JOANNE McCARTHY: What pregnancy threw up

LIKE most people, I'm rarely at my brightest while vomiting, retching, or generally disposing of the contents of my stomach in an urgent, upward-thrusting fashion.

Sure, I credit a vomiting episode for one of the best real estate purchases of my life, and adolescence wouldn't be adolescence without gutter, or toilet-level, post-party bonding moments with friends experiencing a bit of the old heave-ho.

But by and large emesis - from the Greek word emein, to vomit - falls into the negative category of life experiences.

Which is why the lesson I learnt from a doctor while sitting pregnant in a hospital bed in 1987, throwing up in a metal bowl and with a drip in my arm, stands out, and why I'm reaching out to the newly preggers but horribly retch-stricken Duchess of Cambridge today.

I survived three hyperemesis gravidarum-plagued pregnancies in the 1980s, including a two-night hospital stay in 1987 after falling pregnant with my third son - the so-called miracle birth as he came to be known, given that we don't remember any actions on our part to bring about said miracle, owing to the fact that our second son was only three months old when the third came into being.

Anyway, as the doctor said on that day, while I heaved and cried and worried about the impact of excessive vomiting on an eight-week-old foetus so soon after giving birth to the second - "The baby will be fine. They're like little parasites when they latch on because they suck you dry for what they need. You'll starve before the baby does."

And with those life-affirming, relief-inducing words I vomited my way through a third pregnancy and a big, fat healthy baby boy was born at the end.

We took him home to join our just-turned-one-year-old middle son, and our just-turned-three-year-old eldest son, and didn't have a decent night's sleep until the countdown for the Sydney Olympic Games began about a decade later.

Hyperemesis gravidarum - excessive vomiting linked to pregnancy, experienced by a blessed 3 per cent of women and sometimes requiring a hospital stay on a drip as the Duchess of Cambridge has found this week - also hastened another of life's milestones.

My dear husband had celibacy thrust upon him until he placed his crown jewels on the chopping block, because one miracle birth in a lifetime is usually enough.

As we like to say while reclining on the therapist's chair: "Aaahhh, memories," or "How the hell did we survive?"

And as someone who survived three goes at hyperemesis gravidarum, I'd like to respond on behalf of Catherine to any earnest doctor out there who's thinking of saying a couple of dry crackers will set things right.

How can I put this politely? Maybe like this.

If you're watching the cricket this summer and a bowler lets rip with a screamer that flies down the pitch, lands squarely on the most protected but delicate part of the batsman's anatomy and fells him as decidedly as a chainsaw fells a little pine tree at Christmas time, will his colleagues rush up with a couple of dry crackers to quell his heaving guts and settle the waves of pain he's experiencing?

No.

Hyperemesis gravidarum fells a pregnant woman in the same way, but without the blow to the testicles.

Smells would knock me flat to the ground - coffee, cooking lamb, lemon detergent, children's sweaty heads, oranges and barbecued chicken head a long list of the weird and wonderful things that had me swooning without warning. Particularly barbecued chicken.

On the road not far from our house was a charcoal chicken shop, and each time we drove by I had to hold my breath to avoid the hot, smoky, overpoweringly chicken-ey smell and the waves of nausea it induced.

But one day I missed my cue, breathed barbecued chicken, and started clawing at the door as my stomach contents leapt into action.

Which is how we suddenly ended up in a side street parked beside an overgrown vacant block, and while I retched in the dry grass my dear husband wandered, found a "For sale" sign buried beneath the greenery, and called out happily that I could take my time vomiting because he wanted to have a good look over the place.

Later that day we made an offer that was accepted and the best real estate purchase of our lives ensued. And we had hyperemesis gravidarum to thank for it.

The exact cause of the condition is unknown. Some studies have indicated an excess of the pregnancy hormone HCG. Personally, it was the consequences rather than the cause that occupied my mind.

Pregnancy is notorious for producing weird food cravings. In my case it was a craving for white food - white bread without the crust, semolina, white fish and mashed potato without even the slightest hint of a lump or I'd gag.

The weirdest of all was a desperate two-week craving for McDonald's cheeseburgers during my first pregnancy, once the worst of the vomiting ended, without my ever having tasted a McDonald's cheeseburger before.

And so to Prince William and Catherine, and good luck with this most public of pregnancies. My money's on Shazza if it's a girl, and Bazza if it's a boy.

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