Morning! Sickness and other myths
It might now be March and most of you probably feel like the time since Christmas has flown by, I am sure you have seen lots of friends and done lots of wonderful things – I hope you have anyway. 2019 has started a little differently for me, Christmas was a lovely time spent with family and friends, I wasn’t particularly looking forward to getting my due period on Christmas Day but there are definitely worse things. Except it didn’t come, I had all of the recognisable symptoms, the abdominal and back pain, the heavy sluggishness and the over emotional responses, but by the fourth day of a no show period I daren’t hope that I might actually be…well I was and I am pregnant.
It was a wonderful and scary shock, something we had been hoping for but trying to be realistic about, so many friends had tried for such a long time, or got pregnant and very sadly miscarried. So after I had accepted that ‘pregnant’ text on the pee stick and told my husband, I felt about 48 hours of joy before the anxiety set in. I thought it would be a big relief, and it was, but what I hadn’t been prepared for was the uncertainty of making it through the next two months to the fabled 12 week stage.
It has been a genuinely interesting and educational time for me, what it hasn’t been is necessarily fun or enjoyable, and please don’t think I don’t know and feel everyday how lucky we are. But the fact remains that since Christmas I have hardly been out, evenings and weekends are spent resting and trying to batten down the near constant nausea, even sleep hasn’t been an escape. Ultimately as someone who spends a lot of time thinking about mental health, it has been an eye opening time, for in a society where we are making massive moves towards understanding the importance of mental health as something on parr with physical health, its clearly not so with the first 12 weeks of pregnancy. Until this point, medical practitioners don’t really want to know, and the even more depressing part is the reason why they don’t want to know…because the miscarriage rates are much higher in the first trimester, so until you reach this landmark they don’t have the time (or the capacity) to deal with you. I find this utterly startling and it has not been an easy ride.
So along with being enormously grateful and feeling so entirely blessed to have this miracle taking shape in my body, I wanted to also shed some light on what its actually been like being pregnant during that first trimester, the trimester that is a period which is unclear at best to the outside world – unless of course you have been through it yourself or know someone who has. I have learnt a lot, both about the process, the physical and mental changes but also about my own perception of pregnant women. It’s been eye opening if I am honest, and so too have other peoples reactions to it.
Well, this is the biggest lie of all time, and its actually pretty well documented when you look into it. It’s more accurate to call it constant and crippling nausea. It rolled over me at about 6 weeks, slow at first, over a few days I stopped being able to stomach or even fancy my favourite foods. By the beginning of week seven what I could was even more limited, but worse was what I could even bear to smell. The aversions were all encompassing, the worst one has been onions, onions are the devil. I have never hated a food so much in my life – and I have hated eggs since I was seven so that is saying something. Weeks seven to about nine or ten, the morning sickness was present every waking hour, I would like to say I was brave. I wasn’t, I cried a few times, in between wracking sobs of “we are so lucky” and “I feel so ill” I was able to have the clarity to know at least this was a sure sign everything was working as it should do. The best description I can liken it to is having a stomach flu, you can hardly eat a thing, but eating is the only thing that mild quells the sick feeling, you are light headed and weak because you can hardly eat but also because your body is busy working away. By week ten-ish it mostly moved the evenings, by which I mean about 4.30pm onwards, and this felt a lot more manageable for obvious reasons. That being said the aversions never stopped, and on top of food aversions and sensitivity to smell I was also extremely susceptible to atmosphere. At times I felt almost like I was suffocating in my hot and clammy office, but the office was nothing compared to travelling…
Baby on board
I was fairly certain I probably wouldn’t get one of these badges, I felt that by the time I was showing people could use their eyes if they felt they were able to offer me a seat. And thats a big point for me, if people felt they were able they would offer me a seat. I didn’t and still don’t feel comfortable asking, I have been the other side of the badge, days when my anxiety had been crippling and I felt physically weak, being able to sit down a moment of relief and comfort. I have travelled when I have been recovering from an operation and felt my knees visibly quake because my muscles had wasted and were in the process of building up again. Of course to everyone else I looked fine, both of these illnesses were invisible, there was no badge to wear. So even now, I will never ask. Sure some people are just ignorant, oblivious or plain rude, but thats their prerogative, I would much rather spend time being grateful for the kind and observant people who do offer seats from the middle of the row.
