I really struggled with this when my wife first got pregnant. We never lived together until we tied the knot, and I had just graduated from college. We were still getting to know each other and figure out how to be married, much less deal with severe morning sickness. Just over a month after our honeymoon I came home to a positive pregnancy test. She was living next to the toilet a few days later.
As I struggled to understand what was happening to my wife, I couldn’t understand her mood swings, lack of energy, and general lack of interest in me! Was this the person I married?
I came to understand a few things. I thought – how would I act if I felt unbearably nauseous 24 hours a day? Would I be my best self? How would I treat others around me if I were constantly throwing up, unable to eat, drink, or stomach anything? I realized I wouldn’t be the best partner either.
Bottom line: Try to give your partner some grace and be a source of strength and understanding. She is still the woman you love; she just doesn’t feel so great.
2. Morning Sickness Doesn’t Last Forever
Most morning sickness resolves itself after the 20th week of pregnancy. Generally symptoms are the worst during week 6 and week 20. However, some women have morning sickness until delivery. Either way, the longest morning sickness will last is 9 months. While 9 months is by no means short, it’s a drop in the bucket in the grand scheme of life. Imagine if it feels long for you, its far worse for the woman. You can do anything for 9 months.
“When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves.” Viktor Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning
Bottom line: It will be over soon. If its tough on you, imagine how tough it is for her.
3. Is God testing you? If you aren’t religious, how can you benefit personally from this battle?
I always took solace in the fact that God would never throw something at me that I couldn’t handle. And when I gained that perspective I further thought about how many people around the world had it so much worse. I had my health, my wife was sick but surviving, and our baby was healthy. I slept safe every night in the greatest country in the world with secure employment and prospects for the future. If you aren’t religious, think about how the challenge facing you is an opportunity to mature and grow. Don’t feel sorry for yourself or for your wife, its not productive – be positive and move forward.
Bottom line: You are enduring this hardship for a reason. Don’t let it be for naught -try to improve mentally and spiritually in the process.
4. You need to be your partner’s biggest advocate
You partner is going to feel horrible at times. My wife famously said she would have eaten dog poop if it would’ve made her feel better. This gave me perspective on how bad she was really feeling.
Because she isn’t truly herself due to the sickness, you have to fight for her. That means not letting her get pushed around by others – unreasonable family members or friends who talk about how she is just “faking it” or doing it “for attention,” or the Mom who has been pregnant once and is now the “expert” on morning sickness, breast feeding positions, and morning sickness who claims it’s “just morning sickness, deal with it.” Most of all, however, you have to stand up to doctors and medical professionals who might be dismissive of her symptoms. Certainly excellent practitioners exist, and care for morning sickness has improved dramatically in recent years. Still, however, many doctors, nurses, and others in the maternity field of care will underestimate the depths of her sickness.
Because your partner will be inhibited, you have to muster the energy to fight for her. That might mean going to doctors appointments with her, supporting her when no one else understands, and most of all fighting for the care that she needs. If she is experiencing severe morning sickness you need to get aggressive care as quickly as possible – severe dehydration and malnutrition are just around the corner and a number of medical issues could be waiting in the wings if the root problem is not treated quickly enough.
Bottom line: You have to fight for her because she might not be able to.
5. Be careful of “miracle” pharmaceuticals
Every few years a so-called miracle drug hits the market. The drug promises to cure nausea and vomiting without any side effects after it underwent “extensive testing” prior to market approval. Then, reports start rolling in – birth defects, negative repercussions on the mother and long-term consequences that were never market tested.
But isn’t this the same old story? Whether its true or not, Diclegis, Zofran, and others have all been linked to terrible side effects on both the mother and child. Its hard to separate fact from fiction, but the pharmaceutical business is a cash cow. Doctors make money prescribing the drugs and pharmaceutical companies are always searching for the next big product to make their money.
“You would like to think, as a patient, that when you go to a doctor, that doctor is prescribing the safest, most effective and least-expensive drug,” said Dr. Sidney Wolfe, the Director of the Health Research Group of Public Citizen, a consumer-advocacy organization based in Washington, D.C. “That may just not be the case when this doctor has taken a bunch of money from drug companies.”
This is not to discount modern medicine in any way – simply, many times natural and just as effective means exist to combat morning sickness. These are always preferred over drugs whose efficacy, safety, and ethics are questionable at best.
