Tuesday, 4 December 2012

Duchess of Cambridge has Hyperemesis Gravidarum

Yesterday, it was announced to the world that the Duchess of Cambridge had been admitted to hospital for hyperemesis gravidarum.  Whilst I am pleased that this is bringing publcity for the condition and may help sufferers of it, I am not glad that she is suffering.  This is actually my first HG free December/Christmas in three years so I know first hand just how horrible it is to suffer from it at this time of year.  It is a pretty horrendous illness to suffer from especially since it is so misunderstood but to have to live through it whilst under the scrutiny of the world's media must make it far worse.

Already people are criticising both the fact that the pregnancy has been announced "too early" (whatever that means) and the fact that she has been admitted to hospital for "just morning sickness" whilst "us commoners just get on with it".

Hyperemesis gravidarum does not discriminate by social class.  Whilst some claim that her position means she has it easy and gets the best possible treatment straight away, I do not believe this to be so.  Given that admission to hospital meant announcing the pregnancy not just to friends and family at an early stage (which is something that many of us are forced by HG to do) but to the entire world, it is not likely that she would have rushed to hospital unless it was pretty bad.  Many of us have had hospital admission delayed due to prejudice and lack of knowledge but she and William must have had to think of the media attention involved when deciding whether/when to seek hospital treatment.  Hyperemesis gravidarum is not morning sickness - it is incomparable and requires medical treatment.

Just last week she was performing royal duties (i.e. doing her job) and while some critics use this to argue that she cannot be that ill, I disagree.  Firstly, once the vomiting strikes a person can go downhill to the point of needing hospital admission very rapidly.  And secondly, given she didn't know how serious her condition would become and given her position I imagine she forced herself to carry on at a time when many people would have had the option to call in sick for a day or two.

As far as announcing "too early" is concerned, why is it too early?  Yes the pregnancy might go wrong and I imagine that is why they did not want to announce it yet and only did so because they were forced to.  If they had chosen to then that would be their perogative.  Since they did not choose it but had it thrust on them by the nightmare that is hyperemsis gravidarum they deserve our sympathy and not out judgement.  I hope and pray that this pregnancy will not go wrong but I also hope that in the event that it did that people would be sympathetic and not judgemental.  Announcing a pregnancy does not cause it to go wrong and thirteen weeks is not a magic point beyond which it is safe and never goes wrong.

As far as media coverage of hyperemesis gravidarum goes, it has been a mixed bag.  I know that many people have been contacted through the Pregnancy Sickness Support Trust and have had good interviews but there have also been many medical professionals perpetuating the typical misinformation and old wives tales.

Hyperemesis gravidarum cannot be treated with ginger or pear drops.  In fact ginger is a bad idea if you are going to vomit as it burns on the way back up.  I believe research has shown it to have some effect on nausea but not on vomiting which presumably is why it helps with regular morning sickness.  Suggesting it to a hyperemesis gravidarum sufferer is like suggesting a sticky plaster to someone with a broken leg.  It just doesn't work.

Hyperemesis is not benign with no long lasting effects.  When I mentioned this particular claim (apparently made by a GP on national television), he said to me, "Don't some people lose teeth?"  He is correct.  Some people suffer organ failure, damaged oesophagus and other physical effects which can be long lasting.  Sometimes the illness is so severe or access to treatment is so limited due to lack of knowledge in the medical profession that women have to resort to termination of much wanted pregnancies.  Hardly benign with no long lasting effects.  It limits people's family size, destroys marriages and causes people to lose their jobs.  And then there are the psychological effects.  Reminders of the pregnancy and the illness such as the time of year, clothing or food you ate or didn't eat, places you went to etc can trigger flashbacks, nausea and sometimes even vomiting.  Seems long lasting to me.

And what about William?  Spare a thought for him.  Yes he is not the one lying in a hospital bed on a drip.  But he has to support his wife.  He has to see her this ill whilst not being able to do anything about it.  Last time I was admitted to hospital for hyperemesis gravidarum my husband thought I might die.  Money and status does not protect you from that or make it any easier.  I hope that Kate is one of the more fortunate ones whose hyperemesis goes by around twenty weeks but if it does not then he almost has to live with no wife for eight months.  I'm sure privilege and private hospitals do not stop it from being a horrendous experience for anyone and I hope that those around them are well informed and supportive.

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