You might have guessed from this that once the morning sickness really kicked in, I relented and got a badge. I felt a bit guilty wearing it at first, even though I knew that physically I couldn’t stand for that long, I felt weak and exhausted, my body ached and the smell of morning breath nearly sent me over the edge. Someone even said to me “you don’t need that yet”, they didn’t mean it unkindly and I definitely didn’t take it that way, but baby on board badges have an unspoken rule attached, only women who are so pregnant the weight makes it hard for them to stand must need it. It was actually something I realised I had believed until now too.
But it wasn’t just the general nausea and weakness that was an issue, I made the mistake of taking an extended car journey, and on a separate occasion an extended train journey. I have always suffered motion sickness, mostly on boats but sometimes in the car, during the last three months motions sickness became something that felt impossible to bear. To put it in terms that hopefully most might understand, it felt like doing a car journey whilst experiencing the worst hangover of my life, I genuinely didn’t think I would make it through, I closed my eyes and took deep breaths and prayed it would be over. Even after the car journey, I hadn’t expected it to be the same on a two hour train journey to Cardiff for work, a journey I usually read or wrote emails on. But it was exactly the same.
I have never realised that food is everywhere, seriously its everywhere. I cant walk down a street without smelling food. The office smells like food, the train smells like food, and home smells like food. I have never given a thought to having to avoid the smell of food until now, but it’s pretty impossible. I wont spend too much time on this point because I covered a lot of it in point one. But what I will say is spare a thought for the woman next to you or across from you on a rush hour train when you plop yourself down with your coleslaw or you egg mayo sandwich. I have definitely been an offender, having guzzled my tuna melt hungrily after a long day, flitting nervous and guilty glances at those around me as I filled the carriage with that fishy, cheesy smell, but now I actually think I might ban myself forever more…no I probably wont, but it did teach me a valuable lesson on being observant. All I will say is, I had my badge on, I know I looked like poo, and a very hungry lady sat next to me with a vat of coleslaw. I couldn’t move because I didn’t have the strength or anywhere to go, I couldn’t ask her to stop because it is her prerogative to eat when hungry, I even felt guilty as I covered my nose with my scarf and closed my eyes.
Drink, pee, drink, pee and repeat
I was definitely not prepared for the insatiable thirst that comes with pregnancy, if I wasn’t drinking I was thinking about drinking. I honestly constantly had to have a drink on the go, I mean even whilst walking to the station, I couldn’t go without for five minutes let alone ten or more. And all I could drink was water, not squash, not juice (maybe juice later down the line) and not tea. In fact, tea became a full on aversion somewhere around week seven, I had been warned but I couldn’t possible believe that I would ever not drink tea, something I have had on tap for the last ten years, but its a real thing. Obviously this much drinking leads to one thing, the peeing – at least this was something I felt ready and prepared for. But its not like needing to pee normally, even early on when the baby is a tiny little berry its a desperate and painful need for realistically only a small amount of pee relief, and it doesn’t stop when you sleep. The need to drink or the need to pee. Before I move on, I will very briefly touch on the other bodily function…I have been constipated since Christmas, its not funny and its not clever and its just another physical discomfort to add to the list. But enough of that…
Rest, recoup and get your energy up
I can honestly say I haven’t slept well for months, if its not peeing breaking my sleep its heartburn or nausea or even hunger (genuinely an empty tummy is sickness booster), the other day I had peed twice since going to sleep, I had been awake for an hour with my mind spinning with totally irrelevant thoughts and realised I now had to eat something. I had downed my whole 750ml bottle of water so also needed to refill, so it was 3.30am cheerios and a drink top up for me. I just about nodded off after this, but I was up again at 6.45am and that was it for the day. This was an oddity granted. In the early days my nighttime routine was wee, cheerios, drink, Gaviscon, read, wee and sleep (sitting up). It moved on a few weeks ago. Now its pee, and sleep, no time or energy for reading, pee about midnight and again at 4.30am and this is usually when my brain decides to wake up and thats when I have had to start my day.
