreamed that I was swimming in a pool filled with Lucozade, and when I next woke my husband was sitting next to the bed, marking some of his GCSE classes books.
“Phil,” I said, my throat dry, “can I have some Lucozade?” he looked perplexed and put down his red pen before going off in search of a vending machine.
I was eventually discharged that time after nine bags of fluid and an injection in my thigh that stopped me from being sick any more that week. A few days later, as I emerged into the light, blinking at the outside, I felt a little bit like I had been on a spa break: refreshed and rejuvenated. It was probably the best that I felt for the rest of the pregnancy, which crawled by in a haze of further pills, puking and people telling me at 20, 25, 30 weeks that “it’s bound to stop in the next week or so”. It never did. I became quite anxious at around 26 weeks into the pregnancy, and cried to my GP that I was sure that my heightened state of anxiety was because I “can’t do pregnancy right”. She sympathised, handed me a tissue and offered me a course of antidepressants to take the edge off, which I appreciated but I knew that really I would feel alright if I could stop being sick for a few days. Eventually, at 39 weeks and 4 days pregnant I was the sickest I had been and that night the Braxton Hicks became real contractions and eight hours later my daughter Sadie was born. She had made me sick every single day from October 28th until the following July 4th.
Because I am stupid, or because I quickly forgot how awful it was, I intentionally became pregnant again when Sadie was eighteen months old. Somewhere in the back of my head this was part of a grand plan to have three children all close in age. Sadie had been the worst pregnancy imaginable but she was the funniest and sweetest child and so I had quickly wanted another baby. Phil agreed that this was a good idea; he too had forgotten. About a week before Christmas I woke up with a familiar feeling of unease, and sat up hot and confused. Immediately I was sick, Exorcist style, across the room and I told a sleeping Phil that I was fairly sure I was pregnant. Confusingly, a test the next day seemed to disagree with this diagnosis, but my body knew even if the Clear Blue balanced on the side of the bath didn’t. Over the course of the next few days I was sick in my car, in the bin in my classroom (locked in a cupboard so that my GCSE English group wouldn’t have to witness it) and then in the toilets of the Holiday Inn en route to a Christmas party hosted by Phil’s best friends parents. The next day, as if by magic, there was that fateful pink line on the test.
I am now over half way through my second pregnancy, and I am fairly sure that this will be my last child. For the last 25 weeks I have been sick in a hundred different locations, from Tesco to Peppa Pig World. While Phil and Sadie queued up to ride on Grandpa Pig’s Train, I heaved into a Bag for Life while sitting on a bench (whilst being observed by some horrified pre schoolers). As my husband and daughter later licked ice creams on Bournemouth beach, I was stood over a grotty public loo losing my lunch. I have missed the thirtieth birthday of one of my oldest and dearest friends, I missed the end of the Masterchef final. I was sick all through my Dads birthday celebrations and during what was meant to be a romantic evening out for our wedding anniversary, I laid on the sofa gagging because I could smell coffee somewhere in a ten mile radius. Sadie has just begun to talk properly, and one of her most used phrases is “Oh dear, Mummy!” said in a startled tone as she watches me be sick, often for the tenth time that day.
Before I became a sufferer (or maybe more accurately, a victim) of HG, I imagined pregnancy to be a serene state whereby I would bravely smile through a few weeks of irritating nausea. What I did not imagine was the worst hangover of my life, multiplied by ten and then played out for nine months. HG is terrible, it’s crippling. You can’t go to work, you can’t drive, you can’t even watch the television as the motion on screen often makes you too nauseous to concentrate on what’s going on in Corrie. On my very worst days I have only managed to eat Ryvita and cry as my poor husband or poor parents are forced to pick up the pieces of the childcare, house work and basic adult responsibility that I am finding it impossible to manage. And the worst of it? I know that as soon as it’s done, as soon as the baby is in my arms and I’m back to normal, drinking coffee and not gagging at the sight of pizza adverts on the telly, I won’t remember how terrible it really was. I won’t recall the inability to sleep or work or have fun, the impossibility to enjoy a meal out with my best friend or walk past a Starbucks without gagging. I will completely forget that I always had to have at least two Bags for Life in my handbag at all times to puke into. But whatever happens, however quickly I forget the horror of HG; one thing is for sure, I will never, ever, reply to a pregnant woman who is telling me about her morning sickness with “Have you tried ginger?”