'Oh poor Kate', was my first thought on hearing that the Duchess of Cambridge is pregnant. Not because motherhood isn't the wonderful, heart-swelling trip that other mums up-sell to first-timers like her (it is all this and more) but because she currently has Hyperemesis Gravidarum, a condition I also suffered with (and I don't mean to worry her here…) for my entire pregnancy.
At 18 weeks, I wrote a blog on this site (read it here) pleading for friends to stop offering me ginger biscuits having already clocked up 12 weeks of sickness, but tried to put a brave face on it all – I knew only too well how many women desperately want but can't have babies, and felt conscious of 'complaining' about what was ultimately a very fortunate club to belong to (even if at the time it seemed to come with a particularly tough audition process).
So I soldiered on, trying out every old wives' tale or kindly-meant piece of advice, and seeing off sympathy with a chirpy 'well, it might stop tomorrow!', almost as if I could kill it with optimism. If only.
In reality, I couldn't even lift my head off the pillow without feeling a surge of nausea, and felt so weak from hanging on to so little food that I needed to have regular sit-downs whilst getting dressed – in fact, thinking about it, I pretty much perfected getting dressed with only minimal, Pilates-esque muscle movements, as even the smallest movement first thing would set off my stomach.
I was only delaying the inevitable though. Several trips to the bathroom later, I'd psyche myself up for cleaning my teeth, guaranteed to have me doubled over the loo again, and without doubt the worst part of my morning as by now there really was nothing to bring up.
Then I'd hobble downstairs, stuff my handbag with carrier bags, and do the first of many calculations that day – how long have I got before the next episode? How fast can I get to the tube (if pregnant women usually waddle, those with HG shuffle - barely eating and constant puking leaves you feeble and doubled over for much of the time)? And what weird thing might set me off today? (everything from dry skin on a commuter's leg to the word 'sandwich' in an advert could do it).
On one particularly wretched morning, slumped on a bench and shamefully making use of a plastic bag as yet another tube screeched off in to the distance, (and along with it any hope of me being at work before lunchtime), a fellow commuter asked if I was alright.
I managed to squeak that it was 'fine, just morning sickness,' silently begging him not to linger as my stomach lurched again. Two minutes later, looking puzzled, he returned. 'Excuse me again,' he said, looking unnervingly eager to chat just as I was wiping my mouth with my sleeve, 'what does eet mean, zis 'morning sickness' please?'
Once at work, having made use of strategically chosen side alleys and doorways en route (sorry, Armani), I tried not to wonder how I'd cope if I didn't have my own office and the opportunity to close the door and have some 'quiet time' when needed, just my wastepaper basket and me.
Somewhere on the worldwide web is a film from that time of a pale-faced me delivering a 'video editor's letter', (whilst off-camera I made frequent dashes to the loo and swigged Coke from a brown paper bag - not exactly the drink of choice on a health mag but which for a while at least bought me a few precious minutes when I felt a bout of sickness brewing).
And so it would continue all day – attempting to eat something, anything, just to feel a bit stronger, but paying the price if I did. Being told by doctors that I needed to keep my fluids up, but bringing even water up too. Trying not to lose hope when, despite my fears about anti nausea drugs ('unfortunately they haven't really been tested on pregnant women,' one GP helpfully told me), I decided, in desperation, to give them a go only to find that – yep - they won't stay down either.
By 21 weeks, I found myself stranded in my local newsagent – about a three-minute walk from both my house and midwife's clinic. I couldn't go any further. Despite a particularly bad week on the sickness front, and feeling almost scarily weak, I had been trying to get to work, but had literally run out of steam.
Crazy as it sounds, the only way I could imagine getting home was for my husband to leave work (five miles away) and come and pick me up. Somehow I ended up at the clinic, confused and upset. There was talk of an ambulance, and I was admitted to hospital.
I was so dehydrated it took two nurses and five incredibly painful attempts to get the first drip in to my arm. But my main feeling on being there was relief – finally, after three lots of anti nausea drugs, numerous visits to the GP (usually with a valedictory vom on the way out) and a ton of ginger biscuits, it was being acknowledged that this wasn't normal!
So my advice to our Duchess would be – take the rest! Get readmitted again if you're still suffering! Don't soldier on, slightly embarrassed because every pregnant woman you meet seems to have morning sickness (but then often qualifies it with 'well, I haven't actually been sick…').
Hyperemesis is a lonely and draining condition. In my case, it was with me until my little girl was born. She's nearly two now, and I haven't been sick since the moment she was placed on my chest (not one for the photo album, then).
What's desperately needed is more research in to effective remedies for both morning sickness and Hyperemesis. Perhaps we've finally found a high profile patron?