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Raising awareness of hyperemesis gravidarum
PREGNANCY can bring with it all sorts of strange new challenges for the body.
Apart from the obvious expanding tummy, there are the strange cravings, the swollen ankles, the uncomfortable nights and, of course, the morning sickness.
If you’re lucky you might get away without experiencing morning sickness, or it could subside after a few weeks. But what happens when the sickness is so bad you can’t eat or drink? When does the condition go from simple morning sickness to something much more serious and actually poses a threat to the life of your unborn child?
Emma Atkinson is one of the tiny number of women who experience hyperemesis gravidarum (HG). For Emma the vomiting stated a week into her pregnancy.
After nine months she had lost three-and-a-half stone, despite carrying her daughter Ava, who weighed in at a healthy 7lb 7oz when she was born at York Hospital three years ago.
Emma, 29, from Holgate, said: “I found out I was pregnant early on – I was about three weeks. I had one week where I was OK, then I started being sick.
“It was constant,” she recalls. “It wasn’t just waking up and not feeling well, it was all day every day and through the night. I couldn’t eat or drink. I couldn’t even keep water down.”
After four days Emma decided it was time to visit the doctor, who got her admitted to hospital straight away after recognising the signs of dehydration.
She said: “York Hospital was my second home for the first four months of my pregnancy as I had to be hooked up to an iv drip to be rehydrated because my vomiting was so bad.
“I was signed off sick from work for my entire pregnancy and sometimes I felt like people thought I was a fraud because they just assumed I had bad morning sickness. This was not the case at all – I had excessive morning, day and night sickness, vomiting pure black acid from my stomach at one point as there was nothing else left inside me.”
Emma said the condition runs in her family and that her mother and grandmother both suffered – though it appeared to be increasing with severity with each generation.
“I was expecting to be a bit sick but nowhere near as much as I was. I remember they sent me down for an emergency scan because HG is common in mothers of multiple births, but I was only having the one.
“After I was rehydrated they gave me anti-sickness tablets and sent me back home but told me to expect to be back – I was back one week later.”
As the weeks went on the HG showed no sign of releasing Emma from its grip and her days were spent mostly between her bed and the toilet.
“I didn’t really eat because I couldn’t keep it down but the doctors told me fluids were the most important thing. I ate a lot of ice cream and managed to keep fluids down for about an hour.”
The months of not eating was gradually taking its toll on Emma’s appearance, as she recalls when she met a friend in the supermarket, who was also expecting a baby.
“She was pregnant at the same time as me and was just beaming and radiant and I looked like a skeleton. I never needed to buy any maternity clothes because the ones I wore normally were too big for me.”
After struggling through the pregnancy, Emma eventually gave birth to baby Ava on July 7, 2009, when the sickness stopped as suddenly as it had started.
“It was 12.30 in the afternoon and the nurse came round with a trolley of food and asked if I wanted anything and I said ‘no’ because I was used to not eating.
“But she said if I didn’t I wouldn’t have another chance until a lot later so I had a shepherds pie and I felt fine. I didn’t really appreciate it until the next day when my partner Simon asked if I wanted something to eat and I said ‘stop at the chippie’. I had chips and gravy and it was just lovely.”
The experience, however, has left Emma facing tough decisions about having another child.
“I would probably have to wait until Ava was at school full-time because I wouldn’t be able to look after her on my own if I had HG again,” she said.
For now, however, Emma wants to raise awareness of the condition as something much more than simple morning sickness.
She said: “I just thought I had exaggerated morning sickness but it was so much more than that. Unborn babies can die from this.
“There are women out there too who may be already very skinny and this can kill them. It affects all your organs. It’s a serious thing and that’s what I would like to get out there.”
Tuesday, May 15 will see the first ever Hyperemesis Awareness Day. For more information on the condition, go to helpher.org