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I know how the Duchess feels
Published 17/12/12

I SUFFERED from hyperemesis gravidarum during both my pregnancies and with my second one was eventually given an anti-sickness injection as a last resort as I’d lost so much weight and was becoming weaker by the day.

Unfortunately, I had an extreme allergic reaction to this drug which resulted in me being rushed into accident and emergency. The hospital staff had great difficulty finding the antidote as such a bad reaction is so rare.

I dropped from 8.5 stone to 6.5 stone with both pregnancies, such was the gravity of my sickness.

I was delighted when I became pregnant with our first baby and carried on working for a week or two after my pregnancy was confirmed.

I took a few discreet snacks into work to ward off increasing nausea but it became worse and worse until one day I had to make an excuse about having a bug and went home.

I didn’t work again until I was more than five months pregnant. My husband jokes that most women work for seven months of their pregnancy — I worked for about seven weeks!

When I went home that day I thought I’d feel better in 24 hours or so if I rested but soon I realised that was not to be. I just couldn’t stop being sick almost hourly.

I tried everything I could think of — dry biscuits, ginger biscuits, ginger tea, toast, rice — but everything made me sick.

My doctor advised me to drink milk mixed with Lucozade. Even the sight of this made me heave as my poor mother-in-law brought it towards me, balanced on a nice tray — I made a dash for the bathroom without even taking a sip.

Like Kate and William, we had hoped to make the announcement after three months but I was virtually bedridden for the next three months so instead of the exciting, happy announcement we’d hoped for, our closest family and friends had to be told the truth.

After a week or so we moved into my in-laws’ home nearby. I couldn’t be left on my own all day while my husband was at work as I was becoming so weak that I occasionally fainted on my way to and from the bathroom — the only room I was seeing apart from our bedroom as I lay in bed all day, hoping to feel better soon.

My parents’ house was my next destination to give my in-laws the break they deserved. I became so tired, lethargic and weak that I really didn’t have any interest in anything around me and didn’t care where I was.

The hunger pains became terrible as, however much I tried to eat or drink, I was sick within a few minutes of eating and then I tried to eat again and the cycle repeated itself.

I became so bad that I couldn’t keep down water and was eventually admitted to hospital to be put on an intravenous drip.

I remember being horrified at this thought as I think I’d seen someone on a television soap with a tube inserted in their nose and thought that what was I had to look forward to.

I was relieved when I realised the drip would be inserted into a vein in my arm. However, my blood pressure had become so low the poor junior doctor couldn’t find a vein and by the final attempt to insert the drip I looked like a drug addict as I had so many bruises on my arm.

Once I was being rehydrated intravenously I stopped being sick and you cannot imagine the relief. My parents and husband were so pleased at my seemingly quick recovery — I had started to look like “me” again, albeit a very thin “me”.

After five days I was discharged from hospital and my husband drove me (holding a carefully positioned bowl in my lap) back to our home.

I still felt very weak but was so pleased to be home again. I started eating minute amounts of very plain food but within a few days the sickness started again. Once again I was admitted to hospital when I could no longer keep down water and was by this time sicking up blood as there was nothing more inside me.

Eventually, when I was about 14 weeks pregnant, I began to keep small amounts of food down and when eventually I started eating and not being sick I just could not stop eating. I guess I was making up for all the food my body had missed over the previous three months.

I remember going into our local town to do some Christmas shopping and although I’d had a good breakfast (I was still eating only very plain foods), I had to regularly go into our local health food shop to buy sandwiches at about “coffee time”. Once I started eating, I noticed the taste and smell of every food and almost had to learn how to eat once more.

I remember a couple standing in front of the refrigerator in the health food shop discussing the merits of eating the “weird” date, banana and peanut butter sandwiches on display and I breezily brushed passed them, helping myself to the aforementioned sandwiches — my tastebuds had become very quirky now I was eating again!

I worried so much about how my unborn baby had survived three months of virtually no nutrition but the medical staff assured me he or she would be okay and I didn’t really have a choice other than to believe them.

