From waity Katie to Katie in waiting. At last, the Duchess of Cambridge is with child. But Catherine Middleton, who has so far embraced her public role (including those topless photos) with decorum, grace and style, is having a tough time of it, with severe morning sickness, and a world gone baby gaga. Julia Molony reports from London and Anne Marie Scanlon describes the condition she shared with the world's most famous pregnant woman
So we all learned a new term last week. Hyperemesis gravidarum became the unexpected medical term on everybody's lips, short-hand to describe a wan, dehydrated Kate Middleton, acid-breathed and limply attached to a drip in a private hospital suite, while expectant father Prince William dashed in and out of the armoured Range Rover for shifts at her bedside, making sympathetic noises and stroking the royal hair.
Those of us for whom learning the Latin for "extreme morning sickness" was the closest we've ever come to the condition should thank our lucky stars. One of the most surprising elements of the whole hurried pregnancy revelation was the number of people – women and men (shame on them!) – who seemed willing to chime into the discussion that she should buck up and stop making such a fuss.
But hyperemesis gravidarum is not the pampered royals' version of feeling queasy. Sufferers find eating or drinking, even a sip of water, nigh on impossible and usually lose more than 10 per cent of their bodyweight. By the accounts of those who have been beset by this illness, it is soul-shaking nausea so profound that one would rather remove one's own small intestine with a blunt spoon and a fish-hook than attempt to digest food.
And then there's the knuckle-gnawing possibility that, for poor Kate, there is worse to come. Though at the time of writing, royal reporters are falling over each other in their rush to the press with the news that the Duchess was, apparently, starting to feel ever so slightly better, thank you very much, there's no guarantee that she's anywhere near out of the woods.
Some unlucky expectant mothers are afflicted for the entire duration of their pregnancy, living on dry crackers and flat 7-Up for nine long months. We tend to think that we have a vivid imagination for torture. We've got waterboarding and the rack, after all. But apparently mother nature is darker even than all of that.
One sufferer recounting her experiences of hyperemesis gravidarum in a recent article describes spending nine months in and out of hospital, plagued by such violent vomiting that she ruptured her oesophagus and started to spew up alarming amounts of blood.
Even normal, standard-issue morning sickness, when a whiff of bacon or raw meat at 100 paces could send you hurtling for the nearest bucket, is no fun. I remember my pregnant sister, whose suffering was only mild by most standards, struggling to complete the simple task of brushing her teeth without being foiled by repeated retching. And she was miles away from the nil-by-mouth order that sometimes accompanies the condition – which is the result of a severe physiological reaction to the pregnancy hormone HCG, and affects about one in every 200 pregnant women.
But it's both good news and bad news for Kate. As a hard-knocks first lesson in the many injustices of motherhood, hyperemesis gravidarum is probably salutary. The condition is often taken as a sign that the pregnancy is progressing well. As the foetus flourishes, it does so at the expense of the mother, who is virtually poisoned and left in a state close to emotional and physical collapse. I guess some kids are just early starters.
There was Kate, just the previous week, dashing across the hockey pitch of her old school in heels and McQueen couture one minute, and the next, convalescing in hospital, too weak to do a thing for herself. Only after a second look at those pictures taken last week, with the benefit of hindsight, did it suddenly seem as if she looked rather green, a little bit weary, in one or two of them. According to recent reports, she is barely eight weeks into her pregnancy. The couple were planning to make the official announcement on Christmas Day. Were it not for the urgent and pressing need to bring Kate to hospital, we'd still be none the wiser, and Kate would be afforded the privilege of letting those first fragile and uncertain three months pass by without the newspapers speculating on baby names and the brand of buggy she's likely to buy.
