Women open up about struggling at work amid extremely 'hard to manage' pregnancy sickness
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Featured Image Credit: Raakhee Stratton/Tobi Asari
"The first time I was physically sick was on the platform at Charing Cross station, as there aren't any bins on the platform, I was sick in my hands."
Raakhee Stratton is one of millions of working mothers who has had to navigate pregnancy sickness in the workplace, and she's opened up for Tyla's Real Talk series about what it's really like balancing your career with severe sickness.
Spoiler alert - it's really difficult.
Nausea and vomiting, often known as morning sickness, is very common part of pregnancy and can affect sufferers any time of day or night - including during key working hours.
Some employers are 'unbelievably supportive, helpful, kind and compassionate', according to Dr Caitlin Dean, a nurse specialist and spokesperson for Pregnancy Sickness Support UK, but others question 'the legitimacy of the illness'.
The only times she didn't feel nausea was for a tiny window of just 'about 10 minutes after being sick or when [she] was asleep'.
"To be honest," the mum explained, "it made me quite miserable."
She then went on to admit that 'the only thing' that got her out of bed was being able to do a job which she 'absolutely loved'.
However, due to the symptoms of morning sickness - which include vomiting, nausea and dizziness just to name a few - this was something that soon became very difficult, with one particularly traumatic moment involving her throwing up on the platform at Charing Cross station.
Since then, the mum had to learn 'the sensation between feeling sick and going to be sick'.
While her bosses were generally 'really great' about dealing with Raakhee's pregnancy sickness, she still admitted she 'felt like rubbish'.
From needing to 'swiftly leave a meeting' to be sick to navigating the dreaded commute from Kent to London - it's clear that work became a whole lot harder.
But luckily for Raakhee, her employer paid the difference in a train ticket upgrade to cut down her commute to '40 minutes instead of one hour and 20 minutes'.
Speaking of her boss' understanding, she said: "I was so touched he suggested that and I only did it about a dozen times because I didn't want to take advantage of his generosity - it helped so much."
The mum only took time off work for 'midwife checks', explaining: "If I had taken any time off because of how I felt, I think I would have felt worse.
"Doing a job I absolutely loved and working with colleagues I really liked was the motivation for me to push through the sickness and get up in the morning - I appreciate that may not be the case for other expectant mothers."
And another fellow mum had some similar stories.
Tobi Asari, author of The Blend: How to Successfully Manage a Career and a Family and founder of My Bump Pay, an online platform giving women the tools to smash the glass ceiling with a baby on the way and beyond, also told Tyla about her experiences while pregnant at work.
She said: "I prefer the term pregnancy related sickness as I learned the hard way sickness isn’t just limited to the mornings, it can strike at any time of the day and for me it did just that."
Similar to Raakhee, Tobi would 'arrive at the office feeling queasy and possibly having thrown up on [her] way into work'.
Tobi remembers the feeling of 'not being able to keep any food down and the motion of public transport intensifying the nausea'.
One particular commute was a stand-out moment, as she revealed: "Let’s just say that I wish I had multiple sick bags with me that day."
And Tobi's not alone, as she recalled a 'memorable experience' of seeing a fellow soon-to-be mum struggling on a 'busy commuter train into London', and having to use her own handbag as a 'sick bag'.
"Whilst it may seem incredibly graphic, it is for many women the reality of managing pregnancy-related sickness and work," Tobi said.
Tobi's nausea would 'last throughout the day' and, due to this, her employer made some much-needed adjustments to accommodate her.
"I was working adjusted hours which helped massively to be able to commute much earlier in the morning and leave before rush hour, so I continued with this working pattern as well as working from home," she explained.
The mum added that having the option to work from home was a huge help because it helped her to manage her symptoms and deliver on her work.
Because of her employer's flexibility, Tobi was 'fortunate' that she didn’t need to take time off.
"The adjustments made for me really helped me to still meet my day to day objectives and lead my team," she continued.
However, it's clear that not every expecting mother will be as lucky as Raakhee and Tobi.
Dr Caitlin Dean has defined severe cases of pregnancy sickness, also known as hyperemesis gravidarum (HG), a 'condition which is extremely isolating, and depressing, and lonely and miserable, and hard to manage'.
Caitlin told Tyla what women can end up experiencing when it comes to voicing their symptoms in the workplace, saying: "Women experience a lot of gaslighting, being told that it's normal, that they just need to get on with it."
According to the health professional, the symptoms of HG can be 'so severe' at times that 'some women can't even get out of bed', let alone go into work.
She added 'pregnancy is meant to be a protected condition', meaning anything that occurs due to the pregnancy should not be a cause of discrimination .
"However, in practice," she revealed, "that's not the case."
Due to this, Caitlin says: "Women are frequently sacked because they're off sick with pregnancy sickness.
"We have plenty of women who lose their jobs or who are really harassed and harangued into going back to work."
One woman who had a tougher experience with her employers told Tyla: "I wasn’t sacked but I was treated extremely badly and wasn’t understood by my employer."
The woman from Pregnancy Sickness Support UK, who wishes to remain anonymous, explained that when she was able to go back to work, she 'had to push for a risk assessment'.
"I had to eat at certain times, take medications at certain times and I couldn’t work past 7.30pm as my body wouldn’t handle it," she recalled.
The woman 'had to fight' for her problems to be taken seriously, but she ultimately 'did end up leaving' due to how 'hurt' she felt by her employer.
"People in my workplace never understood what I was actually going through," the mum concluded.
In her book, Tobi has outlined some key pieces of advice on how to handle pregnancy sickness at work, from working remotely and avoiding certain sensory triggers, to adapting your commute and keeping a stash of paper bags, tissues and wipes handy just in case.
She advises: "Remember that employers need to make reasonable adjustments to enable you to safely continue your role during your pregnancy.
"Some forms of pregnancy-related sickness are debilitating and if you think you fall into this category, please do not grin and bear it, please seek medical support from your doctor or GP and talk to your HR team to discuss your options.
"Please do not suffer in silence."
Raakhee also echoed Tobi's advice, reassuring those suffering with pregnancy sickness that 'it's OK to not be OK'.
"I really struggled with it and it seriously affected my mental health to a point I think I almost slipped into depression," she disclosed.
The mum also explained the importance of finding people 'you are safe with' and talking about it together.
She continued: "It's OK to moan about it and it was OK to be envious of women who didn't experience the morning sickness the way I did.
"Sometimes I didn't want someone to come up with a solution, I just needed someone to listen."
While Raakhee and Tobi were lucky enough to have support from their employers, Caitlyn has made clear there's still a lot more work to be done.
She resolved: "I think the kind supportive employers, sadly, at the moment are still more the minority than the majority."
If you have been affected by the contents of this article, please find more information and support via Pregnancy Sickness Support UK on their website, or call 024 7638 2020.