Week 1 of hyperemesis:
The morning after our wedding, I woke up early, with bad nausea. I had felt sick for a couple of weeks, even before I was 4 weeks pregnant, but this was worse.
I ran to the bathroom and vomited.
I was pleased. The first miscarriage, I was 31 days pregnant. The second one, I was 39 days pregnant.
This was day 40. Not only had I made it the furthest so far, I knew vomiting was a sign of a strong pregnancy.
The nausea lifted a bit, so we went down for breakfast. I just had some fruit and a bit of toast.
Although I felt better, I wasn’t myself. I was exhausted and still a bit sick. Andrew went for a walk with his family, who were still at the hotel. He had to make up a reason I didn’t join them.
I stayed in our room and lay on the sofa. My parents came to see me before they went home. I told them I was feeling sick but not why, but they guessed. They had already commented on me not drinking at the wedding.
We had cups of tea in my room. My mum went off to get a third tea cup and was gone for ages. We exchanged Christmas presents but didn’t open them as it wasn’t quite Christmas.
After they’d gone, I lay and watched Four Weddings and a Funeral on my phone, because we’d been talking, the day before, about the bit where Hugh Grant is stuck in a cupboard while the bride and groom are consummating.
We had three days honeymoon in the Lake District and most of the time I just lay in bed feeling sick. The hardest thing was being so ill but not in my own home. When I felt able to eat, usually late afternoon, I just wanted to go to my own kitchen and make beans on toast, but I had to sit, green-faced, in restaurants.
At that stage I was only actually vomiting in the mornings, but feeling rough for the rest of the day. Going down for breakfast and eating in front of people, when I wasn’t sure if I’d finished being sick, was horrible.
The day we travelled home I felt worse. Previous mornings, eating breakfast helped, but that day I ran to the hotel toilets and was sick during breakfast.
It was awful, lying on the bed feeling sick, while Andrew did final packing, knowing we had a six hour car journey ahead.
They had announced Christmas was cancelled because of COVID, the evening of our wedding. Andrew was worried there would be no food left in London, so he insisted we stop at a supermarket in Preston on the way home. I’ve never been less keen to come off the motorway and do food shopping. I sat in the car with a bowl on my lap, waiting for him, trying to distract myself from the sickness with the radio.
The journey went on and on. We had joked about him carrying me over the threshold when we got home. However, when we got back, I had to call the RAC. I have an intermittent problem with my car where the lock jams so you can’t close the boot. It’s a reasonably rough area, not somewhere you want to leave your car with the boot wide open overnight.
We silently carried our things in from the car and I vomited while we waited for the RAC.
We had a scan on 23rd Dec, because of my previous miscarriages. We had to wait until I was six weeks pregnant so the baby would be big enough to see.
I was sick before we set off to the hospital and kept my bowl with me in the car.
It was good news. It was just a tiny blob with a heart beating, but that was probably the happiest a beating blob has ever made me.
I asked the sonographer about the sickness but was brushed off.
Christmas Day, I just lay in bed. I didn’t even watch anything or open my presents. The only thing I remember from that day is Andrew cooking a nut roast and coming and asking me “Do I normally put celery in nut roast?” and the question made me vomit.
Within a week, the vomiting went from just the mornings to all day.
Week 2 of hyperemesis – 6 weeks pregnant:
By now, I was sick all day, every day. I would wake up retching and struggled to keep anything down.
It was a shame the start to married life for us was just me sleeping, vomiting or shouting instructions to Andrew across the flat. I would have a small window of time in the afternoon when the nausea changed to hunger, and it was the only time I could keep anything down. If I didn’t eat, the nausea came back, double.
One time I had a craving for plain mashed potato, so I asked Andrew to make it. He hadn’t made mashed potato before, so I told him to boil some potatoes for about 20 minutes and then mash them up in a bowl with butter.
About thirty minutes later, the sickness was coming back, so I shouted from the bedroom to enquire about the progress.
He came in and said, “I don’t know why, but they still aren’t cooked!”
