Pregnancy and baby

Pregnancy made me vomit 30 times a day

Caitlin Dean, from Cornwall, has had hyperemesis gravidarum (HG) in three pregnancies.

HG is extreme sickness in pregnancy and is thought to affect around 1 in 100 pregnant women, including Kate Middleton, the Duchess of Cambridge. 

Here Caitlin, now vice chair and trustee for the charity Pregnancy Sickness Support, talks about how she managed during her pregnancies, and how planning ahead helped her cope.  

Getting pregnant

Caitlin with her children

"When I first found out I was pregnant I was really excited. My husband and I had been married for a year and trying for a baby for seven months.

"We had an early miscarriage the first month we tried and then no luck for months after that.

"I had always looked forward to pregnancy and expected it to be a happy and exciting time.

"I thought I would bloom and blossom and be a total 'earth mother'. We are into healthy organic food, and I planned a totally natural pregnancy."

First signs of sickness

"I was six weeks pregnant the first time I was sick. It was just after I woke up in the morning, and I thought 'yippee – morning sickness'.

"My husband and I laughed about the rite of passage, and felt reassured that it was a good sign the baby was healthy and growing.

"But then I was sick again and again. I wasn't due in work that day and I was sick all day, non-stop. The next day was the same and I had to phone in sick to my new job as a practice nurse at a local surgery.

"By the next morning we knew this wasn't normal. I had been sick constantly for 48 hours. I couldn't move without being sick. I couldn't keep even a sip of water down. It felt like I had been poisoned."

Worries about medication in pregnancy

"My husband took me to the GP, who gave me a medication I was really scared about taking in case it harmed the baby. We are told so often that medication in pregnancy isn't safe.

"I remembered the thalidomide tragedy [when, in the 1970s, pregnant women who had been given the drug thalidomide gave birth to babies with physical abnormalities]. 

"A lady affected by that lived in the town I grew up in, so I knew the effects. I know now that some medications are safe in pregnancy.

"I worried every day, and I also had family and friends asking if it was safe and suggesting I take ginger instead.

"But I'd tried ginger in every shape and form in the first couple of weeks; I wore acupressure bands, and tried hypnotherapy and homeopathy. None of it helped my sickness and they were all quite expensive!"

Vomiting 30 times a day and admitted to hospital

"On top of the nausea and vomiting – up to 30 times a day – I had a pounding headache, incredibly heightened sense of smell and excessive saliva.

"I would pass the day in bed with the curtains closed and a quiet audio book that my husband would put on before he left for work.

"I couldn't read or watch TV because it all made me sick. I just hung over the side of the bed vomiting acidic bile or blood from my torn oesophagus.

Caitlin in hospital

"By the time I was eight weeks I was admitted to hospital as I was very dehydrated. I was given fluids through a drip.

"After I got out of hospital the new medication I had been given gave me side effects, including constipation, and made me anxious, so I went back to the doctor. 

"I saw a different doctor, who took me off the medication and told me to pull myself together, and that sickness was normal in pregnancy. 

"I didn't have the strength to stand up for myself. I wanted to say, 'I'm sick 20 to 30 times a day, surely that's not normal?', but I couldn't because the nausea was so bad I could hardly speak.

"There were days I would fantasise about miscarrying or having a termination, and we did discuss that as an option. My husband was scared for my health, and we looked into adoption as an alternative.

"I couldn't bring myself to do it. To be honest, the thought of arranging it and having to go in the car almost seemed like too much effort. I just wanted to lie still in the dark."

Housebound in pregnancy

"I wasn't able to work until around 20 weeks, when I managed to do two days a week for a while.

"But I was very sick at work and always relapsed badly the next day, so I had to stop again. Then I was off until my maternity leave started. Luckily my employer was very supportive and kind.

"I was housebound for most of the pregnancy. I managed to go to a friend's wedding 30 minutes' drive away, but after a couple of hours I was throwing up violently, so we had to go home and I was worse for days.

"By around 28 weeks I was able to watch TV and read books, which helped pass the lonely days. I did online shopping for the baby as I couldn't get to town.