The job I’d been doing when I became pregnant was on a contract basis so I had no job to go back to. In any case I didn’t really feel strong enough to work again until I was about five months pregnant as the weakness through lack of food takes its toll on your body but I did find work for a couple of months.

The middle and final trimester were problem-free and my son was born weighing a very healthy 8lb. Most women dread giving birth but for me that was a piece of cake (excuse the pun) compared with the pregnancy as I knew it would last (hopefully) hours rather than months. It’s not something I would want to repeat every Saturday afternoon and there were a few problems towards the end of my labour but my son was very healthy and that was such a relief to me.

Three years later, I experienced exactly the same sickness when pregnant with my daughter but this time it was even worse.

It had taken me quite a lot of courage to think about getting pregnant again and I’d taken various precautions while trying to get pregnant, such as visiting a dietician and hypnotist to stop any potential sickness but I was assured by medical staff that this kind of extreme sickness is so rare it was very unlikely to happen a second time. Wrong!

This time, on my second admission into hospital, I was asked if I wanted to be injected with an anti- sickness drug to help. I did no research into the drug (the internet wasn’t available then) but I felt so weak and ill that I’d got to the stage that if the doctors had suggested decapitation to make the sickness stop I might have considered their offer.

Plus our three-year-old son had moved in with my ever-helpful in-laws because I couldn’t look after him and my husband was travelling into London every day, so I really wanted to get better and be home again for my boy.

I remember one night I walked to the bathroom on my own, dragging the drip stand behind me. Bad move — I fainted due to lack of nutrition and took the drip stand with me, waking up the entire ward as we both crashed very noisily to the floor.

Anyway, the drug certainly stopped the sickness but it also almost stopped me being able to breathe too — I had an extremely bad reaction and it closed my airways.

I worked up in hospital the morning after the antidote was administered to find my neck was very stiff and I thought I’d been lying badly in the hospital bed.

I was definitely feeling better and excitedly called my husband from the pay phone (not many people had mobiles then) to ask him to collect me. I should have heard alarm bells when he didn’t recognise my voice.

Even so, although he’d made the odd comment about my voice resembling Mini Mouse, neither I nor the hospital staff seemed unduly concerned and I was discharged.

It felt great to be at home again with my son who had been telling me on hospital visits that “Grandma was my new Mummy now” as I had ceased to be a part of his life through all the sickness and hospital stays.

After a few hours at home my neck was getting worse (and so was my voice) and I made an appointment to see an osteopath who couldn’t release my neck and eventually asked if I’d taken something I may be allergic to.

I immediately realised what had happened and was admitted to A & E by which time I was having difficulty breathing. I was taken into a treatment room and all I can remember is clutching the nurse’s hand so tightly she was nearly fainting herself.

I remember gasping, “do they realise I can’t breathe?” (as if they may have missed the clues) because it seemed to be taking forever for the doctors and nurses to treat me. I can vaguely remember oxygen tanks being hurried into the room and having a mask over my mouth and nose and they eventually gave me the much-needed antidote.

The relief when I took that first breath was immense. Afterwards, the doctor who had treated me asked if I had problems at home because my reaction had been so “severe”. I did wonder how he expected me to react when I couldn’t breathe and, once again, was terrified about the effect all this had had on my unborn baby.

The happy ending is that neither baby suffered at all and I ended up with two healthy children who are now young adults.

But this condition is so severe and debilitating that unless you’ve experienced it you cannot understand how ill you feel, so I am very pleased for the Duchess that she seems to have recovered quickly.

Our lives were effectively put on hold for the first three months of both pregnancies and if it lasts for months, as my sickness did, you become so weak, depressed and listless and you cannot imagine feeling normal ever again.

On the news last week, there were reports about nurses and compassionate care but I can honestly say that all the nurses who treated me were, without exception, sympathetic, kind and very helpful during my time in hospital.

The Duchess should rest in the knowledge the condition rarely affects the unborn baby as he or she seems to take all the nutrition they need from the mother.

I hope when she feels better and recovers from this that the rest of her pregnancy will be enjoyable. It’s a bit like childbirth more often than not and if you’ve been lucky you forget the whole ordeal once it has finished. I did, however, decide to stop at two children!

Published 17/12/12

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