Most women I know experienced some type of morning sickness during their pregnancies. For many, this means aversions to favourite foods and vomiting for a few weeks. For me, pregnancy meant 41 weeks of IV fluids, anti-nausea pills, dehydration and barfing discretely at work.
Why? I had a condition called Hyperemesis Gravidarum. You may have heard this term in connection with Princess Kate of England’s recent pregnancies. For those who haven’t, hyperemesis is extremely severe nausea during pregnancy which results in significant weight loss and dehydration. It is rare, happening in under 2% of pregnancies. (Yay! Lucky me!)
Though most people were very supportive during this time, I heard quite a few ridiculous comments ranging from simply uninformed to downright rude. These are a few of my favourites and the things I wish I had said in response:
1) “Oh, I had morning sickness too.”
I am sorry to hear that. However, I don’t have morning sickness. I have hyperemesis. Though they have a symptom in common, calling hyperemesis morning sickness is like calling a marathon a light jog.
Yes, I am also nauseous. Yes, we are both throwing up. Here’s why our experience is different:
While most people with morning sickness are nauseous, they are still able to keep down some food. I was unable to keep down any food for days at a time. Not a small amount of food – no food at all. I was also unable to keep down any water. This lead me to the ER with dehydration, followed by a week at home on IV fluids. This type of dehydration is not something most people with morning sickness experience.
Thankfully, the ER doctor also prescribed an anti-nauseant for pregnant woman that allowed me to begin eating food. I was able to eat only a few bites of food per day for the first few months. I lost 20 pounds. This extreme weight loss is also not typical of morning sickness.
See the difference?
Please understand that I am not trying to say that morning sickness is easy or enjoyable, only to educate others on hyperemesis so that they can see the difference and seek help if necessary.
2) “I was so huge during my pregnancy! I wished I could throw up so I could lose weight!”
After several months, I felt well enough to finally get out and buy some maternity clothing. I dragged myself to the maternity store. The sales lady and I chatted about my pregnancy. Everything was going great, until she said this. I seriously considered punching her in the face, but was unable to muster the strength to punch anything.
I will say this: the one bonus of hyperemesis is losing lots of weight during your pregnancy, which means less weight to lose after the pregnancy. However, if I had the choice between gaining weight while pregnant and barfing for 9 solid months, I would pick the weight.
I understand that many women feel insecure about weight gain during pregnancy, but when someone is facing a high-risk pregnancy, these types of concerns rapidly get pushed aside. This statement reduces all those severe symptoms to aesthetics. It assumes that if you look good, you must not be sick at all. It trivializes the experience of anyone suffering from very severe nausea, and that is the last thing they need.
3) “When I was pregnant, we didn’t have pills. We just sucked it up.”
Terrific. Of all the stupid comments I received, this one is the worst. Statements like this one imply that I was just not really sick, just not strong enough to handle pregnancy. After all, they had been pregnant and not been sick, so I couldn’t be that sick. Or maybe they were sick and they made it through without pills and I could have done so too.
Here’s the thing: Pills are not a convenience for those of us with hyperemesis. I was not able to eat any food without the help of medication. This is no exaggeration. I was not taking pills because the nausea was inconvenient for me or because I didn’t like throwing up. I took 8 pills a day and still threw up. I didn’t want the pills but I needed the pills. For me and the baby, it was a matter of life and death.
4) “I was sick too. Don’t worry, it will get better!”
Again, I understand that you are trying to make me feel better. I genuinely thank you for that, because I really need any positive thoughts I can get.
However, since I do not have morning sickness, it is unlikely that my nausea will get better before the end of the pregnancy. I will still be barfing in the delivery room.
Please do not assume that I am being naïve in my understanding of pregnancy, and that you are putting things into perspective for me. Instead I am forced to either smile and nod or attempt to explain once again that I do not have morning sickness and sound completely ungrateful for your good wishes.
5) “You should eat more. Aren’t you worried about the baby?”
Uh, yes, but thank you so much for making me feel better. I would love to eat more, but today all I can manage is half a piece of toast, a handful of grapes, and a small piece of cheese. I know that there are lots of stories about pregnant women eating everything in sight, and that I must look like I am dieting. I can assure you, I am not watching my weight. I am eating as much as I possibly can.
It will also please you to know that the baby is completely healthy and growing the normal amount. Babies are surprisingly resilient because they take their nutrients from their mother. I ended my pregnancy weaker than I have ever been, but my baby was strong and healthy.
Though this statement probably comes from a place of concern for the mother and baby but all it does is make hyperemesis sufferers worry more than they already do about their unborn babies.
If, in the future, you find yourself at a loss for what to say to a pregnant woman with hyperemesis or severe nausea, please do not choose any of the above statements! Instead, try something like this: “I am sorry that you are feeling so terrible. That must be really difficult. Can I do anything to help?”
In article photos: Liz Parker-Cook, Dan Cook