Friday 23 February 2018

'I was vomiting an average of 10 times a day' - Living with extreme morning sickness hyperemesis gravidarum

As Kate Middleton battles nausea and vomiting once again during pregnancy, Martha Kearns recounts her own experience of the debilitating condition

Martha Kearns with her two children, Ciara and Leo, and husband Ciaran
Martha Kearns with her two children, Ciara and Leo, and husband Ciaran

'Any other symptoms," the nurse casually asked as the joyous reality that I was in fact pregnant with my first child sank in.

"Well I have been feeling a bit nauseous the past week," I answered. With an incredulous eyebrow raised, she informed me this was highly unusual at five weeks but a great sign - a healthy sign.

I left on a high, secretly revelling in the fact that my hormones were already indicating I was on my way to a healthy pregnancy. A bit smug if I'm being honest.

The smugness didn't last long.

Royal bump: Kate Middleton suffers from acute morning sickness during pregnancies
Royal bump: Kate Middleton suffers from acute morning sickness during pregnancies

The following nine months were the toughest - both physically and mentally - that I have ever experienced in my life. Morning sickness it is not.

Because morning sickness could not even begin to describe the overwhelming sense of nausea and the almost constant need to vomit that followed day after day, week after week, month after month with absolutely no let up for the entire pregnancy.

The only way I can describe it to other people is it is like having severe food poisoning or a gastric bug that goes on for months on end.

Hearing that Kate Middleton is again suffering from acute morning sickness, otherwise known as hyperemesis gravidarum, brings back some terrible memories of that time. I can only imagine what it must be like for her to face into that for the third time - knowing the months she has stretching ahead of her. I did it twice and I had to think long and hard about risking getting pregnant the second time. I don't think I would have been able for a third.

On my first pregnancy, I initially thought this was what normal morning sickness was like. A few months in, I realised it was not normal. As soon as I opened my eyes every morning, I had to run to the bathroom. Over the nine months, I was vomiting an average of 10 times a day. And those bouts of vomiting could last for up to half an hour each.

I started getting out of bed two hours before I needed to leave the house. It took me that long to complete two simple tasks - having a shower and getting dressed. There was no need for breakfast any more. Nothing was staying down. The Dart journey to work was hell. Arriving at Pearse Street every morning, I was lucky if I made it to the station toilets in time. I started to bring sick bags with me everywhere and had to make at least two stops on the walk to work on Harcourt Street.

Once there, I had to frequently excuse myself from meetings and abruptly finish conversations as I made a dash down the office. I also must admit to throwing up in a colleague's waste paper bin one early morning. (Sorry Dee, I just couldn't make it on time!)

Arriving home every evening, I walked straight into the bedroom where I immediately went to bed. The exhaustion was overbearing and I couldn't face one more minute of movement, let alone the smell or the thought of dinner cooking. I couldn't eat. I was losing weight - two stone during my first pregnancy - my toe and finger nails went white from the lack of vitamins I was ingesting.

I couldn't drink water - even a sip came back up. I was dizzy and fatigued all the time. Dioralyte barely passed my lips. Sipping Lucozade was all I could stomach so the doctor said to keep drinking that, despite the smart comments from others about it not being great for the baby.

The mental trauma was probably worse than the physical. There were evenings when I cried for hours. I felt miserable. I felt like it was never going to end. I was often in a daze and my mind was totally obsessed with when I was going to get sick next. I felt like I was living in a fog and I just wanted the whole experience to be over - not quite the pregnancy glow you read about. I did feel cheated out of that experience.

I tried sucking crystallised ginger, wearing sickness bands, acupuncture, reflexology, dry toast. Nothing worked. In hindsight, I can see that the only thing I could have and should have done was rest.

I was never hospitalised or had to be hooked up to a drip like other women, so I can only imagine what was experienced by those who had it worse than me. I wouldn't wish it on my worst enemy. The only time the sickness gave some light relief was in the delivery room. Yes, it continued right up to then. My husband was on one side of me and a midwife on the other, both holding containers for me to alternate getting sick into. The ridiculousness of it all made me laugh.

But as soon as my baby daughter was born, the fog lifted. As well as the joy of the new arrival, the tea and toast the midwife brought me never tasted so good as the sickness immediately disappeared - until the next time.

Martha Kearns is a former Irish Independent journalist and co-owner of StoryLab, a content and PR company

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