I’m not a Duchess and I don’t have to contend with hordes of paparazzi when I step out of the house, but there are a few levellers in this world and the Duchess of Cambridge knows all about it this week.
Catherine, also known as Kate, is arguably one of the most beautiful and privileged women on the planet who hasn’t a real care in the world. She has been jetting around the world with new hubbie Prince William on royal engagements, stopping off for sun-soaked breaks in paradise islands in what seems to be one never ending luxury honeymoon.
While Wills is off on his RAF sorties, Kate whiles away the hours having her hair perfectly coiffured and generally keeping herself in the style she’s become accustomed to. Everything is going along swimmingly, it’s all looking good and then suddenly Catherine finds herself talking into the big white telephone on an all too regular basis and here’s the great leveller. The Duchess is pregnant – wonderful – but it’s proving far from glamorous.
In fact, she’s laid up, albeit in a five-star hospital, on a drip and boking for all she’s worth. I know exactly how she feels – some of you reading this will know all about it too - and it’s no joke.
No doubt Catherine and William will have been delighted to discover they are with royal child, but if my experience is anything to go by, the penny will only have dropped when the Duchess developed what’s commonly known as morning sickness. In fact it’s much more severe than just nausea and vomiting and it has a big fancy Greek/Latin double-barrelled name - hyperemesis gravidarum – to prove it’s no ordinary pregnancy sickness cured by some tea and toast, a piece of ginger or a copper bracelet.
Like poor Kate, I too was a sufferer of the dreaded condition and ended up some years ago in hospital attached to a drip to try and make me well again.
It’s a truly horrible illness for the following reasons: - firstly it takes away the joy of timing the announcement to family and friends that you are expecting the pitter patter of tiny feet as the only pitter patter is the sound of your feet dragging to the bathroom to vomit into the nearest receptacle. You feel like a complete gack – to coin a colloquialism - that people know you are pregnant mere days after the deed – and you are turning into a gibbering wreck. Just days before being struck down with hyperemesis, Catherine was dashing around a hockey pitch in high heeled boots and a designer tartan coat on an official engagement to her old school. But the gremlins must have been kicking in as the Duchess, who doesn’t exactly have much spare reserves in the body mass index stakes, was starting to suffer.
The second horrible aspect of hyperemesis is the notion that it’s all in your head. One male consultant suggested hypnosis which made me feel I was just neurotic. What woman, for crying out loud, would choose to be as sick as a parrot 24/7? I absolutely love my food and it was total hell being unable to keep a single morsel down.
Well-meaning family and friends rallied around with supplies of beautifully cooked meals to try to tempt my tastebuds, but to no avail. My mother-in-law, an amazing cook, took to making an array of white foods from carrageen moss pudding to baked lemon sole, only for it to be regurgitated from the pit of my stomach.
I couldn’t bear the taste or smell of food – even opening the fridge door was an ordeal; I couldn’t look inside so resorted to closing my eyes while feeling around the shelves for required items. Everyday odours made my stomach heave and I have particularly bad memories of one cosmetic that will forever be associated with hyperemesis central.
I suffered with the condition to varying degrees with all three pregnancies but soldiered on until third time around after a friend took one look at my sorry state and ordered me to seek immediate medical attention. After loping my way into the doctor’s surgery like a wounded animal, a check revealed I was severely dehydrated. Ketosis had kicked in to the extent that my body had started breaking down, weakening me to the point of collapse. The GP packed me off to hospital where I was hooked up to a drip. I thought it would be a two-day job at most but it was nearly three weeks later before I was discharged. I was on that drip so long we were practically in a relationship: I nicknamed it Rover to lighten the mood for my two boys then aged 4 and 7.
I lost count of the number of bags of saline and potassium pumped into my system as the medics set about replacing the nutrients that had been lost from the constant round of vomiting. It is probably a case of TMI – too much information – but you wouldn’t believe the places I was sick into – the wastepaper bin under the desk at work; out the door of the car in a layby off a main road; and during one desperate moment which my two older boys remember, I had to shed the contents of a box of tissues while stuck in rush-hour traffic on the school run.
Believe me, hyperemesis is not self-induced and it’s so utterly debilitating, you feel unable to think about little baby booties, blue or pink; you just want to feel well. I was horrified to read this week that some women have been so ill and depressed they have actually terminated their pregnancies. I do know of women who have not got pregnant again because much as they love being a mum, they could not bear the effects the sickness has not just on themselves, but their partners and other children. So, I can empathise with the Duchess because this illness can strike regardless of status. Now the world is scutinising her more than ever and she may well want to do what I did back in 1998 and hide under the covers when the hospital food came round – smoked haddock is the last thing you want a whiff of when you really need to be leaning over a basin with a kindly friend holding your hair back! I wish her well because she will hopefully look back as I am doing now and thank God for the three healthy strapping sons – or in her case prince or princess - who came to no harm from it all!