Possibly the strangest pregnancy symptom...
Much to CD’s happiness I was mute for the first 22 weeks of my pregnancy!
For the first 6 weeks, I felt good. For some reason, I thought this would continue until the end; but I had no such luck. It was the same feeling I felt when I had just come into work on a Monday morning and my bleep hadn’t gone off for a few hours.
During those 6 weeks, I actually felt normal. I had a spring in my step and a constant smile plastered to my face at work. I had a special secret and I was excited for the journey ahead.
Shortly after then, the nausea and vomiting kicked in and I was determined not to let it affect me. The vomiting became more and more frequent until I was diagnosed with Hyperemesis. I refused to be admitted into hospital however. As a result, I had to alter my working methods.
Ward rounds would take place with several breaks in between where I would have to ‘go to the toilet’ almost every hour. In order to combat my nausea, I aimed to eat crackers throughout the day and would often be chewing while examining patients. Patients must have thought I was extremeIy unprofessional during this time but they didn’t realize that it was either chewing food in front of them, or they would end up wearing my vomit!
Cardiac arrests were almost impossible to manage, I would quickly ask a colleague to take over chest compressions while I ran round the corner, vomited into a plastic bag, disposed of it and then returned to the emergency. Oh and also shouting instructions to electrically shock a patient with a mouth full of crackers was also one of my ‘highlights’.
No one knew my secret around this time but many colleagues would comment on my pale and gaunt-looking face. Around 8 weeks into my pregnancy, I was on three different anti-sickness tablets, three times a day. I was vomiting around 12 times a day.
The peak of this illness was at 10 weeks, but I noticed that in between vomiting spells, my mouth would accumulate saliva. Within 5 seconds, my entire mouth would be full of spit. As soon as I spit it out, it would fill up again in seconds. It became constant. Nibbling on biscuits or crackers gave me temporary relief but as soon as I stopped, it would start again. I couldn’t possibly continue eating 24hours a day! I would vomit, and straight after, my mouth would be full from saliva again.
I became very weak and began not being able to physically get out of bed to go to work. Vomiting, nausea, a mouth full of saliva and guilt were what I dealt with for the first part of my pregnancy. When I did manage to go to work, I couldn’t speak to my patients. My mouth would fill up instantly. Swallowing the saliva, although disgusting, made me wretch even more. I had to do it when I was seeing patients as there was no alternative.
From research, I came to learn that the term for this hypersalivation was called ptyalism. There were very few articles regarding this problem in pregnancy, all seemed to mention a lot of saliva in the context of nausea and vomiting. This is not what I experienced. My symptoms were entirely unrelated to vomiting. I baffled midwives during my antenatal appointments when I spoke to them regarding my symptom. It was brushed under the carpet too often and I was told that whatever it was, should go away soon. No one could tell me how soon though.
At home, the carpet was barely visible due to the copious amounts of spit-containing tissue that I had ‘put aside’. For some reason, the vomiting was bearable but this was crippling. I soon got signed off from work and that’s when I truly began to feel helpless.
I was now at home, alone, unable to speak, spitting every few minutes into a tissue and trying to watch television. If I slept, I would have to use a towel to cover the pillow. It was continuous day and night.
When CD would come home from work, my highlight of the day, I would beg him to tell me about his day. I was desperate to feel normal again. My mouth would be full continuously, it looked as if I had forced too much food in my mouth. If I wanted to speak to CD, I would have to spit out my saliva, quickly say what I needed to, and then finish my sentence.
After a few minutes of this, I would get fed up and ask him to just keep talking so that I could listen as I could no longer have a conversation with him. Our evenings were quiet. He was too tired to keep talking to me to ‘entertain’ me but that was all I looked forward to all day. He just wanted to relax and wind down but felt guilty so forced himself to talk to me about anything. That was our relationship for the first 4 months.
He would never admit that he was exhausted from looking after me but I knew that he was. I felt more and more useless and quickly became very very depressed. Those weeks were dark. I resented my pregnancy, never had the chance to bond with my growing baby, nor reflect on the change that was about to happen in our lives.
I was embarrassed to go and visit my friends with this symptom so kept communication to a minimum and only via text messages. My family were busy with their lives and although they were there for me, I didn’t want them to feel bad for me.
At 18 weeks, I noticed that my vomiting was settling. I only vomited 3 times a day by then but I still couldn’t go back to work. Everything I did, needed me to be able to speak!!! The amount of saliva I was producing did not change. At 22 weeks, the first thing I noticed was that I could speak a little more. In the evenings, I was able to have a conversation with CD without spitting into a tissue every few minutes. I was so grateful for this opportunity and he noticed instantly that my mood was better.
Soon, all symptoms had settled and I was able to return to work. It was what I was looking forward to the most. By then, my colleagues knew I was pregnant and all the work started flooding in again and I was doing my night shifts, long days and weekends.
I was so relieved and grateful that the hypersalivation had disappeared; CD was also over the moon. Only he knew how it affected me.
A few months later, my beautiful daughter Alyvia was born. Five and a half months following this, I fell pregnant again and was terrified of having hypersalivation. The nausea and vomiting returned but luckily that’s all I had to deal with.
When I discuss my symptoms with others, 2 years on, it is still somewhat of a mystery as to why I experienced what I did. It is not a common symptom in pregnancy and I felt I had no support and no information. There is a lot more available now.
If anyone who is reading this has experienced extreme ptyalism during their pregnancy, I would love to hear from you. The advice I can give you is to hang in there, surround yourself with people you love and remember that it won’t last forever.
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