After work I sometimes barely make it up the hill – I have definitely Uber’d it more than once, and then I flop on the sofa, force food down (potato, pasta, toast) and roll into bed make up still on. Weekends I might make it from the bed to the sofa but that’s been pretty much my lot. So resting, is pretty tough actually, it makes all of the physical symptoms even more prominent and active.
The Meghan Markle
So I have noticed that Meg’s been getting a tough rap for rubbing her tiny (now much bigger) baby bump, I was doing this the other day and someone made a joke about it. But in fairness, how could they know that the reason I was rubbing my neat little bump was because my stretching muscles were aching – just like after a workout- and that my lower abdomen hurt just like period pains. I wasn’t rubbing it lovingly, sorry to ruin the image, but because rubbing was giving me comfort. It was after about two weeks of regular 4.30am starts that I was doing this, because along with an already rapidly transforming body, I was also tired and so the aches were intensified. Its obviously not the only physical symptom, there are the headaches, the metallic taste, the runny nose (like flu like amounts of snot, mainly in the morning) and the feeling of my boobs threatening to explode on my chest. Oh the boobs, I had to wear a bra to bed for the first few weeks, now I am okay with a secure under top, but just sitting still the bloody things throbbed, I brushed one once about week eight and squeaked in surprise at the pain.
What I haven’t really mentioned is the actual act of being sick, it could go under point one, but its been a weird one for me. You might know I had a stomach operation a few years ago where they essentially wrapped my stomach around my oesophagus, I haven’t been able to vomit since – and not for the lack of retching or wanting to. Pregnancy has been no different, on a few occasions I have coughed and retched over the loo, one time after attempted to take one of my enormous pregnancy vitamins – which are painfully large – and bringing the water (but not the tablet) straight back up and onto the carpet. The other day I actually said goodbye to my cheerios before they even reached my stomach – the first real time I have been sick in three years Wahoo! But on several occasions, and oddly more at two times a day this last week, I have retched and coughed and expelled a ginormous burp that originated somewhere in my gut. It’s not been fun, I imagine actually vomiting would have been worse, so I feel for those who have suffered the full effects. All of this and I haven’t even mentioned the bloating, the rashes, the breakouts or the bags under the eyes, oh yes bloody glowing! (Keep your fingers crossed for trimester two)
It’s all in your head
But this blog isn’t about pregnancy, it’s about anxiety and of course the last three months haven’t been miraculously free. It has been an extremely interesting time, because every ‘normal’ day I might have a moment that I need to push through that little bit harder than most. The days where I have hardly slept, sleep deprivation already a trigger for anxiety let alone heightening morning sickness, presenting a struggle I would usually drive through despite how hard I found it. But when your body is a conduit of emotion to a precious bean developing its incredible body and soul, I couldn’t actually do that. Because pushing through means feeling the anxiety and the pain and accepting it but also showing it who is in charge, it’s taxing and it takes it out of me. So I had to approach those hardest of days a little differently, my priorities have changed and so I still accepted the anxiety in, and I let it know I wasn’t happy with its presence by simply reading my book, drinking and eating and showering and letting my body be as calm a place as possible. I couldn’t say if this is right, but it was right for me, and that anxiety was due to normal life.
It was almost completely separate to the anxiety of being pregnant, I am a what if’er, I am a catastophiser and so I would be lying if I didn’t say I hadn’t thought on more than one occasion ‘maybe I am having a miscarriage’, or ‘maybe it’s a mistake and I am not pregnant’, or even ‘maybe there is something wrong with the baby’. At week six, I had some stabbing pains and I googled it – don’t google is the lesson – and I saw all of the bad options appear before my eyes, by the next morning I was near a panic attack which was only made worse by a doctor who told me that miscarriages happen more than people think I’m tri one (thanks bud). I had an early scan, Chris rushed home to take me as there was no way I could drive in that state, the baby was healthy and fine and I had a very common condition to do with the ovary that produced the egg producing so may hormones that it hurts more – as it might as in early pregnancy, it is the thing keeping the baby alive.
