Ulster mums recall health anguish to Jane Hardy and Kerry McKittrick.
Not only has the Duchess of Cambridge hit the headlines because she’s pregnant, she has also unfortunately introduced her fans, and the general public, to a nasty complaint, hyperemesis gravidarum (HG).
It’s a kind of extreme morning sickness, but with affected women dashing to the bathroom up to 12 times a day, that hardly describes the severity of the condition. Normal morning sickness (known medically as nausea and vomiting in pregnancy, or NVP) affects around 70% of pregnant woman, and causes some degree of vomiting and discomfort commonly during the three months of pregnancy. HG, on the other hand, is a very different complaint altogether.
Those unfortunate enough to develop it are constantly sick morning, noon and night and unable to keep any food or drink down. Other symptoms include dehydration and high blood pressure.
That is why Kate (30), remained in the Royals’ London hospital of choice, King Edward VII, in central London for a second night’s treatment and rest. This is a potentially dangerous condition, that needs to be taken seriously, and which can cause women to lose around 10% of their body weight. There is no precise cause, although it may run in families.
Normally, hyperemesis lasts for two to three months, but a third of sufferers are unlucky enough to experience the condition for the full nine months.
Treatment involves rehydrating the patient, and providing her via a drip with vitamins and nutrients to replace those lost from the system because of vomiting.
It apparently affects around 3.5 women in every 1,000 pregnancies, and celebrity sufferers include Jenny Frost (left) (ex-Atomic Kitten).
We talked to local women with experience of this distressing condition.
‘It is not as rare as some suggest’
Kathryn Kirk (31), is a PR manager and lives with husband Richard and two children, Joshua (2) and Rosa (nine weeks) in the Belmont area of Belfast. She says:
I utterly sympathise with the Duchess of Cambridge. In an ideal world, you’d go for your 12-week scan, then tell your family and friends about your good news.
With this condition, you have to tell people at work immediately. I was about four weeks pregnant with Josh when I started to feel really sick.
From six weeks, I was very sick indeed, at the worst, throwing up 12 times a day. I couldn’t eat, although I tried to eat little and often. At the worst point, I couldn’t even keep water down.
It was very worrying because initially, I didn’t know I was pregnant. You think that you’re going to feel great when you’re having a baby, but it isn’t always the case. With Joshua I was referred to the Ulster Hospital at eight weeks and ended up in the Neely gynae ward. All they can do is give you fluids, plus vitamins and nutrients via a drip, and I imagine that’s the treatment the Duchess is having.
I stayed in overnight, but with Rosa I was admitted after my 12-week scan, having tried to keep going, for a full day. Naturally, I wanted to get out to see Joshua.
Although this is a rare complaint, I don’t sense it’s as uncommon as the media are suggesting. I know quite a few women who have had it, so anecdotally it’s not that rare.
In my family, it turns out that my mother Yvonne, who is a retired prep school teacher, was very ill when she was pregnant with me and took a week off, something unheard of in her career. My late grandmother, Catherine Anderson, was also very unwell when she was pregnant.
It was an uphill battle and I didn’t really feel much better until I reached the 16 weeks point, so I do feel sorry for Kate.
When I was having Rosa, Josh had to see me being sick and that wasn’t great, but he would accompany me to the bathroom, rub my back and sympathetically go ‘Aaah’. He was only 18-months-old. Of course, when I had my children I felt instantly better — and it was, of course, worth it, with two healthy babies.
They say having hyperemesis is a good sign that your body’s doing what it should, but I don’t know. What was marvellous was the brilliant support from family, especially my husband Richard, who had a tough time too, as well as friends and colleagues. When I’d had Rosa, I remember eating a beef curry the same evening and enjoying it, thinking it was the first meal I’d been able to enjoy eating for months.”
‘I couldn’t keep a sip of water down’
Paula Linden (45), is a receptionist. She lives in Whiteabbey with husband Richard and their three children, Shannen (19), Katy (16) and Rory (12). She says:
I’ve had hyperemesis with each of my three pregnancies. It usually started after a month or two and I was just being sick and feeling really ill all the time. I had to bring a plastic bag with me if I went anywhere just in case.
I wasn't hospitalised during the first two pregnancies, but I tried all the remedies. I was eating ginger nut biscuits, wearing a pressure point bracelet that was supposed to alleviate nausea and I even tried acupuncture. A doctor friend came down from Derry twice a week to treat me, but nothing worked. I could barely eat and anything would set me off. I couldn't stand the smell of cooking and my leather handbag was a trigger too. My weight dropped to about six and a half stone.
