Why cheap shots at the Duchess of Cambridge’s “morning sickness” say more about the “joker” than the Duchess

Sylpled and Swelled
(HL stillborn 3.1.93)

Hyperemetic, her mother
sylphed
as she swelled
in the womb
we were told
could not carry her.

She cohabited
with endometriosis,
stretching her arms with indolent ease
in the scan’s convex negative.

Parted from her placenta
she still had to be born,
emerging purple against
the white the midwife
wrapped her in.

She was long like me
had her mother’s face.

Published in “Us: who made History” (Original Plus, 2012).

I never met HL’s mother, but knew her father and the grief her father still felt at HL’s death. I’m not for a moment suggesting the Duchess of Cambridge’s hyperemesis will end in such a tragedy. Hyperemesis is rare and causes persistent vomiting and nausea, putting the mother-to-be at risk of dehydration. If not treated, it can lead to complications in later pregnancy. It is not morning sickness, where no matter how nauseous or how sick the pregnant woman is, she can still keep fluids and food down. But it is a reminder that not all pregnancies have a successful outcome. How quickly some commenters seem to have forgotten Savita Halappanavar’s avoidable death.

The maternity mortality rate in the UK is 8.2. The stillbirth rate is 5.2 per 1000 births (in 2009) in the UK. When you factor in neonatal deaths, that’s 17 babies lost per day. The loss of a baby feels like a double blow: the loss of the baby and also the potential adult they will never become. HL, had she survived, would be 19 today. The everyday miracle of a healthy baby should not be taken for granted.

It didn’t help the Cambridges that the media called the Duchess’s condition “morning sickness”, “acute morning sickness” or “severe morning sickness”. But, post-Leveson, did some really assume the Duchess was too posh to suffer morning sickness at home “like the rest of us”? Social media commentary suggests so and I doubt a lot of commentators thought about how those comments might be viewed.

I won’t be joining those who seem to think that just because the Duchess of Cambridge can afford private care and that her baby will be one of the most photographed children on the planet, that her hyperemesis is somehow less severe. Privilege might make dealing with the condition more comfortable but her agony is no less real.

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