Hyperemesis is morning sickness ramped up to the max. The name literally means “hyper vomiting”, and that sums it up pretty well. It affects between 0.5 and 1.5 per cent of pregnancies, and varies in severity and duration. Some women find themselves unable to keep down anything (solid or liquid) for months, even for the entire pregnancy.
My wife has been through it twice, and it was absolutely horrible. She couldn’t keep anything down. She visited hospitals to get her fluids topped up. She was on medications usually reserved for patients on chemotherapy. It rotted her teeth. She was bed-bound, isolated and depressed.
I felt I had to suck it up, be strong, pick up the slack. Most of the time I did, but sometimes I felt despondent, helpless, and utterly useless. I felt guilty because I wasn’t the one throwing up.
It struck before we even announced the pregnancy, so we couldn’t talk about it.
The second time, with a toddler running around, I ended up doing a stint as a single-dad while being a carer for my wife. I couldn’t work, my son wasn’t sleeping well, and we moved house at that time too, because we clearly have an awesome sense of timing.
I am in no way qualified to advise women on how to cope with hyperemesis, but I’ve learnt some lessons that might be worth sharing with partners of other hyperemetics out there.
You can’t ‘fix’ this one, but you can help
The first thing anyone wants to do when their partner suffers is help them, nurse them, and make them feel better. Some, like me, become obsessed with finding a “cure”. During my wife’s first pregnancy I was Dr Google, browsing site after site for morning sickness “cures”. I tried giving her salty food in the morning, dry toast, ginger tea, ginger tablets, ginger cordial, acupressure bands, barley sugars and vitamin B3. I even found an app that was supposed to play sounds through your earphones to prevent nausea. I managed to put her off ginger for a couple of years afterwards – apparently it hurts a great deal coming back up.
And nothing worked. Each time I would I kick myself, hop back onto the computer and Google “morning sickness cures” again.
If your partner is suffering from hyperemesis, it’s highly likely that nothing will work apart from medication from a doctor. (And for us, this lost efficacy over time anyway.)
I didn’t bother trying all the cures second time around. I just supported my wife, looked after our child, and did my best to keep her company. That’s the best place to direct your energy: the key is to help, not fix.
Look after the kids
If you have a little one (or ones) running around already, this experience has just become infinitely more difficult. Sorry, but it’s just the way it is. Prepare to operate as a single parent for a while.
Small children don’t understand what’s happening, so they might be moodier than normal. Mum is suddenly unable to do all the stuff she used to do, and they have to deal with that. They also have to deal with a more emotionally fragile you, and all your sadness, exhaustion and stress. Kids are emotional amplifiers – if you’re feeling down, tired or anxious they pick up on it and increase the volume.
Roll with the punches, make allowances for what the kids are going through, and be there for them. They need you now more than ever. Try to keep on top of things and keep their lives as stable and consistent as possible. And give them lots of cuddles – they need them almost as much as you do!
I don’t regret a minute of it. It brought me closer to my boy and it made me a better dad. You have to take whatever silver linings you can find.
Look after yourself
This is happening to the person you love. And it hurts. And I know you think you can’t talk about it because that’d be whinging. That’d be weak. That’d be making it “all about you” when you’re not even the one who’s got the real problem, right?
During her second pregnancy my wife wasn’t working. I had to take more than three months off and be a full-time dad for our toddler while also caring for her. It was challenging. I broke down into tears more than once. Our son did not sleep well. I missed my partner. I worried. I was exhausted. Money was an issue.
I learnt that you need to talk about it. You need to take care of yourself and you need to accept that it’s rough on you too. Keep doing things. Keep going to the gym, keep baking cakes, keep reading, keep playing music, keep writing or singing or playing board games. Stay sane. Of course you’ll make sacrifices, but your partner doesn’t need a martyr – they need you.
Also make sure you’re being looked after. Get help for you and your family. Call grandparents, friends and relatives – especially if you’re struggling. Get the kids taken off your hands for a while, take an extra day at childcare if possible, take advantage of offers of meals. Don’t feel bad about receiving help, and don’t feel bad about asking for it.
If your partner is suffering from hyperemesis, life will suck for a while. I’ve got no magic fixes or easy answers. But – and I want you to remember this – they will get better, and you’ll get a baby at the end. Remind her of that too.