What Hyperemesis Gravidarum meant for me

This week, I spoke to my lovely friend Becki about her experience of Hyperemesis Gravidarum. For those of you who don’t know, around 10,000 women in the UK suffer from Hyperemesis Gravidarum (HG) every year. It is often dismissed as normal morning sickness in pregnancy, but in reality can leave the women who experience it with PTSD, a torn oesophagus, burst blood vessels and eroded tooth enamel. 



What did you know about HG before you were pregnant?

I can remember reading a news article online about the Duchess of Cambridge suffering from it when she was pregnant with Princess Charlotte and feeling sympathy for her, but not really understanding exactly what it was. It was initially described by the media as “extreme morning sickness” which I’ve come to learn is not the case at all. I knew next to nothing and I didn’t think I’d ever need to educate myself. My friend Roo has also suffered with it, but I had no idea to what extent it affected her- it was pure ignorance. 

 What treatments were you offered through your pregnancy to combat HG? Did they work?

When I was finally diagnosed in September 17, I was initially prescribed cyclizine and ondansetron-both anti-emetics. I was advised to take them in tandem with each other, but the ondansetron soon ran out. It’s the more expensive for the NHS to prescribe. Unfortunately for me, cyclizine didn’t do the trick on its own. I continued to take it, but it wasn’t effective and I ended up back in hospital a few times, quite poorly.  People did make suggestions for foods that helped them. There were some foods that helped for a time, but my body seemed to tire of them really quickly and I’d end up not even able to think about them, let alone eat them, without throwing up. 
In the end, rest and putting my body and it’s needs first was the only thing that kept me going. It meant missing out on a lot of stuff and sacrificing things but I needed to be selfish.

What strategies or coping mechanisms did you employ to deal with your HG?

Hypnobirthing techniques and mindfulness breathing really helped, especially when I felt completely overwhelmed emotionally.  Baths helped too. Washing my hair always made me feel better again after feeling really lousy. Having a risk assessment and plan in place at work, as well as a few key people I trusted who I could warn if I was having a bad day and they’d keep an eye out for me. 

 What was your HG like at its best and worse?

At my best- I could manage a nice meal and a day out and go to bed and sleep without being sick. Our anniversary weekend away was one such time.
 
When it was bad- I remember kneeling on my bathroom floor at 3am, after being sick for the 7th time that night, crying and apologising to my husband for the umpteenth time, and just wishing I hadn’t gotten pregnant. 

At its worst – We thought we were losing our baby, and could do nothing about it. 
 

 

How did HG affect your mental health?

It made me feel so guilty. All the time. Guilty that I was possibly and inadvertently harming my baby, that they were suffering (they weren’t), guilty for putting my husband through it, guilty for bailing on parties and birthdays and events, guilty for being angry at people who just didn’t understand and made flippant comments, guilty for wishing I wasn’t pregnant, when I knew full well I had friends who were struggling to conceive. I felt guilty for myself, that I wasn’t having the pregnancy I had envisioned and I felt like I’d cheated myself somehow. 
 

 What do you wish people knew about HG?

That it isn’t “bad morning sickness” or even morning sickness at all. It’s a genetic and hereditary condition that affects around 1% of pregnancies and has an 84% chance of recurrence in subsequent pregnancies. It’s so debilitating that some days getting out of bed is hard; keeping water and food down is hard. I lost weight in pregnancy because I struggled to keep things down- that was a huge worry. Some women report being sick of 50 times a day. 

Personally, I wish people knew how lonely HG is. It’s so lonely sitting on the floor of your bathroom crying because you’re in pain from the stomach muscles used to be sick, or your teeth ache and throat hurts from the acidic vomit. It’s hard but I promise you, it does go. Within minutes of her being born, my nausea lifted and I honestly felt instantly better. 
 

How can family and friends best support you if you have HG?

  • Be there. My husband was a complete and utter rock. He was up with me every day and  night no matter how many times I was sick; he rubbed my back, held my hair, let me cry and didn’t judge or make me feel like I was doing a bad job. He helped educate those around us who just didn’t know and ensured I was supported at work. Having a support network was one of the most fundamental blocks we needed during our pregnancy and we are really grateful for that.
  •  Be accommodating. If someone you know has it, expect them to cancel on you. Don’t make them feel guilty about it. But also, don’t stop inviting them! There are good days where I could go out and I honestly lived for them. 
  • Educate yourself on the facts surrounding HG. My family were brilliant at doing that and so knew triggers and anxiety points and how to avoid them. My Dad and husband in particular loved the phase I went through where only a certain fast food chain’s greasy burgers and strawberry milkshake would stay down!
  • Avoid strong perfume or cologne- my poor Husband had to retire his expensive bottle because I couldn’t stand the smell. It still remains a trigger for me. 
  • When you go to the loo, run some toilet cleaner or bleach round the bowl and floor. Not for your benefit, but for the poor girl that can’t face cleaning it but knows she’ll have her head in it later! 
  • Remind them they’re doing an incredible job. Pregnancy is tough full stop. HG in pregnancy is horrible. 

