*The information in this post reflects my personal experiences. I am not a qualified medical professional and this is not medical advice. You should always see your healthcare provider for this.
During the first half or so of both my pregnancies, I was sick. Like, really, really sick. Sicker than I’ve ever been in my life. Morning Sickness is quite a common occurrence in pregnancy, and, according to the NHS, around 80% of all pregnant women experience nausea of varying degrees during their first trimester of pregnancy. This, however, was something else – both times I was diagnosed with Hyperemesis Gravidarum – severe pregnancy sickness.
There is tonnes of information on the internet about how to cope with and improve pregnancy-related sickness, and you can find lots of it on the NHS website, which I urge you to read if you’re experiencing any sort of pregnancy sickness, morning or otherwise. But as all women who experience hyperemesis/severe pregnancy sickness will confirm, none of this advice worked for me. I just kept throwing up more and more, and developed an aversion to ginger along the way (and a bunch of other things I associate with early pregnancy, like grapefruit-scented cleaning spray and pumpkin spice… still battling the last one, which is a true downer). While my two pregnancies were quite different, I didn’t get better in either without the help of some medication.
With Isla, I was throwing up between ten and 15 times a day, couldn’t even keep water down, was shedding pounds like nobody’s business and, most days, was too ill to even get myself to the toilet to be sick on my own. My GP didn’t prescribe any medication until ketones were present in my urine, and at that point, I was already in such a state that it took me ages to recover, both physically and mentally.
With Arlo, my medical experience was a lot better. As I had already been through hyperemesis before, my GP prescribed the anti-nausea medication as soon as I started feeling like I couldn’t cope. I was still pretty unwell, and didn’t stop throwing up until I hit 20 weeks, but it was far better managed this time around. I was able to return to work much sooner, didn’t lose weight the way I had before, and generally felt I was able to recover much faster once the sickness finally stopped.
I should note that, as hyperemesis goes, I was relatively lucky. Once I received treatment, my symptoms improved to the point of allowing me to have relatively normal pregnancies. As long as I remembered to take all my tablets, I was okay – although god help me if I forgot even a single dose! Many women aren’t this lucky, and some have sickness so extreme that they spend the majority of their pregnancy in hospital, on a drip. It’s honestly not a ‘bit of morning sickness’, it’s a seriously debilitating condition.
While nothing I can write can make severe pregnancy sickness any better, I’ve put together the top five things that helped me keep my mind through the months of vomming, and will hopefully help you too.
I got medical help
Being pregnant is rough under the best of circumstances, and if you have severe sickness to add to the list, it can get really overwhelming really fast. In addition to the physical strain on my body, the impact of being sick multiple times a day over several months totally screwed over my mental health. If you feel like you’re experiencing symptoms beyond what you can deal with, contact your GP or midwife. Seriously, don’t say ‘I’ll just hold out until my next appointment’. Call them straight away and get the ball rolling. If you see no improvement, be persistent and go back. In my first pregnancy, I was at my GP’s three times a week at one point before I started getting any better.
I ate what I could
Seriously. My thing was lolly ices. Were they particularly nourishing? Definitely not. But they kept me hydrated and able to get some calories down. My personal view is also that, if you’re having a massive craving for a non-vegan food, you feel okay with eating it, and it’s not something you’re meant to avoid in pregnancy, just have it. I know that’s a bit of a controversial thing to write on a vegan blog, but if there is any chance of keeping something down, it’s probably worthwhile. Now is not the time to berate yourself for not being perfect.
I made time for self-care
I’m a huge fan of massage treatments, which have been pivotal in helping me manage back pain over the last few years. I had pregnancy massages when I was feeling a lot better, although of course I don’t recommend going for a spa treatment if there is a high chance of you throwing up over the edge of the treatment table. However, you will notice that the constant heaving results in unbelievable tension in your whole body, especially your neck and shoulders, and this can be really painful. Taking warm baths with pregnancy-safe pampering products, asking my husband to rub my back, watching all my favourite Netflix shows, all of those things just helped me feel a little bit more together.
I dropped all my expectations
In both my pregnancies, I had hoped to do all these fun things – spa days, maternity shoots, pregnancy workouts, putting together the perfect nursery… all that went to pot really fast. Lowering my expectations was a difficult but vital step in getting through my severe pregnancy sickness. Make your goal to get through the pregnancy with your physical and mental health (mostly) salvageable, rather than pining after an insta-perfect nine months. Do the bare minimum of what you can to get by, and rest. This was so much easier in my first pregnancy, where Jake could do all the housework and I just stayed in bed. In pregnancy #2, with Isla already running around, this was much harder. It’s even more difficult if you’re going through this while we’re all still dealing with the impact of Covid on our lives and it’s almost impossible to get any help. But it’s important. Give yourself permission to slack off.
I bonded with my babies
Because my belly was still flat(ish, hah) in the first trimester and I couldn’t feel any movements yet, it was a bit difficult to link the constant nausea with the fact that I was growing an actual human being. I got so frustrated with people telling me ‘it’ll all be worth it’. Even though it’s true, it’s one of the least helpful phrases ever. It’s okay to feel sorry for yourself, and it’s okay to feel annoyed and unhappy that you’re feeling so rotten and that none of this is going the way you planned. But I also think that it’s important to take some time to be happy about the little person your body is busy growing. If you’ve already had a scan, take some time to look at the pictures, maybe even frame them. Use your downtime to plan a fun baby announcement, or one last weekend getaway as a couple to go on when you feel better, if that’s in your budget. Go waste some time on Pinterest, or play the name game – anything that makes you feel positive about your pregnancy.
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This post was originally published in July 2015 and was updated in December 2020.