The funny thing was, one evening I went to bed feeling terrible and the next day I woke up feeling fine. It was just gone.
The same thing happened when I was pregnant with Katy. I spent two months feeling really ill and then one day I felt fine.
The worst pregnancy was with Rory, though. With my first two children I had started being ill when I was just a month or two pregnant, but with Rory it started before I’d realised I was pregnant. I couldn't keep a sip of water down and I ended up being off work for three months.
I felt so guilty — the other two receptionists were also pregnant but I was the one who had to take time off. I kept going to the doctor and one morning they sent me up to the Mater Hospital in Belfast. Staff there told me they were keeping me in.
They put me on drips and anti-sickness tablets — those worried me the most because of what other tablets such as thalidomide had done to babies. In all, I was in hospital three times with Rory.
With me it was a condition that just had to run its course. The first two times it only lasted for the first three months.
With Rory I kept waiting for it to stop at that point but it went on for another month.
It's an horrendous condition and when I heard that Kate had it, my heart went out to her. I wouldn't wish it on anyone.”
‘I tried every remedy but nothing worked’
Emma Mooney (27), works in customer service for the Northern Ireland Housing Executive. She lives in Belfast with husband Chris and their children Christopher (7) and Sophie (2). She says:
I found out I was pregnant with Christopher on July 25, 2004, and I was admitted into hospital on August 4 with hyperemesis — it hit me so quickly. I was only 19 and Christopher was a surprise. I didn't know what hyperemesis was and neither did anyone I knew. At first I thought it was just morning sickness, but it turned out to be so much worse.
At the hospital they told me my body was rejecting the morning sickness and the only way it could do that was by making me sick. The sickness was causing the dehydration which is why I had to keep going to hospital.
When I watched the news and saw people telling reporters that Kate would be fine in a month or two I thought ‘Not a chance’.
I was admitted to hospital 16 times when I was pregnant with Christopher and 12 times with Sophie — the sickness lasted for the entire pregnancy both times. I was so used to it by the time I went into labour with Christopher I didn't even notice — I just thought I was getting dehydrated again. And when they gave me an epidural at the hospital I just fell asleep — they had to keep waking me up to get me to push.
I couldn't believe that as soon as Christopher was born the sickness went away.
It was the same when Sophie came along. I found out that I was pregnant on November 9 and went into hospital on November 17. Both times I found out when I was only two or three weeks gone.
Sophie's delivery wasn't as easy because there were complications in the way the epidural was administered but, again, the sickness went away as soon as she was born.
Throughout both pregnancies I tried every remedy we could find on the internet, but nothing worked. The only thing that would settle my stomach a little was to brush my teeth or to have a bit of mint.
I couldn't go through that again for anything — it was an horrific experience and my heart goes out to Kate. To this day, I have scars on my hands from the drips and injections.
My one hope is that, now that Kate has it, more people can find out about hyperemesis and better treatments will be found for it.”
and what Diana went through ...
- Princess Diana was 20 when she announced she was expecting Prince William. It was in |November 1981, four months after her fairytale wedding to Prince Charles. “The whole world is watching my stomach,” Diana complained at the time.
- Diana suffered from morning sickness, though not as severe a form as that which has hospitalised the Duchess of Cambridge. Still, Diana was forced her to cancel some public engagements. It later emerged that as well as feeling unwell due to her pregnancy, Diana was also battling bulimia.
- Prince William, top right, was born on June 21, 1982, in St Mary’s hospital Paddington, London. Diana endured 16 hours of labour before William was born at 9.03pm, weighing 7lb 1.5oz. Prince Charles was by her side.
- Diana was looked after by the Queen’s gynaecologist, Sir George Pinker, just as Kate, Duchess of Cambridge, has been seeing the Queen’s current |gynaecologist, Alan Farthing, the former fiance of newsreader Jill Dando.
- In 1982, when Diana and Charles holidayed in the Bahamas, photographers took pictures of the |pregnant Princess of Wales in a bikini.
- When Diana became pregnant with Prince Harry a couple of years later, she was very slim, having reportedly begun to suffer from an eating disorder.
- Henry or Harry, was born on September 15, 1984. Diana later said that she and Prince Charles were closest during this pregnancy. She knew their second child was a boy, but didn’t tell anyone, including her |husband.