By Nadia Begh (HG Survivor)
My HG survivor story
I remember taking my pregnancy test and seeing those two lines and being so excited that we were pregnant. Little did we know what was coming our way. I had heard of others that had morning sickness but never really thought I would suffer, as I had not heard of any female relatives ever talking about it. I do remember watching a Bollywood movie as a child, where the woman ran out of the room, retching and all the other characters looking at each other and commenting ‘Ma banewalehe!’ (she is becoming a mum). That was really all that I had heard or seen anything related to pregnancy sickness. Who knew that years later, I would suffer from the extreme form of pregnancy sickness and that I would be trying to raise awareness and help others.
With my first pregnancy, I hurled constantly and there was no reprieve. As an Asian woman, I didn’t feel it was something people in my community talked about. So, I suffered in silence.
For me, it started off as smells like frying onions and spices from curry cooking that made me feel nauseous but then it rapidly progressed to full on vomiting to the point nothing came out, apart from bile. With my first pregnancy, I hurled constantly and there was no reprieve. As an Asian woman, I didn’t feel it was something people in my community talked about. So, I suffered in silence. I did manage to let my GP know in between vomiting cycles. She didn’t suggest giving me any medication and so I assumed it was just something I had to get on with, but she was kind enough to issue me with a sick note. My workplace was not happy at all and did not understand what I was going through. I had an elderly gentleman as my head of department who had never had children and thought I was a bit of slacker and making it all up.
The impact on my husband was immense. He had gone from being elated to ‘what the hell is going on??’. I remember him weeping beside me, rubbing my back, bringing me water after I had been sick for the thousandth time- he felt so helpless. Thankfully, we got to the 16th week of my pregnancy and the NVP/HG started to subside and I was able to resume some sort of normal life, with renewed energy and positivity. We went on to deliver a beautiful baby girl, Sofia. 4 years later, we fell pregnant again. Our happiness was short lived and the HG symptoms started almost immediately and with greater magnitude. At about 6 weeks, I lived in the bathroom, resting my head on the rim of toilet seat between vicious vomiting cycles and I remember the indentation that had set on my forehead.I contacted my GP, she was again kind enough to issue me with a sick note and again colleagues were displeased with me for not carrying on with my duties. In fact, I was actually told by a senior leader that it was my punishment for having sex. Under normal circumstances, I would have complained but I was too busy hurling, vomiting and making horrible noises that I did nothing and said nothing. Again, my husband watched in despair and this time he had to take care of me and my child who had no idea what was going on. I was not able to have a shower as I couldn’t stand long enough or even brush my teeth as it would make things worse. No one was allowed to cook or bring any food item into the house and people had to shower and wear freshly laundered clothes before they came as the food smells on them would just send me over the edge and into the next brutal round of vomiting.
One evening, I had vomited so many times that I saw specks of blood and I had started to turn grey. I finally had enough! My mental health was in tatters and I just could not go on any longer. I told my husband to go get a knife and stab me...
One evening, I had vomited so many times that I saw specks of blood and I had started to turn grey. I finally had enough! My mental health was in tatters and I just could not go on any longer. I told my husband to go get a knife and to stab me- all very dramatic but that’s how I felt at the time. I wanted it to stop NOW! The exhaustion from the lack of sleep, no food and little water had made me so physically, mentally weak and vulnerable that I had no idea what I was saying. In a panic, an ambulance was called and I was sent to the early pregnancy unit. I was put on a hydration drip immediately, sent for an emergency scan and after discussion with the consultant, I was given something to relieve the nausea. The sickness never ever went away, but at least I was not physically being sick which was great progress for me.
In hindsight, what upsets me the most
is that I was not made aware that I could get help from the Early Pregnancy
unit, even to receive hydration treatment which can help so much with the
nausea and vomiting. Why had I been suffering in silence when I could have got
help? Thankfully, we went on to have a beautiful baby
girl, our little Siyena. I do remember distinctly during and after the birth,
feeling the nausea leaving my body- a very bizarre and surreal experience.
When I did finally speak to my paternal aunt years later, she mentioned that she had suffered immensely but that women from our culture did not feel comfortable talking about being ‘with child’ and hid it from everyone and basically went underground until the nausea and vomiting got better. She described it as the three B’s- 'balti-bisna-bomi' (bucket, bed and vomit) and had said that my paternal grandmother had also suffered but never spoke about it to anyone. I know lots of women suffer so much more than I had and luckily there was some relief for me but I had to share my story. I guess I am left with lots of questions and I hope that awareness of this has improved since having my babies.
My questions are:
Why did my GP not give me more advice or options?
GPs need to be more clued up on HG, whether female or male, or even to be able
to say to the patient that if it gets really unbearable, call this number to
get help. That in itself would have been a great comfort to me.
Why was I not given information about medication that could have eased my sickness? I was aware of the scary thalidomide tragedy of the 1960’s and GP’s are nervous to hand out medication but just talking to the doctors at the early pregnancy unit gave me a lot of confidence and courage to try a form of medication that was safe and did work for me.
Why is it that I was not able to talk anyone from the first 4 weeks of the pregnancy until the first scan for me express my concerns? When I was finally booked in, the midwife was really sorry that I had to go through it and suggested ginger biscuits, crackers and salt and vinegar crisps, which any HG sufferer will tell you, is not at all helpful.
Why are partners not being educated about HG and
given advice as to how to help their loved ones?
Why are workplaces not aware of these conditions and geared up to dealing with female health issues like HG?
Why was/is my ethnic community so hush hush about pregnancy, sickness or anything that relates to female health?
Why was there not any help post pregnancy? The trauma never left me and then having to deal with a new born took toll on both myself and my husband.
Why did I feel so alone and suffer in silence for so long? Why did I have to get to that level of desperation to get the help I needed.
I hope this helps somebody somewhere in their darkest hour as there is light at the end of the tunnel- in our case it was our beautiful baby girls, Sofia and Siyena. I trained as a volunteer peer supporter with Pregnancy Sickness Support (PSS) during the first lockdown and have been supporting women through this ordeal. With Covid, it has been even more difficult to access the help that these women need. I wish PSS existed when I was experiencing this debilitating condition as I know talking someone, anyone, would have help me so much.
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