What was the most helpful and unhelpful thing people said and did in regards to your pregnancy?

The most helpful thing was along the lines of  “Yeah. This is really really crap and it suck that you have to go through this. I’m sorry”. To have acknowledgement from someone that actually yeah it wasn’t great and glamorous (!) was so affirming and refreshing. It didn’t make it go away and it didn’t make me physically better, but it made me feel less lonely. 
The least helpful comments included “It’ll all be worth it in the end”, “maybe it’s all in your head?” “It’s just bad morning sickness- mine stopped at X weeks”, “I hear ginger helps”, “Try eating certain foods or doing certain exercise, maybe

that’ll help”, “it’ll soon be over and you’ll miss being pregnant”, “maybe you won’t have it with the next baby”… I could go on!

What advice (if any) would you give to someone who has (or thinks they have) HG?

Tell your health practitioners- your doctor, midwife, consultant whoever. There is much more advice and info out there now, so if you think you have it, find out about HG and take that info with you. Not all maternity health care professionals are fully up to date or even aware of the symptoms. You CAN take anti emetics safely in pregnancy. If you need them, ask for them! 

Ketones are NOT a lone accurate indicator of dehydration in HG. Make sure that if you aren’t well for a long period of time, you get yourself checked and if necessary, admitted to hospital and on an IV drip.

**I’m not a medical professional, but at times I had to really push to be listened to**

There’s so much support out there. Pregnancy sickness support UK is an incredible charity that helped me through and continues to help others. It’s partnering with specialists throughout the world to develop more research all the time. Their helpline is a lifeline for when you are really struggling, because these are real women who have experienced it and they can give you practical advice, as well as a shoulder to cry on when you feel really lonely. 

Embrace every craving. Seriously. You may only like it for a short period! One day I chowed down on an entire bag of iced gems. They revisited me a few hours later, but I really enjoyed being nostalgic for a time! 

Is there anything else you’d like to add?

 My blog, “Dear Luna: Love letters to my Daughter” talks quite openly about my experience in pregnancy and HG and the various times I was hospitalised.

Would you like to know more about Hyperemesis Gravidarum, or had experience with it yourself? Let us know in the comments below

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Mental Health Monday: why the stigma?

You may be familiar with the hashtag #endthestigma on social media, used in conjunction with posts about our mental health. Opening up discussions about mental health can reduce the stigma and lead to better understandings of what the issues may be, but why is there such a stigma in the first place?

3 things we can do to help future generations 

#endthestigma

https://player.vimeo.com/video/301598462 #EndTheStigma from Mummy Kind on Vimeo.

1. Remember, your mental health is a disability with the power of invisibility

Imagine instead of depression or anxiety or bulimia, you have a broken leg. Everyone can see your broken leg. Everyone can imagine and envisage how painful it must be, so then you get empathy.
With mental heath conditions, your illness is under an invisibility cloak. Nobody can see it, and very few people can then imagine the pain that you’re in. There’s a lack of empathy, and an attitude of “just get out of bed”, or “you don’t look depressed”.
One way we can stop these ridiculously unhelpful comments is by being open and honest. Not with the world but with ourselves and those close to us. Don’t hide away because you have an illness! This will also enable our children to grow up knowing the issues and with a better awareness and understanding, so that the stigma will be even closer to disappearing completely when their generation are all grown up.
2. Treating mental illness the same as a physical illness

Off the back of the first point, physical and mental illnesses can both relapse! So why on earth are we more afraid of admitting that depression has reared its ugly head again than we are of a chest infection coming back?

I recently went back to my GP to have a chat about my mental health, and he very helpfully explained to me that I must not see medication as a failure, having tried to manage for so long without it. I wouldn’t try to treat a kidney infection without medication so I shouldn’t have to try and treat my depression or anxiety without medication either!

The sooner people understand that physical and mental illnesses are the same, and should be treated in the same way, the better!

3. Don’t let society tell us who to be

Society generally often has an opinion of who we should be or when we should be happy… Well, for starters, you can be both depressed and happy – it is possible! But that aside, societal attitudes have a lot to do with why there is a stigma in the first place.

Emphasising certain attributes on young boys that they have to be tough and cannot show emotion is one thing which contributes to men’s suicide rates being so high! For us females, telling women that they should be happy following the birth of a baby is yet another aspect of the huge circle of guilt that plays into postpartum mental illness!

Teaching our children that they can be what they want to be and that they can share emotions from a young age can really help to alleviate the stresses they will face as adults in the same way that we are under those stresses now.

