The day I found out I was pregnant with my first child was one of the happiest of my life.
Unfortunately, just five weeks later – in December 2018 – I was running to the toilet around 10 times a day.
This would continue throughout my entire pregnancy, but get worse. In fact, it got so bad that I genuinely thought I would die.
It’s a condition known as hyperemesis gravidarum, which affects up to 3% of pregnancies, according to the NHS. I want to share my story so others know just how bad it can be.
A lot of people think the condition is just vomiting, but for me, it was a lot worse.
I met my husband in 2015 through a mutual friend on a blind date. Within two years, we were married and by 2018, we decided to start trying for a baby. About two months later, we were thrilled to find out I was pregnant.
Unfortunately, this high was short-lived.
After I started experiencing diarrhoea within the first five weeks of my pregnancy, I tried to brush it off and thought it was just a normal part of morning sickness.
But within a week of this, I noticed I was unable to eat anything without it furiously coming out the other end. The little things I once enjoyed eating became a nightmare. I felt miserable and I knew I had to see a doctor.
I am fortunate to have access to private healthcare so I got in touch with an OB-GYN, who was so kind enough to see me almost instantaneously. I would not have managed through my pregnancy and postpartum without her support and incredible perception.
After urine tests and an assessment, she told me about hyperemesis and gave me the diagnosis. I had no idea what the condition was.
I started doing some research and found that this was also linked to a small number of maternal deaths. What I found startling was the dearth of information about the condition online though. This made it all worse.
I was scared and, at that point, I had come to the conclusion that I was going to die. I can be a tad dramatic sometimes – especially when I am ill – however, that almost soon became a reality.
Soon after, I was not just using the bathroom around 12 times a day or more, I was also vomiting the same amount of times every day. My throat hurt and I could see some blood stains in my vomit, due to the strain and tearing of my oesophagus.
My anus hurt and it was incredibly hard to even sit due to the pain. I was told by medical professionals that it would stop after some weeks, but it didn’t.
This was my nightmare from within two months of my pregnancy till after delivery.
Throughout my pregnancy, I had to stop working – even though I tried my hardest to keep on. I was just beginning to make headway with my business and I had a lot on the line but I had to put all this on hold because I couldn’t physically or mentally do anything.
I felt isolated. Most people didn’t know what hyperemesis was and didn’t bother to find out. A lot of people just assumed that it was just ‘pregnancy sickness’ so my husband and I were left to figure out this whole new experience while fighting for my life.
I sent emails and texts to ‘friends’ and colleagues that I had hyperemesis and I can count on one finger the number of people who wrote back to check in on me or send support. I felt angry.
For the last eight months of my pregnancy, I couldn’t eat and was fed through IVs. The little I managed to eat, I would vomit back up.
I also developed ketosis – which happens when your body doesn’t have enough carbohydrates to burn for energy, resulting in your body breaking down fat and using it for energy. For this reason, I lost a lot of weight and, at one point, I could barely walk without being carried or put in a wheelchair.
Thankfully, my husband was extremely supportive throughout the whole process. I don’t think I would have survived the whole ordeal without his love and help.
The trauma of it all left my body – and mental health – in a horrible mess.
At one point, I was seeing three psychiatrists and a therapist, in addition to taking medication for my mental illness. I was also put on medications like Cyclizine, Ranitidine and Ondasentron in order to ease the hyperemesis symptoms. Unfortunately, as my case was so severe, it barely helped.
The birth of my child wasn’t without its complications, too. The truth is, those moments after delivery were a blur.
I was excited but before I could settle into this feeling, I suffered from a postpartum haemorrhage shortly after and passed out. Due to being almost constantly on an IV throughout pregnancy, the doctors could not find any veins to put the IV needed to help stop the bleeding.
Thankfully, I was saved. When I woke up and held my baby for the first time, I was so happy he was in my arms.
I was told by medical professionals and hoped that my hyperemesis would immediately stop postpartum, but that didn’t happen.
My symptoms slowed down after pregnancy so I wasn’t vomiting as much, however, I still had food aversions, ptyalism (a condition that produces excess saliva), reflux, and nausea.
The trauma of the whole ordeal affected my health and I went for test upon test. I had several MRI scans, a few procedures to rule out any underlying health conditions like cancer or infections, and surgery to treat an injury on my ankle due to a congenital defect I didn’t know I had – before finally getting better two years after pregnancy.
But it was hard juggling parenthood and dealing with the aftermath of hyperemesis. I cried, screamed and panicked a lot. I suffered postpartum depression, too.
Everyone talked about how I would forget about the pain the moment my baby was born, but that was not the case for me. I was only able to get through those difficult meets through support from my husband, OB-GYN, sisters, mother and eventually getting childcare support.
It was painful, hard and lonely but rewarding because I have a healthy and vibrant little boy who I love with all my being.
Thankfully, my physical health is currently great. My mental health, however, is still a work in progress.
My experience with hyperemesis taught me how important it is for women’s health issues to be made a priority, especially for women from minority ethnic backgrounds. I have also learnt to appreciate the love and light in my life because life can be very fickle.
During my experience with hyperemesis, I felt lonely and deserted by the community of friends and acquaintances I thought I had. My career also suffered a huge setback but in those moments of pain, it was not what I was thinking about – I just wanted to make it through the day alive with the baby growing inside of me.
Through an organisation called Pregnancy Sickness Support, I drew strength from the stories of other women in the community who shared their stories and experiences of hyperemesis. I didn’t feel alone anymore.
Even when I didn’t feel understood by medical professionals, these women going through this very harrowing experience like me understood what it felt like.
By sharing my story, I believe I will be doing the same for other women going through similar situations.
Watching my son growing up now, I can say that it was worth it and my love for him keeps growing daily. Sometimes, I feel like my heart will explode with love for him.
He is really special.
Sophia Ukor founded Violet Simon, which aims to amplify the voices and experiences of women from diverse backgrounds to push representation and equality and inspire others to take action on key women’s issues in all categories of life. Find out more about their latest project, Disruptors, a magazine-book series, on their website here.
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