It turned out, because I hadn’t specifically said to chop the potatoes and the ones we had were pretty big, these giant potatoes were still bobbing around in the water, uncooked.
Another time I shouted a request for pizza, as I think my body was craving fat and carbohydrates in the non-sickness window.
When I shouted for an update when the sickness started returning, it turned out he had put the pizza in the oven but not turned it on.
I had read it was a good idea to keep a note of what you eat and when you’re sick, so you can tell healthcare professionals but also to see patterns in what triggers sickness and what stays down.
On the 30th Dec I made a GP appointment because I couldn’t even keep water down. I was beginning to think this could be hyperemesis gravidarum – severe pregnancy sickness – rather than normal morning sickness.
I have read a lot about pregnancy sickness now, and a common theme is doctors not realising how ill the person is, and thinking it’s just normal morning sickness.
This wasn’t my experience at all. My doctor was great.
The GP spoke to me over the phone and was sympathetic. He sent a prescription for cyclizine to the chemist, and Andrew went and got it. Cyclizine is an antihistamine that also helps sickness. He said it works quickly, so if I wasn’t feeling better by the next day, to call back.
I found the cyclizine slightly reduced the vomiting but not much, and it made me feel so spaced out I just wanted to lie and stare at the ceiling. I didn’t even want to form sentences to speak to Andrew.
I phoned the GP the next day as I was still struggling to keep water down. I had noticed my hip and cheek bones were starting to stick out. I was losing weight fast.
He asked me to come in, in person. We were at Andrew’s flat so we had to drive across London, with my trusty bowl on my lap.
I got to the doctors at 3pm.
He asked me to do a urine sample which was difficult as I was so dehydrated. Eventually I handed him a tube of yellow treacle. He tested it and calmly said “I’ll give the Early Pregnancy Unit a quick call.”
We both sat in his office while he was on hold.
I remember him saying, “She’s sitting with me now… her ketones are 4 plus, slightly tachycardic…”
The Early Pregnancy Unit had normal working hours and it was New Year’s Eve, on a Friday, and they were closing soon.
“They can be there in 10 minutes… how long will it take you to give her a bag fluids?”
Apparently, because they were busy and not sure they had enough time to treat me, they were suggesting I went to A&E, but the GP didn’t want me to do that, as I might be more likely to catch COVID. He managed to persuade them to see me.
“They’ll hydrate you and you’ll probably feel better quite quickly. You’re as dry as a crisp.”
He gave me a letter to give the hospital about me, which included the sentence, “objectively very dry in appearance.”
We raced to the hospital. We had to go through some COVID checks before we could get to the Early Pregnancy Unit – the same department I’d been about the second miscarriage, and where I’d had my scan a few days earlier.
A nurse went through some questions about what I’d eaten and drank, and how often I’d been sick. They weighed me. I’d lost at least 5kg since becoming pregnant. They gave me an information sheet about hyperemesis gravidarum.
They put me on a drip. I’d never been on a drip before. I hated the initial bit, where they put a cannula in my arm, but after that it was fine. They injected some anti-sickness medicine into the cannula and then started the fluids. It felt slightly cold as it went into my bloodstream but otherwise fine. I did soon feel better.
I had go back into the waiting area with my drip. There were four of us, all on drips. I was hoping there would be a bit more camaraderie but the COVID regulations meant there were screens up, separating us.
I did chat to one girl towards the end of the time there. She was 9 weeks pregnant. I overheard a doctor saying to her they really wanted to admit her as an inpatient as she wasn’t improving, but because of COVID there weren’t any beds.
I sent Andrew to go and find a hospital shop and buy me some Haribo. I had seen that morning on my pregnancy app that the baby was the size of a Gummy Bear, and ever since, perhaps a bit cannibalistically, I’d had a craving for Gummy Bears. I think my body was desperate for sugar.
We went home after the bag of fluids had gone into me and the cannula was taken out. I remember getting Andrew to stop at a petrol station so I could buy a chocolate bar which I was excited to eat.
