This condition did not only affect me and incapacitate me as a wife, mother and human being – my iman suffered heavily. There were days I just wanted to give up. I felt like I had no energy left in me to fight another day.
As soon as I returned home from performing Hajj with my husband in 2009, I fell sick with what felt like food poisoning. I couldn’t seem to keep anything down, not even water. This went on for several weeks. For food poisoning or a virus to last so long would be very unusual, so one of my friends suggested I take a pregnancy test. It came back positive.
I booked an appointment with my doctor, with my most major concern being the persistent vomiting. Most days I could heave up to 40 times. Whenever I ate a single bite of food or sipped some water, 30 seconds later I would have my head over a bucket. I was told it was morning sickness and it would soon pass; my complaints were dismissed as me being extra precious over being pregnant and was expected to ‘get over it’ like other pregnant women do.
So on doctors orders and with the lack of sympathy from other mothers I knew, several months passed by without the symptoms easing. I began to lose so much weight elsewhere on my body despite my growing bump. I looked as though I was expecting twins though I was now lighter than my pre-pregnancy weight! This really put into context that it is Allah (SWT) who provides for a baby – I hadn’t eaten in months and yet my baby was measuring above average and was expected to be a big 4kg baby at birth!
Dehydration and just simply being so malnourished was taking its toll on me. My husband insisted on returning to the doctors and rushed me to A&E numerous times as I could no longer power my legs to walk nor raise my head. However, even though I felt like I was at death’s door, I was not seen as a priority and dismissed by all medical professionals. I was sent home without treatment, feeling like I wasn’t going to make it.
Alhamdulillah, I did make it, and after nine months of debilitating sickness, I gave birth to my beloved son Taha Raheem in January 2010. The experience of this sickness had worn me down so much that it took months for me to recover from its effects, let alone the birth and caring for a newborn – it is for this reason I delayed trying for another child for many years. The malnourishment caused my ligaments to weaken so much that my joints and fingers would dislocate whenever I tried to lift something heavy, including my son. And further to that, my hair fell out in clumps. I was just too scared to be bedridden again with a young child to care for without family from both my husband’s and my side to pick up the slack if it happened again.
After my son had begun school at the age of four and I had passed my driving test, I felt like it was now time to expand our family. With the encouragement and compassion of my husband, we said Bismillah and hoped that this time I wouldn’t be plagued with the same condition.
Masha Allah, after noticing my usual cycle was late, I took a pregnancy test and was overjoyed to see it was positive! And I had no sickness whatsoever – alhamdulillah. I went for an early scan at seven weeks and the results looked good. I asked the nurses about my lack of nausea, and I was told to count myself lucky. However, I had spoken too soon. As soon as I reached home from the hospital, the vomiting started and it was worse than with the first pregnancy. I was utterly heartbroken.
Instantly I knew it wasn’t ‘just morning sickness’, and after consulting with my doctors and the hospital, I was diagnosed with the little known pregnancy complication called ‘hyperemesis’. This is a condition only recently brought into the public consciousness because Kate Middleton, the Duchess of Cambridge, suffered from it with both her pregnancies. Thanks to her and the publicity she got for her hyperemesis, hospitals and doctors have started to take a more sympathetic view of this debilitating condition – and within 40 minutes of being referred to hospital, I was put on IV fluids and given anti-sickness medication.
Hyperemesis is not even described in medical journals as acute morning sickness because it is in a league of its own. It is diagnosed by the symptoms of persistent vomiting, substantial and sudden weight loss and the high presence of ketones in the urine (a sign of severe dehydration and starvation where the body starts to convert fat stores into energy to fuel the body) – my diagnosis was on the extreme side of the spectrum.
Many women who suffer this condition describe feeling like they are dying. And there is truth behind that statement. This condition affects just over 1% of all pregnancies and its only known cure is to terminate the pregnancy. Women and babies have died from this condition – making the matter far too serious to be brushed off as mere morning sickness. There were days that I felt like I was slipping away – upon which my husband would immediately take me to hospital for swift treatment. We made these trips every few weeks – grinding our whole world to a halt.
And this condition did not only affect me and incapacitate me as a wife, mother and human being – my iman suffered heavily. There were days I just wanted to give up. I felt like I had no energy left in me to fight another day. But both my husband and son were by my side, trying their best to replace my negative thoughts and despair with positive affirmations and hope.
This condition was a family affair – my husband, despite working full-time, became my full-time carer and practically a single father overnight. Only by the grace of Allah (SWT), my son’s school was near my husband’s office and so he could take over the school runs. But the condition’s effects went beyond just having an impact on the family – it felt like the entire village was raising my son whilst I couldn’t even get out of bed. Several mothers of my son’s classmates would take Taha home with them on the days my husband wasn’t able to finish work by hometime.
As soon as he would collect Taha, he would bring him home to make and eat dinner that he had to quickly rustle up since I was unable to tolerate the smell, let alone sight of food. Then he would have to help my son with his homework, shower him and get him to bed. He had to take over all the domestic chores of cooking, cleaning, laundry as well as all our son’s childcare needs, along with working full-time and caring for me too.
The most astounding thing for me was that he did all this without ever complaining once about his sudden tripling of workload. In fact, I saw him adapt and reorganise his and our son’s routines to cope with all these new demands, often sacrificing his sleep at night to work so he could free up his daytime for me and our son. I would find him power napping on the sofa, exhausted, only to wake up an hour later to prepare for his teaching the next morning. He showed me what true patience looked like and how sincere and merciful love could be between husband and wife.
The hyperemesis in the second pregnancy was harsher and more severe than the first but alhamdulillah, it finished earlier at seven months, and this time I was able to seek treatment with the help of the strongest anti-sickness medication doctors are allowed to prescribe and IV fluids for when I became dehydrated. I am a second time survivor of hyperemesis, and I do not use that word lightly; fellow survivors will know what I mean – it really is a case of survival.
I must admit, despite being encouraged to have more children, I am reluctant to put my body through the strains of hyperemesis again, especially with two young children to care for, and I for one am getting weaker with age. However, despite the doom and gloom of this condition, I can’t deny the blessing that came with it. This condition put not only my iman to the test but also my relationships with loved ones, both family and friends.
This condition helped my son to become even more independent and self-reliant and also more caring and compassionate of his sick mother. It helped my husband and son strengthen their father and son bond through their new routine together. It helped show me what a blessing I was given in my husband, who selflessly supported me through the most testing times of my life and took over all my responsibilities on top of his own for several months without a groan of discontentment. In fact, I found myself making more du’a than usual for all those who helped me as my only way of giving thanks from my sickbed. I also found myself, when alone staring at the same four walls of my bedroom, reflecting on my relationship with Allah (SWT). I learned to see how this condition was actually a blessing in disguise all along, alhamdulillah.
Shabana Diouri is an aspiring writer and poet with a strong affinity towards the issues of women in Islam and spiritual needs of the heart. She is a qualified economist and statistician whose career began in Whitehall. Currently, she spends her time in Edinburgh as a freelance writer and engages in outreach work with the University of Edinburgh to encourage a deeper understanding of Islam and Muslim culture. She currently manages ‘Muslimah Uninterrupted’, her personal blog: http://muslimahuninterrupted.wordpress.