If you come here just for the home-y stuff, this post is probably not going to be your cup of tea, sorry. If you are here because you are pregnant and hating it, read on!
I’d like to preface this post by first saying I’m not a horrible or ungrateful person… honestly. I know some people (men and women) feel like complaining about pregnancy is taboo because we all know someone who has struggled to get or remain pregnant, and it goes without saying that that sucks. I cannot even imagine what it must feel like to want something so much and to be burdened by that horrendous worry that it might not happen for you. It can seem ungrateful to complain about something so many people want. But while people struggling with infertility have my sympathy, I do think it’s still important not to brush aside or downplay the feelings of women who are pregnant, unwell and really unhappy. Having a rough pregnancy – such as having hyperemesis gravidarum, or SPD, or having to be on bedrest for whatever reason – does compromise your quality of life for a while. And I think pregnant women should feel like it’s totally ok to whinge a bit about it! (Or, as in my case, complain mightily to all who will listen). It can be really hard when you are feeling completely miserable and nauseous and vomiting every day (pregnancy nausea feels like a horrible, 24/7 seasickness) and it’s so mentally deflating to know that you might just feel like this, every day for the next three months, or even the next nine months.
I had HG with my first pregnancy with Little Nerd, and now again with this one. At five months pregnant with Little Nerd, I looked like I’d swallowed a balloon yet threw up so much I weighed less than my pre-pregnancy weight. Second time pregnant I was still vomiting every day but had gained three kilos by six months. (And that is not by far the worst of it – I know a girl who had HG so bad she lost 18 kilos pregnant). I look terrible pregnant, more tired and worn than when I had a newborn. “You look great!” say kind friends. “ ‘Tis makeup.” I feel like listless crap for a large part of the time but for the most part I think I’ve managed to stay relatively positive (which gets easier later in pregnancy). So I wanted to share some of the things I’d say to other women who are also struggling with a crappy pregnancy. Not tips like, “Eat barley sugar to keep nausea at bay” (which I never found did anything anyway!) but more mental tips. (And if they help just one pregnant woman feel a little more positive, it was worth writing!)
Find some mental cheerleaders – in real life or online.
I think when you are pregnant and sick you will find quite a few people (usually well-meaning, but also without fully thinking about what they’re saying) will say fluffy things like, “Oh but it goes so quick!” or “Oh, but pregnancy is such a short, fleeting time when you compare it to your whole lifespan, enjoy it.” Well, it doesn’t feel fleeting, it’s almost a year (and some women will still have symptoms that continue or even worsen after the birth), the time doesn’t go quickly when you feel rotten every day, and feeling yucky every day means by the time your sweet newborn eventually arrives, you’re SUPER worn out on top of the usual pregnancy worn-out-ness. You have nothing left in the tank and you are running on the thought of the sheer relief that soon you won’t be pregnant anymore. Look to friends and work acquaintances for support – they may be people who have gone through the same thing or people who just distract you or make you feel better. I always get a lot out of reading forum discussions from people who have gone through the same thing, even if I’m a lurker and don’t participate in the discussions!
My ‘perfect motherhood journey’ theory.
I have a disproved theory that may prove a little unpopular, but it’s been my perception that everyone who has a baby has something. Something that wasn’t or isn’t quite perfect. You might have struggled to conceive, but maybe you are having a lovely pregnancy. You might have had a perfect pregnancy but your baby wakes every hour. You might have had a crap pregnancy but a relatively cruisy birth; a wonderful pregnancy but trying to breastfeed was a nightmare. Show me the mother who had the perfect everything – perfect conception journey, perfect pregnancy, perfect birth, perfect recovery, perfect sleeper from day dot, breastfeeder, great eater. It’s SO rare, so rare I don’t think I’ve ever known one. In my really rough moments, I would tell myself, “Ok I am having a shitty pregnancy, but maybe we’ll be fortunate in other ways.” And without sounding arrogant, we were; we had a couple of hiccups but Little Nerd was healthy, robust, has always had an appetite like a Shetland pony and soon slept through the night. Yes your days are a bit shit now, but tell yourself you might get lucky in other ways later. If you’re giggling because I said ‘get lucky’, get your mind out of the gutter.
You probably won’t miss being pregnant.
There are a lot of women who genuinely loved being pregnant and even mourn the loss of that time. One positive for you? You may not. (No duh!) I definitely don’t like being pregnant. During my first pregnancy I lost count of the number of people who said to me how I would miss being pregnant when it was over. Sorry guys, but in this instance you were ALL WRONG. (No-one has dared say that to me in this pregnancy!) There is not ONE thing I personally miss about being pregnant. “You’ll miss the baby kicks,” some people said to me warningly when I would say how much I was looking forward to pregnancy being over. I don’t. Little Nerd has always been waaaay better on the outside than in. I remember before I was pregnant, one of my pregnant friends said the baby kicking felt nice. “Like a gentle massage.” I looked forward to this – gentle, free massage from the inside. Instead, Little Nerd’s kicks commonly felt like cattle prods on my vagina. Sometimes, they were so sudden and abrupt and strong, if I was sitting down in a café or something, I would propel half a foot in the air from my chair with an astonished look. I didn’t miss having a bump, either (a lot of people do). And I think that’s totally ok, to not all be the same – and you shouldn’t let anyone make you feel guilty or weird or somehow lacking just because you are not the same as them.