When we got home, Andrew chatted to his school friends on Zoom as New Years Eve midnight approached but I felt too ill to join in, so I just lay on the sofa.
Week 3 of hyperemesis – 7 weeks pregnant
They had changed my medicine called stemetil instead of cyclizine, but that still wasn’t the right one for me.
I was so, so unwell.
I was looking through my phone and saw this message, I sent my friend, around this time:
“Do you think it’s really bad I don’t have the same positive feelings to the embryo that I had at the start? I did feel really positive and excited and connected to it but now I don’t feel much of that. I just feel so ill.
I know it’s not its fault.”
She said it was understandable, as it was a serious thing. She’d even heard Emily Bronte died of hyperemesis.
I looked it up and does seem like one of the Bronte sisters died from it (Charlotte, rather than Emily), although it’s hard to say for sure, as they didn’t know about hyperemesis back then. It became a catchphrase when I was asking Andrew to do something for me: “Charlotte Bronte died of what I’ve got!”
Apparently, until the 1950s hyperemesis was a common cause of death in pregnant women, until intravenous hydration was around. These days, very few women die from it, but it’s hard to say exactly how many, as often the cause on the death certificate is something like cardiac arrest, which happens as the body is shutting down.
A few days later, in early January, I had my first appointment with the midwife. I was struggling to take in what she said and had to keep running out to be sick.
I went straight back to the hospital afterwards, as I was really dehydrated again. There was a time in the afternoon each day, when I could just about keep down some cucumber, yoghurt or fishfingers, but that was it.
They weighed me again and I had lost even more weight.
They said some people have to spend the whole time with hyperemesis (which can get better around 20 weeks, or can last the whole pregnancy) going on a drip every few days.
I sat in the waiting area with the drip in my arm and called my boss. I was due back in work the following week (at this point, I was still on wedding-related annual leave) but I realised I was unlikely to be well enough.
Again, I was really happy with the treatment I received. Lots of women with hyperemesis go to Accident and Emergency when they get dehydrated and apparently can treated quite badly, with staff not really understanding the condition. However, at my hospital they had a good system where you went straight to the Early Pregnancy Unit.
This time they changed my medication to metacloprimade and that was a turning point.
I had to take it three times a day and I was still sick every morning, but I stopped being sick throughout the day. I didn’t have to go on a drip again, after starting metacloprimade.
Week 4-5 of hyperemesis – 8-9 weeks pregnant
At this stage, although I was slightly better physically, I started to struggle mentally. Andrew was back at work and I felt guilty about being off sick.
Although I was only mainly just sick in the mornings, I still felt incredibly weak and unable to get out of bed. The days I felt well enough to shower felt momentous.
It was the amount of time that was so difficult. When I’ve been sick in the past, with food poisoning, even if I felt sick for a few days, I at least stopped vomiting within the first 24 hours. I found it mentally tough being unable to do anything for so many weeks.
We also kept getting notifications from the COVID app saying we had to isolate. Not being able to go out didn’t make any difference to me, as I couldn’t get out of bed, but as there were still so few things I could eat, it made me really anxious about getting food. There were problems getting food delivered.
We had another scan at 9 weeks. I was really anxious, leading up to the scan. I know 8 weeks is a common time that things go wrong. I heard of people going to the 12 week scan and finding out the baby had stopped growing or even died at 8 weeks. It seemed like if you got past 8 weeks, it was a real milestone.
It was fine. It was amazing to see how much the baby had developed in 3 weeks. It now looked like a little beetle, rather than a blob.
I remember there was something on the news at that time about the Irish Government apologising for the history of forcing unmarried mothers to have their children adopted.
I whispered to the baby, “I couldn’t bear losing you!” and burst into tears.
As week 10 approached, the sickness started to become more random. Whereas I had mainly been sick in the mornings, it changed to evenings, and then quickly changed to being all day again. I found the randomness difficult. It seemed like half the time when I felt sick, eating helped, but half the time it made it worse. It was a vomity Russian Roulette.