I’d like to say it’s got better now I am at that wonderful 13 weeks, it has and it hasn’t. The other day I was having some new pains, like period pains again but also an ache in my vagina, I told myself that I wasn’t panicking, but I still considered that actually I was miscarrying. After speaking to the doctor I was once again reassured, but then I was utterly convinced that I had a bladder infection (something that can be harmful if left too long in pregnancy), I don’t have one.
In order to both manage expectations and to deal with my anxiety, we have tried to be quite practical about things, not looking to the future until we got to this point, and even now I approach with caution – and we have told all our loved ones the news so it isn’t like its a secret anymore. But as time went on, being practical became harder and harder and the realisation that friends had been through this and still lost a baby, becoming increasingly hard to comprehend. I am proud to know such strong and resilient people, because it must be an unbearable amount of pain to have to endure.
Sometimes I have worried about how my anxiety will affect our child, will it be anxious like me? I hope not, I hope it will be strong and calm like it’s daddy. Daddy who has been nothing but incredible this entire time. I still haven’t gotten over his words to me when I first broached the subject, he said to me that yes he wanted to start a family and had for a little while, I asked him why he hadn’t mentioned it and his reply was clear and adamant “it’s your body, I didn’t want to put pressure on you”. Today, after months of essentially being my carer, cooking, cleaning (he even shampooed the carpets) he was readying to go and do yet more dishes. I told him that he deserved to relax because he had been so busy and it was okay for a while, I also apologised for being hopelessly tired (as usual) and being unable to be very helpful, his response was that I was busy too, growing a baby. I know I am lucky, I have always known he is a special one and I cannot wait to see him become a father. My heart already breaks when he’s having a loving cuddle with the cat!
It’s been a genuine rollercoaster, and the lack of interest (or ability to lend the resources to be interested) from the medical practitioners has been startling, how we are meant to go through this massive physical and mental change and have hardly any support until the twelve week mark is astounding to me. Granted the midwife and radiographers have been fantastic, but they are clearly running to keep up with the demand, but to get there I have had to go through GP’s. I actually think my Doctor’s surgery is generally pretty good, but my pregnancy has been a medical fact to them and that is quite astounding to me. One doctor – not one I have seen before and the same one that told me miscarriage was more common than people think – told me that I really should get over my anxiety. I say again, thanks bud.
Telling people has been interesting too, I felt lucky and sometimes a little guilty sharing our wonderful news, because being able to share good news feels so precious and some people acted like it was such a normal thing to say. Some people congratulated us and then moved on quickly like it was just a point in conversation, I am not saying I want to only talk about it but its a life changing experience so it just seemed odd to me. Some people were more excited about who they could tell more than being happy to be part of the baby’s life in itself. Some people were extremely excited, and a few made me smile as they instantly asked me how I had been feeling. They know, I thought. I have been grateful for every single reaction though, because we have been able to share this is the only thing that matters.
I think above all the lessons I have learned can be summarised thus, pregnancy is more than the eye can see, be patient and be empathetic always. The whole not telling people until 12 weeks is a lie of personal protection when in fact it serves to protect the many from an awkward conversation should it not work out (a totally miserable outlook perpetuated by society). Finally, that mental health doesn’t go on hold because this miracle happens, BUT support comes in the form of community not necessarily in medical institutions. Giovanna Fletcher’s podcast ‘Happy Mum, Happy Baby’ has been an incredible comfort, so too have forums and instagram influencers keeping me sane and positive, my headspace app as always has provided much needed calm, as well as those last but definitely not least, the handful of people I chose to tell from day one. Their support, their encouragement, their hugs and their love have been everything.
All of the above said, the most important point to make is that everyone is different, I knew this before and it’s no different with pregnancy. Don’t compare to other people, again something we know in life but something that can be confused in this unique situation.