Pregnancy and baby

'I knew my wife's pregnancy vomiting wasn't normal'

Rob Dean from Cornwall is dad to three healthy children.

His wife Caitlin had severe vomiting (hyperemesis gravidarum) in all three of her pregnancies.

She was so ill she couldn't eat or drink properly, was hospitalised with dehydration, and vomited up to 30 times a day.

Rob looked after Caitlin, the children and worked full time. Here, he talks about how they coped.  

Finding out I was going to be a dad

"I was so excited when we found out that Caitlin was pregnant, and a bit nervous about being a dad. We'd been trying for some time, so we were over the moon and I was looking forward to the pregnancy.

"At about six weeks pregnant Caitlin woke up and was sick for the first time. I remember we were laughing about her having morning sickness. We were also quite relieved as we thought it was a good sign after a previous miscarriage."

The vomiting did not stop

"After a couple of days, though, she had been sick countless times and could barely move without throwing up or retching. I started to get worried that this wasn't normal.

"I'd never heard of hyperemesis gravidarum and never knew women could get anything other than 'normal' morning sickness.

"It was awful to see my wife so ill and really scary, too. I felt guilty that it was our baby doing this to her and I didn't know how to help. I felt utterly helpless.

"We went to the doctor, but I didn't know how to advocate for her or explain what was happening."

The smell of soap, dinner or me made her sick

"The impact on our lives was massive. We couldn't go out and I took over all the household chores, as well as working full time.

"I hated having to leave her in bed in the morning to go to work, knowing she was alone and suffering all day.

"One thing that was very hard was that her sense of smell was really heightened and warped, so the smell of my deodorant, soap, dinner and even just me would make her retch and vomit.

"There were times I would have to sleep in the spare room because of the smell, and also any movement in our bed could trigger vomiting.

"That was really hard, and it led to me feeling lonely, too, as I watched TV on my own night after night."

We felt robbed of a happy pregnancy

"I kept hoping that she would be better at some point. People would tell me that it would be over by 12 weeks, then 16 weeks, then 20 weeks, and by the third trimester we knew it was going to be like this until the end.

"We both felt robbed of what should have been such a happy time. Like when we could feel the baby kicking, it should have been great, and it sort of was, but it was also making Caitlin feel sicker, so it took the enjoyment out of it."

The birth and planning pregnancy number two

"We opted for a home water birth and it was amazing. That was the best moment of the whole pregnancy. 

"As soon as the baby was out, she was well. The very next day she had a twinkle back in her eye and I realised how much I had missed her.

"We talked about adoption after that, but Caitlin read lots about hyperemesis and was sure the medications would work the next time round.

"It was a massive disappointment when it hit her even harder and the medications didn't work enough."

Looking after my son was hard, but I treasure it

"Again, it seemed like I had the easy job, although looking after our son was hard work full time. I did all the night-time stuff and meals every day.

"Alfie (my son) and I really bonded, though. We would go off at the weekends to the beach and the park, and it was fun. I really treasure that I got such a lot of time with my son when he was small."

Hospital stays made life easier

"In some ways, when Caitlin was in hospital it was a bit easier as I wasn't having to look after her and Alfie.

"Alfie found it hardest when Caitlin was in bed at home but too sick to have him around – while she was in hospital he didn't get so frustrated about not being with her.

"To any dads going through it now, I'd say to try, if you can, to appreciate the time you are getting with your child and know that you're getting an experience that many men don't get, which will ultimately make you a better dad.

"I'd also say get as much support as possible and give yourself a break if you're struggling to keep on top of it all. All you can do is try your best."

Careful planning to cope with the third pregnancy

"The third pregnancy was a tricky decision because ultimately I was happy with two children and didn't want us to have to go through it all over again.

"But Caitlin desperately wanted to complete our family with a third. Although I don't understand that deep desire she felt, I knew it must be strong for her to be willing to go through it all over again. All I could do was support her.

"I made it clear that we needed more childcare support, though, and she needed to get a better plan in place beforehand ... it was like a military operation!"

A good GP really helped

"The biggest difference was the GP we went to. I first met Caitlin's new doctor when she was a few weeks in and deteriorating.

"I couldn't believe that the GP was so kind and helpful, and I really felt like we were managing the condition as a team with the doctor. It was such a difference and we both felt empowered by it.

"Having our children has been a tough journey. I wouldn't wish hyperemesis on anyone, but there is light at the end of the tunnel.

"Caitlin and I are much closer and stronger because of it. I am close to my boys having been a 'single dad' for nine months, and we have three beautiful children from the pregnancies."

Looking out for depression

"The tips I would give dads going through it would be not to be fazed by vomit or urine, support her as much as you can, go to doctor appointments and advocate for her.

"Also get support for yourself, and know that you can survive it.

"The only other thing I'd add is that you need to watch out for her mental health. It's such a lonely and depressing condition.

"Luckily Caitlin recovered fine after the pregnancies, but if you are worried that your partner is still depressed afterwards or getting anxious, then seek help for her and talk to her about your worries. That's really important as she might not seek help for herself.

"I also know other dads who have got depressed by hyperemesis gravidarum during and after the pregnancy, so look after yourself too and seek help if you need it."

For more information about hyperemesis gravidarum, and a support network of women who have had the condition, see Pregnancy Sickness Support.  

Page last reviewed: 19/10/2016

Next review due: 19/10/2019

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'I vomited 30 times a day in pregnancy'

Caitlin Dean tells how she coped with hyperemesis gravidarum