Still, the news of a royal baby has introduced some perplexing new issues to be turned over in the public consciousness. Among them, the question of exactly how the Duchess, gestator of the world's most famous baby, manages to procure her pregnancy tests without giving the game away? It's not as if she can discreetly nip out to Boots on her lunch hour like the rest of us. And asking a member of staff would surely send the whole royal household into gossip overdrive. Also, how did the news break between her and her husband? Did William stand waiting outside the bathroom door while she did the necessaries, like any other modern father-in-waiting? Or does Kate have an aide to take over that role, who would then pass on the information to the father-to-be via a piece of parchment sealed with wax?
Bracingly, last week we were also formally introduced to the now-famous figure of the Queen's gynaecologist. Dr Alan Farthing, hitherto the most low-profile of Windsor attaches, has suddenly become the star, as he rushed heroically to Catherine's bedside. Some of us might think twice about employing the same gynae as our grandmother-in-law, finding that altogether too close to home. But one has to be pragmatic about these matters. And now that she's with Royal Child and has been robbed of the strength to protest, I guess Kate doesn't have much of a choice.
One of the more interesting revelations is the fact that, at the time of her admission to hospital, no one knew about the baby. Not even the Queen and Prince Charles were aware of the couple's happy news until about an hour before the public announcement was made, apparently. There was I, imagining that the Duchess would have been submitting monthly urine samples to the royal medical team for months now, while the status of her uterus was monitored daily via ultrasound to keep an eye on any potential Windsor succession. But perhaps I watch too many movies.
This is a little bit shaming. Because for all the public's muttering about the dark arts of the 'firm', apparently it's only us down here in the public who go in for obsessive womb-watching. While we speculate and cogitate and gossip about the possibility of a royal heir like characters in a Philippa Gregory novel, the couple's own family seem to have been altogether less meddlesome and control-freaky about the whole thing, clearly deciding not to be too nosy or interfere in Wills's and Kate's intimate life until such a time as they were invited.
Probably they won't be getting their knickers in a twist about what buggy the Duchess will choose, or what approach she'll take to maternity wear either, though certain arms of the press have already devoted endless column inches to both of those subjects.
Will she opt for billowing sacks, like Diana, who had the misfortune to be with-child twice during the sartorial dark ages of the early Eighties? Despite the poor fashion options available to Di, it has to be said she took to pregnancy extremely well, seemed to bloom and embrace her changing shape with surprising enthusiasm for a self-confessed bulimic. Fergie, too, not a woman best known and loved for her sense of style, wasn't in danger of winning any fashion accolades during her two sojourns in maternity wear.
But it seems unlikely that Kate will lose her sense of style. In the 18 months since she's been a fully paid-up member of the royal family, her impeccable fashion instincts have the visual expression of her faultless assimilation. Even in the difficult few months she's had recently, since topless photographs of her sunbathing in France were published in French Closer magazine, her sang-froid and her style have never faltered.
It's amazing to consider how far she's come. It's just over two years since 'waity Katie' sat on the sofa alongside her new fiance for her first official interview with the press. Then, her nerves were evident. She stumbled over her words, she seemed understandably daunted by the new role that stretched out ahead of her.
Snarky commentary about her family background cast uncertainty in some quarters over her suitability as a spouse for William. There was her 'commoner' heritage to pore over, her former air hostess mother, Carole 'Doors to Manual' Middleton, and bitchy stories unearthed less than savoury family connections, including a cousin who works as a burlesque stripper.
Since then, however, she has proved herself nothing short of exemplary, and has come to represent a fresh new breeze blowing through the dusty corridors of Buckingham Palace. While her gamey, fun-loving sister serves to distract the tabloids, Kate has determinedly set about approaching every responsibility and public role bestowed upon her with decorum, grace and perfect style. No doubt Sarah Burton and her team of designers at the house of McQueen are busily putting together a portfolio of sketches of maternity wear, and perhaps even a baby-wear line (in unisex colours) suitable for a newborn future monarch. As soon as Princess Catherine has been safely marshalled through this delicate early phase in her pregnancy, with a bit of luck she'll be up and about again, nausea at bay. Back to her usual form; showing them how it's done with style.