Stop expecting women to suffer

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I was chatting to a co-worker yesterday about morning sickness and hyperemesis. She’s had two kids and suffered with both of hers. She mentioned how she felt dismissed a lot of the time because the baby was healthy. This really struck a chord with me because I had very similar experiences. When I was at my worst with HG, I would often have conversations – with health care people and just people generally – that went something like this:

Me: I can’t eat, am losing weight, throwing up 24/7. I’m really suffering.
Them: Oh, but I’ve heard that severe morning sickness doesn’t affect the baby.

GREAT?! I mean obviously I’m really happy that HG hasn’t affected my baby. But, since becoming pregnant, I haven’t been reduced to just a vessel to house my baby. I’m still a fully functioning, adult human being and, when I was suffering, it was simply not enough to be told I should be grateful that my baby wasn’t.

To be clear: I would not have minded the comments if I had felt that the same level of care/concern was being given to me also. But I didn’t feel that way at all. I felt as though I should suck it up and stop being such a wimp. Why? Because of this idea that suffering from morning sickness is NATURAL.

I’m actually beginning to really dislike the word ‘natural’ when it comes to pregnancy. There are lots of things in this world that are natural but are also really shit. Cancer, viruses, tsunamis. That doesn’t mean we go “OH HEY THIS IS NATURAL, JUST DEAL WITH IT”. Yet this is what we do with extreme morning sickness. There are drugs that are totally safe to take for HG yet the stigma around pregnant women taking medication is still really pervasive (at my first attempt at getting medication, the comment “Have you not heard of thalidomide?” was dropped). The general consensus appears to be that women should just suffer through it because pregnancy is natural ergo everything related to pregnancy is natural, so JUST DEAL WITH IT, WHINING WOMEN. People get so (hypocritically) worked up about pregnant women doing anything that could potentially harm their unborn baby. But women have the right to not be harmed either. I have the right to be able to continue living my life without having to stop everything for two months of it so I can vomit constantly, be unable to eat or walk around and lose 10kg. “It usually only lasts till 12 weeks” is not a reasonable response. It shouldn’t be happening at all.

No one knows why morning sickness occurs. We should know why. More research is needed but it doesn’t happen because people are too shit scared of sounding like they don’t mind putting babies’ lives at risk. And, obviously, I’m not advocating that – but what I am advocating is remembering that, for every baby, there is a mother there too who needs support and has the right to not suffer. If you think I’m exaggerating then have a read of this report by Pregnancy Sickness Support and BPAS suggesting that around 15-20% of women with HG terminate their pregnancies. This is completely catastrophic. No woman should have to terminate a wanted pregnancy because they feel so unsupported and alone in their suffering that they cannot continue.

This mindset toward pregnant women affects everything, I’m just using HG as an example because it’s relevant to me right now. But what about giving birth? Or breastfeeding? Women are pressured to continue breastfeeding not matter what – even if they’re bleeding and in terrible pain and their babies are losing weight. Of course, breastfeeding is the best course of action (duh) but only if it’s working. If it’s not working then it should be completely acceptable to explore other options that DO work for mum and baby without mum being made to feel like she’s not putting baby first. And it’s up to each woman to decide what works and what doesn’t, and damn all the haters.

There needs to be a sea change in our approach to pregnancy as the pendulum has swung too far away from supporting women. There is something inherently, nastily sexist about this – as if women’s lives are more expendable and we should be expected to suffer more. If there was a condition that affected men as commonly as it did women (HG affects around 1-3% of pregnancies – that’s at least 10,000 women every year in the UK), there would be far, far more support in place. And no man would be made to feel guilty for simply not wanting to suffer. I’m not sure how to effect this change but it needs to happen yesterday.

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