The Myth of ‘Morning’ Sickness

It was a Friday, the day the pregnancy test was positive. Day 29 of my cycle, fifteen days after insemination. A drab August day. The rain drizzling down the window panes seemed incongruent with my mood, but I was struggling to identify my mood at all. It wasn’t as if I hadn’t wished for a positive test. It was exactly what we’d been hoping for, of course. And it had happened much sooner than expected. A huge success.
But it was a strange feeling and I skulked around the house, not sure what to do with myself. I didn’t feel any different from the previous day, week, month. Yet somewhere deep inside me, a complex manufacturing process was taking place: cells were dividing and multiplying, and something microscopic yet undeniably human was starting to take shape. I was on holiday from work and normally I’d be getting on with something or other: odd jobs around the house, some lesson preparation ready for the new school term…but now I was four weeks pregnant and it didn’t seem right just to carry on as usual. But what do you do when you’re four weeks pregnant?

What you don’t do when you’re four weeks pregnant is tell anyone. I knew that rule well enough, so after an excited text to my partner, Sally, I put my phone aside and (perhaps it was the effect of the miserable weather) found myself a ‘helpful’ chart on the Internet showing the percentage risk of miscarriage at each week of pregnancy. After a brief period of amazement that even to make it thus far, our little embryo had defied the odds of 3:1, in that same rain-inspired spirit, I focused on the 10% chance that I would still miscarry – a 10% chance that wouldn’t go down to 5% until we were to hear a heartbeat. And when would that opportunity arise? When placed on my lower abdomen, Sally’s stethoscope was sadly lacking in the ability to detect anything other than a rather embarrassing set of noises emanating from my intestines.

The next couple of weeks were exciting, secretive and notably uneventful. Sally encouraged me to stock up on tasty snacks: eating regularly would prevent me from lacking in energy and feeling sick and I dutifully snacked away, attributing a vague trembling in the legs or a slight rumble of the stomach to dangerously low levels of blood sugar.

The August Bank Holiday Weekend arrived, and Sally and I were at Manchester Pride. It was the Sunday, about 5pm and wandering the busy stalls I suddenly felt as though I might be sick. I’m not generally a very sickly person and I’d forgotten what nausea felt like. Confident that food was the answer, Sally led me to the row of burger vans while I shuffled along behind her, clocking alleyways and dingy corners where I might vomit unnoticed. A couple of hours later, after slowly picking at a baked potato and beans, the blandest food I could find, the nausea faded. We found some friends, gave the usual imaginative excuses for my glass of lemonade, and settled down to relive our early childhood, watching Toyah Willcox in Sackville Gardens.

Over the next few days the nausea would turn up in time for afternoon tea and make itself at home for the evening. By the following weekend it had come to stay and save for, ironically, half an hour when I first woke up, ‘morning’ sickness became my main daily activity, the day punctuated by attempts to force down various food items and galloped trips to the toilet for retching – no actual vomiting at this stage. I eventually settled on a fairly consistent diet of breadsticks, boiled eggs, small pieces of very mild cheese and watermelon.

September arrived and it was time to return to work for the new school term. The mere notion of teaching five classes of teenagers each day, followed by time spent planning lessons and marking their books seemed laughable in my current condition. Nevertheless, left with little choice, I armed myself with a roll of pedal bin liners and motion sickness wrist bands and, after guiltily confessing all to the school management, got on with it – albeit slipping out into the corridor now and again with a bin bag for a tactical retch, and surreptitiously shoving small cubes of cheese into my mouth as Year 11 exited, and Year 10 came in.

The worst time was always the evenings, and while this meant I generally managed fairly well where work was concerned, poor Sally got me at my worst each day. Arriving home from work at 7.30pm, she would usually find me lying as still as I could on the bed, perhaps emitting a faint moaning sound. Little would change until I’d wake up in the middle of the night, feeling almost normal and wondering whether beginning a nocturnal life was the answer.

Sally put aside her fears that she’d be stuck with this new miserable, retching girlfriend for life and focused her time on reading voraciously about pregnancy and obsessively sending off coupons for free stuff. It seems there are no trial-sachet lengths that companies will not go to in order to get the custom of mothers-to-be, and we were soon stockpiling sample packs of stretchmark lotions, nappy creams, fabric conditioner and even packs of nappies and the occasional towel.

Meanwhile both my nausea and my fury that no one had given me any kind of realistic warning about what the nausea would be like were both coming to a peak. I was ready to do serious damage to the next person who suggested my problems might be solved by the consumption of ginger. I’d moved on to hot school dinners at lunchtime which were going down quite well, and at least providing me with some vegetable intake, but I was now vomiting every evening, and by nine weeks I stopped bothering to eat at all after 3pm; it was just a waste of good food.

At school rumours of my pregnancy were already rife: much to my bafflement, it seems wearing motion sickness bands during the working day is an obvious sign of pregnancy to today’s Year 11 girls. I would hear whispers as I arrived at my classroom door, “you can see it, look!” and I’d hold my tummy in as well as I could, and make sure my top was covering the extender clip on my trousers. Despite having lost five kilogrammes and having had to remove my rings from my fingers before they slipped off, there was now a slight bump becoming noticeable, although only really obvious when I was naked.

At twelve weeks the midwife came to visit. After a rather amusing moment where she asked for Sally’s genetic history, and we had to remind her of the use of donor sperm, she asked me to lie flat on my back while she prodded my tummy with some midwifery device. And there it was, a heartbeat, inside me, that wasn’t my heartbeat. Suddenly I felt an amazing sense of relief – until now, no one else had offered any confirmation that I was actually pregnant. I’d done the test myself and then felt sick. People just believe you, but what if it had all been in my head? Anyway, it wasn’t – there was something inside me that wasn’t me. Something alive, and in a week’s time at the scan, we’d get the further confirmation – that this creature was a baby.

Article: 5th May 2013 by Lindsey, West Yorkshire

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