"But if I did too much around the house or with friends, then I would relapse again, so it was a constant battle.

"My husband was incredibly supportive. Ultimately, going through such difficult pregnancies has brought us closer together.

"The reality is that it's not just vomit your partner has to help clear up – by the time you're 28 weeks or so, it can be hard not to wee when you're sick.

"For many couples, that is quite a boundary to cross. Luckily my husband just got on with it and wasn't bothered by helping me."

Giving birth and getting better

"The best bit of the whole pregnancy for me was giving birth. It seemed so easy in comparison to the pregnancy.

"I had a beautiful water birth at home, and every contraction felt like it was bringing me closer to the end of the HG.

"I was sick all the way through labour, but as soon as my son was born the sickness lifted off me like a heavy black cloud.

"For me it was an instant recovery, although I know for a lot of women it can take a bit longer for symptoms to subside.

"The celebration was like a double whammy. Not only did I have the baby I longed for, but I had my health back, too. I felt on top of the world because I had forgotten what it was like to feel normal!

"I was riding the high for months and months, and I really enjoyed being a mum. The sleepless nights and hard work of parenting paled in comparison to HG."

Going through HG again

"After our first was born we looked into adoption, but after reading widely about treatments for HG we decided to try again.

"We were nervous about going through it again, but from what I had read I thought the medications would make HG better, and I hoped I wouldn't get it at all.

"Unfortunately, the HG was even worse. By week seven I was on strong medication, which helped a bit, but wasn't the cure I hoped for. It also made me constipated.

"I had a lot of guilt about not spending time with my son, who was 16 months old. My husband struggled to look after us both and work.

"I couldn't look after our son at all, and he went to nursery full time, which was expensive. There would be days I hardly saw him, and sometimes when I did the smell of him would make me retch. It was very upsetting.

"The doctors were not very sympathetic and dismissed my concerns about how much weight I had lost – 20% of my pre-pregnancy weight in just a few weeks. I didn't get as much support as I hoped I would, and it felt like a long, lonely battle.

"But, again, the birth was easy, the sickness lifted instantly and the early days with a newborn were even better than the first time."

Treatment plan for third pregnancy  

"I always wanted three children and was struggling to come to terms with the idea of not having a third child.

"I loved being a mum and all the craziness of life that having such young children brings. I also didn't want this illness to be the reason we didn't complete our family. So, with trepidation, we went for it again.

"We changed doctors and found a GP who was amazingly supportive. We developed a thorough pre-emptive treatment plan with triggers for moving on to the next level of treatment.

"I was also in touch with lots of other HG sufferers through social media. I hadn't had this support in previous pregnancies.

"Between an effective treatment plan and emotional support from other women who really understood what I was going through, the whole experience was so much better.

"The vomiting was reasonably controlled, I didn't feel nearly as alone as before, and I knew it was worth persevering.

"Now my family is complete and I have three happy, healthy children aged six, four and two. My boys, the first two, are very independent and I think that my illness helped them develop early independence skills.

"My husband is also a very confident father having been almost a single dad through the second and third pregnancies, as well as being my carer."

Medical, emotional and practical help

"For women going through HG now, I would say find a sympathetic doctor who is willing to work with you to find the right treatment for you. Also get emotional support through Pregnancy Sickness Support and social media.

"For women planning a subsequent pregnancy, I would always advocate getting a good care plan in place before you are pregnant, and being realistic about how tough it will be, even with treatment. The medications aren't a cure – they simply help you manage the condition.

"You also need to plan practically for childcare and household management, and many couples need to think about the financial impact the pregnancy will have.

"We planned it as if we were having to meet the cost of fertility treatment, and downgraded our car to pay for childcare for the pregnancy. That's the reality of a pregnancy with hyperemesis gravidarum."

You can read more about medicines in pregnancy on the UK Teratology Information Service's bumps (best use of medicines in pregnancy) website.

Page last reviewed: 15/09/2016

Next review due: 15/09/2019

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