This post was written as part of our Raising Healthy Minds Campaign

So that is this week’s #MentalHealthMonday post! Get involved with the discussion on twitter and tweet us @mummykindoff

Let us know if there’s anything you do to raise awareness of mental illness! We would love to feature the stories of brave men and women so please get in touch!

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Mental Health Monday: 6 forms of therapy you should be trying!

Once you recognise that you potentially have mental health problems, the next step is how to deal with them. There are a number of options available, and these are the ones that myself or other mums I know have tried and had some benefit from! I hope that this list helps someone going into a GP appointment to know a bit more about the options and what they could try!

Medication

Sometimes, when you visit the GP the first response is to prescribe medication. Thankfully, when I went to the GP with my postnatal depression I had the experience of having been on antidepressants previously, and I knew that they wouldn’t be very effective for me. I did eventually end up using medication, but not for very long at all. However, there are some misconceptions about using antidepressants that need addressing!

You CAN breastfeed while on antidepressants – sertraline is the most common one for breastfeeding mothers, but the majority of tablets carry the same risk level for a low dosage. If this is one of your concerns, bring it up with the doctor because they have a handy little book they can check that tells you if it passes to the milk or not!

Side effects ARE worth mentioning to the GP – when I was on sertraline I could barely stay awake. It is a common side effect of this particular medication, and I went back to the GP to say that I couldn’t continue to use it. Easily enough I was switched onto an active antidepressant, fluoxetine, which did not make me feel drowsy at all. Even with medication, you need to find what works for you – it’s not one size fits all! I know a mum who was on sertraline successfully as she used the drowsiness side effect to help her get to sleep at night too by changing when she took the tablet to right before she went to bed.

You SHOULD NOT feel ashamed for taking medication. After all, depression is a chemical imbalance in your brain. If you had a limb amputated you wouldn’t manage it without analgesics, so why should you manage without medication when part of your brain isn’t functioning properly as it should?

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT)

I’ve tried this once in the past in the form of group sessions, but I’m fairly certain it can be done one on one too. I found the group sessions really helpful when I was younger, but my memory is failing me here as it was over 10 years ago now!

CBT can work for a number of mental health issues including depression, OCD, eating disorders and more. It is an active form of therapy which aims to change your outlook on life by setting goals and completing tasks in between sessions. It can make you feel like you’re really making a meaningful change in your life.

Counselling/Talking Therapy


Talking therapy includes a lot of different types of therapy that actively involve you talking to a therapist, but they take many forms! CBT (above) is one of them too. There’s also family therapy, relationship therapy, psychotherapy, etc. But counselling is the most common of them.

Counselling on the NHS is usually done by self-referral and it’s a pretty simple process. When you contact the GP about your mental health concerns, you can ask for contact details of local counselling services – they should all have these to hand. Otherwise, have a look on the NHS website to find your local service.

This is something that works really well for me. I’ve attended family therapy and counselling a few times and, although I don’t get on with family therapy (probably due to my family being the root cause of many issues), when I try counselling I always see a marked improvement from when I started. If I had the money to do it, I’d probably pay to see a therapist for counselling weekly because it helps me that much! At the end of the day, it’s all about finding what works for you. If you absolutely hate the thought of this, peer support might be a better option!

Peer Support

If you’re a twitter user, I strongly recommend following @PNDandMe. Rosey hosts a twitter chat every Wednesday 8-9pm for parents suffering with their mental health to talk in a supportive environment on a particular topic. Mummykind has co-hosted one in the past, and I regularly take part in them when I remember! This is a great way to remind yourself that you’re not alone, and it’s also much easier to type out how you’re feeling than to say it out loud, so it could be worth having a go if you’re daunted by the thought of going to counselling!

Craft Attack (or similar)


Harriet went through a craft therapy group after she had little Florence, and she’s written about her experience before on MummyGoesWhereFloGoes. I haven’t tried this one personally, but I can only imagine how something so therapeutic itself can really help you to overcome or manage you mental health difficulties. Even if the groups aren’t available in your area (ask your GP to check!), taking some time to yourself with a colouring book or another crafty project might just help you to calm yourself and re-centre – refocus on you!

Birth Afterthoughts

Again, this is another one that Harriet has trialled and is particularly helpful if you had a traumatic birth and are suffering with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). However, it’s not only available if you do have a PTSD diagnosis!

It’s available to any woman who has recently given birth, and the idea is in the name – it’s for you to ask questions that you only thought of after the birth, to have your questions answered so that you can maybe come to terms with things that happened during or after the birth of your baby. This service might not be available in every NHS trust so make sure to discuss it with your midwife/health visitor to find out if you can access the service where you are!

I hope you find this little summary useful, and please, if you’ve tried any other kinds of therapy let us know what they are and how you found them in the comments!

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