JFHC Editor Penny Hosie looks behind the headlines of Kate Middleton's pregnancy to assess the real effects difficult pregnancies can have on women's lives.
You don't have to be a royalist to feel genuine sympathy for the Duchess of Cambridge right now.
The constant vomiting her diagnosed condition of hyperemesis gravidarum has caused would be bad enough, but the fact this has forced an early announcement of her pregnancy to the world's media rewards her extra sympathy in my book.
Those who have dismissed it as "normal" morning sickness are wrong. As most midwives are aware, hyperemesis gravidarum can be extremely serious and quickly lead to dehydration.
It affects around three in every thousand pregnant women and is described by doctors as relentless vomiting and nausea which leads to a weight loss of over 5% of body weight. Like morning sickness, hyperemesis can vary greatly in degree and duration, but for some women it may mean substantial time off work, a huge disruption to normal life and frequent vomiting even up until birth. In extreme cases women may even need to throw up after swallowing their own saliva.
I experienced severe morning sickness myself, while pregnant with my first child. My daily commute into Central London was an endurance test, punctuated by sudden and regular visits to the bathroom. The sickness was 24/7 for around seven to eight months and lunchtimes could be challenging as the mere sight of green food or fish would make me heave... I remember asking my midwife in desperation if she knew of a "miracle cure" but all the suggestions she made were ones I'd already heard and had tried.
It was horribly debilitating, and although not hospitalised I survived on a not very healthy "survival" diet of boiled sweets, fizzy orange drinks, dried toast and satsumas. Fortuitously it happened at a time I worked on a baby magazine for a leading supermarket chain. The editor, being a mother herself, was genuinely sympathetic. I appreciate I was extremely lucky and feel sorry for women whose employers aren't so kind. I believe the stress of working for unsympathetic employers while experiencing severe morning sickness probably increases the days of sick leave taken - a stressful scenario which is then self-perpetuating.
Perhaps if more employers were to show more understanding of how difficult pregnancy can be for some women and be more accommodating to their needs (allowing women to work from home on "bad" days, or allowing a more flexible commute), there would be less sick days during pregnancy. Woman might also feel more inclined to return to work following maternity leave.
My hope is that the publicity around Kate's condition, combined with the collective voice of those who have experienced hyperemesis gravidarum or severe morning sickness, will also encourage more research in this area. With one commentator describing hyperemesis gravidarum as akin to being "allergic to pregnancy", there is much that warrants further investigation.
If you require support on experiencing severe sickness during pregnancy please visit www.hyperemesis.org.uk