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20 August 2018

Pregnant and the wrong type of hyper!

Raising awareness of and sharing my personal experience with hyperemesis

Dear Gender Agenda readers, it feels very apt that I am posting this blog during the early stages of my maternity leave, the first in a series of blogs we’ll be bringing you focused on parenthood.

Our recent Time to talk research found that 42% of professional women worldwide are anxious about the impact of starting a family on their careers, and it seems this concern is valid. In the same study, 48% of recent mothers said their new parental status left them overlooked for promotions and special projects upon their return to work.

Motherhoodpenalty

 

This June, I gave birth to my beautiful daughter Rosie, after what felt like the longest pregnancy in the world. Somewhat similar to the pattern of the findings highlighted above, I spent a lot of time thinking about the before (getting pregnant) and the after (being a mum); however, I failed to give much thought to the critical stage in between: the pregnancy itself.

Rosie

I’ll admit, I was very naïve about pregnancy.  If I’m completely honest, I thought about having a big whopping belly, going without a glass of wine, and on the bright side, not having to deal with period cramps for nine months. That was pretty much the extent of the thought I had given to pregnancy.

We were very lucky. At age 37, we conceived naturally after 12 months and I knew I was pregnant immediately because my body reacted straight away.

At week seven it all really kicked off, I didn’t know it yet, but I was one of the 1-in-250 pregnant women to suffer with Hyperemesis Gravidarum. I’d never heard of Hyperemesis Gravidarum before my diagnosis. I expect most people haven’t heard of it, perhaps with the lone exception of hearing about the severe pregnancy-related sickness of the Duchess of Cambridge, Kate Middleton, as she suffered from it during all three of her pregnancies. This is why I am sharing my most personal and honest gender agenda blog ever – I want to raise awareness.

I want to help family, friends and colleagues understand what it was like for me to go through hyperemesis, and my hope is that talking about my experience may help those women who will experience it in the future. So here are five ways in which I coped with hyperemesis:

1. Just accept that you are really sick

My hyperemesis was severe, and I was told that there is no set time for how long it will last, it is different for everyone. Before I got pregnant, I could probably count the amount of times I vomited in my lifetime on both my hands. For me, throwing up is literally the worst. It was horrendous to find myself vomiting on average 20 times a day and retching what felt like every 15 minutes. After a few days, I had a basin beside me in bed because I did not have the energy to make it to the bathroom. I couldn’t eat or drink, even water came back up. Between week 8-10 alone, I lost nearly two stone.

Every scent set me off, I couldn’t even use hair or wash products in the shower. The smell or movement of my husband beside me made me vomit, bless him he kindly moved into the spare bedroom.

I made the mistake of putting a timeline on it. I kept thinking it’d be gone at 10 weeks, at 12 weeks, at 16 weeks…….. And I was very aware I was missing lots of time from work and very eager to be able to get back to normality. After my second hospital visit, I was put on medication. I can remember emailing my team the next day, thinking these tablets were the solution to all of my problems. I told the team I’d be back in work the following week. The tablets were great, and because they stopped the constant vomiting, I got a bit carried away with exactly how ‘functioning’ they made me. Needless to say, I was not back into work the following week. The tablets stopped about 80% of the vomiting, and about 50% of the retching, but I remained permanently nauseous and unless I was curled up in a static foetal position in bed, life just didn’t feel worth living.

It was 21 weeks before I was out of the horrendous stage and could do any sort of normal daily activity. And I was lucky, some women suffer for the WHOLE pregnancy.

What I learned during my experience  is to accept that I was really sick and not to set a mental timeline for my recovery. I had to ‘switch off’ and only do what I needed to survive each day. I should have told my husband, family, and work that I was really sick and that I didn’t know when I’d feel well again. I already felt bad enough, compounding it with the extra stress of worrying about returning just made things worse. 

In this regard I was so fortunate to have amazing support from all of my team at PwC.

2. Don’t let the guilt win

My experience with hyperemesis was not only physically awful. The part of the sickness that shocked me, was the impact on my mental health. In the midst of my first pregnancy, I expected to be overjoyed, but at about week 13, the emotions of the illness set in.

I felt so, so sick. I was physically weak, I’d lost so much weight. While the tablets gave me a ‘mini-lift’, despite their benefits, I was only able to take small sips of water and a single slice of dry toast a day. I wasn’t able to take any pre-natal vitamins, including the very important folic acid. When I was thinking about the baby, I was constantly worried about her. How could she possibly be thriving when I was so physically unwell and not giving her nutrition?

I was feeling either extreme worry about the baby’s health, or extreme guilt because I didn’t feel as excited as I should feel; the result was that I felt very, very low.

I hope my experience raises awareness of the mental side of hyperemesis.