While my wife used Zofran moderately for 3 of her 4 pregnancies, it was always as minimal as possible. If you can find a natural way to fight morning sickness, go for it. Nothing will ever beat natural methods for long-term safety. Our bodies are designed to process natural foods, supplements, and sources from the world around us. Mother Nature is incredible…use her!
Bottom line: If their effectiveness is the same, natural solutions (from food, exercise, and tested dietary supplements) are always better than expensive, possibly dangerous pharmaceutical drugs.
6. Beware of doctors who are dismissive of morning sickness
Up until about a decade ago, many doctors dismissed severe morning sickness like hyperemesis gravidarum as a psychosocial issue. Medicine used to be dominated by males, and as such women were considered the mentally and physically weaker of the two genders. Specifically, doctors believed the severe vomiting and nausea from their female patients was a subconscious desire to terminate the pregnancy or a flat out mental rejection of their pregnancy. Thankfully, a biological etiology has emerged and most doctors and medical professionals are treating morning sickness properly and aggressively, especially hyperemesis gravidarum.
Do not allow her doctors to claim she is over-exaggerating or that her sickness is a “rite of passage.” One of the biggest indignities for a human is to suffer needlessly. Your doctor should be able to recommend best courses of action, support groups, best practices, dietary changes, and more. The answer: “It’s just morning sickness, every woman deals with it. Try some saltines and crackers” is no longer valid.
Bottom line: A lot of doctors think morning sickness is small potatoes. And it is compared to cancer, heart disease, and incurable viruses. But its not a rite of passage and it can lead to serious health problems if untreated.
7. Do what you can to help. She will remember you fighting for her for the rest of your life.
She needs you now more than ever. Before her bout with severe morning sickness the sickest my wife had ever been was with chickenpox. The times where you come home from work early, take care of the kids so she can sleep in, make dinner, clean the house, and everything else will mean a great deal. She might not remember all of them in the fog of her sickness, but she will be grateful when you both reminisce on those tough days after the birth. She will remember that you were there when no one else was. In many ways this tough time will transition her from when she relied on her parents or other sources of support to now relying on you. Give her the assurance that you are up to the task of caring for her and your family.
Bottom line: Be that knight in shining armor she always dreamed about. Fight for her.
8. Let her focus on survival and getting through the day. You focus on everything else.
At the end of the day, the most important thing is your wife’s health and the health of the baby. The more she can focus on those two things the better everything else will be. Its that simple.
Bottom line: Mom and baby come first. Everything else is secondary.
9. Shes not milking it. No one wants to feel this way.
I’m ashamed that this took me a little while to realize. No one wants to be sick, no one wants to throw up, and no one likes to be nauseated. If your wife was up and active and wasn’t a crazy hypochondriac before, she probably isn’t now.
I had to deal with idiot co-workers who claimed my wife was just “faking it,” and said she was vomiting so I could get time away from work or for “attention.” Don’t expect them to understand your situation and don’t expect her friends and family to completely understand either. If you have friends and family who do support you, be thankful.
Bottom line: She doesn’t want to be sick and she’s definitely not faking it.
10. She still wants you physically…just not right now!
Be prepared for sexual relations to…slow down (to put it mildly). My breath made my wife nauseated even after brushing. My skin was too hot. She had to build a pillow fort in between us in bed because of my body odor. Again, this was after showering. She even made me put on a respirator mask. I felt like I was in quarantine. I remember one time after being away for a few days with my work, I came into the house and she named the exact beer I had drank…two days earlier! I could walk in to the house and she could detect my smell down the hallway and in between two doors. She could’ve been used in the airport screening line – her sense of smell was so incredible.
Most frustratingly, however, was her complete lack of desire to be touched in any way, shape, or form. I had to realize that it was the morning sickness that was causing her to reject physical touch. I was still the same person, she was still attracted to me, but physical interactions and close stimulation resulted in an immediate trip to the toilet. You can’t really expect your partner to want you when touching you makes her vomit.
While it was hard to deal with the lack of intimacy (and remained so), it made me much more appreciative of being physical when the morning sickness eventually subsided. Besides, exercising self-control is a valuable experiment for all couples.
Bottom line: Its not you. She still wants you, just not right now. Once the morning sickness is gone you can look back and laugh.
These are ten lessons I really learned the hard way over the past five years. While this is all dependent on the severity of the morning sickness and your personal situation, these are helpful lessons that will hopefully contribute to an improved understanding of morning sickness and how you can best support your partner through these challenging nine months.