I was sat on the bathroom floor, having just been sick, when a BBC news alert buzzed on my phone in my pocket: “The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge Are Expecting Their Third Child.” ‘How the hell are you doing this for a third time, Kate?’ I thought, as I staggered back to bed.
I’m currently 31 weeks pregnant with my second child and, like the Duchess of Cambridge, have suffered from hyperemesis gravidarum (HG) during both of my pregnancies—this is actually the second time she and I have been pregnant at the same time. But, unlike Kate, I won’t be doing this a third time. The condition is just too relentless, and I am literally counting down the days until our baby is in my arms, and I can put this chapter of my life behind me.
When I first had HG back in 2013, it hit me like a train. What I thought was normal morning sickness rapidly descended into being sick 20 times a day and three admissions to the hospital for severe dehydration. Imagine a combination of food poisoning, a terrible hangover, and seasickness all at once—but for months on end rather than a couple of days—and you can start to imagine what women with HG go through.
Back then, the treatment was patchy at best. Doctors were reluctant to prescribe anything too strong, and I had to fight to be admitted to the hospital and be put on a drip. One doctor actually offered me an abortion rather than further treatment. I never spoke to that doctor again—or the one who called me Princess Jo because she thought I was copying Kate.
Thanks to the high-profile royal case of HG and the amazing work of the HER Foundation in the U.S. and Pregnancy Sickness Support in the U.K., things are changing. But with little research into the cause and the unlikely scenario that a cure will ever be found, treatment is all about damage control. HG only stops when you are no longer pregnant.
News of my second diagnosis of HG was met with a varying levels of sympathy. One person commented, “It can’t be that bad if you decided to get pregnant again.”
But the reality is that preparing for a second HG pregnancy took a lot of time, financial planning, and belief that I could get through it. It’s no exaggeration that I knew I would be giving up nine months of my life to be a mother again and to give our son a sibling. With a 75-85% chance of having HG again, I knew I was doomed.
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Sure enough, the sickness and nausea started at 3.5 weeks. Overnight, I went from a busy and energetic mother, juggling freelance work and looking after my son, to being bedridden with a sick bucket constantly next to me. My new GP, horrified at what I went through last time and how quickly I was deteriorating, started me on anti-sickness medication, but it wasn’t enough to stop me from being admitted to hospital at six weeks with severe dehydration. In two weeks, I had lost 8 lbs, and I was discharged from the hospital with a prescription for Ondansetron, which is normally used to prevent nausia and vomitting in chemotherapy patients.
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Fast forward to 31 weeks, and I am relieved to have made it through the hot weather of summer. But there’s been no summer holiday for my family, as I am not well enough to travel. There have been weeks on end when I couldn’t leave the house. I’m still reliant on my anti-sickness medication, and the hospital has become my second home. I have not been able to work because what little energy I do have is saved for my son. I’m hugely reliant on, and eternally grateful for, family stepping in to help when I’ve been too ill to even make it downstairs. And when I finish writing this, I’ll be heading back to bed for a lie down and more medication.
Thanks to HG and the added bonus of gestational diabetes, I’m currently preparing for my baby to be born early. The harsh reality is that I’m simply not well enough and strong enough to get us both to the 40-week finish line. HG has done a number on me physically, and I know from my first pregnancy that I’ll spend the first few months post-partum building up my strength again, getting over food aversions, and paying for expensive dental treatment to repair the damage to my teeth.
The Duchess of Cambridge is probably able to manage the condition differently to me. And perhaps the best medical care and nannies and staff to help take the slightest edge off. But there is definitely no royal glamour about what she, I, and 1% of pregnant women go through. Together, we are all counting down the days until the HG nightmare is over.