Address the guilt - know it is normal to have the feelings that you will experience. On one hospital visit, I was very upset with worry and the doctor explained that the baby is literally like a little parasite sucking all of the goodness from me. And while it doesn’t sound nice to think of your little baby as a parasite, for me these were actually words to live by as I tried to contend with the worry and guilt.

Finally, I suggest having a confidant. I used to text one of my best friends all my really dark thoughts and concerns. My husband was worried enough about me without having to know what was going on inside my head. Having an outlet to get worries off my chest and be told my feelings were understandable and normal, was a massive help.

3. Figure out the tricks that will help you get through it

Family and friends will naturally want to give you advice, and much of it will be tips for dealing with general morning sickness. I tried it all -  none of it worked. For example, I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to eat anything with ginger for the rest of my life.

I tried everything, including acupuncture, but nothing worked.  Ultimately, I had to identify my triggers and experiment with ways to avoid them.

My own saliva was a trigger, which meant placing a towel under my head so I could literally just dribble prevented some vomiting bouts. My dentist gave me a special mouthwash because I was unable to brush my teeth for two months. I never opened the fridge and I stopped using all cosmetics. Having a husband who made no complaints about being shipped into the spare bedroom for months also helped greatly.

As my symptoms got less severe, I got better at knowing what to do to keep them at bay. I stuck with a bland diet, limited activity and avoided smells. From week 20-25, climbing the stairs in our house set me off, so after making the climb, I would sit down for five minutes and nibble slowly at a cracker. This helped!

4. Take what help you can get

For me, movement, smells, and general life activity escalated my symptoms. Professionally, I had to accept offers of help from colleagues and handover any work that I could. I didn’t know when I’d be able to return to work.

When it comes to the home, forget being able to keep house. No matter how independent you might be, don’t be too proud to take whatever help is offered.

5. Know that it will all be so worth it

Many people told me it would all be worth it in the end. If I’m honest, at times this advice felt a little patronising – how could they think ‘this’ could possibly be worth it? At the risk of sounding patronising myself, know that it will be worth it.

Does it make what you’ve been through any less awful? Absolutely not! But, when I held Rosie, my happy, healthy baby, it was worth every second.

 

Aa1
Rosie2

My experience of pregnancy was a complete surprise. Pregnancy is different for everyone, some women sail through it while others find it traumatic, taxing and everlasting.

Hyperemesis was definitely the hardest part, but unfortunately it was not the only health battle during my pregnancy.  I was diagnosed with squamous cell carcinoma skin cancer at 8 weeks and had surgery at week 16 (rescheduled twice because of how ill I was). In the later stages, I suffered from severe pelvic pain (SPD), gestational diabetes, low blood pressure and a series of bladder infections. Lastly, I had a bad fall at week 27 and a leaking of my waters at week 31. All in all, I was sick and miserable for the whole pregnancy, with the exception of about 6 good weeks.

My overall advice when it comes to pregnancy is to expect the unexpected.

My recent pregnancy experience combined with the motherhood findings of our Time to Talk research inspired me to share this personal story and launch a series of blogs focused on parenthood. Join us for the next blog in the series which will share experiences and advice when baby comes early.

In the meantime I want to give a shout out to my husband Alan, my mum Rose and my best friend Maria, in addition to my amazing team at PwC, all of whom got me through those critical 40 weeks, and say a big thank you to each of them.

Aoife

Aoife Flood, PwC Based in Dublin, Ireland, Aoife Flood is Senior Manager of the Global Diversity & Inclusion Programme Office for PwC with responsibility for the development and implementation of our network-wide global Diversity & Inclusion strategy.

She is a proud PwC female millennial and lead researcher and author of our ‘Time to talk: What has to change for women at work’, ‘Women unbound: Unleashing female entrepreneurial potential’, ‘Winning the fight for female talent’, ‘Moving women with purpose: Creating gender inclusive global mobility’, ‘The female millennial: A new era of talent’, and 'The PwC diversity journey: Creating impact, achieving results’ thought leadership publications.

Aoife is also co-author of our Global Gender Agenda blog. You can learn more about Aoife here or find her on twitter: @AoifeRFlood.

Comments

Congratulations Aoife and Alan. I am sorry you had to go through this experience, but it is important to raise awareness

Thank you very much Aoife for sharing your experience and raising awareness. Our world need more babies and has to understand and support mums. And congrats for such a nice Rosie!.

Wow Aoife, I am only really appreciating just how tough you had it. Sounds like brighter days are here! Can’t wait for the next blog 🙌

Oh Aoife. Sounds like you had the worst of worst experiences. Your honesty must serve to educate all managers who have women needing time off through pregnancies. I trust that you are completely healthy now and you are able to look back on it like a bad dream? And are able to fully enjoy your gorgeous daughter. And on that...many Congratulations! You did it!

Thanks for sharing this Aoife and biggest congratulations to you and your husband! These blogs are so important for raising awareness!

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