It’s like a recurring nightmare.
It’s a lovely summer’s afternoon but I’m unable to move from my bed, compulsively stuffing my face with dumplings.
Around me – Tracey Emin style – is the residue of my day; discarded crisp packets, crumpled chocolate wrappers, orange juice bottles, empty chip boxes. I feel horrific, but the only way to feel marginally better is by bingeing on the carb-richest foods known to woman.
This is no bad dream. This is my everyday reality, suffering from what I can only describe as hellish pregnancy nausea.
Around a fifth of pregnant women will be blissfully unaware of how this feels.
But for the other 80 percent or so, well, I feel for you.
If it’s mild and manageable, nausea and vomiting can relieved with plain crackers and ginger tea. It can be relatively short, starting in the sixth week and clearing up by the 10th-12th week of pregnancy.
For others, it can be much more serious.
Kate Middleton famously spent much of her first and third pregnancies in hospital with hyperemesis gravidarum, a pregnancy complication characterized by severe nausea, vomiting and dehydration. If this goes untreated, it can be fatal.
My two pregnancies were quite different; with my son Archie I had nausea between 6 and 16 weeks, which peaked between 9-11 weeks. It always came on from just before noon onwards (whoever described it as ‘morning sickness’ clearly had never had it). There were some rough days but it was mainly controllable. I remember eating a lot of pasta with olive oil, salt and pepper, and craving carby Dim Sum lunches.
Now I’m 22 weeks pregnant with a little girl, and it’s been a whole different ball game. Granted I’m that bit older now and that bit more tired from chasing an energetic toddler around. There’s an old wives tale that girls make you sicker, too.
But the nausea has been absolutely debilitating from six weeks onwards, and I’m still getting waves of it now.
I found by week seven of my pregnancy I was barely able to work, having tried every cure going. Ginger tea and saltine crackers, ice-cold coke, sour plums, dry toast, acupuncture, acupressure bands, you name it. I tried changing my vitamin supplement, as a friend suggested. I went to the doctor and got two different drugs, Diclectin and Ondansetron.
Nothing helped except a full stomach, and even then I didn’t feel great. While I never actually vomited, I felt unbearably queasy from 11am until bedtime.
For many weeks I was pretty much horizontal, stuffing my face with thousands of calories worth of Deliveroo’d junk –pizza, dumplings, Pho, ice-cream – and slumping in my pyjamas by the early afternoon.
I felt totally gross and not myself. But after a few weeks I learned that if I was to anything constructive, whether exercise or work, I had to get up at six and have it done by midday. So I started being a bit more structured.
By week 17, the nausea had lessened to the point where I was able to function more or less normally. Also by that point I was just so bored of my sedentary lifestyle I just began simply ignoring it.
As the nausea abated a little I found some of the homeopathic remedies did start to help, in particular seasickness bands and ginger tea.
What is the physiological reason behind feeling sick? I asked three different doctors (and obviously Googled the heck out of it). No-one had a conclusive answer. One doctor said it was to put off pregnant women eating anything dodgy. Another said the food craving functions to build up vitamins and minerals that are missing from the diet. Another said hormones (which personally I think is most likely).
My personal advice for anyone with bad nausea is just to try to get through it by any means possible. Try all of the known cures, but if ultimately you need to stuff your face with crisps all day long, do it. Be kind to yourself. Try to relax. Don’t worry about gaining a bit of weight. At some point you will feel better and be able to lose it. Even despite the daily carbicide I didn’t gain as much weight as I feared and now I’m a couple of kilos heavier than the suggested trajectory. Not the end of the world.
I would also say, recognize the times of day where you do feel OK and pack everything you need to do into those windows of opportunity. Even a good brisk walk will be good for the soul.
Finally, don’t suffer in silence. Even if you haven’t yet publicized your pregnancy, you’re likely to have a few close people who you’ve confided in. Talk to them about how terrible you’re feeling – tea and sympathy can go a long way to helping you feel better.