Monday's announcement that the royal couple is expecting their first child was quickly dampened by reports of the Duchess of Cambridge's hospitalisation for hyperemesis gravidarum, or acute morning sickness.
Although Victorian novelist Charlotte Brontë is rumoured to have died from hyperemesis gravidarum in 1855, the condition - which affects approximately 1% of pregnancies and is characterised by vomiting, weight loss and severe dehydration - was not widely recognised until the 1950s. It is now, thankfully, easily managed with intravenous rehydration and anti-nausea medication. Despite inroads in treatment, however, "there is a real lack of understanding about the condition," argues Caitlin Dean, a registered nurse and trustee of the UK charity Pregnancy Sickness Support.
Dean, a mother of three, has also suffered from hyperemesis gravidarum, which typically affects first-time mothers and women expecting twins. "One of the big issues with it is isolation because it causes many women to be bed-bound," she notes. "I had hyperemesis gravidarum whilst pregnant & its horrible," British model Peaches Gedolf tweeted on 2 October, sharing a link to Pregnancy Sickness Support's website.
The celebrity media's role in bringing a previously obscure maternal condition to the forefront of popular culture - just imagine the pub quiz questions to be mined from hyperemesis gravidarum's Wikipedia entry this week - carries important implications for health communication.
Despite predominantly catering to tabloid entertainment, in recent years celebrity media has fostered open dialogue about reproductive health and the challenges of motherhood. American actress Brooke Shields' struggles with post-partum depression prompted her to pen the best-selling memoir, Down Came the Rain, which resulted in a widely-publicized feud with Tom Cruise over her antidepressant use. "I hope this will help new moms not feel alone or desperate, and that there is no shame in their feelings," the actress stated. "PPD is out of their control, but the treatment and healing process is not." In her memoir, Shields - who describes herself as "cervically challenged" - also detailed several failed attempts at in-vitro fertilisation and five miscarriages.
In promoting awareness and encouraging positive health-seeking behaviours, the three D's of health communication - demystification, de-stigmatisation, and dialogue - are key touchstones. Celebrity coverage has proven to be an unexpected and effective medium for promoting reproductive health and highlighting common challenges. Pop star Lily Allen and English model Kelly Brook have both publicly discussed their miscarriages. Their stories undoubtedly resonate with many women coping with similar losses - and the numbers are high: 11 babies are stillborn every day in the UK.
Actress Gwyneth Paltrow, Friends star Courtney Cox, and British TV personality Jodie Kidd are among numerous other celebrities who have opened up about fertility setbacks and post-partum depression in the past years. Some have harnessed their social capital and public visibility to promote health issues. Christy Turlington's maternal mortality awareness campaign, Every Mother Counts, has earned the former model and activist global recognition. "Social media and Twitter have been really helpful to get our message out," Turlington observes. "It's all wellness and health oriented. I don't talk about my favorite latte."
Over the coming weeks, I wish the Duchess of Cambridge a healthy and speedy recovery as the world anxiously looks on, and possibly learns a thing or two about women's health.
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