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I lost my baby at nine months .. it devastated me; The Duchess of Kent reveals the stillbirth that led to a breakdown.

The Duchess of Kent has spoken for the first time of her heartbreak over the death of her fourth child. The tormented royal was in her ninth month of pregnancy when baby Patrick was stillborn.

His death - and the trauma of the 36-hour battle to save him - drove her to a nervous breakdown.

"It had the most devastating effect on me," she reveals in a rare and deeply-moving interview with the Daily Telegraph. "I had no idea how devastating such a thing could be to any woman. It has made me extremely understanding of others who suffer a stillbirth."

Until now, most people believed she lost the child when it was a five- month-old foetus, as reported at the time. Only the Duchess's family and closest friends knew the truth - that the longed-for child was a fully- developed baby for whom she had already carefully chosen a name.

The Duchess recalls: "A couple of months later, I had a bad patch.

"I suffered from acute depression for a while. I think it would be a fairly rare individual who didn't cave in under those circumstances.

"The baby was born dead at nine months. It was a horrible thing to happen."

In a bid to escape her grief, the Duchess - whose other children, Lady Helen, Lord George and Lord Nicholas - were then aged between 13 and six, threw herself into her royal duties. But she now thinks that was a mistake.

She says: "It's a fairly natural reaction, isn't it, to want to get back into an ordered pattern of life to stop yourself thinking too much.

"You do what you feel is right for you, but I don't think I gave myself time to get over it. Probably I didn't grieve properly."

Only two years earlier, at the age of 42, she had to have a termination when she contracted German measles while pregnant.

HER devastation at the double tragedy plunged her into depression, and she was admitted to hospital for seven weeks of 'treatment and supervised rest.

"I am not ashamed of that patch at all," she says.

"It was not a good period, but once I'd come out and returned to a sense of reality, I quickly realised that, awful as it was, it does happen to a lot of people."

The kind words of a friend helped her through her darkest moments.

The Duchess remembers telling a friend: "I don't know why I mind so much: look at so-and-so in a wheelchair."

Her friend replied: "Yes, but at this moment in your life you, too, have a broken back.

"Don't try to undermine your feelings. You have every reason to feel like this. But you will get better."

The Duchess adds: "And I did. You don't forget, but you do come to terms."

But even now, the painful memory of losing her baby still haunts her.

"Every woman minds terribly about the subject of a stillborn child being brought up," she says.

"You are vulnerable about it. But I have never had depression since.

"Of course, I have up and down days - I don't know a human being that doesn't - but I am extraordinarily healthy and always have been. I do not have a history of ill health."

Speaking from her home at Kensington Palace, where she became friends with Princess Diana, she insists that she is a 'robust individual.

Yet for nearly two years she has suffered from the debilitating condition Epstein Barr virus, which has similar symptoms to chronic fatigue syndrome, or ME.

SHE also reveals that she was diagnosed earlier this year with another medical problem.

Doctors said it was possible that she was suffering from coeliac disease, an allergy to wheat which can lead to severe muscle weakness.

They told her the allergy means that for up to 20 years, she may not have been able to absorb food properly.

The Duchess thinks this may be one reason why she was suddenly struck down shortly before leaving for a humanitarian trip to India in March last year. She adds: "I think I had just burnt all my cylinders out. I was working 24 hours a day, possibly thinking I was the only one who could do anything.

"I am one of these 24-hour people who just go on and on.

"I am a perfectionist who is very bad at delegating.

"I think nobody else can do it as well as I can. I learnt my lesson."

In 1994, the Duchess became the first member of the Royal Family to convert to Catholicism since 1685.

She reveals that she made a point of meeting the Queen to tell her about her decision.

"I wanted to speak to her personally," explains the Duchess, whose husband, the Duke, is the Queen's cousin.

"She was most understanding." she adds. I'm right on the edge of the Royal Family, so it wasn't going to affect anyone, but I did want to explain." The Duchess is a popular figure with the public and touched the hearts of the nation at the 1993 Wimbledon women's singles final.

THAT was when she reached out to hug weeping tennis star Jana Novotna. Jana had just lost to German ace Steffi Graf after being on the brink of victory.

But despite all her outer confidence and poise, she is still crippled by shyness.

She reveals: "I can still be very shy walking into a room full of strangers. I know how to do it, but I have never gained confidence.

"It is one of the reasons why I am always trying to boost other people's self-esteem - because I know what it's like not to have it."
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Copyright 1997 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

 
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Author:Royal, Jane Kerr
Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Date:Dec 23, 1997
Words:943
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