After being out of the workplace raising a family of three boys for nearly 5 and a half years, in part because of excessive childcare costs, I had plucked up the courage and determination to return to work. Being what i consider a young mother at 25 and having had such a long absence from work I knew that I would have to go back in at entry level, and work my way up the proverbial career ladder and was prepared to do as much. I was literally elated to be successful in getting one of the first jobs that I had applied for in a local council. in a department that would give me great opportunities in the future working towards my planned career goals.
My first and second probationary reviews flew by with no concerns from my management, and I felt I had settled well into the team. Personally it was a huge adjustment for me, finding my place in the world again as both a working woman, and a mother, amongst my other labels. I greatly admired those that I worked with and was determined to prove my worth on the team and begin carving out a career for myself.
Nearly four months into my job, I discovered that I was pregnant. It was very much unplanned, and with 3 small children (including twins) and having a generally low household income, I was beyond anxious. I had not been thinking of expanding my family, and how would work react to me being pregnant so soon after getting the job, how would it affect finances long-term, could my career plans withstand this? All these questions plus many more became a source of constant worry. However I decided that I would tell my bosses straight away about my pregnancy, so as to not keep anything hidden and so that they were aware of my situation I guess. To a lesser degree I let them know that there was stress involved, because of the size of my family and because there had recently been some relational issues between myself and my partner. I somewhat foolishly also said that ‘it would all be fine, that I could handle this and after all pregnancy was not an illness’.
A few days after uttering those words I was struck by my first bout of sickness, after being out with a friend for the day towards the end of the day I had a slight queasy feeling, I felt exhausted and blamed myself for not having kept well enough hydrated on one of the hottest days of the summer. However by that evening I found myself being uncontrollably sick and unbeknownst to me this was to mark the beginning of a hellish journey into the abyss of Hyperemesis Gravidarum, a severe form of nausea and vomiting in pregnancy. I had a brief hospitalisation as a result and returned home for what was to be weeks of severe physical and mental torture. A quick search of this condition will point you to the fact that this is a soul destroying condition that frequently leaves women bed bound, isolated and in some cases resulting in terminations of much wanted pregnancies. I wont labour on the fine details of what I went through, what I will say though is that this condition borne out of my pregnancy led to a staggering decline in my mental health as well as my physical health. i suffered from a great deal of anxiety and depression two conditions which by themselves can be debilitating and cause people to act without reason.
During this time I did act without reason, I was unable to leave my bedroom let alone the house, and did not want to speak to anyone. i felt entirely alone in this, and felt sure that no one would understand, besides the sheer exhaustion I felt warranted me not making contact with anyone. Besides all that I was having horrible and intrusive thoughts, suicide, termination, I thought i was going mad, and did not know how to cope minute to minute with the possibility of facing this sickness possibly for 9 months.
I missed four deadlines to call the work sickness line to notify them of my condition, although they were eventually informed, many times immediately after the overdue deadline, i could not face calling my manager, I felt so much guilt already, and she had mentioned to me that she thought I need to get myself ‘mentally’ better, this in itself added to my panic and anxiety because of the stigma around mental health I was scared to give away the game about how horrific things actually were. I text her a few times but not consistently.
After finally getting treatment that began to help, I began to entertain going back to work, I still felt very unwell, but guilt drove me back. On return to work interview I learned that I would face a disciplinary hearing for failure to comply correctly with the council’s sickness and absence procedure. it was here and coming out of the otherside of the awful HG that I felt confident enough to start confiding in my Manager about how ‘difficult’ my situation had been, over several meetings with her I told her how in hindsight it might have seemed easy to pick up the phone, but that in reality it was not possible. If you have suffered with anxiety or depression or indeed HG or seen it in action you may recognise that. We spoke about moving forwards and seeking help through counselling and occupational health, and I felt positive that although I had been through this traumatic time from a severe complication of pregnancy it would be recognised that I did not have complete agency over my actions.
On the day of my hearing I quickly realised that this would not be the case. The Head of Department was quick to dismiss HG as just being ‘morning sickness’ in layman’s terms it shows his complete lack of understanding and sensitivity, from the outset. He repeated to me several times that this was ‘nothing’ to do with pregnancy, whilst on the contrary I believe it has ‘everything’ to do with my pregnancy. I would not have been in this physical or mental state if I had not been dealing with a pregnancy related issue. The hearing resulted in my termination. I am devastated to say the least, that an organisation like that which I worked for that deals with issues of public health would be so ignorant and so dismissive about the impact that pregnancy and pregnancy related illness can have on mental health. And in turn how this can affect a person’s ability to function. Rather than choosing to educate themselves and to support a member of staff whose work they had found no fault with, they were quick to throw me on the rubbish heap, when I was at my most vulnerable. I wont get another job now before the baby comes as I am showing, and I will be left to further fret and continue my anxieties.