Pregnancy and Mental Health: My Experience with Hyperemesis Gravidarum

[CW: mention of vomiting/hospitals/miscarriage/abortion/mental health/weight loss]

I got pregnant the first month my partner and I started trying for a baby. I felt incredibly fortunate to get pregnant so quickly – and had naively expected that getting pregnant would be the most difficult part of pregnancy. The day after I got my first positive test, I started to feel nauseous. It was like constant motion sickness. ‘Morning sickness’ is common in pregnancy and, although I wasn’t expecting it, I welcomed it as a sign that I was really pregnant. The nausea intensified until I was being sick every day. At 6 weeks pregnant I mentioned it to my doctor, who reassured me it was a sign I was having a healthy pregnancy and that my baby was well. The following week, after being unable to keep down any food or drink for days, I was in hospital on a drip for dehydration and was diagnosed with hyperemesis gravidarum.

From then on, I threw up multiple times almost every single day. People around me would tell me the cures that they’d heard for morning sickness, like eating dry crackers. Everyone recommended I eat foods with ginger in them to relieve nausea, and people at work tried to comfort me by telling me they’d also suffered morning sickness when they were pregnant – “it’s all worth it in the end” and “you’ll forget all about it once baby’s here!”. My doctor congratulated me on having a healthy pregnancy and reminded me that having nausea meant I was less likely to have a miscarriage. Everyone around me celebrated my pregnancy and gave me advice on how to best take care of my body and my baby. On at least five separate occasions while at work, I was told the food I was eating wasn’t healthy enough for a pregnant person. Two of those pieces of unsolicited advice came directly after I’d been to the bathroom to throw up. After vomiting multiple times at work, and having to run out of a lecture to throw up, I stopped going to work and uni. For weeks I spent all day in my bed or on the bathroom floor. I cried every day as I grieved the healthy pregnancy I had hoped for, and I felt huge guilt for not being more grateful for being pregnant at all. 

At 14 weeks pregnant I had lost over 5% of my body weight and barely had the energy to go to the bathroom. I threw up every time I ate or drank anything. I threw up every time I took the bus or smelled cigarette smoke or strong perfume. Every time I moved the room would spin. I ate strategically: soft, plain foods that didn’t hurt my throat when I vomited. My grades at uni got worse. I missed an exam. My doctor didn’t believe that I was sick and refused to write me a sick line. Someone at work asked me how I was feeling, but interrupted me before I could answer to ask me if I knew if I was having a boy or a girl. I Googled when the latest I could get an abortion was. If I’d had the energy to attend another doctor’s appointment, I would have ended the pregnancy. At 21 weeks pregnant, I saw a new doctor who listened to me and prescribed me an anti-emetic medication. I cried the whole walk back to my flat. The same week, I finally made it back to my pre-pregnancy weight. I’m now about to enter the third trimester of my pregnancy. If I forget to take my medication on time I throw up. I vividly remember every food that would make me sick and actively avoid them. I’m still mourning the healthy, glowing pregnancy I’ll never have, the maternity photos I don’t have, and the months I lost to being so ill. I feel guilty for thinking about ending my pregnancy. I’m frustrated that in the future I will have to choose between having more children and my own health.

The last six months have been the hardest of my life instead of the joyful time that people view pregnancy as. My mental health has suffered along with my physical health. Every comment about my food or my weight made it harder. Every time someone said I’d forget all about it and want more kids in the future it invalidated my experience. The common portrayal of pregnant women as glowing and beautifully healthy makes it difficult to see pregnancy as something more complicated, and it’s still difficult to try to reconcile my feelings of happiness about having a baby with overwhelming feelings of guilt and grief and sadness.

For further information and support on hypermesis gravidarum, visit https://www.pregnancysicknesssupport.org.uk/

[Jasmine Yancey – pronoun indifferent – @jasminesyancey]

[Photo credit: Klaus Rathke/flickr.com]

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