Written by: Jacqueline Smith of Derby City Doula and Bluegrass Doulas Affiliated Doula
Have you heard the news?? Duchess Catherine is expecting again and isn’t a little royal always something to celebrate?
After all, Prince George and Princess Charlotte ARE the most darling little cherubs. And seeing Kate Middleton parent tame a toddler tantrum on a tarmac in heels and a dry-clean-only-dress makes me personally feel like whatever todzilla moment I’m handling is a cake walk.
But hidden at the bottom of that press release is something that speaks to Kate’s boss-level bravery on another level and only about 2% of us personally understand:
“As with her two previous pregnancies, The Duchess is suffering from Hyperemesis Gravidarum…”
Upon reading those words every survivor, no matter their love of the royals or not, feels a knot in her stomach. She doesn’t feel happy for The Duchess. She feels a deep sorrow and solidarity with a woman she will likely never meet. She cannot imagine having to fight HG and be expected to smile and have perfect hair and makeup.
I know. Because when I read that announcement all the memories came flooding back. My eyes welled with tears, my throat became dry, and it was hard to breathe. That’s because I, like Kate Middleton, have survived two HG pregnancies and lived to tell the tale.
What is Hyperemesis Gravidarum? Well you’ll see in all the tabloids this morning and for months forward the description of “severe morning sickness”. Calling HG “morning sickness” is like comparing Hurricane Harvey to the time your sewer line backed up. There is no comparison. It is an unrelenting nausea that does not go away. It is vomiting up to seventy times in a day, whether or not anything remains in your stomach. It lasts well beyond the first trimester and for many women, like me, lasts up to the day the baby is born. It is a debilitating complication of pregnancy that affects up to 5% of pregnant women to varying degrees of severity. Without modern medicines and IV therapy, it can and will result in death by starvation and dehydration. Don’t take my word for it, read about it at the HER foundation.
But what did it mean for me personally?
It meant losing 37% of my body weight in my first trimester when I am already a pretty fit gal.
It meant crying in the floor questioning my religious faith. After all, what kind of benevolent deity would let a woman suffer so?
It meant begging that deity to at least put me out of my misery and give me a miscarriage even though I had tried for that baby for over a year and suffered multiple miscarriages.
It meant fainting constantly from literal dehydration and starvation.
It meant considering abortion of a wanted child. (HER foundation estimates 10% of HG pregnancies are electively terminated)
It meant listening to and ignoring all the well-meaning people that insisted if I just had a little ginger/crackers/soda water it would all be OK.
The people that told me if I really wanted my baby then my mind wouldn’t let my body reject the pregnancy. That it was all in my head.
The people that told me the prescriptions that let me keep down water would deform my baby.
The people that told me it would get better after 12 weeks.
It meant letting your partner see you sleep next to a toilet night after night, covered in filth because showering made you throw up more and fainting in the shower was a very real possibility.
It meant an IV pole on wheels and threats of a PICC line.
It meant facing your biggest phobia (of needles) over and over and over and over.
It meant sitting in the bottom of a shower chugging a weight gain nutritional shake and holding your mouth closed with your hands to keep it down through the retching long enough for your body to maybe, just maybe, absorb some of the vitamins.
It meant losing 2 teeth and having 4 fillings after never even having a cavity before in your life.
It meant a diagnosis of PTSD and panic attacks for the rest of your life.
It meant seeing un dissolved prenatal vitamins floating in your toilet and worrying that your baby will be deformed as a result.
It meant giving up the plans you made of having 4 children because you aren’t strong like Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge.
It meant ignoring your oldest child and needing your mother to come and care for your family for months on end.
And that last one is one reason I knew I needed to expand my training beyond just labor and delivery. I needed to be a postpartum doula to support families. And I needed to use those same postpartum skills in the antepartum period to support an HG client when she needed me most – before her baby was born. Not everyone is so lucky to have a survivor mother who understands and is available to drop her own life to care for you.
Sometimes pregnancy doesn’t go the way the books describe. Sometimes there is HG or bedrest or other complications and you need help. If that’s you….then you call me.
At the very least I will sit and listen to your very justified tears without ever suggesting a seaband.
As for me? I know how I will celebrate the newest little Royal when s/he is born. I’ll be sending a birthday gift donation in his or her honor to the HER foundation, and hope that a cure will be found before the next generation must suffer so.