Stop Saying Duchess Kate Is 'Suffering From Severe Morning Sickness'

by Elizabeth Broadbent
deeepblue / iStock

In their story announcing that Duchess Kate is expecting a third child, CNN mentions that, like her two previous pregnancies, “Kate is suffering from hyperemesis gravidarum, which involves nausea and vomiting more severe than the typical morning sickness many women suffer during early pregnancy.”

People magazine says that, “During her first two pregnancies, Kate, 35 battled acute morning sickness, also known as hyperemesis gravidarum.”

The BBC, after noting that the Queen is delighted with the baby news, also says, “As with her previous two pregnancies, the duchess, 35, is suffering from hyperemesis gravidarum, or severe morning sickness.”

Every woman who has ever suffered from HG, including the Duchess, probably wants to punch those journalists. They’re almost as bad as the dumb-asses who sweetly asked us if we’d tried eating crackers to settle our stomachs. Bitch, HG mamas are way beyond crackers and “severe morning sickness,” or “acute morning sickness,” or “nausea and vomiting more severe than the typical morning sickness.” HG isn’t picky eating and occasional throwing up. It’s vomiting up to 50 times a day. It’s vomiting on an empty stomach, throwing up bile and blood. It’s dehydration, lying in bed for days or weeks or months. And while some cases resolve themselves by 20 weeks, others last the entire pregnancy — and beyond.

It can cause post-traumatic stress syndrome and depression and trouble bonding with your baby. Women have abortions to save their own lives. Charlotte Brontë, author of Jane Eyre, actually died of hyperemesis gravidarum.

I had it three times, each successively worse. By baby No. 3, I was vomiting at 2 weeks post-conception and suffering from full-blown HG at 4 to 6 weeks. I had good care; we knew what medications worked, and I began taking them immediately. They kept me from Brontë’s fate. But they didn’t keep me from throwing up multiple times per day, throwing up until I had nothing left in my stomach, throwing up until I brought up blood from the rawness of my own esophagus. I vomited so hard I wet myself.

Soon I learned to quickly kick off my pants and underwear on my way to the bathroom. We washed a lot of bathroom rugs for a few months. Months.

I stayed in bed through all of March and April, into May. I had it good though. I was only hospitalized once. I didn’t lose much weight. And my medications kicked in fully around 20 weeks, meaning that while I still threw up, I actually ate food and could move through the real world and almost parent.

I knew how lucky I was because I’d seen my best friend, Steph, 32, struggle with full-blown HG. She developed it later — at 8 weeks — and went for 2 days without peeing. Twenty four hours of IV fluid later, her color could finally, charitably, be called gray. She needed a Zofran pump; a month later, she began to eat again — half of a mashed red potato, frozen grapes which her husband delicately peeled for her because the skins sent her running for the bathroom.

She vomited until she soiled herself. She had allergic reactions to the adhesive that held the pump in place; hypoallergenic bandages didn’t help, and she had to rub Benadryl on the site every time she changed it — 2–3 times a day. She cried every time she had to change the site; family and friends — including me, once or twice — had to do it for her. There was talk of a PICC line being put in. When she finally delivered, she was 5 pounds below her pre-pregnancy weight, and needed Zofran for 2 days postpartum.

Of course, not everyone had the same experience as Steph.

Alison, 34, also suffered from hyperemesis when she had her son nine years ago. She managed to work through most of it, but finally had to quit two months early — she was on so much Diclectin that she couldn’t do her job as a secretary in an office. She couldn’t keep her eyes open. She’d have gone off earlier, she says, but “I didn’t have to drive myself to work. My co-workers drove me.” She was vomiting at least five times a day, through the medication, just to keep food down.

But that wasn’t the main problem. She had a history of bulimia. So, in her words, “HG was extremely triggering and emotionally draining beyond the physical … I had a really hard time with all the vomiting because it reminded me of my battle with bulimia. I had to remind myself it was my body doing it to me, that it wasn’t me doing it to my body.” Alison’s child is 9, and she never had another. She says she couldn’t bear the thought of going through it again.

Jennifer, on the other hand, did it twice — and ended up with PTSD. “I actually still have smells and music that trigger me,” she says. She lost 20 pounds with each pregnancy. The first time, she was almost completely untreated, except for IV fluid replenishment, and spent most of the time in bed. When she finally gave birth, she was so weak, she was almost unable to stand. (This is common among HG mamas; I was in horrible shape postpartum and could hardly walk without getting winded.)

During the second pregnancy, Jennifer got medication, but it made her exhausted. She would throw up until she passed out, and once lost consciousness when her husband was on a business trip — while she had a kid in the house. In addition to PTSD, she developed IBS afterwards, which she thinks is connected to her hyperemesis.

Laura, 31, saw an article saying the Duchess had glorified morning sickness and “just about raged.” At 7 weeks, she was throwing up all day — living in the bathroom — and had already been to the ER for fluid replenishment. The doctor refused her a Zofran prescription. “Her suggestion to me was literally to sniff some tangerines,” Laura says. She changed doctors and got Zofran, but that’s when, as she says, all the information about it possibly causing cleft palate came out. But it was that or lose the baby, so she took it. By then, she wasn’t eating, and was only throwing up bile or blood from an eroded esophagus. She hardly left the bed. Except two months after she found out she was pregnant, she was getting married, with a themed Corpse Bride wedding. She says that she remembers doing her husband’s makeup in the bathroom while she threw up. The nausea lasted a month after delivery.

And even now, she says when she gets nauseated she’s “triggered.” Like Alison, Laura says, “I would love a second but the thought of going through it again is what stops me right now. Everyone always says ‘you forget you were even sick.’ Yeah sure.”

So, Duchess Kate? She’s not going through “severe morning sickness.” Steph, Alison, Jennifer, Laura, and I all had fairly typical HG cases. Mine was the least severe, and I was still hospitalized overnight for IV fluids. We all lost weight, at least in the beginning: I lost about 10 pounds before I gained it back, as did Laura, and the others lost far more. And all of us vomited until we brought up bile and blood from scraped esophaguses. Some of us threw up until we soiled ourselves. Alison threw up until she passed out. Three of us are left at least “triggered” by reminders of our illness; Jennifer and Steph have full-blown PTSD.

While I didn’t ask everyone, most of us probably have little gag relfex left and vomit easily to this day.

“Severe morning sickness” my ass. HG is a serious medical condition, not something that can be cured by sniffing tangerines, eating ginger, or munching crackers. There’s no “morning sickness” about it. And fuck every news outlet who didn’t do their research on it. Their coverage is misogyny at its finest, a throwback to the time when people thought women with HG were faking it, or that it was a sign they didn’t want their babies. Way to perpetuate stereotypes and minimize women’s health care, mainstream media. But by now, of course, we shouldn’t be surprised.