Lying in a hospital bed, pregnant and alone, I violently vomited bile into a bowl for what must have been the 25th time that day.
Shakily, I tried to control my breathing and not disturb the drip in my arm that was supplying my veins with some much-needed fluid.
It was August 2020, and not an unusual day in my first pregnancy. My thirst was overwhelming, but I hadn’t been able to drink water – let alone eat food – for days without it coming straight back up.
‘I just wish I could have a drink,’ I croaked to the midwife who was checking me over.
She looked up and flashed me what I’m sure was meant to be a reassuring smile. ‘Oh, but your baby is healthy. You should be grateful!’ she parroted, as she swiftly left my cubicle, emotionally immune to my desperate state.
Her words left me feeling ashamed.
This wasn’t the first time during my first pregnancy that someone had told me to be grateful for my baby while I was incredibly sick. And I was, without doubt, indescribably thankful for the little life growing inside me.
Yet, at the same time my severe pregnancy sickness disease, Hyperemesis Gravidarum (or HG), seemed to be falling on deaf ears all around.
The Pregnancy Sickness Support organisation describes HG as ‘a condition at the extreme end of the pregnancy sickness spectrum.’ It affects approximately 3% of people with pregnancy sickness, and is incredibly debilitating.
You can become dehydrated very quickly, with severe and rapid weight loss – and, if not managed appropriately, complications arise. It can be very dangerous to leave untreated.
Would people say such flippant remarks to someone this ill, were it not a pregnancy disease, I wondered?
I started to feel extreme nausea when I was around five weeks pregnant. It kicked in out of nowhere, and by seven weeks I was being sick up to 30 times a day.
The taste and smell of water made me vomit instantly. I ended up having to suck Ribena flavoured ice cubes to get some sort of hydration, and a GP kept telling me this was ‘normal’ in pregnancy so I didn’t reach out for a second opinion until I was 12 weeks.
Finally, a different GP sent me straight to A&E. By which time I had lost 10 kilos and could hardly stand up.
I had so many fluffy fantasies in my head of what I imagined my pregnancy to be like. All the fun baby shopping with friends and family that I never got to do because I couldn’t leave my bed at all for three months (and then we were plunged into a lockdown).
To make it worse, I knew that friends who were pregnant at the same time as me were having a completely different experience.
Sometimes people would say ‘Oh I feel sick too, but having a ginger biscuit takes it away. Have you tried that?’ – which I know was coming from a good place, but if only that were the cure!
Even when I felt like my body was slowly shutting down – I couldn’t eat or drink without it all coming back up and I was dealing with the psychological effects of relentless severe nausea 24/7 – I still had people telling me I should be grateful that I could have a baby.
It made me feel so alone, as though no one understood the severity of my situation, and I felt like I couldn’t vent to anyone without feeling guilty.
The ‘be grateful’ comments didn’t stop there. I went on to have a traumatic birth during lockdown, a 36 hour back-to-back labour that ended with a forceps delivery and a botched episiotomy that left me completely incontinent – both bladder and bowel – for two whole months, with ongoing issues. Even to this day, I still need corrective surgery.
The postpartum aftercare at the hospital was appalling. I kept telling the midwives my stitches had come undone, but I was repeatedly told it would magically heal despite the gaping hole.
It did not.
Breastfeeding was a struggle as I had a baby with reflux and a tongue-tie who couldn’t latch properly to my breast, so my nipples were blistered and bleeding within 24 hours in the hospital.
While experiencing all this – the complete incontinence, the open stitches – guess what I kept being told by staff?
‘Oh, but be grateful you’ve got your beautiful baby in your arms!’
It was after this experience of pregnancy and birth injuries, that I realised people’s attitudes towards pregnancy, birth and motherhood are extremely warped.
Misogynistic views towards mothers from past days seem to still be very present in a modern society. It would seem mothers should be seen and not heard, especially if they are sharing their true, often less pleasant, feelings and experiences.
This prompted me to start an Instagram page to support new mothers going through many of the same life changing experiences as me, and I found an overwhelming number of their stories were so similar.
Yet if I hadn’t shared my own experiences, we’d all feel very alone. Society seems to want pregnant women and mothers to just ‘put up, and shut up’.
The world seems to be telling us that people only want to see sugar-coated social media feeds full of smiling babies and unicorns representing what the motherhood journey is, completely emitting any truth from the story. But why is this?
Well, it’s a vicious cycle. People who have not experienced what it’s like to have a difficult pregnancy, birth, or who are not looking after a young baby/child 24/7, only hear and see the happy stuff because that’s what mothers are allowed to talk about, and assume that’s how it is.
We are silenced into only sharing the positives of our journey for fear of backlash.
Then when society comes across someone who dares to speak their truth that some parts may not all be perfect, they think they’re just ungrateful and shouldn’t have had kids if they can’t handle it – but how will women ever know if they can ‘handle it’ if they’re never told a balanced story of the realities of parenthood?
That’s why I’ve started a podcast called ‘This Mummy Truth’, where I speak on these matters and have guests come on to share their own journey with pregnancy, birth, and adjusting to motherhood, which I hope is a safe space for mums to connect.
Allowing mothers to express the realities of their journey into motherhood should be normalised, and the gag should be lifted without the fear of being shunned.
You can love your baby more than anything in the world, but still find it hard to come to terms with a traumatic pregnancy and birth.
You can still love being a mother and still find day-to-day life difficult.
I am now pregnant with my second, have HG all over again, and despite being medicated a lot earlier with this pregnancy and therefore managing to stay out of hospital, I am going through the experience all over again for the love of growing my family.
Am I still being told to be grateful? Yes! Perhaps even more so now that I have my second on the way.
Is having a baby worth going through severe illness? It really is. But will I keep sharing the realities of pregnancy and motherhood and fighting against the grain?
Do you have a story you’d like to share? Get in touch by emailing email@example.com.
Share your views in the comments below.
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