If you search social media on any given day for ‘morning sickness’, you’ll likely find some poor soul shouting into a void: ‘Why the hell is it called morning sickness? I feel sick every minute of the day and can’t stop puking’.
It’s not an original observation: morning sickness doesn’t just happen in the morning. It can strike at any time of day. In fact the majority of women suffering from pregnancy sickness find their symptoms are not confined to the morning. However, until you discover this for yourself or someone close to you suffers from it, who can blame you for taking words at face value?
But why do we persist in using a term which is wrong and inaccurate? I’ve founded the ‘Not Morning Sickness’ campaign, together with journalist and campaigner Charlotte Howden, to call an end to this farrago. We’re asking people to stop saying ‘morning sickness’ and to call it ‘pregnancy sickness’ instead.
I suffered from pregnancy sickness in both of my pregnancies, a perpetual nausea that lasted for around 3 months. It was like bad seasickness, but I was trapped on the boat with no land in sight. It was debilitating and it made me miserable. The first time around I lay in bed, too ill to work, read, write, or even listen to podcasts. I was just willing each day to be over. The second time around I had my toddler to look after, but the poor chap mainly looked after me. If he saw me without my sick bowl, he’d bring it to me. I carried it as I shuffled between rooms. Any movement could make me retch.
I shudder when I remember those dark days. And yet I didn’t have it as bad as many. Some women have those symptoms for their entire pregnancy. Some women, like the Duchess of Cambridge, and my fellow campaigner Charlotte, are diagnosed with Hyperemesis Gravidarum - the most extreme form of pregnancy sickness, which can be life-threatening.
Still, when I was lying under my duvet, tasting bile, I swore that when I felt better, I would work to get rid of the phrase ‘morning sickness’, which minimises the condition. The term misleads those around us to assume that pregnancy sickness is a minor inconvenience confined to the morning. One of my friends was gravely ill around-the-clock during her pregnancy and her boss, trying to be understanding, said ‘Don’t worry, just come in later each day’. She left me tearful voice-notes to share her frustration.
It doesn’t have to be like this. France, Sweden, Spain, and Italy all use the terms ‘pregnancy nausea’ or ‘pregnancy sickness’, with no limiting time attached. So, how can we make this happen in the UK? We’re asking health professionals, the media, brands, and the public to pledge to change their language.
Hollie McNish, the brilliant author of ‘Nobody Told Me’, has led the charge tweeting, ‘I hereby pledge that I will no longer say “morning sickness” because it's a ridiculous phrase and I was sick all fu**ing day for months. Love this campaign @notmorningsick’. You can count on a poet to speak the truth.
Joeli Brearley, the founder of Pregnant Then Screwed, is also behind our campaign. ‘Anyone who has experienced debilitating pregnancy sickness can’t help but surely feel enraged by how the term “morning sickness” trivialises the absolute hellish experience of incessantly vomiting your guts up. Not to mention the fact that it’s entirely inaccurate. If we all just start saying pregnancy sickness and correcting people when they say morning sickness, I reckon we could wipe out the term within a few years. Are you in?’
We’re also keen to effect this change in the NHS. We would love to see GPs, midwives and all NHS literature move away from using ‘morning sickness’. Fortunately, the Chief Midwifery Officer Professor Jacqueline Dunkley-Bent has already pledged her support and we hope many more medical professionals will follow suit.
We’d also like to see any retailers and brands who market products to pregnant women change their language on this. Flo, the company behind the famous period-tracker app, have already pledged to stop using ‘morning sickness’ because it trivialises the condition.
We’ve also seen our first MP come out in support of our campaign. Putney MP Fleur Anderson tweeted, ‘I fully support this campaign to stop use of “morning sickness” and say “pregnancy sickness”. I was sick all day, everyday, through every pregnancy. This change will make a huge difference in understanding, support and expectations.’
People power can change the world, so it can certainly change a word. If you’ve experienced pregnancy sickness, please share your story online (and with friends and family), pledge to change your language, share why it matters to you and ask others to join you.
For those who still ask, ‘why change it?’ I say, why not? Language is constantly evolving and changing. ‘Morning sickness’ hasn’t been with us forever. It seemed to creep into common parlance around the mid-1800s. Before that, it was referred by its medical name: nausea and vomiting in pregnancy. Why are we allowing women to be gaslighted by a term from the mid-nineteenth century? We don’t need to put up with it anymore. Time’s up for morning sickness.
Not Morning Sickness campaign @not.morningsickness @notmorningsick