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Episode 353


In this episode I chat to Penny from @sick.happens about her experience with hyperemesis gravidarum (HG) - severe nausea and vomiting in pregnancy. She explains the depth of her physical and mental challenge and how she cautiously approached her second pregnancy knowing that she would spend the following nine months severely sick. Penny is really open about the effect that her traumatic pregnancies had on her marriage and she sings the praises of couples therapy which she did with her husband for two years following the birth of their second baby.

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“Once we fell pregnant it threw us into a different world. Coming from a health background I knew so little about my cycle; I knew that it was regular but I didn’t take notice of when I was ovulating. When I fell pregnant the first symptom – at about 3 weeks – was quite severe nausea. I didn’t stop vomiting until I gave birth and it was horrific.

“I had the most brilliant GP and she got onto it so quickly. I couldn’t function; I was either on the couch and crawling to the bathroom or lying in the bathroom with a doona and pillow. By the fourth emergency department visit, the Royal Women’s picked up on it and started protocols for medication and treatment.

“Initially I was just seeing my GP and I told her from the get-go that I was feeling really awful and vomiting constantly. She sent me home with chemist-based medications and scripts for the anti-nausea medication and I was so shocked with how expensive the wafers were. When I couldn’t keep anything down that’s when I started to go to emergency for fluids and that’s when I realised that no one or nothing could stop me feeling sick or vomiting.

“For my first pregnancy I was more focussed on how much my body was failing myself, my husband and my work. I couldn’t even walk let alone go to work. On top of that there was financial strain which I found really stressful; I had zero pressure from work and my husband was amazing but I was still hard on myself.

“I was waiting for 12 weeks and then 16 weeks just wishing for the nausea to stop. I definitely had less hospital presentations and admissions at around the 20 week mark and I was eating…but there was never a day that I didn’t feel nauseous or vomit. I was going through the Royal Women’s and they deal with high-risk pregnancies so they were phenomenal. I was so preoccupied with my pregnancy and not vomiting that there was virtually no time spent preparing or planning for birth.

“At 38 weeks I woke up with a bit of cramping and felt like I needed to go to the toilet. It definitely felt like something was happening but I knew it would be a while so I told my husband to go off to work. I called him five minutes after he left and told him to come straight back home because it was on. It went from cramping to contractions every four minutes and that was it. We went into hospital after 90 minutes labouring at home and the car trip was awful but we made it.

“Once I got to hospital I really expected to be sent home so when they checked me and I was 7cm I was so relieved. I felt really validated and I was okay with the pain then because I knew it was really productive. I got into maternity and there was this amazing midwife, Carla, who asked me about my birth plan and then turned the lights off and created a really calm and beautiful birth space. I was leaning over the bed or kneeling and I was in my zone there so Carla just let me do my thing. I did get to the point where I was getting very uncomfortable so I tried the gas but I didn’t like it. Eventually I agreed to get undressed because at that stage I still had my shoes on.

“Carla guided me when it was time for me to push but Rex had his hand up near his head and once his head was born he cried…even though he wasn’t completely out. It was very weird. He was born soon after and it was such a relief to have a straightforward birth after such a complicated pregnancy.

“I was convinced I was having a girl so when I had a boy I was in shock. I had to really shift my mindset because I really thought I was going to have a girl. And then Carla asked me what I wanted to do about the placenta and I just couldn’t believe I hadn’t thought about it…the fact that I needed to birth it. We were doing delayed cord clamping and I eventually had the syntocinon injection.

“When it was time to conceive again, we really had to jump in and do it while I was off work and Rex had some days of childcare. I was very nervous about HG and Tony and I spoke about it alot in the lead up. When the nausea and vomiting started it was really mentally challenging because I knew what I was in for; I was in a hole of darkness because there was nothing I could do that would just make the days go by. I didn’t want to die, I wasn’t suicidal but if someone had told me that I could go to sleep and wake up when it was done, I definitely would have done that. It was so, so challenging to be in that dark, dark space.

“I went public again and we were living in Newcastle. The experience was very different and it wasn’t nearly as good as it was in Melbourne. They started discussing intervention a lot earlier and I wasn’t really interested in that. At around 33 weeks, after noticing a few weeks before that there wasn’t much fluid around him, they were more eager to intervene without really talking about why. Thankfully at 36 weeks I just went into spontaneous labour.

“Tony wanted to go away with his mates for a surfing weekend before the baby came. I was at home on my own and I’d put Rex to bed and I was feeling a bit crampy and then all of a sudden it got a bit more intense. I couldn’t believe it; I just started laughing. It ramped up really quickly. I had to call Tony and he had to drive back with all his mates. I was feeling panicked at home because it was fast and when he got home he grabbed the bags – my waters had already broken – and one of our mates was staying home to be with Rex.

“We got to the hospital and I could barely walk because the contractions were one on top of another. I was holding on so tight because my body just wanted to push. Tony raced to get a wheelchair and I was kneeling on it while he pushed it. Because I was 36 weeks there were people everywhere – doctors, midwives and NICU staff. The midwife checked me and she could see the baby’s head so she told everyone else to get out of the room. I birthed Jack and he was pink and healthy so he didn’t need to go to the NICU.

“I have a mental block between Rex in utero and Rex being born; I don’t associate him with the one who made me feel so sick. Whereas I knew I was having a boy and I felt more connected to him; it certainly helped finding out the sex.

“Tony and I have spoken at length about whether our family is complete. We went into counselling after Jack was born because we were broken from two very traumatic pregnancies and we agreed that mentally we couldn’t go through another pregnancy. I would love to have more babies but I don’t think I could handle the trauma.”

Topics Discussed

Breastfeeding, counselling, HG, Physiological birth, thyroid, Two Vaginal Births

Episode Sponsor

Kids are often sick and it can be so stressful. But what if you were armed with evidence-based education so you felt confident and reassured when those inevitable bouts of sickness struck? Imagine if you knew what was Normal or Not when it came to all things fever, poo, vomiting, snotty noses, rashes and the rest. There’d be no more conflicting advice. No more 2am Dr Google rabbit holes. No more panic.

Penny has combined her almost 15 years of nursing experience with the practicalities of being a parent to deliver an online course that will take you from scared to prepared when dealing with illnesses—and she has put it all in language that’s easy to understand.

Normal or Not teaches the framework Penny uses to make all of her decisions around sickness in kids, whether it’s her own boys at home or sick children in the hospital.

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