Morning, Noon and Night Sickness

15 Apr

When I was eight years old, my mother was pregnant with my younger brother, Ryan. I don’t remember much about that time in her life, except that she was sick–really, really sick–throughout the pregnancy. I recall that, when home, she was in the bathroom throwing up all day; that she could barely keep down ANY food. I remember when she went out, she had to carry a sick bag with her at all times (and use it.) She couldn’t eat, she couldn’t take part in everyday activities, and she couldn’t even swallow because her throat was so chafed from throwing up. But mostly, I remember she was in the hospital a lot, for our birthdays, and Christmas, and beyond. In my mind, it seemed like she was in the hospital for the entire pregnancy, and talking to her as an adult, I’ve found this to be close to the truth. To put it mildly, she was one sick lady! And the reason for all her suffering? Morning sickness. Or in her case, the extreme version of morning sickness: hyperemesis gravidarum.

When I became pregnant I thought back to my mother’s experience, but knew each woman was different. I hoped (prayed) that I would avoid the extreme version of morning sickness that she had suffered. I got my positive test in Week 4 of my pregnancy, and remained blissfully symptom free until Week 6. And then–it began. I experienced nausea and vomiting so intense and so extreme that I could do nothing. I threw up in the morning when I awoke and every ten to fifteen minutes after that for the rest of the day. I woke up in the middle of the night to throw up, so even sleep was no respite. My entire body was rejecting food on a deep and powerful level. I couldn’t eat food, digest food, look at food, smell food, or even think about food! No wonder I put my food blog on hold! I could not walk into my kitchen or open my fridge without vomiting. I couldn’t see a picture of food in a magazine without it sending me running to the toilet.

So, what did I do? I curled up in a ball, with my puke bag by my side, and started trying to figure out what the heck was wrong with me!

Oh morning sickness, you sound so innocuous! Most of the information I found made it sound like a slight annoyance that lasts “maybe three months or so.” It’s just a little puking, nothing crazy, a normal part of pregnancy, right? Wrong! Actually, for some women morning sickness is pretty mild. These women throw up once or twice a day and may experience some accompanying nausea. But for the most part, they can get on with their lives, and will generally feel better in three months. However, for others (myself included) morning sickness is much more severe. Often this severe morning sickness lasts much longer than three months. For me, it lasted until almost the sixth month of my pregnancy!

There are many theories as to the cause of morning sickness, but no concrete data on what is really going on. On a side note, my husband and I joked that if men had to experience morning sickness, there would be research, funding and no doubt a cure by now! Here are just a few of the “causes” that I came across while doing my own anecdotal research on the topic.

1. Morning sickness is an evolutionary mechanism harkening back to the days before refrigeration, when food borne pathogens were a real risk to the developing fetus. Morning sickness protects women from ingesting said pathogens at the most critical stages of fetal development.

Hmm…this makes sense to me, but why are some women spared morning sickness? And why are there such varying degrees of severity among women who experience it? Were my ancestors just more into eating nasty, tainted food? I hope not! This theory, to me, only feels like one part of the explanation.

2. Hormones, hormones, hormones. In pregnancy, EVERYTHING is explained away by hormones. Doctor, why am I so emotional? Hormones. Why do I have joint pain? Hormones! Why do I feel like I’m going crazy? Hormones!! Why am I puking my brains out? Hormones!!!

I don’t doubt that hormones contribute greatly to morning sickness, but is it the only cause? I think more research is needed.

3. Girls vs Boys. Many believe that women who are pregnant with girls have worse morning sickness than those pregnant with boys. In my case, it’s impossible to tell since this is my first child, a girl. But in my mother’s cases, she had two boys and one girl, and with each the morning sickness was equally bad. In doing my research, I found that women like myself, who are prone to extreme morning sickness, tend to experience it in all of their pregnancies, regardless of the baby’s gender. Does gender contribute? Perhaps. Is it the cause? I doubt it.

4. The woman’s individual constitution determines the degree and severity of her morning sickness. This is derived from one of the Chinese Medicine theories of the cause of morning sickness. Each woman is different and the way her body responds to the great changes of pregnancy is unique. A large part of our constitution is inherited from our parents, so this might explain why my mother and I had similar responses and experiences.

What I like about this theory is that it emphasizes that morning sickness is different for every woman, and therefore, the treatments need to be tailored to each individual. What works for one woman may not work for another. When I was in the worst of my sickness, I found this idea comforting because things that were “supposed” to relieve my symptoms were not effective, and vice versa.

5. Morning sickness is my soul rejecting the soul of my baby. Okay, so I didn’t even want to write this theory down, because it still makes me so angry to even think about it! The woman who told me this said it to me while I was in between trips to the bathroom, miserable and shaking, just trying to get through a morning at school. Needless to say, this woman is not a mother!

Obviously I don’t agree with this and I think it’s a pretty terrible thing to say to someone. I mean, I’m already feeling like crap, why not heap a bunch of guilt on me about how I’m (already) a lousy mother as well! I’m rejecting my baby’s soul? Give me a break! I don’t even want to give credit to this theory by talking about it. I’m only including it here to illustrate the kinds of stupid things people might say to you while you’re in the midst of your morning sickness. Don’t listen to it!

For all of you reading, if you’ve heard or read other theories about the causes of morning sickness, please let me know!

Tomorrow I’m going to talk about treatments for morning sickness…what worked for me and what didn’t. Hopefully some of you experiencing it will find some of the treatments useful. Did I cure my morning sickness? No. Did I cope with it? Yes. Good luck!

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2 Responses to “Morning, Noon and Night Sickness”

  1. emily April 16, 2010 at 6:37 am #

    animals also experience vomitting associated with pregnancy, and nina Planck writes something to the affect that the more nausea one has it correlates with more succesful pregnancy outcomes, ie. less miscarriage and abnormalities.

    with my son, i was 19 when i was pregnant with him and only had mild sickness. I ate fairly well, but did eat a lot of sugary foods and probably nt enough meat.

    with my daughter i was 27 and i dont know if its just harder to be “older” and pregnant but i got the dreaded hyperemisis gravidum and tried everything- prescriptions, different foods, herbal stuff, oy! it was awful. i threw up every. single. day. and night, multiple times until the day i gave birth, and even vomitted during labor (this is common)!

    i am now gluten and mst grain free and am very curious if perhaps the grains and or gluten exaserbated my sickness.

    • sunandmoonandstars April 20, 2010 at 3:49 pm #

      Your thinking on gluten is really interesting to me. I’m definitely going to do more research! I have also heard that morning sickness is associated with better pregnancy outcomes, and I can tell you I really held onto that thought especially in the early days! I also read a study done in Britain that babies born to mothers with severe morning sickness had higher IQs.

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