You might appreciate things you took for granted so much after the birth. Like, you know, not vomiting eight times a day.
I felt like as far as births go, I had an easy birth with Little Nerd (thank you, German farm girl hips. You can read his birth story here). But I had a hard recovery, something I’ve since learned is common with precipitous labours (super-fast labours where the baby is born under three hours from the time regular contractions start) and after returning home had to be readmitted the next night for another stay. Despite that, there were a couple highlights, and one was the return of my legs. In my last weeks of pregnancy, one of many joyful pregnancy ailment was my legs seeming like they filled with water overnight. They went from being my normal legs to huge and puffy and my feet looked like turgid water balloons. Only the stretchiest tracksuit pants fit; and two pairs of shoes, one of them Mr Nerd’s ugg boots.
I imagined I felt kind of like what Princess Fiona felt like in Shrek when she morphed into the ogre. I felt so uncomfortable and turgid, and the pregnancy hormones were rife. I remember sobbing in the laundry, feeling like a whale, my legs bloated and corpulent. “Look at me. How will you ever be attracted to me again. I look like a sea creature.” I give Mr Nerd credit, he too must have been alarmed, but he gave me some very nice hugs.
Anyway, the day after I gave birth, all that uncomfortable water retention in my legs completely disappeared. I remember rubbing my hands all over my legs, gloating with glee and happiness. After weeks of ogre legs, my regular legs suddenly looked and felt so good and so much smaller. I even took a leg selfie. “LOOK at my legs,” I cried gleefully to Mr Nerd as he walked into the hospital room, rubbing my hands up and down my legs with the smugness of an Instagram fitspo model with a thigh gap. “Look at them. I am never, ever going to complain about my legs ever again.”
And I haven’t. Of course your tummy will get a little stretched out and that will probably be permanent and I think that happens to almost all women, except aliens like Bec Judd, but after the pregnancy is over you might just appreciate a body part you never really appreciated or thought about all that much before.
Don’t feel bad for taking morning sickness medication.
I completely understand why some people have reservations about morning sickness medication given its history; what happened in the 1950s with thalidomide was incredibly sad. (The BBC show Call The Midwife has recently been hailed for featuring it in a really empathetic way). With that said we live in a different era now and although there are never any guarantees I think medicine and research has come a LONG way in the past 60 years.
A bugbear of mine is people who think it’s ok to make others feel guilty about taking medication for severe emesis. If you are struggling with HG and miserable, don’t feel bad about talking to your doctor about getting medication – and yes, you may get some people implying or telling you they think you shouldn’t take anything (I did) but they’re not the ones pregnant and vomiting up mere water. I think it’s so common, especially in your first pregnancy, to take to heart all these opinions fired at you from every second person who feel they have a right to tell you what they think you should and shouldn’t be doing/eating/drinking/taking and so on but at the end of the day I think you should do your own research and if something helps you, it helps you. I took Maxolon for two weeks in my first pregnancy but it barely helped, and beyond that I felt too guilty about taking medication to keep going or to try another. Second pregnancy, I felt more confident and self-assured and Mr Nerd and I both knew that if it looked like I was going to have HG again, then this time I would not be so wary about trying medication to get through. I tried Maxolon again. When it didn’t work (it also gave me migraines for a week) I started on Zofran (or Ondansetron) which helped a lot. Zofran is more controversial (and expensive) but for a lot of pregnant women it is a sanity saver. It won’t necessarily stop the vomiting but it can help with nausea. In the start of this pregnancy I would take a wafer to be able to get through things without spewing – a work appointment, a drive to a job, a grocery shop. Anyway. Do your own research about medications in pregnancy. Don’t let other people guilt you (I hate all the guilt foisted on new mums…. don’t even get me started on people who rant about formula!)
“I can’t believe you wound up renovating while pregnant again,” friends have said to me, and while there’s part of me that’s like, “Neither can I,” with a theatrical groan, the other part of me knows that it’s been helpful and good for me mentally to have a distraction. They’re things that spur you on and keep you mentally busy when you’ve vomited four times in one night and you’re feeling the worst. I’ve always been a “project” person, I like having little projects on the go, or little goals. Renovations! Crafts! Industry events! Writing! Declutters! etc. Maybe your projects are more like binge on Netflix, finally watch a movie that you’ve been wanting to see for ages, or catch up with a really good friend (I love those things too). Whatever they are – for me projects – things to tick off my to-do list and focus on – make me feel like life is still ticking on and going somewhere even when I feel like compost.
