WHEN news broke of a pregnant Kate Middleton being admitted to hospital suffering an extreme form of morning sickness, the reaction among many was unfortunately predictable.
Along with the congratulations, Twitter exploded with sarcastic tweets, as users queried why the future queen required hospital treatment for something which every other mother-to-be simply had to get on with.
It was a lack of sympathy and understanding which came as no surprise to one expectant mother in Whitburn, West Lothian.
Claire Lindsay, 26, who is eight weeks pregnant, was herself admitted to St John’s Hospital suffering with hyperemesis gravidarum and suddenly found her condition making headlines around the world.
Unlike morning sickness, which affects up to 80 per cent of pregnancies, this condition causes uncontrollable vomiting, severe dehydration and weight loss for the mother.
“It’s quite lonely,” she says. “There is very little in the way of sympathy out there because people don’t know what it is. They say it’s self-inflicted which it is in a way because you choose to get pregnant, but you don’t choose to have this kind of thing. In all honesty, I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy.”
Claire, who works as a help desk advisor at Sky TV, has become something of an expert – it is the second time she has suffered from the condition.
First time round, however, she admits to having “absolutely no clue”.
“I was about four or five weeks pregnant when I started feeling nauseous,” she remembers. “I took it as a regular pregnancy thing. I thought this is what morning sickness is.”
It was a view backed up by the doctors she spoke to but then her condition deteriorated and soon she found herself being sick more than every hour.
“They tell you when you’re being sick not to take anything for an hour but if you’re being sick every hour you’re not getting very much.
“I was worried that the less I was taking in, the less the baby was being fed. I was worried about the baby’s safety if I was not keeping anything down.”
She was admitted to hospital after she fainted in the bathroom following yet another bout of sickness, and was put on an IV drip.
After her discharge a few days later she was prescribed antihistamine tablets which helped relieve the symptoms of vomiting, but made her feel dizzy and drowsy.
Eventually, after she got used to the pills, she was able to return to work and even managed to keep some food down.
However, she is still prone to vomiting and finds herself checking out the location of the toilets whenever she goes anywhere.
“If you need to be sick you need to find somewhere close,” she says. “If you’re somewhere where there are two bathrooms and both are at the other end of the room, it becomes quite stressful. You worry about how you’re going to make it to the toilet.”
Even going to the work canteen at lunchtime posed problems. “The smell makes you sick,” she says. “I remember someone burnt toast and I couldn’t go into the canteen for the day.”
Having gone through all this the first time round, Claire was aware she needed to get medical treatment as soon as she started suffering the same symptoms six weeks into her current pregnancy.
However, as she soon found out, “there are some doctors who recognise it and some who are still maybe a wee bit unaware of it”.
The first doctor she saw immediately gave her an injection of an anti-sickness drug and then prescribed her a week’s worth of tablets. When she asked for more tablets the following week, however, she spoke to a different doctor who was reluctant to prescribe them.
By the time she had persuaded him to give her the prescription, she was too ill to go and pick them up and by the following day, she was too sick to keep them down. A day later, she found herself in hospital suffering from dehydration.
This lack of widespread knowledge about the condition, even among doctors, is a problem for many mums-to-be. A petition calling for specialist nurses in Scotland to deal with the condition, has just been presented to the Scottish Parliament by Perthshire mum Natalie Robb.
Natalie, who suffered from hyperemesis gravidarum when she was pregnant with her daughter Eilidh, now two-and-a-half, says: “I set up the petition because I did not receive any specialist care. There was a real lack of knowledge about hyperemesis gravidarum.”
Around 1700 people signed the petition, which Natalie, 26, hopes will help more women suffering from the condition get specialist care.
“I don’t want them to go through what I went through,” she says.
Psychologist Dr Brian Swallow, a trustee of the charity Pregnancy Sickness Support which provides advice for women suffering with hyperemesis gravidarum, says: “It’s a time of great emotional stress when you’re having a baby, but when you’re constantly being sick and nauseous, you feel down.
“It can be quite traumatic for the woman.
“The problem with most cases is the treatment is very variable through the country because it’s so rare. A lot of doctors don’t know a lot about it and how to support and treat it.”
Dr Marjory MacLean, consultant obstetrician at the Ayrshire Maternity Unit which has guidelines in place to treat the condition, says: “The sooner it’s picked up and the sooner it’s treated, the better.”
She said treatment usually consists of rehydrating the patient using an intravenous drip and then starting them on anti-emetics – tablets to control nausea.
Having been prescribed a regular supply of anti-sickness tablets, Claire is now having to adjust to the medication, which leaves her unable to look after her 16-month-old son Logan.
“He’s so happy, he’s so lively, he’s all over the place all the time,” she says. “I can’t take care of him properly because I don’t have the energy.”
During the day, Logan is looked after by either Claire’s mother or her partner Andrew Lindsay’s mother, only coming home when his dad picks him up after work.
“I get to see him for a few hours before he goes to bed,” she says.
Meanwhile, Claire, who has been off work for four weeks, is housebound until she recovers.
“It’s pretty horrible,” she says. “I’ve been housebound apart from doctors appointments for four weeks. Someone comes and picks me up and takes me to the doctors and then takes me back home. I can’t drive because of the tablets and I’m not well enough to leave the house.
“It’s silly things like I can’t get to the shops if my wee boy needs something. I can’t do the cleaning, partly because I’ve got no energy and partly because of the smell.
“My partner takes a lot on. He did it before and thank goodness he’s stepped up again.”
While very little is known about the cause of the illness, there is more likelihood that having suffered it once, you will get it again.
“Knowing that now, I don’t think I would have any more children after this one.”
Back to the Duchess of Cambridge, Claire says she feels for her, but adds: “Hopefully people will realise it’s a proper illness. It’s not just a condition that’s temporary. Some people have it for their entire pregnancy.”
First time round, by around the 25-week stage of her pregnancy, Claire was able to sit down and have a full meal again. Having recovered her appetite, her son was born weighing in at more than nine and a half pounds.
“Maybe it will end quicker this time,” she says. “I live in hope.”
‘Most go home within 24 hours’
Dr Fiona Denison, consultant in maternal and fetal medicine at the University of Edinburgh, said: “Hyperemesis gravidarum is excessive vomiting, usually in early pregnancy. It affects less than one in 100 women. Most people get morning sickness and it’s not a problem. It’s something that can be managed at home, taking anti-sickness tablets as needed.
“If a woman starts to vomit uncontrollably, they can become quite dehydrated and unable to eat or drink. That leads to admission to hospital. We rehydrate them, then we try to control the sickness with anti-sickness medication, with an injection and then anti-sickness tablets.
“Most people can go home within 24 hours, others need longer. The average is two to three days.
“For women who are very badly affected, they worry it can harm both them and the unborn baby. Babies generally survive very well but in a very small number of women, if they lose a lot of weight, the baby might not grow as well.”