Thursday, 11 September 2014

Hyperemesis gravidarum and the royal baby - A time of mixed emotions

I was delighted to hear the news that the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge are expecting their second child.  However, for me, the good news was tinged with feelings of sadness. I can't help but feel extremely sorry for the Duchess as she is again suffering from the awful and debilitating illness, hyperemesis gravidarum.

Hyperemesis gravidarum (HG) is a severe form of pregnancy sickness involving constant and unrelenting nausea and vomiting. Women lose a considerable amount of weight (in some cases this can be as much as 10% of the woman's pre-pregnancy weight), they become dehydrated and frequently require IV fluids in hospital. HG renders sufferers too ill to carry out simple daily tasks and they are often bed- or house-bound for months on end. This leads to an overwhelming feeling of isolation which can result in depression.  A second or subsequent pregnancy brings with it additional feelings of distress and guilt at not being able to care for older siblings. HG is not confined to the first trimester and can last for the full nine months.

As news of the royal pregnancy broke, upsetting memories of my own pregnancies came flooding back to me.  But at the same time, I felt excitement. I was excited that this little-known and often misunderstood condition, and the charity for which I am a trustee, Pregnancy Sickness Support, would get much-needed publicity as a result of the sudden media interest in the Duchess's illness.

On Monday afternoon two of my colleagues and friends found themselves on trains heading for London to appear on national television the following morning talking about HG. How amazing is that! Fellow trustee, Caitlin Dean (aka Spewing Mummy) appeared on This Morning and Amanda Shortman (from the Family Patch), who is the charity's volunteer coordinator, sat on the sofa next to Dr Hilary on Good Morning Britain. 

They both did a brilliant job of conveying what a truly awful illness HG is, dispelling some of the myths about the condition (e.g. that ginger will not help a woman who cannot keep down even the tiniest sips of water!!!) and highlighting that support is available through the charity.  Frankly, having co-written a book on HG, they both know a heck of a lot more about the condition than the medical experts they were sitting next to! They were fantastic ambassadors for the charity and for all those women who are suffering or have suffered in the past and I felt hugely proud of them.

So, it has been a very busy and exciting couple of days for the charity. OK, the media may not always get the facts right and many are (frustratingly and incorrectly) still intent on referring to it as "acute morning sickness" or even "super sickness" rather than giving it its proper name, hyperemesis gravidarum.  But at least the condition has been brought into the public eye and is being talked about. For me that can only be a good thing. We are already seeing the results as women have joined the charity's online support forum having seen the television coverage. 

But let's not forget that the reason for all the media attention is that there is a very poorly woman, probably with a drip in her arm, lying in bed with a vomit bowl by her side or her head in the toilet. A Duchess she may be but she will be suffering just like anyone else with HG. I am sure she has plenty of support and is getting the best care and treatment available but this does not change the fact that she is likely to be feeling extremely ill, thoroughly miserable and possibly even frightened at what the next 8 or so months have in store. Coupled with this, she may be overwhelmed with guilt that she is unable to look after Prince George. My heart goes out to the Duchess as it would to any sufferer and I would like to wish her well at this challenging time.  

If you are struggling to cope with HG or pregnancy sickness and would like to talk to someone, you can contact the charity in a number of ways:

Helpline: 024 7638 2020
Online forum:
You can also find the charity on Facebook and Twitter.

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