Pregnancy Hyperemesis Gravardium with Toddler to Look After

I had bad nausea and vomiting with my first pregnancy, but managed to keep food and water down.

This second pregnancy, I suffered the debilitating symptoms of Hyperemesis Gravardium (HG). They started week 5-6, lasting till week 13-14. I lost 5% body weight and everyday was a struggle with water and food intake. For many hours in the day, I was too sick to move. Vomiting was so frequent that the back of my throat constantly burned.

I was fortunate that my husband was working from home in this pandemic. He could take sporadic breaks to help me out whenever I threw in the towel. He also took a couple of time-offs, but the sickness was prolonged so there were many times I was still on my own to tend to my toddler's needs, including and not limited to meals, toileting, nap/sleep and learning.

Days felt painfully slow. Thankfully, they also seemed to pass by in a blur. These were the things that helped me survive this miserable phase in a incapacitated state while taking care of my toddler:

1. Adjusting Expectations and Being Kind to Self

Take care of yourself first: At the height of pregnancy hormones, mom guilt hit. I was constantly fatigued and there were times when all I wanted was to sleep, and at times I even felt resentment about having to stay awake to tend to Miss 3 (especially when she skipped naps). I felt bad about just being there, but not present.

Thinking kind thoughts helped my mental state:

  • "This pregnancy is new to me and it is difficult as hell. It is perfectly okay for me to put my needs first."
  • "I'm doing the best I can. My toddler is in my company, she's safe, and that's good enough."

A clean, organised house can wait: There was mess everywhere and I couldn't take care of myself, let alone the house! While my husband helped with the most basic sanitation, organisation wasn't his strongest suit. We ended up with lots of clutter (unreturned things) and a backlog of laundry and dishes.

Thinking kind thoughts helped my mental state:

  • "We wouldn't live in filth forever. I've got to focus on my self-recovery."
  • "It's okay to let certain things go. This is one of them."

Meals don't have to be home-cooked: I've always been quite particular about what Miss 3 eats, ensuring balanced meals and healthier choices whenever possible. During my sickness, I had an extremely heightened sense of smell. I grew really averse to the smell of cooking. We ended up doing take-outs everyday. I felt really bad about compromising the nutritional value of Miss 3's meals.

Thinking kind thoughts helped my mental state:

  • "While home-cooked food is most ideal, we could always opt for "healthier" take-out food like sandwiches, salads and sushi."
  • "Less clean meals can be supplemented with fresh fruits etc."

When I could tolerate smells better, my husband would prepare meals and cook in the backyard with a portable gas stove. A little of the smell still drifted into the house, but it was more manageable.

Screen time isn't evil: We don't have television and Miss 3 hardly had any screen time prior to this. However now that I'm feeling so sick, I didn't have the patience or energy to seek her cooperation for tasks like toileting, hand washing and teeth brushing. Screen time became my temporary solution.

Thinking kind thoughts helped my mental state:

  • "This is a stop-gap measure. It gets things done and I don't have to rely on screen time forever."
  • "I can still Montessori and allow screen time."

2. Growing Miss 3's Understanding & Empathy

Miss 3 was astute and sensed the changes to my mind and body early on. She hated to see me retch and vomit. She would physically restrain me whenever I told her I needed a moment to puke. I think it was because she could tell I was uncomfortable and sick, but didn't understand what was "wrong" with me.

After reading her books about pregnancy, childbirth and new siblings, she developed a greater sense of understanding to my plight. She understood that I was vomiting because it was a natural reaction to the elevated hormonal levels in my body. It was like a switch flipped on. She not only became empathetic, she would pat my back and accompany me on my vomiting episodes to the bathroom, concoct pretend "medicine" for me and express interest in the growing baby in my belly.

3. Reading for Quality Time & Bonding

Moving around made me nauseous so I could no longer participate in games or physical activities. I created simple reading "nooks" in different spaces around the house. The "nook" comprises a book basket and a comfortable floor cushion or bean bag. Whenever Miss 3 craved time with me, I would invite her to bring a book over and read to her.

Reading was not without conscious effort and mild discomfort (I had excessive salivation and a perpetual metallic taste in my mouth that made reading somewhat unpleasant), but it was still doable, and I cherished the quality time and bonding moments it brought.

During this period, we went through Miss 3's Chinese reader books at the fastest rate we've ever gone. This might explain her sudden interest and skills in reading and writing Chinese characters.

4. Independent Activities (With Me Sitervising)

Sitervising is a term coined by Susie of Busy Toddler, which means sitting to watch over the children as they play independently.

These were low-prep activities that yielded the longest and most focused independent play:

  • Embroidery (inspired by How We Montessori)

  • Scratch art drawing/writing (idea from Chalk Academy)

  • Water play in the bathtub (Marker drawing on walls / Toy kitchen toys for pouring etc / Testing objects on whether they'll sink or float / Providing a small cup of milk and natural food dyes to change color of the water / Bubble bath)

5. "Life-saving" Caddy

After much trial and error, I found little "life-saving" items that helped the most with my discomfort. They didn't take away the sickness, but could temporarily alleviate the unpleasantness. It helped psychologically too, having these support items around me at all times.

My "life-savers" were hot ginger tea, mints and avocado. I didn't have the energy to fetch these items from the kitchen every now and then, so I packed them into a caddy which I could bring with me around the house. My caddy was a paper bag with a thermal flask for ginger tea and a small food container with avocado (leaving the seed in prevents discoloration of the flesh around it).

6. Recognising Toxic Positivity

Because HG is uncommon, most people can't relate to how dire it feels. I know this because even my mom couldn't. The only person who made me feel understood and gave me the support I needed turned out to be a newly befriended friend on Instagram. Thanks A, if you're reading this!

If you receive these toxic positivity comments:

  • "Mind over body."
  • "Think of how lucky you are to be pregnant."
  • "It's all for your baby. You shouldn't complain."
  • "It'll be over soon." (During the worst of HG, I couldn't see the light at the end of the tunnel, so giving arbitrary hope may be meaningless and instead anxiety-inducing)

(or anything along the lines of "suck it up")

Tell the person you'll appreciate these instead:

  • "I'm sorry you're feeling so sick. Is there anything I can do for you?"
  • Acts of service (Child-minding while you get medical help, getting groceries for the house, help with errands and household chores etc)
  • Prayers

HG was one of the darkest periods of my life when I couldn't function as a human and my mental state was in shambles. I'm fortunate that I've left the worst of it behind me at week 14 (just experiencing mild, tolerable bouts of nausea since.)

If you're trying to survive HG with a toddler to look after, I feel you. I see you. I am here for you (Instagram DM). Sending you love and thoughts of recovery!

Follow our journey on Instagram, Pinterest or Facebook Group.

Pregnancy Hyperemesis Gravardium with Toddler to Look After

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Hi! I am Yunnie. I am the newly minted mama to a little baby girl and a mum friend to everyone on this special (and many times scary) journey of motherhood. Also a graduated bride with a penchant for weddings.

Hi! Thank you for taking time to read my blog. I am a stay-home Singaporean mama living in Seattle who is passionate about child-led and open-ended play for children in a conducive home environment.

Discovering Montessori and Reggio has been a life-changer for me. It made me an empathetic and mindful parent who follows my child’s needs and interests in the activities I plan at home. I hope the Montessori-friendly and Reggio inspired baby and toddler activities I share here inspire you too.

Happy reading!