I also have a little mental ‘baby bucket list’ with things on it I want to do before #2 gets here, whether it’s just as a family of three, with Mr Nerd or with a friend. Like last night I finally made it to Hakata Gensuke in Vic Park for their famous ramen, leaving the restaurant as there was a queue down the footpath! And their signature ramen tasted even better than I thought it would! (I threw it all up later but it was worth it).
Your pets can be outside for a while, and they will still love you.
Normally I really don’t think my dog smells bad at all, for a dog… we are even fine with her sleeping on our bed. I have no problem with it. When I’m pregnant, though, being in the same room as her is enough to turn my stomach and make me vomit. God, I can smell her now, and I am in my study and she is all the way in the lounge.
With hyperemesis, all dogs emit a warm, horrendous rotting meaty smell I’d never been bothered by before, no matter how freshly bathed they are. But I felt SO bad having to put Nala outside in my first pregnancy. She’d stare sadly at me through the glass, used to her place by my feet under my desk, leaving her hairs on our only good rug.
“What if this lasts forever?” I thought, upset. Luckily, it doesn’t. Even though you’ll feel mean, it’s only temporary – I promise. I try to organise for Nala to go on beach dates with my sister or to my parents’ place when I’m feeling my worst. Then I can breathe a little easier and she doesn’t miss out on fun.
Eat what you want.
I probably should have phrased this a bit better, because obviously you can’t exactly eat what you want during pregnancy. When you fall pregnant, you go to your GP and they give you a booklet called “Listeria: What You Need to Know”. It could also be titled “All Your Favourite Foods: And Why You Can’t Eat Them for the Next Nine Months”. Off-limits are all the things that have a higher chance of being contaminated by listeria – basically all the foods that you will spend the next nine months daydreaming about every day: all the best cheeses like double cream brie and camembert, chocolate mousse, sushi, sashimi deli meats like salami and cold ham, pre-cut fruit, and beautiful soft eggs. (The other day I walked past a bustling café and at the very moment I did, an old man who had just been served a hot breakfast platter cut into a plump poached egg and yolk exploded everywhere and I just about had an orgasm).
If you are sick in pregnancy, you probably have a whole list of things you normally love to eat but now can’t even look at without feeling your stomach heave. With my first pregnancy I subsisted for the first four months on SAO crackers with Vegemite, my mum’s baked chicken (no oil), white rice, steamed carrots, Red Rooster chips and apricots (even a sliver of another kind of fruit made me vomit). Often there is NOTHING you feel like eating that doesn’t turn your stomach just at the thought, which is why you hear of women with hyperemesis who ordinarily have a healthy balanced diet subsisting solely on weird and imbalanced diets subsisting solely of an odd diet of crackers, Gummi Bears, green apples and McChicken burgers from McDonalds.
With my second pregnancy with hyperemesis, in my first four months my food intolerances were so full-on most days all I could stomach even putting in my mouth was stone fruit, sparkling water, dry crackers and sometimes a sandwich. Poor Mr Nerd knew better than to even cook meat or anything remotely fragrant near me (and normally I could happily eat a steak or curry for breakfast) and just walking quickly past a café and smelling coffee beans was enough to make me retch. God, I miss good coffee so much. Now I’m on weak iced mochas. “Why are you drinking coffee? You’re just going to throw it up later,” Mr Nerd asked me once.
“Yeeees, but WHILE I’m drinking it, I feel happy.”
Pregnancy logic. Mr Nerd looked at me like I was slightly deranged but kept quiet. He has wised up since my first pregnancy and if he thinks I’m making an unusual decision he now wisely keeps his mouth shut.
But for me a lot of days it doesn’t matter if what I’m drinking is a coffee, an orange juice, or a glass of water – or what I’m eating – I’m going to throw it up an hour later ANYWAY. So I think you might as well drink the coffee, or eat the food, or whatever it is that you will enjoy, because eight days out of ten, you’re still not going to keep it down. Treat yourself to those little things that make you happy and feel normal and un-pregnant even just for half an hour. Obviously try not to eat the things your listeria booklet warns you about, but if you’re at a café and salivating over that oversized piece of orange almond cake on the cake stand, and normally you’d probably go for the toasted Bircher muesli with yoghurt, just get that cake and eat it. I’m probably totally advocating gestational diabetes here… oh well.
Plan a listeria party for when it’s all over.
My friend Rachel and I had babies quite close to each other, and once they were born she came to my house with all kinds of food we couldn’t eat during pregnancy – sashimi, salami etc – and we had a Listeria Party. The babies fell asleep on the playmat and we drank red wine in the day time and talked about what wonderful mothers we were and texted our slightly perturbed husbands to tell them how much fun we were having. It was a great day. I think we’ll do it again in a few months’ time. Maya x