When my Mother had Hyperemesis Gravidarum Everyone Thought She Was Making it Up

Everyone's taking Kate Middleton a bit more seriously – but while the papers are jumping for joy and speculating on the sex and name of the baby, don’t forget that Hyperemesis Gravidarum can be a serious, debilitating condition.
Publish date:
December 4, 2012
pregnancy, kate middleton, Hypermesis Gravidarum

God, I feel bad for Kate Middleton.

It’s not just because she married into one of the most dysfunctional dynasties on Earth, or because tabloids across the globe published topless pictures of her, or even because her pregnancy will make her the victim of yet more scrutiny by the world’s media. I made some pretty decent money writing a book about her before the royal wedding, so it would be hypocritical of me to take issue with that.

I feel sorry for Kate because, on top of all this, she is suffering from Hyperemesis Gravidarum, a form of morning sickness so severe that it frequently requires hospitalization. A relatively rare condition that causes severe vomiting - often causing sufferers to bring up blood - HG reportedly affects 3.5 in every 1000 pregnant women.

Symptoms also include severe nausea and dehydration, low blood pressure, speeding up of the heart rate, headaches, lethargy or confusion.

The condition is about as far removed from the idyllic vision of pregnancy as possible, and my mother suffered from it throughout her pregnancies.

When I emailed her to ask about the condition for this piece, this is what she had to say:


Even before I realised I was pregnant with Alisande, born in 1982, I was seriously ill with a severe form of morning sickness (now referred to as Hyperemesis Gravidurum). These days women suffering from it are hospitalized and kept under medical supervision.

At that time, the medical profession didn’t acknowledge the condition, preferring to tell women that morning sickness was “all in their minds”. It was common to hear that then, despite the fact that I was so weak that I was frequently bed-ridden.

I couldn’t keep food or water down, and was often so ill that I brought up bile, which is apparently a kick back from the bowel because there’s nothing else left for the body to expel.

If I moved while lying in bed I’d be violently ill. It was constant, from the minute I woke up to the minute I fell asleep, and I’d often wake in the night to be sick before crawling back into bed.

Everybody around me thought I was dying, and so did I, so I made an appointment to see my GP, who didn’t believe in morning sickness so refused to make a house call.

My husband drove me to the surgery after he’d finished work. He needed to see the Doctor for something quickly so went in before me. Then I went in to my appointment, and the doctor actually told me that the entire condition was in my head, before berating me for turning up without an appointment (which I hadn’t – my husband had).

Even though I must have been severely dehydrated and in need of hospitalization, the Doctor refused to take my symptoms seriously. That’s what it was like in the eighties. The medical profession basically went, “Oh no, it’s pregnancy. It’s natural. It’s the most natural, normal thing in the world” and basically left women to get on with it.


When I spoke to my mother about this piece, she did also point out that, when it comes to medical treatment for any condition, “it’s good to be King.”

And, yes, I think we can take for granted the fact that the Duchess of Cambridge, as mother to the future heir to the throne, is going to get a better standard of care than an average mother-to-be on the NHS.

But still, Hyperemesis Gravidarum is a serious, debilitating condition, and while the papers are jumping for joy and speculating about the baby's sex, name, and the boost to their sales figures, I think it’s worth acknowledging that.

Alisande never admits to her book about Kate on Twitter @AlisandeF.