What It’s Like to Have Kate Middleton’s “Severe Morning Sickness”
Kristen Kemp, author of the Parents.com blog Mom Must Read, knows the torture the Duchess is experiencing right now. She had hyperemesis gravidarum—through two pregnancies—too. She shares her experiences:
I wouldn’t wish hyperemesis gravidarum even on evil people. Not on my former coworker who told our boss that I sucked and should be fired (and then stole my sweater); not on the girl who burned my eyebrow skin off last week during a wax; and not on the young woman who stole my Visa and charged $2,357 at Target. I would never hope for a royal like Kate Middleton to have hyperemesis, no matter how much I covet her clothes and her seats at the Olympics. But since Kate does have this nightmare illness through no ill will of mine, I am glad. While I ache when I think of her public suffering, I also feel vindicated. What I went through is difficult to explain, and most people don’t believe my condition was real. It was not all in my head—Kate is proof.
Hyperemesis gravidarum (HG) tried to kill me during both of my pregnancies. I took gobs of medication, checked in for several stays at the hospital and, as a last resort, considered abortion at the suggestion of my ob-gyn. I could not eat or drink a thing, so I fought dehydration. Worse though, I was nauseous every second of the day. Imagine having food poisoning for 13 weeks straight. Vomiting offers no relief. Your stomach is an empty pit, so all you feel is acidic and painful gagging.
I am sorry if you’re eating right now.
I try not to use the words hyperemesis and morning sickness in the same sentence (minus this exception). The two conditions share one only one trait—they come on in early pregnancy. Otherwise, they are distant cousins, 100 times removed. Barfing your head off nonstop causes a ridiculous amount of physical and emotional pain.
The first time I got pregnant, I found out I was having twins, which meant double the hormones and an increased risk of HG. My doctor and I hoped I wouldn’t have hyperemesis again if I got pregnant with a singleton. So I did. And the second time, it was worse. At about 6 or 7 weeks, my sense of smell turned prophetic. I could sense food rotting in my husband’s stomach. I had to run out of Ikea because I couldn’t handle the odors of the shoppers. By week 7, all smells were intolerable, and even a whiff of sugary vanilla milkshake would send me over the edge. Garlic, coffee, and my toddlers’ diapers might as well have been explosive devices.
My husband made me a hyperemesis nest on the third-floor attic of our house. He dragged a mattress upstairs because I couldn’t stand the smell of him while he slept. He set up a TV that I could barely watch because the images made me dizzy. He gave me a bottle of Lysol to battle the evil that lurked in the air. He and the kids had to stay on the first floor eating fragrance-free cold sandwiches or going to restaurants. We spent thousands of dollars on babysitters who watched the twins during his work hours. I was useless.
I dove into a deep depression. My body emphatically hated being pregnant. I couldn’t hold down food, so I worried that I wasn’t nourishing my fetus. I couldn’t be anywhere near another person from Week 7 through Week 18, so I was lonely. I was so dehydrated that I started seeing bright colors and flames (dehydration can cause hallucinations), and there were crystals in my pee from the uric acid buildup.
Those were the signs that I had to go back to the hospital for IV fluids and nutrition. My husband and my ob-gyn took me seriously, but no one else did. In the maternity unit, nurses left me in the corner barfing for hours while they saw other patients. One told me I just needed to take ginger, remember how lucky I was to be pregnant, and eat ice chips. I wanted to puke on her—and I probably did. Did she really believe I hadn’t thought of those things a million times before?
My doctor gave me a prescription for Zofran, a drug used to ease nausea for people on chemo. It didn’t help the nausea, but I could keep down small bits of food—mainly Fritos—and watch TV. He ordered me to get a PICC line—a tube surgically inserted into a vein in my upper arm—so I could be hooked up to an IV bag 24 hours a day. Thank goodness for our health insurance that paid for all of this and also my daily home nurse. If only they had covered the sitters.
I fell in love with my IV bag.
I stopped contemplating abortion and started telling myself I could get through the second pregnancy. I’d already given birth to my twins, so I knew the absolute joy of hugging new babies. As I convalesced on the third floor, I repeated the mantra: New babies are fun to hug; new babies are fun to hug. And I watched the movie Garden State 17 times. I waited it out. By 18 weeks, the hyperemesis vanished as quickly as it had come on. I had an easy delivery with my baby son. I figured I had earned that much.
Taking care of a newborn was cake compared to living with hyperemesis, so I rocked at infancy. But my husband didn’t want me to rock too much. He said he’d go nuts if he had to live through another pregnancy, so he had a vasectomy within the month. He is smarter than I am, and that’s why I married him.
The more Kate Middleton pukes—I just read she was unwell again after her four-day stay in the hospital—the more people will sympathize with insanely sick pregnant women. We aren’t crazy. We don’t secretly hate our fetuses—a real comment I recently read. We aren’t making up our misery. I wish other women would’ve said, “God, that’s awful. I can’t imagine. Would it help if I invited your husband and kids over for dinner?” I needed to borrow DVDs and gossip magazines. But mostly I got saltine cracker advice and dirty looks when I barfed on the street.
I had a freak illness, but I was not a freak. Just ask Kate Middleton.