I had read a few times that sickness can get better around week 10, as the placenta takes over producing hormones for the baby, instead of your body. I had really pinned all my hopes on that, and was even talking to my manager about going back to work.
When the sickness changed to the evenings, I assumed it was part of the hyperemesis finally going away, so it was a really blow when it got much worse.
What was actually happening was the metaclopromide was stopping working.
I spoke to another GP on the phone. After reading so much about how unhelpful GPs can be, I was worried when I couldn’t get an appointment with the doctor I’d seen before.
However, this one was equally good. I later found out she was a trainee.
We talked about new medications to try. There was always anxiety about whether baby could be harmed by the medication, as often there was limited research. However, I genuinely believe if I hadn’t received any treatment, I could have easily died, considering how quickly I lost weight and got dehydrated before the medication.
We were leaning towards domperidone but she said she had heard about new hyperemesis drug, but couldn’t remember what it was called.
She sent me a link to information about domperidone and then called back as she had found the name of the new drug – Xonvea. She sent me information about that one and then we agreed I would try that.
Xonvea was a game-changer.
Around this time, I also started getting help from a charity called Pregnancy Sickness Support. I called them when I was feeling particularly low and they linked me with a volunteer who texted me every few days to give me support and advice. It really helped.
Week 6-9 of hyperemesis – 10-13 weeks pregnant:
I had to increase the dosage to Xonvea as it didn’t work initially, but it soon made a real difference. I’m not sure how much was the new medication and how much was reaching the end of the third trimester, but I started getting better.
By now, February was approaching. One of the first times I felt well enough to go out onto the patio outside, I saw some snowdrops and crocuses I planted in Autumn were coming up.
I had a blood test to check for chromosome disorders and also opted to check the sex chromosomes of the baby, and found out we were having a girl. We were both delighted. She started to feel more real as soon as she became a ‘she’ rather than an ‘it’.
I went back to only being sick in the mornings, and started to feel less ill, during the day. I began going out for 5-10 minute walks to try and get my strength back up. I started wearing normal clothes again, instead of just pyjamas or ‘ill clothes’. I went to the supermarket a couple of times.
Then, one morning when I was 13 weeks pregnant, I woke up and I wasn’t sick. I couldn’t believe it. I started being sick just some mornings, but not all.
I went back to work in the afternoons at first.
We had our 12 week scan, which was delayed as Andrew caught COVID. Amazingly, I didn’t catch it. He probably wouldn’t have known he had it, but we were in a study where you get regularly tested and it was picked up through that. The only symptom he had was strange muscle aches.
We were able to isolate separately as we still had both our flats, so he went to mine.
At the scan, we saw she now looked like a proper baby, rather than a blob or beetle. She was moving a lot.
Weeks 10-14 of hyperemesis – 14-18 weeks pregnant
I had a few weeks of still being sick several mornings, but not every day. Life started to go back to normal. I remember the first time I was in Sainsbury’s and actually felt like eating. It felt like a real turning point. I got back into sausage sandwiches with gusto.
I found it exhausting working, but gradually built my strength and my hours back up.
I started to look a bit pregnant.
I experimented with reducing the medication but the sickness quickly came back. I was also sick some evenings when I had overdone it and was tired.
18 weeks pregnant:
When I was 18 weeks pregnant, one day I was moving the sick bowl while I tidied the bedroom, and I realised I hadn’t been sick for a few days. It had been nearly a week!
And that was it. The hyperemesis was over.
I was sick one evening when I was 25 weeks pregnant. It was either because I’d had a stressful day at work, or because, again, I’d experimented with reducing the medication.
I was sick again when I was 35 weeks pregnant. This time it made me think I was about to go into labour, but I wasn’t.
As soon as the sickness stopped completely, I really started to enjoy being pregnant, especially after the 20 week scan. I felt well, I started to feel her move and I finally started to believe everything would be OK with the baby.