Just because Hyperemesis Gravidarum is common, doesn’t mean it’s normal
“I spent a lot of time in tears in the hospital emergency department because yet another doctor had told me that what I was experiencing was ‘just part of being pregnant’.” – Caitlin Kay- Smith, Founder of Hyperemesis Australia.
There is nothing normal about the overwhelming desire to puke, pass out or feel extremely queasy for days, weeks, months on end. It’s debilitating, and we’ve gotten good at not complaining about it. But why isn’t this common pregnancy symptom taken more seriously.
This might not be dangerous to the baby, but what about to you?
Nausea and vomiting is ridiculously common in pregnancy, with up to 80% of women reporting the symptoms. Research suggests these actions aren’t harmful to the baby, which is how many justify the discomfort. But is anyone asking ‘is this harmful to the woman?” New guidelines strongly suggest these symptoms have been mismanaged for far too long. But despite the alarming stats, “there are still a lot of people who are told it’s in their head — which is completely incorrect” notes prominent obstetric physician Sandra Lowe.
“I once had a nurse ask me how I was going to handle being a mum if I couldn’t even handle being pregnant” notes Caitlin. It’s easy to see why women are hesitant to seek help.
Accounts of pregnancy nausea can go a little like this “… the nausea [is] so intense and all-consuming you feel like you’ve been poisoned. It is vomiting so relentlessly that your throat bleeds and your stomach muscles tear.”
This dismissal of our pain has the potential to be very dangerous
The short term impact of nausea and vomiting can be quite severe – weight loss, dehydration, malnutrition, dental issues. But the invisible danger can be much more sinister. Up to 50% of sufferers develop depression and/or anxiety during their pregnancy. The symptoms can significantly diminish quality of life for the woman experiencing it, making everyday tasks uncomfortable at best, unbearable at worst.
Antenatal depression can have a profound impact on pregnancy. It can affect a woman’s self esteem, confidence, sense of self, her connections to others and her experience of pregnancy. And with women staying mum about the enormous impact of their pregnancy symptoms on their own health, we allow for a system which favours baby’s health over acknowledging maternal health needs. Shockingly, before anti-nausea treatments were a thing, the only effective or suggested treatment was abortion.
The change is coming
There are loud calls in the health section to change our attitude and awareness towards these pregnancy symptoms. And this subtle shift could pave the way for women to speak out about their experiences, beyond their baby, in pregnancy. When we think of pregnancy care, it’s heavily weighted towards baby’s health. But could it be time to see it inclusive of women’s health, right alongside her baby?