A friend of mine feels sick every time she hears cricket commentary on the radio, so strong is the association between what her dad used to listen to while driving, and how carsick she felt as a child.
I’ve had the same problem recently. Weeks six to 13 of my current pregnancy saw me with pregnancy sickness so severe that even thinking about the Southbank Centre, where I spent 20 minutes retching violently into one of the Royal Festival Hall toilets, brings back the nausea and despair I felt at the time.
During those two months, there wasn’t a minute in which I wasn’t either feeling sick, being sick, or asleep.
It wasn’t the kind of sick you feel when you’ve eaten too much pudding or been in a bit of turbulence. It was the kind of sick which took over my entire body, making my mouth taste like earth and my mind unable to think of anything else. As one of my hospital midwives put it, normally when you’re sick it’s a release, during pregnancy it’s anything but.
There was no point in wearing makeup, I could only smile when forced, and day-long anxiety attacks left me physically and emotionally spent. Once, on the way to pick up my son from the childminder, I had to duck behind a hedge of a pub car park, snatch a paper bag from my rucksack, and vomit so violently into it that I wet myself.
Yes pregnancy is a gift, but for those two months it didn’t feel like it.
Now I’ve seen tiny limbs dance about across a big black-and-white screen, and now the sickness has lifted to the occasional waves of nausea which is how some people must imagine pregnancy sickness must feel, I can be overjoyed at my news and start planning and fretting and dreaming in the normal, expected way.
But I’m not going to keep quiet about the sickness. It is one of the worst things that has ever happened to me. Nothing made me feel better, and – though it was well-intended – countless people suggesting I try ginger was not helpful. I tried it in various forms and it made me feel worse.
Hyperemesis gravidarum is such extreme pregnancy sickness that neither food nor drink can be held down, and sufferers are sometimes hospitalised due to dehydration. The Duchess of Cambridge brought this into the spotlight when her hospital stay was disgracefully made public when she was pregnant with Prince George.
While drinking was a challenge: everything from tap water to strawberry milk tasted like mud, I was able to keep down enough food to stay healthy. In fact, eating certain food gave me momentary release from the earth in my mouth, and while white bread, Biscoff spread and plain pasta wouldn’t exactly nourish me from within; I thought, if I’m going to taste it again in a few minutes, I’d rather taste something nice.
I am well aware that this is too much information
Not that it always reappeared, my luck had it that what ended up down the pan was often just a load of bile and the one token piece of lettuce I’d managed to force down.
I am well aware that this is too much information. Polite company doesn’t acknowledge vomit descriptions and wingeing as great topics of conversation. Not only that, but British superstition has it that women keep pregnancies secret until the first scan.
I was quiet the first time round. I waited until the pregnancy became more viable before I told people the news. But this time round, having had a miscarriage during a secret pregnancy and then feeling weird that no one knew what was going on, I decided to be more open as and when I needed to be.
‘I have my head down the toilet bowl so I can’t come,’ I’d say when flaking out of parties.
‘I forgot your birthday because I was having an anxiety attack,’ friends got.
‘Can we wait until this sickness passes?’ I’d ask of non-urgent business meetings.
And why shouldn’t we tell people how we are feeling?
Like with many issues around pregnancy and parenting, keeping quiet spells danger. Being so pro-breastfeeding that you don’t acknowledge how difficult it can be for some women can cause women to feel like failures if it doesn’t work out. Saying, ‘at least you have a healthy baby’ belittles traumatic birth stories. And describing anyone who admits that parenting isn’t always Pinterest crafts and bedtime snuggles as ‘ungrateful’ waters the ground for post-natal depression.
Latest statistics show that 81% of women in Britain experience at least one episode of a mental health problem after having a baby. Now how about that to make you feel sick?
Check out https://tantrum.xyz – a place for busy parents to get advice, products and inspiration